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.