“Education not deportation! Education not deportation!” was the chant escaping from the protestors and megaphones. There were protestors in the middle of a four-way intersection, kneeling on a large mural they laid down painted by Fabiana Rodriguez, holding spray-painted signs above their heads that read “undocumented.” The mural read read “Sin Papeles, Sin Miedo” with a large monarch butterfly, whose intergenerational migration the Undocubus has embraced as a symbol of their own, painted in the center. The police were pushing media and onlookers backward by the time Jose Antonio Vargas, Cesar Vargas, Erika Andiola and myself made it to the scene. “Let me know when you’ve got something up” Jose said as he walked around the crowd to get a better look.
The Undocubus is aptly named: it’s a bus driven across the U.S. to pick up undocumented immigrants along its way to the Democratic National Convention (DNC) in Charlotte. Aboard was Gabby Pacheco from United We Dream, artist Julio Salgado and dozens of other activists. They issued a statement online, saying “We came out because we are tired of the mistreatment. We are tired of waiting for change and we know that it never comes without risk or without sacrifice.”
Although undocumented immigrants, as well as Latinos in general, strongly prefer the Democrats to Republicans, the comparatively comforting rhetoric hasn’t helped to slow down the deportations. When they went to the DNC to protest, they knelt down in the street, obstructing traffic and chanting. The police tried to dissuade them, but they refused to listen, chanting away.
Nearby there was a Voto Latino panel where Jose Antonio had finished telling his story about when he went to the DMV to get a driver’s license, only to find out that his green card was a fake and he was undocumented. “After I was published in TIME Magazine, somebody came to a panel I was talking at and he had my article underlined with him, so I was like ‘oh great, now I know he’s read it and wants to talk about it.’” When the man approached him asking “Why do you think you can just go ahead and get a driver’s license” accusingly, he told him that he didn’t do it to spite him; he did it because he has to get groceries and drive to work. His questioner just said “oh” and wandered off after.
Rosario Dawson, Maria Theresa Kumar, Cecile Richards and Chris Matthews were there as well, all adding their voice to a discussion that went from immigration to women’s rights to voting rights. When Matthews finished speaking, we all went outside, and soon walked into the spectacle unfolding in the street. On the other side of the police and crowd, Fabiana was passing out flags with butterflies that she had painted on bamboo poles. Next to her were a dozen protestors chanting, one of them into a bullhorn.
The police addressed the demonstrators, pushing the crowd back, trying to disperse them to no avail. They cited the law that they violated by demonstrating there and pressed them with the threat of arrest. It was about this time that Rosario Dawson showed up, hugging a protestor in tears as the police put handcuffs on the demonstrators in the street. “We really need to have better representation, and that’s why we continue to have to keep seeing soldiers of the battle keep going down one by one until finally there is a critical mass to make a difference,” Rosario told nearby reporters as demonstrators were being handcuffed and pulled into police vans. “That’s what it takes,” she said. “For all of you who just got arrested, I want to commend your bravery. Things will change. We are here with you.”