Over the course of five days, rural and small-town Eastern Oregon communities were transformed into living, breathing examples of the world of justice, shared struggle, and community power that we are building. 10 events across rural Eastern Oregon, Idaho, and Washington brought 2000 people into local streets, dance halls, and churches to welcome 50 March for ONE Oregon Freedom Riders who brought messages of hope, humanity, and immigrant fairness to small towns across the region.
In Hermiston, we gathered 400 strong at City Hall with the United Farmworkers of America, where the city council had just passed a resolution weeks earlier calling on President Obama to enact humane immigration reform, then marched over a mile in the cold Eastern Oregon night, spirits high. In Hood River, the mayor, police chief, a county commissioner, and an orchardist family attended a community forum with over 100 residents of Congressman Walden’s hometown, showing their commitment to our cause. In Nampa, Idaho, we were greeted with roses for the women (on International Women’s Day), cheers, and a women-led mariachi band as we stepped off the bus to a welcome party of over 300, in tears from the overwhelming joy. In every town that hosted us, there were tears, chants, shouts of joy, and hundreds of people speaking with one united voice.
This is our story of the March for ONE Oregon Freedom Ride, which traveled the highways of key Republican Congressional Districts in Oregon (Rep. Walden’s District 2), Idaho (Rep. Labrador’s District 1), and Washington (Rep. Rodgers’ District 7) promoting immigration reform, drivers’ license restoration, and human dignity. It is also the story of those tight-knit, hard-working, justice-seeking communities across the expanses of forest, mountains, and high desert. These are the communities that organized by the thousands to stand up for dignity and fairness.
It was a life changing experience. 50 people, most descended from immigrants or immigrants ourselves, from ages 1 to 75, from all genders and sexual orientations, from all economic classes, faith traditions, and racial backgrounds, stepped into the ancient and winding river of the social movement, and came out different. ROP members joined forces with CAUSA and PCUN, and we learned what it feels, looks, sounds like to truly model the community that we are striving for –where babies are cared for, young men and women work together with boundless energy and generosity, where elders are listened to carefully, where we embrace the raw humanity of 50 individual people each with a personal history, intimate dreams, fears, hopes, but with one common vision.
As one March for ONE Oregon rider put it:
I will never forget this experience! This is the kind of society I want to live in. A place where we find solutions to problems, where everyone takes part, and no one is left behind. We are all like brothers and sisters. After this, back at home, I will keep volunteering and organizing. I won’t stop until everybody has documents.
These are the kinds of experiences that become a secret touchstone, a personal source of inspiration and insight, for all who participate. They remind us what we are trying to do together, and show us why: the profound elation of being in a community of justice is irresistible. We hunger for more.
During that week on the road…
We proved that la union hace la fuerza. From unity, comes power. We hosted 10 events in 9 small towns: rallies, marches, forums, press conferences. Immigrants and allies spoke publicly to crowds of 100, 200, 400 people, many for the first time, about what our country’s immigration laws are doing to our families and communities. Local leaders organized on the radio, in the fields, and among city leaders to make each event groundbreaking and unforgettable.
Antonia Hidalgo, member of Recursos para Derechos Humanos in Central Oregon, talked about being an undocumented single mother until she received her Deferred Action status just days before the march began. She talked about watching her autistic, and undocumented, brother waste away at home, unable to access the services and activities that documented Americans have.
Alejandra Lily, from Voz Hispana in Woodburn, told a crowd about the experience of poverty she went through that caused her to immigrate, and about her life as an undocumented immigrant in the U.S. She said,
People ask why I don’t go back and cross the border legally. I say that crossing legally is for people who haven’t had to go through garbage cans to find food for their children. I ask all of our supporters to fast for one week in solidarity, so that you can feel the hunger that we felt before coming to the United States.
Keyla Almazan, ROP organizer spoke for the first time about her personal story: immigrating as a youth, and going through phases of depression, frustration, and fear. She told a crowd in Madras about how she and her husband had to put off having children for fear that they may one day be separated, and about how she learned to be fierce in contributing to her country and community – volunteering and joining community groups in face of the heavy burden of being told that she did not belong.
Even little Daisy, just 10 years old, spoke to 250 people in Ontario of her fear that her parents would be taken away, and the need for immigration reform and drivers licenses so that people can live and raise their families freely.
At each stop, allies on the bus shared their own commitment to justice for our immigrant neighbors – the ways their lives had been touched by immigrants, how they had come to see our interconnectedness, interdependency, and how much we gain as an economy and culture through our rich tradition of immigration.
