Immigrant Rights Campaigns
Attacks on immigrant workers and communities are increasingly aggressive - even as corporations lure more immigrants to the U.S. to serve as low-wage workers. Jobs with Justice has prioritized support for immigrants' rights struggles. This includes the right of immigrant workers to join a union without being intimidated by the INS, the right of immigrant communities to have access to public services such as healthcare and higher education, and the right of immigrant families to live free of harassment in the name of "national security." Jobs with Justice joined the AFL-CIO, HERE, and other allies in the national sponsoring committee for the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride (IWFR). Inspired by the Freedom Riders of the Civil Rights Movement, 900 immigrant workers and their allies boarded buses in 9 major U.S. cities in late September 2003. They crossed the country, stopping in dozens of cities along the way to focus attention on immigrant workers' rights before converging in Washington, D.C. and finally in New York City for a massive rally. Local Jobs with Justice coalitions in more than 20 cities helped to organize, plan, and mobilize for local events.
In several cities where buses originated - including Miami, FL, Chicago, IL, Seattle, WA, Boston, MA, and Portland, OR - JwJ coalitions worked to build for send-off events for the riders and some recruited riders for the buses. JwJ coalitions in Washington, DC, Philadelphia, PA, Mid-Hudson Valley, NY, and Providence, RI also organized activists to travel to the final rally in New York City on October 4. In cities along the way, JwJ coalitions were involved in many aspects of planning for the arrival of the riders. In Atlanta, GA, Buffalo, NY, Columbus, OH, Dallas, TX, Indianapolis, IN, Long Island, NY, Louisville, KY, Rochester, NY, Salt Lake City, UT, Cleveland, OH, Detroit, MI, St. Louis, MO, Toledo, OH, and Tucson,AZ, coalitions worked on a wide range of events to welcome the Freedom Riders to their cities. Some coalitions organized speakers and entertainment for the Freedom Riders; some helped to locate sleeping space and food; some helped to organize and turn people out to rallies for immigrant workers' rights while the Freedom Riders stopped in their town; some held teach-ins and press conferences in their communities to spread the word about the IWFR. Following are a few examples of how Jobs with Justice coalitions helped to organize the historic events of the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride.
Atlanta, GA - Atlanta JwJ worked closely with the AFL-CIO and the Atlanta Central Labor Council to coordinate the Atlanta stop of the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride. Out of their partnership with the Coordinating Council of Latino Leaders, Atlanta JwJ brought to the table the idea that the Freedom Ride stop should build visibility, solidarity, and promote the need for undocumented workers to have the opportunity to acquire Georgia Driver's Licenses. Atlanta JwJ worked closely with the march committee to draft and distribute flyers, organize radio spots and interviews, recruit and train more than 100 marshals, plot and negotiate a march route with local political and police officials, and make signs. On September 29, the hard work of the march organizers paid off as 5,000 people turned out to greet the Freedom Riders and to march for immigrant access to drivers licenses! Following the march, the Freedom Riders and their supporters participated in a Town Hall meeting that had to be moved outdoors to accommodate the large number of people.
New York, NY - New York Jobs with Justice played a key role in making the October 4th NYC Freedom Ride event a huge success. From Cardinal Egan to Congressman Lewis to Wyclef Jean, the speakers and performers fired up a diverse crowd of tens of thousands of immigrants and their allies. Fred Azcarate, Executive Director of Jobs with Justice, addressed the crowd, bringing a message of solidarity on behalf of the whole JwJ network. Dozens of volunteers from JwJ coalitions nationwide who rode buses to NYC for the rally joined the National JwJ staff and NY JwJ staff and volunteers to distribute information and to collect over 1,700 ballots against the FTAA.
With the support of HERE, 2 NY JwJ staffers joined the NYC Freedom Ride staff for 3 months leading up to the big rally and festival in Flushing Meadows Park. Their work focused on outreach to African American, African immigrant, and South Asian communities in New York and New Jersey for the Freedom Ride. They reached out to community leaders, clergy, and rank and file activists, reaching deeply into the community to make the connections between the ongoing civil rights struggle and the growing immigrants rights movement. Other NY JwJ staff, leaders, and activists focused time and attention on educating and activating students at the public university system, CUNY. By engaging the CUNY staff union, NY JwJ was able to speak to more than 50 classes in a 3 week period, talking to close to 2,000 students and recruiting 253 new JwJ pledgers. NY JwJ's student raps - ranging from 5 minutes to a full hour discussion - tied the Freedom Ride mobilization to the movement for Global Justice and the campaign against the FTAA. JwJ interns interviewed dozens of rank and file immigrant union members, documenting their stories, and working with others to make sure grassroots voices were profiled in the local immigrant and community press.