This was originally published in New Ground 91, November — December, 2003.
by Bob Roman
The Chicago leg of the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride hit the road from a rally held at Chicago’s downtown Federal Plaza on Saturday, September 27. Organizers claimed some 3,000 people attended on a beautiful fall afternoon. My guess would have been about half as many, but even the official number was rather less than the organizers’ original ambitions and less than some other rallies held in support of immigrant rights in Chicago in recent years. This diminished turn out seemed fairly consistent across the country though the final rally in New York drew somewhere around 100,000.
There were even some counter demonstrators at the Chicago rally, though they were few indeed and limited to the ideological fringe: some unknown variety of Nazi and Matt Hale’s “World Church of the Creator”. Police insisted they remain across Dearborn and for good reason. Some of the Freedom Ride Rally’s ideological fringe definitely wanted to get it on.
On October 1, in addition to passing a resolution disapproving of the USA PATRIOT Act, the Chicago City Council passed a resolution supporting the Freedom Ride.
I’m not sure what to make of the turnouts because in many other ways the Freedom Ride was a success. In particular, the press coverage was large and sympathetic, a mother load of human interest stories about the immigrant experience today and yesterday, and memories of the Civil Rights movement.
This sympathetic media atmosphere makes it more difficult for rightwing demagogues to set up immigrants as hate objects. Though they keep trying. “Freeloading Free Riders”, “The Attack of the Open Border Elites”, “When Did America Lose the Rule of Law” were some of the typical web headlines on right wing “news” sites.
Some of this vitriol was in connection with one of the victories associated with the Freedom Rides: the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the “DREAM Act” to the full Senate for a vote. This legislation would allow undocumented children who entered the U.S. before age 16, have lived here for at least five years, have graduated from high school and don’t have a criminal record, to get conditional residency for six years. They have that time to attend colleges at the in-state rate and they become eligible for citizenship if they spend at least two years in college or in the U.S. military.
The bill has broad, bi-partisan support in the Senate with some three dozen and counting cosponsors. It stands a reasonably good chance of passing. The companion bill in the House, “The Student Adjustment Act”, remains bottled up in committee. Likewise, the two more comprehensive immigration reform bills mentioned in New Ground 90, HR 440 and HR 152, have not stirred in any way.
Chicago DSA had supported the Ride and the Rally by doing a 4,300 piece post card mailing urging members and friends to attend. Photos of the Freedom Ride Rally are posted on our web site.