A multi-racial, multi-sector coalition united across the coasts on May Day 2018 representing the power of Freedom Cities. Over forty organizations marched under the Freedom Cities banner in New York City, while in Oakland, the Ella Baker center turned in full force at a rally hosted by Oakland Sin Fronteras.
In New York, freedom fighters amplified the voices of brown and black workers at symbolic and literal sites of resistance throughout lower Manhattan. In its seventh year, this “Immigrant Worker Justice Tour” made multiple stops, from banks to big box stores, to highlight the interconnectedness of their struggles.
After a rally that drew in hundreds at Washington Square Park, community members kicked off the 7th annual tour at Pleasure Chest, a sex store where the predominantly LGBTQ-identified workers voted unanimously to join the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU) last summer, despite the owners’ union busting efforts.
In front of Chase Bank, Aru Apaza from the American Indian House spoke of the bank’s role in financing four proposed tar sands pipelines. “We are demanding indigenous nations have control over their own territories. As people in NYC, the financial capital of the world, we have a duty to stand up and fight these banks that are poisoning indigenous people everywhere,” said Aru.
Cindy Martinez from Enlace added that JPMorgan Chase’s portfolio includes not only fossil fuels investments, but also investments in the private prison industry, which profits off the bodies of people of color.
“JPMorgan Chase is making money off the separation and suffering of our families, of the forced labor and the horrible conditions that many times have led to multiple deaths in these detention centers,” said Cindy.
Juleon Robinson from the New Economy Project offered an alternative to Wall Street banks: the creation of a municipal bank, grounded in economic and racial justice, that moves the public’s dollars away from speculation, and towards socially responsible investing.
“Chase has invested, in 2017 alone, $11 billion — that’s “billion” with a “b” — in fossil fuel production. Instead, that money can go to give economic control back to our communities, back to NYC neighborhoods. Imagine if that money went to fund worker cooperatives all over our city. Imagine if that money funded permanently affordable housing all over our city,” he said.
Workers, leaders, and community members continued the march towards Target, where Tania from Queens Neighborhood United described the devastating impact of opening big box stores on neighborhoods heavy with mom-and-pop shops.
Last, marching to the beat of the Rude Mechanical Orchestra, the tour culminated at the New York City immigration field office. Organizers from BAJI, Families for Freedom, Mi Casa No Es Su Casa, Adhikaar and others spoke of how the detention complex criminalizes their communities and tears families apart.
“We have to stop the idea that those of us who come from immigrant families need to push down on black people in order to push up. Because if they do it to us, they will eventually do it to you,” said BAJI organizer Albert Saint Jean.
Meanwhile, in Oakland, Ella Baker Center members proudly marched behind a “Freedom Cities” Banner. Holding up signs like, “How Would you Invest $404 million? Jails or Schools?” members brought attention to a core tenet of freedom cities — divestment from profiteering off black and brown bodies, and towards community self-determination and wellness for all people.
Ella Baker Center Organizer Tash Nguyen pumped up the Oakland crowd, calling for an audit of Alameda Sheriff Greg Ahern, whose budget has doubled despite a decrease of 44% in the number of people in jail.
“This sheriff colludes with ICE, he beat, kills and harasses people on the streets and in jails. Say shame! He supported the nomination of Jeff Sessions. Say shame! He is in bed with white supremacists. Say shame! I talk to people inside Santa Rita jail every single day and I can tell you that there is no such thing as rehabilitation in our jails,” Nguyen shared with the crowd.
The audit of Sheriff Ahern’s department aims to reveal the violent consequences of passing budgetary line items, and how money could instead be invested into community wellbeing.
Accordingly, Ella Baker Center set up an interactive display where marchers could take “gold coins” from Sheriff Ahern and choose where they would reinvest his bloated budget — in schools, housing, health or jobs.
From New York to Oakland, Freedom Cities demonstrated that it is possible for our communities to thrive if we change corporate and government priorities. This May Day, they carved out crucial space to demonstrate what it means to center investments in people and the planet over profit.