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Making a Pilgrimage for Immigrant Justice and Driver Licenses

September 21, 2018

People have been organizing pilgrimages for centuries. For many people, pilgrimages are associated with religious or spiritual journeys. However, organized pilgrimages have also been a significant tactic in the history of social movements.

For the purposes of this article, I was to focus on three historical examples of social movements using pilgrimages as a tactic to gain attention to goals they all sought to achieve.

The first example is from Michigan in the summer of 1988. Hundreds of people began their pilgrimage of peace in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and ended in Detroit. This pilgrimage was organized by a coalition of peace & justice organizations across the state that were all working for disarmament, particularly the disarmament of nuclear weapons.

The pilgrimage lasted 3 months, with people walking about 12 miles a day. Organizers had found churches, schools and libraries all along the route of the pilgrimage, places that hosted a forum every night, so that people could talk about the importance of nuclear disarmament. In addition, the pilgrimage included stops at factories that had contracts with the Department of Defense to make parts for nuclear weapons. This was an important component of the pilgrimage, since it exposed how much money and how many companies were profiting from the manufacturing of weapons of mass destruction.

A second example is from 1972, when the American Indian Movement, along with other Indigenous organizations, engaged in what was called the Trail of Broken Treaties. This pilgrimage began on the west coast in October of 1972 and ended in Washington DC the week before the November election.

Indigenous people were given a promise by the Nixon administration that they would meet with representatives at the end of the pilgrimage to discuss Indigenous issues. The American Indian Movement had even created a 20-point position paper to present to the Nixon administration. 

All along the route, the Indigenous activists that participated in the Trail of Broken Treaties, met with and stayed at the homes of other First Nations people in order to build support and raise awareness about their campaign.

When the group arrived in Washington, DC, the Nixon administration refused to meet with them, so the Indigenous activists occupied the Department of Interior building, where the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) had offices. During the occupation, Indigenous activists took some of the documents and records from the BIA and burned them in the hallways. After a week, the Nixon administration decided to negotiate an end to the occupation, which led to further treaty negotiations.

The third, and last example of pilgrimages being used by social movements, took place in 1966. The pilgrimage was organize by the United Farm Workers (UFW), a movement made up of migrant workers from the Latino/Chicano community and the Filipino community.

This pilgrimage focused on the working conditions that migrant farm workers faced on a daily basis, both the low wages, horrid living conditions and chemical pesticides that workers were exposed.

Led by Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez, the UFW pilgrimage began in Delano and ended up in Sacramento, California, the state capitol.

What was unique about this pilgrimage is that it merged the use of the tactics of strikes and boycotts with religious iconography, particularly the Virgin of Guadalupe. Those participating in the pilgrimage sang traditional Mexican protest songs, while some, including Cesar Chavez walked barefoot, which was also a traditional way for Mexicans to participate in pilgrimages.

The UFW pilgrimage did help in building support for the larger farmworker movement, but it took more strikes and nation-wide boycotts to help them achieve their goals.

It is in the same spirit as these historical examples of pilgrimages, that Movimiento Cosecha will be organizing a pilgrimage this fall. The Movimiento Cosecha pilgrimage will begin in Grand Rapids on Friday, October 5th and conclude at the Lansing State Capitol on Tuesday, October 9. The focus of the pilgrimage is a campaign to win drivers licenses for all. Those in the undocumented/under-documented immigrant community cannot currently obtain a drivers license and Movimiento Cosecha wants to change that.

To find out more details about the Drivers Licenses for All campaign or the October pilgrimage, go here

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