Burning Up the Highway | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Burning Up the Highway

Sept. 17, 2003

More than 40 years ago, a few dedicated people boarded buses and rode through the South to try and make life better for African Americans. They called themselves the Freedom Riders. This month it's happening again. Caravans of buses are leaving nine major cities across the country this month to try and improve the lives of immigrant workers. They will depart from Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Minneapolis, Chicago, Houston and Miami. After stopping in cities along the way, including Jackson, the protesters will converge first in Washington to lobby Congress, and then they're moving on to New York for a rally in Flushing Meadows Park in Queens on Oct. 4.

The freedom ride is one of our country's oldest forms of non-violent protest. For more than 150 years, starting in the 1840s, freedom rides have demonstrated against unfair conditions and injustice. The Rev. Jim Lawson, who helped organize 1960s protests and will be riding in the caravan to New York, says on the National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice Web site, "These historical events represent non-violent protest against wrong, protests that dramatize the wrong by a demonstration and a demand for access."

Jacksonian Bill Chandler, a member of the local Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees union (HERE) and the president of MIRA! (Mississippi Immigrants Rights Alliance), says this is a very important time for immigrants and immigrant rights. He said the main problems facing immigrants today in Mississippi, besides basic racism, are to get the state to accept other forms of identification instead of Social Security cards to get driver's licenses and car insurance, to enroll children in schools and to find suitable housing. He hopes that the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride will draw attention to the need for basic civil rights for these workers along with helping to make an easier road to citizenship, re-uniting of families and the protection of workers' rights.

During the 2003 session of the Legislature, Sen. Alice Harden (District 28) introduced the "Driver's License Bill" that would allow immigrants to use alternative identification. The bill drew a 22-20 vote in the state Senate but was ultimately shot down because it was called a "revenue bill," which requires a three-fifths majority vote.

The Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride will stop in Jackson on its way from Houston to New York on Saturday, Sept. 27, for a memorial at Freedom Corner (Martin Luther King and Medgar Evers drives) at 4:30 p.m. and then move on to the State Capitol at 6 p.m. for a reception under the rotunda; everyone's invited. The Riders will visit many of the places the original riders went; from New Orleans to Birmingham, to Anniston, Ala., where local KKK and policemen burned a bus in 1961. "This is the beginning of a new movement, a new campaign," Chandler says.

Hey, it worked last time.

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