I am a member of the Bellingham Unitarian Fellowship of Swiss and other mixed Western European heritage. I remember the first time I joined the farmworker march for justice in our County. It was shortly after we had launched our "official" partnership with the organization Community to Community, though we had been unofficial partners on several efforts for years.
I heard that some farmworkers, including a man in a wheelchair whose feet had been injured by farming in too-cold weather without adequate clothing, were going to be walking all the way from the Lynden border that morning--20 miles from the downtown end point. I wasn't quite ready for that, so I waited at the half way point with several others to join the march. We waited longer than expected (we later discovered the marchers had been waylaid at the Sikh Temple where they had been welcomed with a hotbreakfast). I felt a bit awkward. I didn't know most of the people and wasn't bold enough to try out my Spanish with the non-English speakers waiting. I milled about in the store where we were waiting and realized it was a Mexican store with many products imported from countries to the south of the US. It had been a long time since I was in such a store, and never in my home county. I felt a bit out of place, but also felt pleased and interested in this new "home" experience.
I remember when we first saw the group of marchers coming towards us. A shout of pride and joy went through our own crowd (which had grown considerably by then). I even felt tears prick my eyes, seeing that small, determined group--led by a man in wheelchair, red banners proudly proclaiming their purpose. Our crowd started to feel to me like we were together. We cheered them as they got closer and a big round of joyful cries rang out as they arrived. We gathered in a circle and heard some inspirational words and then set out to continue the march.
We walked along a very busy, wide road. At first I felt somewhat fearful of our vulnerability to hostility from anti-immigrant residents driving big vehicles that could do harm. As we walked, though, we more often had friendly honks and waves from drivers going by (I will always remember now to honk when I go by a rally—it makes such a big difference to the folks "on the ground"). Walking with people creates unique opportunities for interaction. I ended up beside many different people, and in that setting, felt comfortable trying out my Spanish and having chats with people I Iikely would never otherwise have met. There were many children in the march--walking or being carried. It was easy to talk with the children or with the parents about their children. I had a proud moment when I was asked to take a turn carrying one of the big banners (it was heavy!).
The conversations, the honks, helping carry all made me feel more like a meaningful participant in the march. What really solidfied it, though, was when we got to the next gathering place much closer to downtown. What looked like a huge crowd on both sides of the street were cheering us on, waving new signs, welcoming our band of marchers. I felt tears in my eyes again, experiencing our power, support and size grow with many new, enthusiastic marchers and voices. We were in front of the mall then, with a presence so visible, that there was no way drivers could miss us. It is a special thing to be part of helping make something that is usually invisible so visible.
Our joyful band of marchers continued on to downtown Bellingham, rallying along the way, and attracting new marchers or people stopping to ask about our purpose. Several members of our fellowship had joined in along the way as well. At the park, we got to hear from many speakers, including the farmworkers who had been walking from the wee hours in Lynden. We stood in line and ate together, spread out on the grass. I felt connected to them in a way I never had before. It is one thing to believe in justice, but it is another to experience a real togetherness in fighting for it. When I think of Community to Community as our partner organization--marching together embodied for me the true essence of this partnership.