Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride Departs Portland for Nation's Capitol
Nearly 50 present day 'Freedom Riders' left Portland for points east on Tuesday, September 23, taking a message across the nation that it is time to repair broken US immigration laws and create a path to citizenship for millions of hardworking immigrant workers and their families. During a 12-day journey aboard a Gray Lines bus bound for Washington, DC and New York, the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride (IWFR) will stop frequently for solidarity rallies with a number of supportive union and faith organizations. Buses from 11 cities, including Portland, will take part, following their own paths to a convergence in the nation's capitol.
The parking lot of the Northwest Labor Council on SE Madison Street bustled with activity as Freedom Riders and their supporters assembled suitcases, sleeping bags, banners, cameras, coolers, guitars, and themselves for the long journey ahead. Ruth S. Beale, 79, an activist with Oregon Action and a participant in the original Freedom Rides of the civil rights era of the 1960s, took an honorary seat at the front of the Portland bus on the first leg of the journey. Health problems prevent her from making the entire journey across the country.
At a Sunday afternoon sendoff rally at Pioneer Square in Portland, Beale described the link between the original freedom riders of the 1960s and the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride of 2003.
The original ride "was exciting and frightening, but we made up our minds to persevere," she said. "I am very sad to say [that] after 40 years we still need to organize a freedom bus ride to create a voice in obtaining the rights of immigrants and people of color; basic rights, respect and dignity they have earned."
Following a drive through the Columbia River Gorge, the Riders stopped in the rolling hills and desert grasslands of Boardman, Oregon, for lunch at a roadside taqueria and a solidarity rally with dairy workers there. The United Farmworkers Union (UFW), founded by Cesar Chavez, has been organizing dairy workers at Threemile Canyon Farms in Boardman, where pro-union workers have been harassed and intimidated by the company. Workers say that the company has failed to provide a safe working environment, including adequate protection against carcinogenic pesticides used in the fields. They have also accused the dairy owners of circulating an anti-union petition, on the clock, coercing workers to say that they do not want a union, even though a majority of the 160 workers have signed authorization cards indicating their desire for the UFW to represent them.
The dairy provides milk for retailers and processors throughout the Pacific Northwest. Its largest customer is the Tillamook County Creamery Association, manufacturer of Tillamook cheese. The dairy workers say that Tillamook has been extremely supportive of the UFW and the workers at Threemile Canyon.
Antonio Rivera of the UFW invited the Freedom Riders to join in a rally to support the union at the gates of the dairy during a shift change.
"We are asking the company to sit with the workers to negotiate and to stop the intimidation because the workers need benefits, respect, and dignity," Rivera said. "The company has been making a campaign against the workers."
When company officials learned of the large group of demonstrators circling the front gate of the dairy, they attempted to prevent the workers coming off shift from leaving the plant. Ultimately, the company relented and several workers joined the rally.
After departing Boardman, the Portland Freedom Riders attended a labor picnic at Volunteer Park in Pasco, Washington, and joined the riders from the Seattle IWFR bus there. The riders on the Portland and Seattle buses will make the rest of the journey across America together.
At the end of a 12-hour day, grateful Portland and Seattle Freedom Riders made it to the community of Walla Walla, Washington, where they were housed overnight in the homes of members of the St. Patrick's Catholic Church and students at Whitman College.
1. A Portland Freedom Rider looks over the headline of The Oregonian before departing Portland for Washington, DC and New York. The article refers to an agreement announced Monday which would provide residency to a half-million undocumented farm workers and their families.
2. Portland Freedom Riders rally in support of farmworkers in Pasco, Washington. The shirts say, "I am with the union."
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