Chicago Freedom Rides - Day 4

by Teo Reyes, September 30
Rochester -> Syracuse -> Albany
I don’t have any supplemental material today, but I did manage to post all of the pictures so far. It’s been a bit of a chore finding an internet connection, but I’m always looking for one everywhere we go. Need to stop depending on the grid!

Long day on the Freedom Bus today. Sin Fronteras had home stays last night – so we spread out among several families and reunited with the busses at 8:00am at Guardian Angel Church in Rochester. We had a morning breakfast send-off including another rousing performance by the Raging Grannies. There was animated discussion at all the tables, and the home-stay folks were raving about the families they stayed with. On the bus, several riders plotted sending personal thank you letters ASAP.

I had the privilege of staying with Marilyn Anderson, an artist who has spent a great deal of time working in Guatemala, and Jon Garlock, an executive board member of the Rochester labor council who comes out of the Teachers’ Union and who explained Rochester’s labor history to me. He also gave all the Freedom Riders a box of materials including an educational pamphlet on the “American Economy and American Family,” a map of Rochester Labor History, and a coloring book, “Our Community of Workers,” put together by him and Marilyn. The kids on our bus loved the coloring book, and I imagine their parents did too.

We jumped on the bus for an Interfaith Service and Public Forum at St. Vincent DePaul Church in Syracuse, NY, where we were greeted by De Colores and an immigrant rights version of We Shall Not Be Moved. The Reverend Sung Kim read a verse from Leviticus in Korean and English, and several Freedom Riders and local immigrant workers gave personal testimonies. One of the most powerful was the testimony of Magda Bayoumi, an Arab immigrant who spoke of the unjust criminalization of all immigrants.

After a great lunch, we darted over to a rally that the Sheet metal Workers organized outside of UTC Carrier – an air conditioning manufacturer. The rally was against globalization, since Carrier is slowly shifting jobs overseas. The union is fighting for a good contract and not giving in to the company’s blackmail about relocating, according to one of the union reps. As with most of our other events, this was a small, but high-energy event that helped draw attention to local struggles and the Freedom Rides.

I was asked to translate a few media interviews, but was frustrated by the questions. They were only concerned with how globalization was affecting plant conditions for immigrant workers and not in the broader context of how immigration has been speeded up by globalization. But the folks they interviewed stayed on message.

After the rally we jumped on the bus for Albany. We were met in Albany by close to 200 folks who were already rallying for Freedom for Immigrants. The police presence was a little over the top – police dogs were kept a block from the rally, and several mounted police were on hand, perhaps to demonstrate that their horse trailers were as long as our busses. Everyone present welcomed the Freedom Riders, and the rally continued. Unlike the previous events, this one contained a lot of culture – poetry, music, theater, and the rally finished with a well-planned chant and drum circle. Everyone practiced the chants and the Freedom Riders began dancing to the beat – it was great fun. We then marched two blocks – led by a pair of Scotsmen playing their bagpipes – to a Methodist church for dinner and a great DJ. Everyone was happy to dance after so many days riding the bus.

On the bus we watched two documentaries about the original Freedom Rides and the Civil Rights Movement. Very powerful. The original Freedom Rides were very much about forcing the government to uphold federal law and court decisions banning segregation, while the Immigrant Worker Freedom Rides aim to change unjust federal law. Our rides also revolve around well-planned stops with strong institutional backing of unions and churches, so we don’t need to fear the same kind of attacks the original Riders suffered. Their courage and determination is an inspiration to us today. We also watched Head of State, which was more light-hearted fare with a message.

The other two Chicago busses are coalition busses – meaning that a certain number of seats were set aside for each union or organization on the bus (including HERE, IBEW, ACORN, and others). The Sin Fronteras bus is all Sin Fronteras (including the Christian Base Communities of Waukegan and the Puerto Rican Cultural Center.) This is good – it is an almost entirely immigrant bus – but the drawback is that there is not as much interaction between busses. The other two busloads are staying in hotels, while we are staying in homes and churches, so there is not as much space for social interaction. But everyone had a chance to dance together today, and that was very good.

I’ll finish with a quote from Rudy Lozano, Emma Lozano’s brother who was assassinated for being a union and immigrant organizer, and for helping forge the African American – Latino alliance that helped elect Harold Washington as Chicago’s first African American mayor: “No hay grandes hombres ni mujeres en este mundo, solo gente común y corriente que tiene que responder a grandes retos.” (There are no great men and women in this world, only ordinary people who must face extraordinary challenges.)

No comments: