Rallying, Eating, & Learning with the UndocuBus in Austin
About 40 members of the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin along with another dozen UUs from the Live Oak and Wildflower congregations gathered in community to host, feed, and learn from the UndocuBus riders when they visited Austin for a weekend earlier this month. The UndocuBus riders showed us heartfelt appreciation for our hospitality when they arrived here after a 24-hour trip via unairconditioned buses.
We delayed a rally in front of the sheriff’s office for several hours and ended up having the rally without the riders present since the bus broke down three times en route. We marched, chanted, and sang before hosting a press conference announcing our plans to deliver proof that Travis County Sheriff Gregg Hamilton misuses the so-called “Secure Communities” (S-COMM) program by giving Immigration Customs Enforcement agents 24/7 access to local law enforcement. Immigration activist Sarahi Uribe led the charge and delivered the same information used to reverse S-COMM in the District of Columbia. We want trust restored in Austin between our police force and immigrant communities. The Undocubus visit helped support this work.
On Friday evening, the riders arrived at the Proyecto Defensa Laboral Hall for a Noche Cultural (“Cultural Night”) featuring Latino music by the Fadango Tejaz Fandanguito. There, we danced and ate tamales with Proyecto members from the Texas Valley, Dallas, Waco, and Houston.
After a good night’s sleep, showers, and breakfast, the UndocuBus riders toured Austin and went for a refreshing swim at Barton Springs, a natural spring fed pool. They also used First UU classrooms for workshops to learn how to respond to all the media attention their visits have attracted.
Saturday evening, First UU hosted a “Teach-In” to instruct people on how to break the isolation of immigrant detention. Participants learned how to start up detention visitation groups and heard firsthand stories from riders about what it’s like to be detained as an undocumented worker or student.
Sunday morning before the First UU worship service, church members enjoyed a casual “meet and eat” with our guests over breakfast tacos, bagels, juice, and coffee. Then, many of the riders attended one of their first UU services.
A few of amazing individual stories that I heard over the weekend include:
- Maricruz, a mom who supports her children by cleaning houses but also works to organize the Dreamers, children who’ve grown up in the US but are unable to gain citizenship.
- Daniella, a young student who won’t be traveling all the way to North Carolina, because she must return to Phoenix to stand trial for civil disobedience.
- A volunteer, who has been a member of First UU for five years, arrived to Howson Hall ready to help serve our guests food and had a difficult time pulling herself away both Saturday and Sunday nights, because she felt personally connected with our guests. She arrived in the US a couple of decades ago with documents.
- An employee at First UU has a green card because he went through the legal route to come here, and his card gives him an A-number. The A stands for “alien,” and is still on his card after 11 years of living here.
While it’s easy for us to get caught up in the injustice, my favorite story came from Giovana, who passionately thanked me and fellow UUs for reminding them that the root of their movement is love. After much work to organize resistance because of their anger, she said they first saw the power of love over hate when thousands UUs wearing Standing on the Side of Love t-shirts held a vigil outside Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s Tent City Jail in Phoenix during our UU General Assembly.
In Austin, UUs greeted and hosted UndocuBus riders wearing our bright yellow Standing on the Side of Love tshirts and Giovana said they felt our love.
This post was written by Peggy Morton, a member of the First UU Church of Austin and the on-the-ground coordinator for UU support of the UndocuBus during it’s time in Austin.