Workers Correspondence: Making it all the way for employee free choice

LOS ANGELES -- I started the march a little late that day. Me and two friends of mine, Hector and Juoaquin, began our March to catch up from our local office on Virgil where we parked our cars.

We could have taken the easy way out and driven to the midpoint of the march but I felt a little guilty and thought we should march to reach them instead. At least it would feel like we did the whole march from the beginning.

That day we three forgot to bring umbrellas in case of rain and, as we marched, the clouds began to gather. My two friends and I joked and talked about the many things we shared in common. We never figured it would take that long to reach the marchers ahead of us but we stuck to our plan and asked people along the way if any marchers had passed.

One gas station worker acknowledged that marchers had just passed him. After two hours we saw the purple SEIU shirts coming our way and we thought it was all over.

It wasn’t over, it was the scheduled break at a park just across from the Los Angeles High School. The mobile bathrooms were a welcome sight and the park was nice too. We were just as tired and hungry as the rest of the marchers, so we got us some lunch boxes that were given out.

Speakers were on a truck with banners on each side of it. The truck played music to inspire us and the workers were from many locals. Many wore signs supporting the Employee Free Choice Act.

During this break we ran into many SEIU organizers and workers, including a retired long-time friend, Ricardo, originally from El Salvador. Smiling as always, he was there to support the cause.

People were all over the park, eating and resting, and, then, it began to rain.

The well prepared organizers broke out the rain gear of plastic ponchos which saved the day, or so I thought. It was noon now and we knew a long march still lay ahead of us.

The stop was a bathroom break and rest stop at the Wilshire Movies where all the marchers were able to order their favorite popcorn, drink or snack.

I was somehow cut off from my other two friends, probable because I had moved ahead of the march to take pictures and do some filming.

A young gentleman said, “Here, take this, I am going now so you take it from here.” What he handed me was an old home depot pail, with rope tied to it and a stick to bang it with, to use as a drum. And so I had a new task.

As the march wore on the rain began to come down. We were now on the main boulevard of Wilshire and police on bikes ran alongside, moving us to the side of the street and onto the side walks.

As we passed the many people and businesses we saw waiters, school teachers, janitors, sales people, and workers of all types waving at us in solidarity. Cars, trucks, and vans honked their support. All the while, I played little drummer boy. Even when I really was a boy, I had always wanted to play drums. Back then, I used old pots and pans.

Now I had an audience, as I played in the pouring rain, in the middle of Beverly Hills, without a permit and loving every minute of minute. It was my debut as an amateur drummer for the working class.

Did you ever see that movie about the 300 Spartans who braved the onslaught of their attackers? It wasn’t quite as rough for the 400 of us but it did bring out some of our bravery.

I saw many a marcher struggling to catch up. Those 10 miles in the merciless downpour were tough. We walked and walked and, sometimes, even ran. The rain came down hard and cold. Those plastic covers did not shield our entire bodies and it was getting pretty cold and wet. My feet ached as they soaked in my shoes and, at times, I was ready to give up.

But the marchers pushed on. I played the drum, keeping up the beat as they chanted, “We are the union, the mighty, mighty union,” and “What do you want? Employee Free Choice Act!”

The enduring power of each of us carried over to all the others of us. We made it to the end that day and the fight continues.

Richard Castro Jr. is SEIU 721 union steward.