Javier Sicilia builds support for this summer's Caravan for Peace

Javier Sicilia, poet and activist continued his tour this week to Los Angeles, El Paso and Tucson to bring people and issues together to pave the way for peace with justice and dignity.  As he boarded planes, sat in classrooms and stood in front of large audiences  his message continued to be that there is real human suffering behind the statistics coming across the border between US and Mexico.

As Carleen Pickard wrote in last weeks blog he reminds that there are over 60,000 Mexicans dead, 20,000 Mexicans disappeared and 250,000 Mexicans displaced from their homes because of the failed War on Drugs and that the government is incapable or unwilling to crack down on organized crime or investigate the deaths of the many innocent victims.

With a poet’s voice, Javier Sicilia, dressed in worn blue jeans, an old flannel shirt and his ever-present felt hat, tells the adoring audiences of immigrants and activists, some of whom are refugees from the violence, that the time has come to stop treating the drugs as a national security issue start dealing with them as public health issue.

At La Placita, a sanctuary church in the heart of Los Angeles, he was joined by a group of victims under a mural of the Virgin of Guadalupe with the US and Mexican flags framing the speakers. Candles and flowers commemorate the missing and the dead. One woman who lost her brother held up a small studio portrait of a young man dressed in blue sports clothing – another shed tears when she talked about the 20,000 people who have just disappeared. No one is looking for them and there is no place to put a flower and say a prayer. Javier embraces and kisses all the victims and the power of their collective grief transforms the individual sadness to a strong and clear call for action.

Procession on the Loyola campus

Loyola Marymount and Pomona College hosted Sicilia where students wrestled with their own complicity. We, in the US are the consumers of drugs, yet we don’t pay the real price. We import the drugs and export the arms — one is for personal pleasure and the other can only be used to harm another person. Dealing with US consumption of drugs and US gun trafficking are key to solving the problem.

Even Fox News  admits that after 40 years and 1 trillion dollars, the War on Drugs has failed to meet any of its goals. Still discussion of drug legalization continues to be an extremely difficult topic to broach in this country. Javier Sicillia suggests we start talking about drug regulation; about public health and safety and about our common humanity with the victims in Mexico as a way to start moving in another direction.

To start that discussion, he and a group of victims from the Movement for Peace with Justice and Dignity (MPJD) have proposed a Caravan for Peace this summer, starting in Tijuana/San Diego on August 12th and ending in Washington DC on September 10th. This letter was released during the Los Angeles events, calling on civil society groups across the North America to support the Caravan. As the Caravan of buses and cars makes its way along the border between our two countries they will be meeting with community groups, putting faces to the statistics and sharing ideas about how to stop the flow of guns southward. As communities organized in an election year we can change the priorities from a futile War on Drugs to an investment in community development and justice.

In Los Angeles, 40 community groups were represented at an organizing meeting, including home town associations from Oaxaca and Zacatecas.

In El Paso, Javier was awarded the Voice of the Voiceless award from the Annunciation House, at a beautiful vigil marking the loss of over 10,000 lives since 2008 in Juarez/El Paso.  An installation projected a moving scroll of names on the house every night for a week while people brought flowers, mementos and other symbols to place on an altar in their memory.  Javier spoke about “Hope in the Midst of Violence” and the 400 guests lit candles and pledged to add their little light to the struggle.

In Tucson activists met with us and urged us to expand the network beyond the border region. “When I can’t get anyone to pay attention to another body in the desert, then we have truly lost our humanity’, said Mike Wilson human rights activist of the Tohono O’odham Nation who maintains water stations for migrants on the Tohono O’odham Nation. “We have to get the people outside of the border region to pay attention”

Do you live in one of the communities along the route? Let us know who we should be talking to about how the drug war affects your community, how we can stop gun violence and defend the security and dignity of immigrants. Find out more about the Caravan here.