12:00: I’m at the opening luncheon of the RI4A Summit and Ali Noorani, Executive Director of the National Immigration Forum, is speaking about why we are here and why America needs reform.
Noorani challenges the attendees to do everything they can to win in this campaign.
The crowd is fired up and responding loudly to his calls to action.
He asks: Can we reform immigration for Workers?
And the resounding response: “YES WE CAN!”
You can literally feel the audience chomping at the bit to get down to the work it will take to make this campaign a success.
12:15: And now a blessing from an Imam Syed Naqvi from the Jaferia. His first comments were about the diversity of the crowd. There are over 700 people here, from all over the United States, and I must say its inspiring to see so many different folks from so many backgrounds, gathered in one place, working for one cause.
12:20 Maria Socorro Pesqueira, a leader from Mujeres Latinas in Accion de Chicago, is now telling the stories of women affected by the “immigration crisis” in the United States. She tells the story of Berta, who came to the States looking for a better future and had to leave her children behind when she was deported. She also relates her own personal story of immigration. She reminds us all that immigration is a family story, a story of love across borders. Harking back to the 2006 marches and telling her personal experience watching the movement grow.
12:30 WOW. William McNary, President of US Action just came out and ROCKED the house. Three different standing ovations and a flood of “si se puedes” and “yeaaaaahs” later, the crowd is fired up and ready to fight for what’s right.
But, as McNair reminds us that we are not going to win reform because the opposition has a change of conscious – the only way to win is to fight and to organize and continue to push for reform. I don’t know about you guys, but I’m ready to WORK after that speech.
12:38 Now onto Felipe Matos, a member of Students Working for Equal Rights, who is speaking about his own story and the stories of those who keep him fighting for justice.
He is now introducing the star of this afternoons event: Luis Gutierrez. As William McNair sated earlier,
“if Obama is the quarterback, Gutierrez is the guy who’s gonna run in for the touchdown”.
12:45 Gutierrez enters the tent to a standing ovation and asks for a round of applause for the folks who are here working, serving lunch at this event. He notes that they are listening, and even smiling, as today’s speakers take the stage. They know that in this space, they see over 700 friends and allies, who are working to make their lives better.
Gutierrez also remarks on the rescheduling of the White House meeting with Obama – which has been pushed back two weeks to June 17th. Instead of disappointment, he expreses gratitude that we have an extra 14 days to ORGANIZE and prepare members of Congress to stand firm for immigration reform.
Speaking about his recent Familias Unidas tour, Gutierrez told the story of a Congressman from Georgia, who, as a child remembers asking about the seperate but equal state of the Jim Crow South. He was told not to “make trouble’”, and it was just “the way things were”. But after the testimonies of the tour and the injustice he witnessed, he told Gutierrez that he was, again, ready to “make trouble”.
There is true power behind the movement, with Nancy Pelosi declaring raids unamerican and the Chicago Cardinal of the Catholic church calling the current state of immigration in this country “immoral”.
“We have momentum, we have the wind at our back. Certainly we have obstacles and challenges, but they are not obstacles and challenges that we cannot overcome”, says Gutierrez.
He reminds us that we are all here today, to ensure that we cross the finish line of this fight and make sure that leadership in the House and Senate and the President of the US make a committment and carry us across the finish line. He calls on everyone (including elected officials) to have the political courage to pass comprehensive immigraiton reform.
On his travels through the United States during the Family Unity tour, Gutierrez remarks that at each stop he found himself more and more committed to the cause. He has met so many people who have suffered so much and he shares that he cannot rest until this is won and wants to ensure that NOBODY is left behind. I love that he is flowing freely into Spanish at times, when he has an especially poignant point to make.
He touches on the irony of members of congress who claim to be “family oriented, people of faith”.
“If we truly love our neighbor as we love ourselves, and we have citizenship, then we cannot do anything other than fight until those others are also citizens. If I truly love my neighbor as myself, then I have to fight until their families and their kids have the same rights and privelges that mine do.”
I couldn’t agree more. I think there that the tendency to just “live as comforably as you can” and not worry about others is dying in America right now. We are witnessing the rebirth of civic engagement and of community values. I think that right here, in this space in Washington, DC, we are already seeing the movement towards practicing community values in policy as well as personal life.
There will be a moment of triumph. “I know it and I feel it”, says Gutierrez. But, we MUST hold President Barack Obama accountable. He must follow through on his promise of comprehensive immigration reform.
El es nuestro amigo, el es nuestro aliado. Pero es que tenga clara una cosa, si no cumple con su promesa, va a ver consequencias con nuestra comunidad.
Ooh, and another spontaneous round of “si se puedes”. This crowd of activists, organizers, faith leaders, families and labor leaders is ready for the fight. They are here to organize and to make sure that the fight for immigration reform is a victory for justice, a victory for workers and a victory for America.
Gutierrez points at the giant American flag behind the podium and remarks,
“America will be a better place because of the work you are doing here today”.
Wow. How’s that for an opening?