photo: Armando L. Sanchez/Chicago Tribune

After 25 cities, 5760 miles, and 30 days the Caravan for Peace with Justice and Dignity is in Washington, DC for the final days of action, press conferences, and lobbying to bring a human face to the costs of the War on Drugs to our nation’s capitol. 

Global Exchange’s Organizing Director, Kirsten Moller just returned from her leg of the trip and recounts her experiences of going from Texas through the Deep South, and into Chicago.

In Austin, TX Global Exchange’s Executive Director, Carleen Pickard passed the baton on to me to begin my leg of the journey with the Caravan for Peace.

From Austin we headed to Houston, TX where we performed a final act of buying, destroying and burying (in blocks of cement) an assault weapon to commemorate the huge numbers of people killed by weapons crossing the border from Texas into Mexico.

Going from Texas and heading into the Deep South was a profound experience for the members of the Caravan for Peace. Leaving a state, which was once Mexico, and shares deep cultural and historical ties for the state of Mississippi was like crossing an international border. The South, drenched in the history of the civil rights movement and suffering from a different kind of poverty, was a real eye opener for many of us.

Though the effects of the drug war in local communities are apparent in the South, as the victims of Mexico traveled through the towns, there was a definite collective and visceral realization that the struggle is the same.

Hurricane Isaac kept us from visiting New Orleans where a fabulous host committee had been prepared to meet the group. They survived the storm and are committed to continue their community organizing and work against the police corruption fueled by the War on Drugs.

photo: Caravan for Peace

After that detour, we were fortunate to have the Central United Methodist Church in Jackson, MS agree to host the group for two days instead of one and because of the visit, have expressed a strong interest in getting involved in the work of the local host committee, the Mississippi Immigrant Rights Alliance (MIRA).

In the ornately decorated Rotunda of the Capitol building and the former Supreme Court chambers, the Caravan members exchanged testimonials with politicians, the ACLU, Southern Poverty Law Center, the Children’s Defense Fund, and local activists.

Mississippi has the second highest per capita prison population in the country. “We’re losing a whole generation to the prison system,” said Father Jerry Tobin. The war on drugs is really a war on whole communities who are losing their civil rights in order to support for-profit prisons like the Correction Corporation of America, a prison system now used to hold undocumented immigrants as well.

Heading to Montgomery we stopped to walk across the historic Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, made famous by the Civil Rights movement as the site where, in 1965, peaceful demonstrators were attacked as they tried to march to the capitol. Here Dr. Poe of NAACP and Javier Sicilia made the connections between the current struggle to end the drug war and the lessons we have to learn from the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

In Montgomery, AL there was a press conference featuring the NAACP and the Alabama Coalition for Immigrant Justice (ACIJ) calling for a focus on effective preventative and rehabilitative policies that have been proven to decrease drug abuse and associated violent crime instead of the current drug war policies. The ACIJ spoke about the new anti-immigrant law, HB56, calling for immigrants to ‘self-deport’ from Alabama, ignoring the fact that many can no longer safely return to their homelands due to the violent conditions created by the War on Drugs.

Elizabeth Brezovich, of ACIJ:
“We welcome the Caravan for Peace and the opportunity it provides the people of Alabama to learn about the interdependence of our countries and the effects of American domestic and foreign policies.”

Dr. Sharon Richards (NAACP) then invited us to a mega party in a mega church with a Job Corps choir and a drug program graduation ceremony and mountains of soul food!

photo: Caravan for Peace

From Montgomery we traveled on to Atlanta, GA where the Latino population is large and the Martin Luther King. Jr. Center creates a peaceful, yet powerful place to root the tradition of non-violent organizing. Reverend Durley of the Ebenezer Church extolled on the links to the past and urged us to Organize! Organize! Organize! as we laid flowers on the tomb and marched to the capitol building.

In the morning a men’s breakfast club hosted at the local Presbyterian Church brought out a dialogue about the failures of the Drug War and how it is used as a pretext to rob whole communities of their democratic rights. A prominent local prosecutor admitted that people caught in the War on Drugs, even for the smallest offenses can legally be discriminated against for the rest of their lives – in employment, housing and in some states in voting.

Then in Fort Benning, Georgia, we were invited by the School of Americas Watch to participate in a Die-In at the gates of Fort Benning  to highlight the role of U.S. military support and the thousands murdered during the past six years in Mexico. Family members of the victims and their allies, left photographs of their loved ones, signs and crosses on the main entrance’s sign.

photo: Caravan for Peace

After our time in the South, we made our way north to Chicago, IL with a stopover in Louisville, KY where churches, again, came to the rescue with delicious food and spacious lodging. Many of the victims on the bus commented on how generous the churches in the U.S . were, how much hospitality we experienced and how shocked they were at the levels of poverty and income disparity there are in the US. The myth of the streets paved with gold continues to be one of the biggest US exports.

In Chicago, the host committee arranged a three mile hike from the Latino community into the largely African American neighborhood bringing a message of unity and an analysis of what prohibition meant to Chicago historically and why that understanding of history is still relevant.

From Chicago, we drove through the rain to Toledo and Cleveland, OH where private prisons are a growing industry with groups organizing against them.

Much appreciation to the exhausted caravaneros, Sicilia and others from Mexico and the United States who have lost loved ones to the drug war and have led the Caravan for Peace on this journey highlighting the connections across borders and communities, strengthening and appreciating the local organizing and encouraging us to continue the struggle.

The next Caravan update installment will focus on the last leg of the journey.