Sunday, March 26, 2006

Day 5: Saturday, March 25

This morning, as one million Californians took to the streets in Los Angeles and 5,000 people marched in San Jose (hunger striker Patricia Nuño addressed the masses in San Jose), 400 Bay Area residents gathered under weather-worn umbrellas at the SF Federal Building to hear local and national leaders raise our community’s voices on this National Day of Solidarity. The crowd was exuberant!

Organizer Evelyn Sanchez held a cell phone to a mic as community leaders from across the nation called in reports of growing actions. Eun Sook Lee of the National Korean American Service & Education Consortium riled the crowd when she announced that one million Los Angelinos had gathered at City Hall (one million!). Other reports came from Leo Morales of the Idaho Community Action Network and Ricardo Diaz of A Day Without an Immigrant in Pennsylvania.

Local speakers included Jeremiah Jeffries of Teachers for Social Justice and SF People’s Organization who called for progressive communities to exert their political power, and Marta Donayre of Love Sees No Borders who reminded everyone that immigration issues also impact lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgendered (LGBT) people. Molly McKay of Equality California called for LGBT communities to stand in solidarity with immigrant communities.

Nancy Esteva, an immigrant from Oaxaca, Mexico clothed in traditional dress, moved Spanish speakers with her fierce poetry. Hunger striker Jay Pugao called for the defeat of Specter and Sensenbrenner’s bills, explaining that they would criminalize the very youth and families he works with. He thanked communities of color and white allies for their support, and led the crowd in a rousing chant of “Makibaka” (Makibaka means “struggle” in Tagalog and connotes activism).

One of the most poignant moments of the rally came halfway through when a mother, surrounded by her four children, announced that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detained her husband yesterday when he went to ICE for a routine work visa update. The eldest of the children asked that ICE release her father explaining, “my daddy isn’t a criminal.” Ripping families apart – this is exactly what the Sensenbrenner and Specter bills would do.

Day 4: Friday, March 24

This morning over 20,000 Arizonans marched on the streets of Phoenix to Senator Jon Kyl’s office, hundreds of Atlanta residents converged on the steps of the State Capitol and over 2,000 Los Angeles students walked out of school – all demonstrating against the Specter and Sensenbrenner bills. Read about it in this New York Times article. The groundswell of pro-immigrant activism nationwide increasingly gives strength to our hunger strikers and Bay Area communities at large. We are not alone.

The hunger strikers continue feeling physically weak, but the worst of the nausea has passed for most. Nurse volunteers explained that hunger strikers’ bodies have released most of the nausea-inducing toxins and, in the absence of food, now turn to their bodies’ natural fat and muscle. We will continue monitoring the hunger strikers’ health as the days wear on.

This afternoon, hunger strikers Wayne Yang, Maria Reyes, and Bruce Allison joined allies from Services, Immigrant Rights, Education Network (SIREN) to deliver 10,000 postcards from South Bay residents to Senator Dianne Feinstein calling on the Senator to oppose the Specter bill and support immigration reform that creates more paths to legal permanent residency, reunifies families, and protects workplace and civil rights. Senator Feinstein’s staff thanked the delegation for the postcards, but said no word of the Senator’s stance on the Specter bill, nor did they make any public statement to members of the press waiting just outside the office building.

Hunger strikers will bring thousands more postcards to Senator Feinstein’s office on Monday, March 27 during their massive 11am march. If you haven’t already done so, PLEASE fill out a postcard at the SF Federal Building, or (better yet) download them from BAIRC’s website, get friends to sign them, and bring them to the SF Federal Building by Monday morning.

Tonight’s candlelight vigil was especially moving. Aztec dancers initiated the evening’s program with deep, rhythmic drumming, homage to the four directions, and a friendship dance that drew out people of all backgrounds to dance. Fei Yi Chen from Chinese Progressive Association, Richmond High School student Melissa Gutierrez, hunger striker Jackie Mendez, and Colin Rajah of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights spoke words of hope in Chinese, English and Spanish. Jackie called on Bay Area communities to unite and join us at tomorrow’s noontime rally at the SF Federal Building. A Mayan healer blessed the hunger strikers and Aztec dancers sang an eagle song to close the day. Everyone eagerly awaits tomorrow’s rally.

Around 9pm guitarist and singer graced our campsite with beautiful Latin American ballads. Supporters danced and sang late into the night, despite the drizzling rain.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Day 3: Thursday, March 23

This was the most physically grueling day for the hunger strikers so far. Several experienced nausea, dizziness, and headaches; our eldest hunger striker – whom we affectionately call abuelita (grandma) – registered high on the blood pressure meter. Nurse Stephan Lynch and other medical volunteers will continue monitoring their vitals.

