By José de la Isla
(Editor's Note: Journalist José de la Isla is traveling with the Caravan for Peace as they go to New York, Baltimore and Washington, D.C.)
NEW YORK — Before the historic Caravan For Peace with Justice and Dignity arrived at Riverside Church, across the street from Central Park, local volunteers, wearing white T-shirts with “#YoSoy132NY” brought refreshments and fruit for the 110 sojourners on the buses coming from Cleveland, Ohio.
The Caravan is in its last week of a bi-national 27-city, 30-day journey across the United States to bring consciousness about the devastating effects the drug war has had on innocent families in Mexico.
This is writer and poet Javier Sicilia’s third such march as head of the group of victims’ families who have dead or missing members due to the transnational drug war violence and its associated crime culture. Sicilia is himself a victim. His son was murdered over a year ago.
The 40-year old U.S. policy, emphasizing military and police action, shows no sign of diminishing. Instead criminal activity has expanded through money laundering, illicit investment, graft and corruption, extortion, human trafficking, indiscriminate murders, associated crime, and public and private corruption.
Victims’ families, among the 110 people forming the Caravan, tell jarring stories about their torment, their personal grief over the indiscriminate death of a member or about not knowing what became, what happened, to a loved one.
The large auditorium at Riverside Church is full. Service workers place more chairs out for the overflow crowd. Members of the audience have their own stories to tell. Representatives of local organizations have shown up.
Carol Edie, leader of formerly incarcerated women, tells how her group fought for a New York reform that keeps women from being manacled if arrested for an offense. Mark Johnson, of Fellowship of Reconciliation, explains his group’s effort over four decades concerning U.S. interventions in Latin America.
Here at Riverside Church, Martin Luther King, Jr., gave his next to last discourse in 1967. In it, he issued a “call to conscience” and described how the war in Vietnam was morally damaging the people of this country, using the phrase “the burnings of my own heart." He said “radical departures” were needed to end that war.
The rise of fatalities and casualties and destruction translated into family suffering, which led to bringing a conclusion to the U.S. role in that conflict.
Experts now claim the number of casualties in Mexico from the last six years of the drug war is greater than the total of U.S. military fatalities in Vietnam.
On this same spot, Javier Sicilia refers to King’s speech.
He says the Caraven has already looked for ways to hold Mexico responsible for its participation in the drug war. Now the United States must find a way to accept its responsibility.
This is worse than Vietnam, he says. “That is why we are here. “Our dead. Our missing. No one can imagine 70,000 faces. See our faces (and those of) distraught families and multiply them 70,000 times.”
He says they came to tell the U.S. of needing to work together to end the War on Drugs. “If we don’t stop the capital of violence,” referring to money laundering, “we become those who turn their backs and become complicit. We need to build together and save democracy and do it at the kitchen table, (as the) the route to peace.”
A candle lit march from Riverside Church to St. Cecilia’s Catholic Church begins. At least 500 people, four abreast, participate. Most of them carry signs with an anti-drug-war messages. Victim families carry photos of the dead and missing.
Through dozens of blocks, Enrique Morones, head of California’s Border Angels, leads the marchers in yells.
While these events take place in Manhattan, Barack Obama prepares to give his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.
In front of the famous Apollo Theater, the crowd is yelling, “Obama, escucha. Estamos en la lucha.”
Tomorrow: The Caravana is scheduled to go to New York City Hall and then to HSBC Bank.
Jose de la Isla is a journalist, book author and weekly opinion writer for Hispanic Link News Service.