Children in Austin sing to Caravan to remind us why this is important

Global Exchange Executive Director Carleen Pickard, who spent the last week with the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity,has handed the baton over to Global Exchange Director of Organizing Kirsten Moller who caught up with the Caravan in Austin, Texas. Kirsten shares some of her first experiences:

Aztec dancers welcome caravan to Austin church

After months of working behind the scenes in San Francisco- talking to host committees all across the country, painting banners, and booking hotel rooms for our bus drivers, I am finally on the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity.

We waited in the hot (though they call this mild) sun in front of the Capitol building in Austin for the two buses and the infamous RV to arrive. Aztec Dancers and the famous Austin ‘live music sound’ welcomed the bus when it arrived and the well-oiled team of Austin volunteers moved into place. Pop up tents for shades, ice chest full cold water, tables, name tags, security — not a detail was missed.

Ana Correa, Organizer in Austin

Ana Yanez-Correa of the Criminal Justice Coalition introduced the caravan and made the link between the deaths, disappearance and despair in Mexico and the increasing criminalization of Communities of Color in the US. As an immigrant herself and as a member of the NAACP she provides a unique bridge linking issues across the border.

She is proud of the decision of the national NAACP to endorse the caravan at its 102nd Annual National Convention in July. The NAACP  called for a repeal of the War on Drugs strategy noting that policies have failed to decrease illegal drug addiction or violence in our communities. The NAACP declared that under the current drug policies, statistics demonstrate that laws are more harshly enforced in African American communities and other communities of color.

Demonstrator on the capital steps in Austin

African Americans are 13 times more likely to go to jail for the same drug-related offenses than their Caucasian counterparts. And like the caravan they agree that smart and safe criminal justice initiatives are more effective in addressing drug abuse and its associated effects. These new initiatives include: sentencing reform to eliminate disparities in drug laws, repealing mandatory minimum sentences, promoting diversion programs, improving parole and probation revocation rates, supporting re-entry initiatives, and supporting youth violence reduction programs.

Ana can not only bring together the criminal justice coalitions and the immigrant rights coalitions, she mentioned to me that she is able to engage in a dialogue with Tea party activists as well. Being able to talk to each other over great divides is especially important in a state like Texas where a conservative base continues to grow.

Rappers at St. James Episcopal Church in Austin

An American mother whose son recently disappeared in Mexico is comforted by a Mexican mother on the Caravan in Austin.

After a stop to the Capitol building, we drove up to the St. James Episcopal Church for a mass and community dinner with more music, dancing, sharing of stories, tears and hugs and a beautiful  ceremony passing candles for the more than 60,000 people killed and the 10,000 people who have disappeared because of drug violence in Mexico in the last few years. “No Deberia morir” we chanted as the sun went down.

Included during the Caravan visit to Austin was a ceremony to commemorate the anniversary of the casino fire massacre that took place in Mexico one year ago, leaving 52 victims in its wake. The casino fire was presumably set by drug traffickers.


Finally there were awards for all the volunteers, and I was once again reminded of why the caravan is so meaningful – so many people giving their time, their energies and creativity to end the violence now. The caravan is planting seeds as it passes through but the movement is being built by the solid organizing in communities across the country. Remembering to appreciate and thank each other for the work we do makes us stronger.

As fellow Caravanisto Miguel told me — “this is the not the end, this is just the beginning.’

Onward to Houston!


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