A two-week road trip across the country by the Immigrant Workers' Freedom Ride (IWFR) culminated in a rally attended by an estimated 100,000 people on October 4 in Queens, New York. Organizers and riders vowed to continue the fight for immigrants' rights.
The IWFR, modeled after the Freedom Rides of the 1960s, saw buses from 10 cities with over 800 riders drive across the country, stopping in 93 cities and towns before meeting in Washington, DC, to lobby Congress to change immigration law.
The IWFR's five-point agenda calls for legalization of undocumented workers, family reunification, labor law protections for immigrants, and civil rights for immigrants. The IWFR is being hailed as a success by the
Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union (HERE), which helped coordinate the event.
“Locally, we've seen a busload of people develop as a team of leaders,” said Liza Wilcox, community action coordinator for Seattle's Hate Free Zone.
Marissa Graciosa, communications coordinator for the Illinois Coalition on Immigrant and Refugee Rights, also witnessed a transformation in the riders. “I got to see people evolve from being scared to use their name, to saying they have a right to use their name and to tell their story,” Graciosa said. “We now have 45 people who were on the bus ready to do the tough work to create real change they can see.”
Bobbe Hellom, an African-American rider from Chicago, who was on the bus to support immigrant riders, was energized by the IWFR. “I don't care if you're a Democrat, a Republican, or an independent—we've got a broken wheel and we should be prepared to repair it,” said Hellom. “I'm going to be kicking and fighting. I'm 68, I was born in 1935. If I live another 100 years, I'd be doing the same thing today. I should have been on the bus before now.”
The rides were conceived by labor unions, marking a landmark change in immigration policy by the labor movement; the AFL-CIO voted to support the rights of undocumented workers only in 2000.
“Labor has been incredible in this movement,” said Graciosa. “They can really turn out a lot of support. It was great to see not just immigrants in the crowds, but other people from labor as well. They've raised the bar on organizing for immigrants' rights.”
Some coalition leaders, however, noted that although riders visited the offices of over 200 members of Congress, many were met by secretaries, aides, and even interns, leaving riders unsure of their impact.
Coalition leaders are holding a series of meetings to discuss how to sustain the new momentum and to create local action plans. Leaders of HERE met in Washington, DC, in October to discuss plans for another national mobilization.
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