Immigrant Workers Freedom Rides
(September 20th, 2003, Nashville) Nearly one thousand immigrant workers and their allies boarded buses in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Chicago, Houston, Miami and Boston and crossed the United States over the next 12 days. The new Freedom Riders will travel some 20,000 miles of U.S. highways and stop at more than 100 cities, towns and workplaces. On October 1st and 2nd, they will meet with members of Congress in Washington, D.C. On October 3rd they will travel to Liberty State Park, overlooking the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island, for an event hosted by the Governor of New Jersey. On October 4th, they will come together at Flushing Meadows Park, Queens, New York for a rally expected to attract tens of thousands of people.
Many, many thanks to everyone who supported and participated in Monday’s Immigrant Worker Freedom Ride events in Nashville. This was a proud, historic event for our city, and we are deeply grateful to all of you who helped make it happen. In particular, we would like to thank Salvador Guzman and Tres Chivas restaurant, Casa Blanca restaurant in Clarksville, and John Seigenthaler. At the bottom of this message is a list of other sponsors and endorsers.
We do not want the momentum, energy, and budding alliances which emerged out of the last six weeks of hard work on this event to dissipate. Instead, we now must think about how to act on the challenge put before us by Rev. Lawson to support immigrant workers as part of the ongoing struggle in this country for justice, dignity, and equality. Please come to a follow-up meeting this Thursday from 5:30-7:00pm at First Baptist Capitol Hill Church (900 James Robertson Parkway) to discuss where we go from here! Also, we will be circulating information about national IWFR events, including tomorrow's Lobby Day in Washington and Saturday's march and rally in New York City.
All Monday’s events honored the people and institutions involved in the city’s 1960s civil rights struggle, particularly Rev. Jim Lawson. That struggle was truly a remarkable example of the power of organized non-violent strategies for social change, and local participants and Freedom Riders left with a deepened understanding of and respect for Rev. Lawson and the activists which made Nashville the first southern city to desegregate its public spaces.
Monday’s events – particularly the evening march and rally – were also testament to the presence and power of the city’s rapidly growing immigrant and Hispanic communities. Immigrants demonstrated to Nashville in a public and visible way that they are here, and that they are capable of taking action to make themselves heard.
Finally, Monday’s events represented an important step forward for ALL working people and people concerned with social and economic justice in Nashville. In their speeches, leaders of labor, religious, African-American, and immigrant communities stressed their shared concerns and their commitment to working together in a common struggle for a more just city and society. The diverse rally was a step towards the creation of what Rev. Lawson calls “the beloved community.”
Thanks again to all of you who came out.
Mario Ramos & Spring Miller
Summery of the Freedom Rider Event
The Freedom Riders were received at noon at the old Metro Courthouse at noon by 40-50 supporters. They heard welcoming remarks from Tennessee AFL CIO President Jerry Lee, Nashville Central Labor Council President Pat Saltkill, and Nashville Vice-Mayor Howard Gentry. Longtime community activist and former City Councilman Kwame Leo Lillard and Rev. James Lawson then spoke to the Riders about the historical significance of Metro Courthouse, which was the site of the culmination of the April 19, 1960 Silent March during the Nashville sit-in movement, when sit-in leaders forced Mayor Ben West to admit that segregation was wrong.
Next, Freedom Riders went to First Baptist Capitol Hill, where Pastor Victor Singletary welcomed them to his church, which played a key role in supporting civil rights activists during the 1960s. Nashville Mayor Bill Purcell also arrived to the church parking lot to briefly welcome the Riders to the city. The Riders then enjoyed a delicious lunch donated by Salvador Guzman and Las Chivas restaurant, as well as drinks donated by Casa Blanca restaurant in Clarksville. Several Riders commented that this was the best meal they had eaten yet on their trip. Thank you, Las Chivas and Casa Blanca!
Freedom Riders left First Baptist and went to the downtown Nashville public library, which donated use of its auditorium for a viewing of the documentary “A Force More Powerful.” The documentary features the Nashville sit-in movement and Rev. James Lawson’s leadership in particular. Pastor Enoch Fuzz of Corinthian Baptist Church introduced the film and moderated a discussion of it afterwards. Riders and other audience members were honored to have Rev. Lawson in the auditorium with them as they viewed the film, and gave him a moving standing ovation after it was over.
Next, Freedom Riders joined hundreds of other Nashvilleans on the east side of the Shelby St. bridge to prepare to march. The Pearl-Cohn high school marching band led the 500+ person march across the bridge and into the downtown Hall of Fame park, where leaders from the immigrant, African-American, religious, and labor communities, as well as Immigrant Freedom Riders, spoke to the injustices of current immigration policies and the parallels between the immigrant rights movement and the 1960s civil rights struggle. Rev. Lawson gave an eloquent and fiery keynote speech in which he compared current immigration laws and immigration enforcement practices to the "apparatus of apartheid," the Jim Crow laws which formed the regulatory framework for segregation in the south. He called upon people of faith, workers, African-Americans, and all concerned with justice in the U.S. to stand with immigrants in their struggle for legalization.
Below are links to media coverage of Nashville Immigrant Worker Freedom Ride events over the past several days:
IWFR Nashville Events Sponsors
With Special Thanks to
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