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.