While physical ailments challenged the hunger strikers, the love and encouragement of supporters continue fueling hunger strikers’ calls for Senator Feinstein and other members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to take leadership in opposing Chairman Arlen Specter’s bill. One hunger striker explains, “It’s the little things people do – cracking jokes, smiling, digging through boxes looking for earmuffs to keep us warm – that are so filled with love that make all the difference.”

During the day, survivors from a battered women’s shelter stopped by to make signs with words of encouragement. Media outlets continued to send reporters, and organizers prepped for Saturday’s huge noontime rally at the SF Federal Building.

Bay Area communities were encouraged to hear that, today, 10,000-30,000 people walked out of their jobs in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and marched downtown in what was billed as “A Day Without Latinos.” Read the Wilwaukee Journal Sentinel article and view the interactive slideshow. Momentum is clearly building across the nation.

Nearly 70 families and concerned Bay Area residents arrived for our 6pm candlelight vigil. Everyone signed postcards to be delivered to Senator Feinstein’s office on Monday when scores of Bay Area residents will march to Senator Feinstein’s office at 11am from the SF Federal Building. We need more signed postcards. Download them on the BAIRC website, get your friends to sign them, and bring them to the hunger strike by Monday.

After the candlelight vigil, we asked hunger striker Jay Pugao why he got involved in opposing Specter’s bill:

“This is something that breaks up families. It forces educators like me to turn in my undocumented immigrant students and call them ‘criminals’. We’re shaping young leaders and organizers. They are not criminals.

The same thing goes for the elderly in my community – the Filipino community. These bills would force me to turn in my titos and titas (uncles and aunts) who are working and paying taxes. They are the foundations of the workforce in this nation, although they don’t reap the benefits of it. These bills would further drive them underground and force them to hide.” – Jay

Jay is a long-time educator, artist, and activist. He works with the RIDE Project, which empowers young Asian American men to become health advocates and young leaders. He also teaches performance and martial arts with a violence prevention curriculum at numerous community centers and schools throughout the Bay Area including Logan High School, Youth Uprising, East Oakland Community High School, and Destiny Arts.

Wednesday, March 22, 2006

Day 2: Wednesday, March 22

After an extraordinarily cold night, hunger strikers arose slightly lightheaded, but in strong spirits. They humored each other by imagining water tasting like favorite ethnic dishes. They also welcomed rays of sun (dark clouds covered most of the sky yesterday).

About 200 people attended today’s press conference, the content of which reminded us that dark histories sometimes repeat themselves.

In 1968 African American sanitation workers held a landmark strike protesting demeaning work conditions and mistreatment by employers and the country at large. The workers went on strike wearing placards with the simple message, “I am a man.”

At today’s press conference immigrant workers joined hands with African American brothers and sisters to continue the struggle that began long ago. They wore placards reading, “I am a man” and “I am a woman” to remind the United States Congress of their humanity as legislators consider some of the most repressive anti-immigrant legislation in this country’s history.

Speakers immediately energized the crowd. They included:
- Steve Williams from People Organized to Win Employment Rights
- Sigifredo Cruz from the San Francisco Day Laborer Program
- Nunu Kidane of Africa Priority Network
- Tim Paulson of the San Francisco Labor Council
- Inez Lazarte of the Women’s Collective
- Fei Yi Chen of Chinese Progressive Association
- Kawal Ulanday of Filipinos for Affirmative Action
- Maria Poblet of St. Peter’s Housing Committee and the May 1st Alliance

Pedro Vargas and German Bedoya of Convergence of Latin American Movements – visiting from Venezuela – and Colin Rajah of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights also spoke, putting the worker issues at hand into an international context.

Media coverage remained strong throughout the day, and families continued arriving to support the hunger strikers. They came with bottled water, broad smiles and outstretched arms.

Young people from Huaxtec, Youth Together, and East Oakland Community High School made the evening vigil special by creating an altar filled with candles for the hunger strikers. They shared concerns about the future of U.S. citizen and undocumented immigrant youth should their families be deported. Nancy Hernandez sang in both Spanish and Mixtec, and Kaira Espinoza performed spoken word. Those gathered also shared a moment of silence to honor the life of Assemblymember Marco Firebaugh who passed away yesterday morning at the age of 39 from liver disease. We remember Assemblymember Firebaugh as a champion of immigrant rights, having passed crucial legislation that allows undocumented immigrant students to pay in state tuition in California.

