I woke up on an early windy, cold Saturday morning in Luverne, wondering what the day would bring for the October 5 March for Dignity and Respect in Minneapolis.
Working with a broad-based coalition of faith, community, business and labor organizations, we had scheduled three buses to bring immigration reform supporters from Southwestern Minnesota to the rally in the Cities. Listening weather forecasts as I drove toward Worthington, I feared that bone-chilling October rain might dampen turnout.
Arriving in Worthington at 7:00 am I met Lisa Kremer OFS, Project Coordinator for Abuelos y Nietos Juntos, in the parking lot of St. Mary’s Catholic Church. Kremer had arranged for the buses with the help of the Immigrant law Center of Minnesota and Centro Campesino, and we both arrived early to check people in.
When arrivals trickled in at first, I thought my fears were justified, but after early Mass was over, the families who were making the trip arrived and filled the buses. Unlike other events and trips I’ve been on this one was made up of moms, dads and kids. Yes, Mike Potter with UFCW Local 1161, Mark Froemke with the Western Minnesota Area Labor Council, other local union members and I were on board but this was definitely a family outing.
As the buses from the prairie got underway, I slipped a movie into the DVD player. AbUSed: The Pottsville Raid, would play in front of us for the next 90 plus minutes and inform, educate and remind us of why we were making this trip. The movie would jar memories of my own personal experience of the ICE raid at the Worthington Swift plant on December 12, 2006, the feast day for Our Lady of Guadalupe.
I was working in the plant that day and watched helplessly as armed ICE agents surrounded the plant and detained all of us, culling us like livestock and eventually filling up at least four buses with my coworkers. The workplace, the community, families- all suffered and were severely disrupted by a government plan that played out well in the media but did nothing to fix our broken immigration system.
When we reached the Basilica of St Mary in Minneapolis, the sun broke through the clouds and the crowd was growing by the minute as more and more people arrived to take part in this important march. Our group, like many others, carried signs, banners and flags and were ready to show the world what we wanted. “Please don’t separate us from our parents” was the message on one hand drawn sign made by children from our group.
For the children, and I imagine many of the parents, this was their first march. There was some apprehension but what I saw and sensed among the children was excitement and pride. This march was their march.
Led by Aztec dancers, we would wind our way through the streets of Minneapolis towards our destination, the Hennepin County Government Center Plaza.
I saw many of my labor friends and friends from faith-based and non-profit organizations and a few politicians. I also saw moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas, brothers and sisters, babies in strollers, and dogs. We would chant, stop traffic, and grow to several thousand before reaching and filling the Plaza.
The Star Tribune reported that a Diverse crowd, 2,000 strong, seeks immigration reform,while the Union Advocate estimated the crowd as "more than 1,000 people in Time is now, marchers say, for House to pass immigration reform. The march and rally was covered by the New York Times as well.
Among the many who would speak to the assembled crowd at the Hennepin County Government Center Plaza were Bill Blazer, Senior VP from the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce and Steve Hunter, Secretary Treasuer of the Minnesota AFL-CIO. Quite the contrast, but both advocating for action on reform. Of course one of our bus mates, Mike Potter, President of UFCW Local 1161 also spoke and led the crown in chants of Si Se Puede.
As the event wrapped up and calls for action were made, it began to lightly rain. We were fortunate the weather held out till the end as we began the journey back to the prairie of Southwest Minnesota. We were tired and hungry. I also believe everyone was proud of their efforts. The moms and dads on the bus were thankful they had an opportunity to take action.The young adults and young children will be able to tell their friends that they were part of this day.
The young mother who sat next to me in the bus will someday explain to her one-and-a-half-year-old daughter how they both marched for dignity and respect. I hope she will also be able to tell her daughter that this is the year that comprehensive immigration reform was enacted and we gave all people dignity and respect.
Dale Moerke, a resident of Luverne, works as a forklift operator at JBS Swift in Worthington, Minnesota. An active member of UFCW Local 1161 who serves the Western district on the state board of the MN AFL-CIO, he is often wandering and photographing the wild, wild west of the Minnesota prairies.
Photos by Dale Moerke: Families gathered at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Worthington for the long ride to Minneapolis (above); Signs by Abuelos y Nietos Juntos and a Southwestern Minnesota child (middle); Everyone from politicians to cute dogs marched for immigration reform (below).
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