No Papers, No Fear: Undocumented protesters arrive at DNC
Maria Cruz Ramirez giving her testimony at an UndocuBus event in Memphis, Tenn.
Inspired by her daughter’s civil disobedience, Maria Cruz Ramirez decided to do more for her DREAM Act-eligible child. The undocumented mother wanted to claim her dignity and provide an example to others — like her daughter had done. So, she got on a bus. But not just any bus.
Ramirez and more than 30 undocumented immigrants have boarded UndocuBus, a cross-country tour meant to empower the immigrant community. Since departing Phoenix on July 29th, it has been rolling through Southern states raising awareness as it makes its way to North Carolina in time for the Democratic National Convention. Including UndocuBus protesters, police estimate that between 800 to 1,000 people demonstrated in protest of various grievances in Charlotte on Sunday, ahead of the DNC.
The riders are almost all undocumented Latino immigrants who are using their stories to organize and empower others like them. Their slogan is “no papers, no fear.” They are calling for other undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows and find strength in unity.
“I’m ready to be deported to show my community its rights,” said rider Julio Sanchez, 24.
On a minibus in Memphis, Tenn.
The campaign seeks to raise awareness not only for undocumented youths, but also for other groups of undocumented immigrants who have been afraid to speak out.
“We don’t want people to be scared anymore,” said Angel Alvarez, 23, a rider who spent a traumatic seven months detained after being pulled over by police for a broken taillight. “We’re not animals and we’re not aliens to be in hiding.”
Alvarez says he doesn’t like talking in detail about his story because he breaks down crying when he does.
Sharing their testimonies in public and revealing their undocumented status — something they’ve always been told to strictly guard — is emotionally draining and personally trying. Even so, they seem to have created strong camaraderie on the bus and support each other when in need.
At one of their nightly debriefings, where riders discuss the day’s events, one rider shared that she had been feeling down before addressing the crowd but found strength when she was comforted by Alvarez. She thanked him for his support and the group continued discussing what went well and what could be improved throughout their campaign.
Exhausted at the end of the day, UndocuBus riders make calls home to family.
Everybody has a role on the ride. Some tend to physical and emotional needs of the riders. Some focus on logistics, while others execute schedules or coordinate media coverage. The few with papers share driving responsibilities.
When the bus, painted with monarch butterflies on a turquoise background, broke down in New Orleans, the tour could not wait — they had a strict schedule to adhere to. They rented a pair of minibuses and continued on their way.
Click here for a sneak peek inside the bus (before it broke down).
In addition to fearlessly sharing their undocumented status at public events, the riders are joining local community groups for know-your-rights trainings and workshops for other community organizers.
The riders, who were immigration activist and organizers before this campaign, are putting into practice a community-based model for change.
In the past, immigration reform was left up to top-down non-profits, organizers explained. Instead, this tour is fostering a grassroots model where local issues are addressed by locally developed leadership.
In fact, local committees — as they are called — have been the ones coordinating events along the bus tour. This network of communities has been recently developed by the National Day Laborer Network — which is behind the bus.
In Memphis, riders visited the Civil Rights Museum, inside the motel where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated. UndocuBus riders reflected on the struggle and sacrifice tied to the accomplishments of the African-American Civil Rights Movement.
Activists embraced a Frederick Douglass quote they saw in the museum, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress,”.
UndocuBus rider Angel Alvarez in front of a replica of the greyhound that was firebombed in Alabama.
Drawing inspiration from the 1960’s Civil Rights movement, riders identified most with the Freedom Riders — a group of black and white activists who rode public interstate buses in the segregated South to test a Supreme Court decision to end segregation. These activists were beaten by violent mobs, arrested by local police and were almost killed when a Greyhound was firebombed. They seized national attention and inspired hundreds more to participate.
Their eyes widened when they saw the Freedom rides crisscrossed the same states they were.
So far UndocuBus ride has been received by enthused crowds and invigorated local activists, not violent mobs threatening to take their lives.
“They had the KKK persecuting them, we don’t,” observed Sanchez. “We may not lose our lives, but if we are deported we’ll lose our lives here and have start to start all over.”
Before the campaign kicked off from Phoenix, four undocumented activists were arrested outside Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s civil rights trial. On tour in Birmingham, riders disrupted a civil rights hearing on state and local immigration laws like Arizona’s controversial SB1070 (no arrests were made).
The bus has already made its way through Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Tennessee Mississippi and Alabama and will arrive in Charolette Sep 1. So far, they are working on an invitation to join the convention, but have not received any. They don’t know how they will be received by Democrats — although how the party responds to a recent proposal to include the DREAM Act into its platform could offer an insight.
(Photo: Albert Sabaté)