CAMDEN, N.J. — Carrying a large banner reading “Driver’s Licenses for All,” and chanting, “Licencias sí! promesas no!” (Licenses yes, promises no), immigrants rights group Movimiento Cosecha led hundreds of workers and youth on an 11-day protest walk across New Jersey. Cosecha means harvest in Spanish. The group took the name from the historic marches of farmworkers for their rights in the 1960s.
The protest was part of a fight to make New Jersey the 13th state to grant driver’s licenses to immigrant workers who don’t have other papers authorities consider proper. A bill before the state legislature would allow such workers to get a special “limited” driver’s license to drive legally.
“We started out strong in New Brunswick on May 31 and people joined us along the route,” Catalona Adorno, one of Cosecha’s organizers, told the Militant. “We walked through the towns and we were welcomed,” added Cata Santiago, another Cosecha organizer.
The march passed through Camden, Vineland, Voorhees, Rahway, Red Bank, Plainfield, Perth Amboy, Atlantic City, Elizabeth, Jersey City and Newark, ending June 11 with a rally at the state Capitol in Trenton.
Cosecha initially thought they could win through lobbying the state government, Carlos Rojas told walkers in Vineland, but found very little support from elected officials. “We know now that only through our labor power, joining with others, can we win,” he said.
Rojas also talked about the mass nationwide immigrant rights strike and protests in 2006 demanding amnesty, and more recently, “Day Without Immigrants” rallies.
“We don’t have many buses here, so sometimes we have to walk or take a cab to the doctor’s,” one young person said at the meeting. “If we take a chance and drive we have to worry about seeing the flashing lights of police behind us.”
Other workers, including a number of Walmart workers from both northern New Jersey and Philadelphia, including this correspondent, joined different legs of the march. “Some people might think this demonstration is not all that large, but it looks big to me,” Walmart worker Chris Slater told the Militant. “I think this is something monumental.”
“This is a point of unity for us, for different nationalities to struggle together across New Jersey,” warehouse worker José Ortiz told participantsat the final rally in Trenton. “We can win driver’s licenses, but this is not the only thing we are fighting for. Our demand for dignity is part of a popular movement.”
“For 15 years the Democrats and Republicans have done nothing for us, but promise,” Cosecha organizer Carlos Castañeda said. “We start now to organize a movement until we have enough to change the law. We are not alone so we must work to mobilize.”
Ruth Robinett contributed to this article.