Allies from Services, Immigrant Rights, Education Network (SIREN) organized a simultaneous candlelight vigil at the San Jose Federal courthouse. Over 75 South Bay supporters arrived, gathering in solidarity with San Francisco hunger strikers. Tomorrow they will deliver 5,000 postcards signed by Bay Area residents urging Senator Dianne Feinstein to reject legislation that targets and punishes immigrants.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Day 1: Tuesday, March 21

Over 50 hunger strikers and community organizations started a seven-day protest in front of the Federal Building in San Francisco calling for fair and just immigration reform, and to denounce Representative James Sensenbrenner’s and Senator Arlen Specter’s bills that designate all undocumented immigrants as aggravated felons.

At noon, organizers held a press conference to announce the start of the Hunger Strike and Week of Actions. Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers of America, reminded people that immigrants are the backbone of our economy – taking care of our elderly, picking our food, cleaning our homes. She boldly called for legalization saying that undocumented immigrants deserve it given all they have contributed to this country. Other speakers included: Sheila Chung from the Bay Area Immigrant Rights Coalition, Hong-An Tran from Services, Immigrant Rights, Education Network (SIREN) in San Jose, Kyung Jin Lee of the Korean Community Center of the East Bay, and hunger striker Cesar Cruz.

Rev. Mac Jatto of Africa International Mission blessed the hunger strikers and broke a ceremonial last meal of bread with them.

Organizers and Supervisor Chris Daly’s office had a long day of negotiations with the SF Police Department, the Federal Police, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and various permit offices. Our portable bathroom was hauled away at one point because of a permit blockage. By the late afternoon, however, we received assurances from local and federal law enforcement that they would not hamper the Hunger Strike or our actions.

A class from San Francisco State joined us in the afternoon to learn about our reasons for hunger striking. What a great way to put classroom learning into context! Nurse Stephan from St. Anthony’s Clinic also came by to take hunger strikers’ vitals. Attorney John Viola who specializes in demonstrations also provided support throughout the day.

In the early evening, close to 400 mothers, fathers, children and community members gathered at Dolores Park in San Francisco’s Mission District where they watched Grupo de Danza Azteca Xiuhcoatl (Xiuhcoatl Aztec Dance Group) and Teatro Coalición Deporten a la Migra (Deport the INS Coalition Theatre) perform. They also heard inspiring words from Pastor Mauricio Chacón of Presbyterian Church of the Mission, María Poblet, member of the Bay Area Immigrant Rights Coalition, Guillermina Castellanos from Coalición Deporten a la Migra, and Concha Saucedo from Instituto Familiar de la Raza.

Those gathered marched to the Federal Building, swaying to the beat of Korean drums.

Marchers announced their arrival at the Federal Building around 7:30pm with enthusiastic chants – “¡Se ve! ¡Se siente! ¡El pueblo está presente!” (“You can see it! You can feel it! The community is present!”) They embraced hunger strikers and a member of Grupo Maya Quisamej Junan offered a Mayan blessing with sage to give strength to the hunger strikers.

Renee Saucedo, an organizer and hunger striker, shared her gratitude with the crowd and reminded everyone that those going without food are simply a vehicle to raise the voices of our entire community. Flor Ramos of La Raza Centro Legal wrapped up the program by encouraging everyone to join us again throughout the Week of Actions.

Shortly after, the hunger strikers climbed into their tents to get a good night’s rest in preparation for Wednesday’s actions. An amazing support team stayed up to keep watch.

At the end of the evening we asked four hunger strikers, “What most impacted you today?” Read their answers:

“It was like what Cesar said – ‘It will be your voices that
feed us today.’ When the marchers came, I felt like I could go on
forever.” – Wayne

“The arresting of the bathrooms.” – Bruce

“I can’t explain how happy it made me to see so many moms,
kids, and dads. I felt a sense of empowerment. This community is usually thought of as passive – expected not to stand up for our dignity and justice. Today made me realize that we have so much power to
change things.” – Raul

“Los que marcharon hasta dejaron sus novelas para darnos su
apoyo. Me gustó porque son personas que pudieran haber dicho, ‘que se lo arreglen,’ pero no.” – Maria

“I know a lot of people who have to be out here [in the cold] daily and I know that a week from now I can go back into a warm place. It makes me think of all the immigrants in the cold deserts of California and Arizona.” – Bruce