As reported by Sheila Chung from the Bay Area Immigrant Rights Coalition

Day 1: Tuesday, March 21

Over 50 hunger strikers and community organizations started a seven-day protest in front of the Federal Building in San Francisco calling for fair and just immigration reform, and to denounce Representative James Sensenbrenner’s and Senator Arlen Specter’s bills that designate all undocumented immigrants as aggravated felons.

At noon, organizers held a press conference to announce the start of the Hunger Strike and Week of Actions. Dolores Huerta, co-founder of the United Farm Workers of America, reminded people that immigrants are the backbone of our economy –

taking care of our elderly, picking our food, cleaning our homes. She boldly called for legalization saying that undocumented immigrants deserve it given all they have contributed to this country. Other speakers included: Sheila Chung from the Bay Area Immigrant Rights Coalition, Hong-An Tran from Services, Immigrant Rights, Education Network (SIREN) in San Jose, Kyung Jin Lee of the Korean Community Center of the East Bay, and hunger striker Cesar Cruz.

Rev. Mac Jatto of Africa International Mission blessed the hunger strikers and broke a ceremonial last meal of bread with them.

Organizers and Supervisor Chris Daly’s office had a long day of negotiations with the SF Police Department, the Federal Police, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and various permit offices. Our portable bathroom was hauled away at one point because of a permit blockage. By the late afternoon, however, we received assurances from local and federal law enforcement that they would not hamper the Hunger Strike or our actions.

A class from San Francisco State joined us in the afternoon to learn about our reasons for hunger striking. What a great way to put classroom learning into context! Nurse Stephan from St. Anthony’s Clinic also came by to take hunger strikers’ vitals. Attorney John Viola who specializes in demonstrations also provided support throughout the day.

In the early evening, close to 400 mothers, fathers, children and community members gathered at Dolores Park in San Francisco’s Mission District where they watched Grupo de Danza Azteca Xiuhcoatl (Xiuhcoatl Aztec Dance Group) and Teatro Coalición Deporten a la Migra (Deport the INS Coalition Theatre) perform. They also heard inspiring words from Pastor Mauricio Chacón of Presbyterian Church of the Mission, María Poblet, member of the Bay Area Immigrant Rights Coalition, Guillermina Castellanos from Coalición Deporten a la Migra, and Concha Saucedo from Instituto Familiar de la Raza.

Those gathered marched to the Federal Building, swaying to the beat of Korean drums.

Marchers announced their arrival at the Federal Building around 7:30pm with enthusiastic chants – “¡Se ve! ¡Se siente! ¡El pueblo está presente!” (“You can see it! You can feel it! The community is present!”) They embraced hunger strikers and a member of Grupo Maya Quisamej Junan offered a Mayan blessing with sage to give strength to the hunger strikers. Renee Saucedo, an organizer and hunger striker, shared her gratitude with the crowd and reminded everyone that those going without food are simply a vehicle to raise the voices of our entire community. Flor Ramos of La Raza Centro Legal wrapped up the program by encouraging everyone to join us again throughout the Week of Actions.

Shortly after, the hunger strikers climbed into their tents to get a good night’s rest in preparation for Wednesday’s actions. An amazing support team stayed up to keep watch.

At the end of the evening we asked four hunger strikers, “What most impacted you today?” Read their answers:

“It was like what Cesar said – ‘It will be your voices that feed us today.’ When the marchers came, I felt like I could go on forever.” – Wayne

"The arresting of the bathrooms.” – Bruce

"I can’t explain how happy it made me to see so many moms, kids, and dads. I felt a sense of empowerment. This community is usually thought of as passive – expected not to stand up for our dignity and justice. Today made me realize that we have so much power to change things.” – Raul

“Los que marcharon hasta dejaron sus novelas para darnos su apoyo. Me gustó porque son personas que pudieran haber dicho, ‘que se lo arreglen,’ pero no.” – Maria

“I know a lot of people who have to be out here [in the cold] daily and I know that a week from now I can go back into a warm place. It makes me think of all the immigrants in the cold deserts of California and Arizona.” – Bruce

Copyright ©2006 Love Sees No Borders