Get on the Undocubus

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Get on the Undocubus

While many undocumented immigrants are forced to live as virtual prisoners in their own homes, fearing any encounter with the government authorities, some pro-migrant activists are not only taking to the streets, they’re taking the show on the road.

The “No Papers, No Fear” campaign will mobilize activists across the country as it blazes a trail from Phoenix, Arizona–where the SB1070 law jumpstarted the campaign for immigrant rights–through New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, and Tennessee–states where politicians have considered similarly draconian anti-immigrant measures. The final destination will be the Democratic National Convention in North Carolina.

The “Undocubus,” set to take off on July 29, will mirror the example of the freedom rides of the Civil Rights movement, and like the original freedom riders, these folks know what it means to cross into hostile territory, and to challenge racist, anti-immigrant attacks through strength in numbers.

The tour will launch following a week of action against Sheriff Joe Arpaio, centering on a civil rights lawsuit that accuses his Maricopa County office of terrorizing Latino communities with discriminatory policing.

The campaign’s manifesto proclaims the mission of making undocumented immigrants visible in the political arena, as well as in the communities where they’ve long been present:

Riders are undocumented people from all over the country, including students, mothers and fathers, children, people in deportation proceedings, day laborers, and others who continue to face deportation, harassment, and death while simply looking for a better life. …

The tour will end in North Carolina at the Democratic National Convention where the party that promises reform but has thus far produced records deportations will decide whether to include or exclude the undocumented leaders who will have braved so much to get there. 

Riding the bus alone is a great risk because of the checkpoints and profiling that has become so common. But the ride is also arena for mobilizing, where we will build with those who have a story to tell, who have realized the only secure community is an organized one. We have overcome our fears and are ready to set a new example of courage. We hope this country and its officials will be brave enough to follow.

This week, the Undocubus will get a final push from a fundraising theater festival on July 25 and a march on July 28 in Phoenix, led by Puente Human Rights Movement and others. If you can’t catch a ride with them, you can follow them on social media, and more importantly, bring their message into your community by spreading the word about the campaign.

Faced with the entrenched discrimination and institutionalized oppression of existing immigration laws, it’s no wonder they’ve taken a page out of history by launching an immigrant version of the Freedom Rides. The activists who rode the buses through the Jim Crow south understood that, after so many years of legal battles, clashes in the streets, and political stagnation, direct action was their only path to effecting change. The young idealists didn’t anticipate all the violence and hardship that lay ahead, but they came to embrace their roles as a fulcrum in the inevitable turn of history.

In contrast to the civil rights movement, the riders on the Undocubus aren’t agitating on issues of voting rights and Jim Crow segregation. But they are carrying on the call for racial and economic justice that the civil rights era set in motion, and will continue to roll forward with each rising generation and demographic shift. The activists leading the No Papers, No Fear movement demand respect, dignity and inclusion–things that current civil rights laws cannot guarantee without the political will of grassroots advocates, and the mobilization of the disenfranchised.

Michelle Chen

Michelle Chen is a contributing editor at In These Times. She is a regular contributor to the labor rights blog Working In These Times, Colorlines.com, and Pacifica's WBAI. Her work has also appeared in Common Dreams, Alternet, Ms. Magazine, Newsday, and her old zine, cain.

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