SAN FRANCISCO – Bay area workers, in coalition with labor unions, immigrant and civil rights groups, have come together, like their counterparts across the country, to take part in the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride.

Several buses will leave San Francisco on Sept. 23 to travel across the country to champion immigrant legalization, family re-unification, and protection of worker rights on the job without regard to legal status. Similar buses will depart from 12 major cities in the U.S., stopping in 80 local communities along the way, and will ultimately converge on Washington to lobby members of Congress. The freedom riders will then travel to New York for a mass rally on Oct. 4.

The Freedom Ride takes its name from the historic Freedom Rides of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement.

With the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial at Yerba Buena Gardens as a backdrop, representatives of the coalition gathered last week to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.

Mayor Willie L. Brown Jr. was joined by a broad cross section of labor and community activists, including some who participated in the original freedom rides and some who will be traveling on this one. Brown called for participation of all San Franciscans, saying, “Today we honor those who fought so courageously and sacrificed so much to the cause of equal rights and justice for all Americans. … There is no more fitting tribute than for us to recommit ourselves to the fight for justice whether by working to defeat Proposition 54 (the anti-affirmative action measure on the Calif. ballot) or by participating in the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride.”

He was joined at the commemoration by a spectrum of coalition representatives and riders, including Josie Mooney, president of the San Francisco Labor Council; Rev. Cecil Williams of the Glide Memorial United Methodist Church, who attended the original March on Washington; Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers; Eliseo Medina, international vice-president, Service Employees International Union (SEIU); and the Rev. Amos Brown, president of the local NAACP.

“The new civil rights movement is the struggle for the immigrant workers for equality,” said Huerta. “Immigrant workers riding on the freedom buses bring us their personal stories of discrimination, and invite us to join in this historical movement for legalization as their buses roll across the U.S., following the successful freedom bus rides of the ’60s period.”

A group of riders was introduced. Among them was Letitia Santo, SEIU 790 member and baggage screener at the San Francisco airport. She said, “My three sons in the Philippines are being denied the right to come here and my two daughters were kicked off their screener jobs. This freedom ride is about civil rights, workers’ rights, everybody’s rights.”

Jean Damu, another rider, a restaurant worker and member of Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Local 2, spoke of his attendance at the Civil Rights March 40 years ago. Damu said, “The death of Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois was announced that day and today we are honoring the 100th anniversary of the publication of his work, ‘The Souls of Black Folk,’ which included the historic remark that ‘The problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line.’ Black folk still have problems.”

The San Francisco buses will be sent off on Sept. 23 by a rally at the Yerba Buena Gardens and march to the Civic Center for a festival and program. Organizers expect the ride to change the course of immigrant workers’ rights in the U.S. For more information, visit the project’s web site, www.iwfr.org.

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