¡No Somos Uno, No Somos Cien, Pinche Gobierno Cuentanos Bien!

The Freedom Rides rocked. It was too hectic to post anything the last couple of days. We rolled into DC to a very exciting welcome at the Bible Way Temple. The riders entered the temple by their departure city and each tried to outdo the previous group. It was loud and wonderful. Emma Lozano and Raul Padilla from our bus took the Mexican flag and the Virgen of Guadalupe up with them to represent us - which was great, even if it did give the organizers fits. John Lewis, Congressman and original Freedom Rider, gave the key-note speech. Maria Elena Durazo also gave a fantastic welcome that i'll post part of shortly.

A freedom rider, Angelita Rodriguez, from California spoke about her son - a US resident who went out to get milk for his kids and never came home. The police stopped him and he was sent to Missouri due to a warrant for a traffic violation. They didn't believe he was a resident and held him in a deportation center. By the time his family found out where he was, he was in the hospital - i'm sure due to the superior care he received from immigration. They were able to fly over with his papers proving his residency, but it was too late, he had died in custody. Everyone was chanting: "Justicia!", furious and sad. She recited a poem, wishing she were a dove so she could fly into the White House and tell Bush what was up. "What are we going to do to fix this?" she asked. She was the highlight of the night, both for carrying her son's story and for giving us all strength to continue.

The next day we had a rally at the Capitol, lobbied Congress, rallied in favor of Asbestos workers with LIUNA, rallied at the AFL, and finally marched in support of parking attendants with HERE. Long busy day.

Day seven we headed off to Liberty Park, but not before stopping at a building complex owned by Carnegie to support an SEIU janitor organizing campaign. SEIU 32 B-J bought a billboard welcoming the freedom riders and brought five busloads to a silent march in the middle of an office complex. We were quiet, but it was hard to do. Many of us chanted in silence, and we got good press. We made it to Liberty Park for the very tail end of the rally, but that was fine for our bus. We only wanted to confront the Statue of Liberty with the Virgen of Guadalupe. Most of the Freedom Riders used the Statue of Liberty as a symbol of freedom, we saw it as a symbol of broken promises. It was a very powerful moment for our bus, and some folks felt they could hear the Virgen and the Statue of Liberty arguing with each other. We closed the day with all three Chicago busses giving a surprise visit to a certain Mr. Nasser, primary owner of the Congress hotel in Chicago. He has a residence in Switzerland and in Chicago so we took advantage of the opportunity to go visit him. The doorman said he had moved out, but that wasn't true. We scandalized him for a good hour, shaming him in front of his neighbors, letting everyone know what he was doing to hotel workers in Chicago. The Freedom Rides - trouble on wheels.

The final day was the rally at Flushing Meadows Park. The best part for me was when I had to enter the surrounding neighborhood to look for a DV tape. I didn't find one, but I did find a bunch of Indian and African workers at Home Depot very excited about our rally and glad someone was fighting back. They had a lot of complaints about abuse towards immigrants. They had to work but they were with us in spirit. The rally was huge, but not as big as organizers had planned. The press said around 100,000 but it was hard to tell. Everyone was dispersed into separate sections, making it seem much less than that. But there were a lot of people all around. I spent my time getting interviews for Elvira and Julieta, and managed to get Julieta's kids on Fox. They were the only English news channel interested in the story of US citizens whose Mother faced deportation. Sandra Feldman spoke, which is good. The AFT was a strong presence at many of the IWFR stops, so it's good that the leadership is also on board. The rally ended with a concert by Bronco and Wyclef Jean. The music is always the best part. I'll flesh this out with some other testimonies and stories, and links to news from along our route, but I just wanted to get this up here ASAP.



Coverage by Student Freedom Riders

Students on the Freedom Rides are posting their experience at haceculturaonline.org. Check it out.

"Inspired by the Freedom Riders of the Civil Rights Movement, the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride sets out from 9 major cities with a message of hope and self determination. Immigrant workers and supporters are working for protection of their civil rights and civil liberties as individuals living and paying taxes in the United States. The goal of the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride is to draw a new map leading to workers' legalization, citizenship and family reunification.

Northeastern Illinois University Chicago Teachers' Center, hACE Project, SEIU and the GEAR UP Alliance, will be working with the Chicago Public School teachers, students and their families to follow the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride with curriculum activities, on-line connection to Riders on the buses and culminating art projects that demonstrate youth's relationship to these issues and their understanding of these critical civic issues."

Images from the Freedom Ride

Images from the Freedom Ride - Day 4

Breakfast at Guardian Angel Church in Rochester

Public Forum at St. Vincent Church in Syracuse

Sheetmetal Workers Rally at UTC Carrier in Syracuse

Freedom Ride Rally in Albany

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.)