Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Dreams hit the rails

Union Station, the big train depot in Los Angeles, is always bustling in the daytime, but this afternoon there was an extra charge of energy as the Dreams Across America tour got underway with a full dose of press fanfare and boisterous support from well-wishers.

There was an air of palpable excitement among the forty or so “Dreamers” -- as the tour has designated the immigrants who are riding the train across the USA to share their stories with other Americans -- and support staff. Taking in the scene, one of them remarked to me: “This is history.”

There were about fifty supporters -- many of them wearing red T-shirts from one of the service workers’ unions that is co-sponsoring the tour, and waving red flags – shouting words of support. As we marched in a cluster up the corridor toward our platform, they chanted: “Si se puede!”

Once at the platform, we were greeted by a large phalanx of reporters: TV cameramen and crews lined up, radio reporters busy with mikes, print reporters trying to nab interviews amid the din. Station officials grew increasingly irate at the crowd as it flowed over the yellow lines that were supposed to be the barriers, especially the TV camera crews eager to get in a good shot.

There were brief words at the press event from Cardinal Roger Mahony, whose Los Angeles Diocese is another of the tour’s sponsors. “The American people want immigration reform, and they want a path to legal residents for the 12 million people,” he observed. He also led the crowd in prayer.

Cathy Gurney, another Dreamer whose landscaping business depends on Latino labor, was also clear about what she hopes to achieve by riding with the tour: “Without fair and comprehensive immigration reform in our country we soon won't have access to legal workforce, which will result in having to close down our business, and I will leave 60 families without an income.”

I met Gurney yesterday and we chatted for a bit. She related a story to me about that business: She went on the air with some local right-wing radio talk-show hosts who regularly bash “illegal aliens” on their show. Among their arguments was the claim that she was taking away jobs from white laborers. So Gurney took them up on their challenge, and the next week made a specific effort to recruit and hire white workers.

Gurney hired 13 of them and put them to work. Of them, 12 quit before the day’s work was through. The one who made it through the entire day did not come back the next.

Of course, when she went back to those talk-show hosts and reported the results of their challenge, they refused to put her on the air.

You’ve gotta wonder how many of those right-wing talkers bothered to show up today at Union Station and meet some real immigrants.

In any event, we all piled on board the train after awhile, found our seats, and slowly trundled our way out of L.A. We now sit somewhere near Pomona, waiting for oncoming trains to clear the tracks, and then off we go to Tucson, our first real stop on the tour.

You can check out a map of our itinerary here. And note, of course, that this is not the only “Dreams Train” on the tracks; three other trains taking other routes will be part of the campaign, but this one is the only one going across the entire country.

Should be fun and fascinating. Here’s hoping you enjoy the ride along with us.

Coming shortly: Lou Dobbs goes off the rails.

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