Through these transformations, these new leaders being created, and new friendships in struggle being built, we also kept in the front of our minds the core impact of this mission. We need immigration reform this year. We need drivers’ licenses in Oregon so immigrants can get to and from work or to the grocery store without fear of deportation. We need laws in our country that reflect our values. During our trip, we signed hundreds of letters and postcards, and made hundreds of phone calls, asking Congressman Walden to support an immigration reform with a generous and quick path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the country.
On the first day of the tour, after our second of three visits to Congressman Walden’s in-district office, we received this statement from him:
Our federal immigration system is broken, and fixing it is certainly a priority in the congress. A bipartisan group of lawmakers in the U.S. House have been working on a plan to update our immigration laws for over a year, and I look forward to reviewing their work. As this process moves forward, I value input from Oregonians of all points of view, and I look forward to continuing a dialogue on this complicated issue.
It is non-commital, yes it’s true. But it is also an invitation, an open door that we need to walk through if we are going to get what we need.
As the national process of bill drafts, hearings, and compromises goes forward, we are excited at the possibility of an immigration reform will stop the fear, broken families, and stunted dreams for millions. But it is going to take enormous unity and strength on the part of our movement.
To start out with, you should make that phone call to Congressman Walden. He is at 202-225-6730. Tell him simply, in your own words or in ours, that,
I support a path to citizenship for all 11 million undocumented immigrants. More funding for border militarization will only make us more unsafe. We need to stop deporting people and tearing mothers away from children, husbands, grandmothers, sons and daughters away from their families. We need immigration reform now.
Arson at Trinity Episcopal
As many of you have heard already, on the first night of the Tour, at 2am Trinity Episcopal Church in Bend and several surrounding buildings were set on fire. Trinity was our home base as we embarked on this tour. They welcomed us, giving us not only a blessing, but literally a key to their church, asking us to feel at home. Then just hours after we had left, rocks were thrown, windows were broken and seven fires were set in and along the back alley of the same church that earlier that evening had hosted a message of love and inclusion. This act of violence occurred just hours after Trinity was featured in the nightly news as the host for the kick offevent for the March for ONE Oregon. Luckily, no one was in the church when the fires were started.
Warnings were sent out to the other 18 states with Bus Tours. Security was increased for the entire Tour. And we called upon Rep. Walden to make a statement (which he has not).
As we closed out the tour by returning to Bend, we met with dozens of locals for a nighttime vigil, held across the street from the still fenced-off blocks where the two buildings of the church sat with scorched walls and ceiling, with broken windows. We vowed that Trinity Episcopal would be a symbol of our shared struggle. That this attack would only make us and our commitment to justice stronger. That our movement is resolved to fight such a fundamental threats to inclusive democracy, now and whenever the threat of hate rocks a community. The very next day leaders of local human dignity groups and the Central Oregon community met to develop next steps locally to respond and organize for justice.
We hold deep in our hearts the knowledge that building a road that leads towards justice is not easy or without movements and institutions that would prefer that we just shut up and sit down. As we closed out our tour at that quiet vigil, huddling for warmth with new friends in the freezing cold, we remembered that we walk in the steps of many justice-seekers before us, and that we are not the first or the last to experience the profound joys and sadnesses of movement building. We remembered to be proud of our diverse community, our history with roots in the farmworker movement, the civil rights movement, the Chicano movement, the anti-war movement, the pro-LGBTQ movement, and remember that while our buildings can be torn down, WE are only getting stronger.
Long live ONE Oregon!
In addition to our core partners at CAUSA and PCUN, we want to thank others that made this March possible. Many thanks to the United Farm Workers of America, to the Center for Community Change and Keeping Families Together Campaign, to the Unitarian Universalist Veatch Program at Shelter Rock, and to the McKenzie River Gathering Foundation for funding and support of this March.
Want to know more about the day to day? Our facebook has some great photos. We also received local media coverage of every stop of our tour – here are a couple of favorites
Day 1, Bend & Madras: KTVZ coverage of our launch
Day 2, Hood River & Hermiston: OPB coverage of Hermiston event
Day 3, La Grande & Ontario: Ontario Argus Observer coverage of Ontario event
Day 4, Nampa & Burley, Idaho: Boise Weekly coverage of Nampa event
Day 5, Walla Wall & return to Bend: KTVZ coverage of the Vigil