Three of my four grandparents hailed from far-flung places: Spain, Puerto Rico, Italy. They struggled to get ahead, learned English (or didn’t), raised children. They had all kinds of jobs. One worked at a power plant in the New York City subway system and later opened a hardware store in East Harlem. Another made lipsticks in a cosmetics factory and worked in the garment industry turning collars. For a time, my Italian great-grandmother supported her family by cooking spaghetti lunches for the men at the firehouse next door. Her daughter (my grandmother) worked in hat factories and department stores.
Their stories are unique but also typical. They came here for different reasons, but ended up part of the same thing – the amazingly diverse U.S. working class that built our country. They worked hard; they wanted what the majority of working people, immigrants and non-immigrants alike, want.
Together, the many streams of humanity that make up our country fought for the same American dream – a dream of living comfortably and in peace; of secure jobs and good schools; of freedom and equal rights.
The Freedom Ride is vitally important because these rights and this dream are under attack by the Bush administration.
In the name of fighting terrorism, they have waged two wars and occupy two countries. In the name of patriotism, they question our right to union membership. In the name of security, they harass innocent people, and scapegoat immigrants.
From the denial of social programs and services to increases in college tuition; from the use of the Immigration and Naturalization Service to bust up union organizing drives to the militarization of the border police, immigrants have suffered mightily.
And this is of a piece with a broader right-wing offensive, which is ferocious in speed and scope. In their sights are political rights and social programs won over decades of struggle. Bush’s tax heist and multi-billion dollar military budget are destroying our society’s ability to provide for our children and care for our elderly and foreclose the possibility of expanding educational opportunity, protecting the environment, creating jobs for all.
But Bush and company is in trouble these days. He’s gone too far, lied too often, scared too many people.
The struggle for immigrant rights has gained new power and momentum, because it is joined by the labor, civil rights, women’s and peace movements, by community and civil liberties organizations, by the health care and social service communities, all fighting a common foe: the far right and its anti-people agenda.
The Freedom Ride pays tribute to the heroic battles of African Americans for equality and against racism. The Civil Rights movement sang about keeping our “eyes on the prize.” That is precisely why we march here today – because our eyes are still on that unfinished, and beleaguered, agenda of equality, dignity, and economic justice.
The Freedom Ride is an expression of the breadth and diversity, as well as the unity and determination, of the movement that is coming together to demand solutions to unemployment, union-busting and racism. That movement has the power to defeat George Bush in next year’s election, the prerequisite for turning our country in a new direction.
Martin Luther King said that the other face of the race-hater is the labor-baiter. It has become clear to millions that the other side of immigrant bashing is labor bashing; that racial profiling practiced against African Americans can and does morph into racial profiling of Middle Eastern people; that the Patriot Act takes aim at the right to due process and the right to union representation; that we cannot declare war on the world and expect peace in our cities.
Why are we here, at Flushing Meadows Park, this fall day?
Because we do hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal. Because we understand that an injury to one, is indeed, an injury to all. These ideas, enshrined in our country’s laws and in our labor movement’s principles, motivate us today to march for the rights and dignity of immigrants, and will motivate us tomorrow to march and organize for the prosperous, just and democratic society our America should be.
Elena Mora is the state chair of the New York Communist Party.
She can be reached at email@example.com