Over the last week, a broad coalition of California business, labor, community, and faith groups have been ramping up the pressure on House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), to allow a vote on immigration reform (HR 15) by camping out at his office all day, every day, from sun up to sun-down.
Below are some highlights from the first half of the “11 Days for 11 Million” campaign, which is still going strong in Bakersfield through December 13th.
Day 1: Community, Labor and Youth Leaders Kick Off 11 Days
Leaders from the California Labor Federation, United Farmworkers, Dolores Huerta Foundation, Mi Familia Vota, and other community, labor and faith organizations came together to kick off the first day of the 11 Days for 11 Million campaign. But by the time the group assembled outside of McCarthy’s office, his staff had already locked themselves in — and locked the constituents out.
Still, the group made their voices heard with some inspiring words from a great program of speakers.
Paola Hernandez, a local DREAMer spoke to why McCarthy’s inaction on immigration reform will have a devastating effect on families over the holidays:
As I had Thanksgiving with my family and was grateful that we were all together, I knew of the family nearby whose father had just been deported all because he was stopped and had no driver’s license. The suffering and hardships that immigrants are going through are also tearing families apart.
Camilla Chavez of the Dolores Huerta Foundation is one of Rep. McCarthy’s constituents. She spoke about how the Congressman’s office has locked out constituents before when they came with voters who were fasting in support of immigration reform.
McCarthy’s staff refused to meet, locked the doors of his office and actually crawled around on the floor inside so we wouldn’t think they were there. This is not how a Congressman should be treating his constituents.
United Farm Workers President Arturo Rodriguez linked the hard work of the farmworkers who make Rep. McCarthy’s district run with the Congressman’s lack of work on behalf of the constituents he’s supposed to represent:
Every day, Congressman McCarthy and all of us enjoy the fruits of farmworkers’ labor. The Senate has done their job [at advancing immigration reform], but the House leadership has not. They say it’s important, but there’s been no vote… We want a vote now. As constituents, we expect that they will fix the broken system.
California Labor Federation leader Art Pulaski also spoke to the other consequences of the Congressman’s inaction:
Congress is adjourning — but the fight for justice will not adjourn. We will be here for the next 11 days while Congress is in session this year. And if McCarthy does not call a vote, we will be back in 2014 to continue this just fight.
Arnulfo De La Cruz of Mi Familia Vota explained why the crowd was leaving behind inflatable ducks outside McCarthy’s doors:
Congressman McCarthy is the ONLY Congressional member who has locked his doors to his constituents and taxpayers today… Don’t duck and hide Congressman McCarthy. We live here, we vote and we will not leave until you schedule a vote!
Day 2: Will McCarthy Remain Local DREAMers’ Worst Nightmare?
College students, high schoolers and other DREAMers gathered at the office of Congressman Kevin McCarthy on Day 2 of “11 Days for 11 Million” to speak on how the Congressman’s inaction on comprehensive immigration reform effects their future. They were not deterred by the fact that the previous day, activists and the public were locked out of Kevin McCarthy’s office. To no one’s surprise, McCarthy’s office used the same duck-and-hide tactic for the second day in a row.
While chanting “We will deport you out of office!” the young activists laid pillows at the Congressman’s doorstep to symbolize him sleeping on the job.
“Congressman McCarthy has become a DREAMer’s worst nightmare,” said Leo Teran, an undocumented student at Bakersfield College. After the rally, the group proceeded into McCarthy’s own neighborhood and began an informational canvass to educate people on how their Congressional neighbor is doing nothing to help 11 million aspiring Americans.
Dean Welliver, a local high school student:
Immigration is an important issue to youth. DREAMers should not have to fear deportation of themselves or family members.
The day of action was capped off by a human billboard outside the neighborhood. Students handed flyers to cars during red lights at the intersection, urging voters to call Rep. McCarthy’s office and demand he act now on HR-15.
Day 3: Local Farmworkers Make a Delivery to McCarthy, Remind Him to Do His Job
On the third day of the “11 Days for the 11 Million” campaign, the United Farm Workers, the UFW Foundation and Campesina Radio Network presented Congressman Kevin McCarthy with a Christmas tree filled with ornaments that highlight the stories of farm workers and offer a glimpse of what life is like for immigrants working in the fields.
With his office door still closed for the third consecutive day this week, the nearly 30 people in attendance called on the Majority Whip to emulate the farmworker work ethic and do his job on immigration reform. Maggie Thao with SEIU-UHW spoke about her childhood as an immigrant and the struggles of having to work in the fields. Teresa Arredondo, a constituent of Mr. McCarthy and leader from the farmworker collective Líderes Campesinas, challenged her representative to
work as hard as i do –84 hours a week–and deliver immigration reform that will protect workers in the fields and allow hard-working people to provide for their families.
At her side stood Jaime Vega, a young farmworker from Bakersfield who participated in a 24-hour fast and vigil for immigration reform a few weeks ago. Jaime and his fellow fasters had the Congressman's office door slammed in their faces as they attempted to deliver a letter asking for his support for immigration reform. He shared his story, highlighting the strength and sacrifice required of farmworkers, and again asked Rep. McCarthy to allow a vote on immigration reform with a path to citizenship before year's end.
Following their testimonies, a small cohort of farmworkers delivered gift baskets filled to the brim with fruit and produce picked by agricultural workers in Kern County. The baskets stood outside the Congressman's locked door throughout the morning as a reminder of how farmworkers break their backs each day to put food on our nation's tables.
Day 4: Immigration Reform Advocates Keep Up the Vigil as McCarthy’s Door Stays Closed
As of Day 4 of the “11 Days for 11 Million,” McCarthy’s office has been locked and closed to the public for 96 hours. The United Domestic Workers (UDW) led the day by standing vigil outside Rep. McCarthy’s office. The message was simple — our immigration coalition is in this for the long haul, and we will not let up until comprehensive immigration reform is passed into law.
Representatives from the North Valley Labor Federation joined the domestic workers as they set up to continue the fourth day of civic engagement with Rep. McCarthy's constituents. Some 15 domestic workers spent the majority of the day asking voters to contact their Congressman and urge him to bring HR-15 to a vote.
While calls were being generated, UDW member Jose Gonzales and community activist Shane Couto took turns playing the guitar and keeping everyone's spirits up with songs. The increasingly colder weather did nothing to hamper the activists’ drive.
UDW member Karina Heredia
The cold weather does not compare to the suffering experienced by families torn apart by our broken immigration system.
As the day wound down, volunteers gathered around the locked office door. Led by violinist Michelle Heredia, the vigil crew began to sing Christmas carols to the staff inside. The day was capped off by the group singing Happy Birthday to the wife of the congressman, Judy McCarthy. A cupcake and birthday card filled with birthday wishes and messages urging her husband to bring immigration reform to a vote were left behind.
Day 5: Over 150 Union Members Tell McCarthy, “Don’t be a Grinch!”
On Saturday, Day 5 of the “11 Days for 11 Million” campaign, a lively drum team led over 150 SEIU-USWW members to Kevin McCarthy's office from Yokuts Park. Most of the members present were janitorial workers who had just gotten off work only a few hours before, but lack of sleep did not show on their faces as they chanted and marched.
The theme of the day was “How McCarthy Stole Christmas” from the 11 million aspiring Americans depending on immigration reform to pass this year. Images of McCarthy as the Grinch were taped over his office windows. Workers rallied in front of the Congressman’s office, and after the speakers finished, each person placed a piece of coal with a personal message to McCarthy in a giant stocking left on his door. Scroll down for video from Day 5.
Day 6: Faith Community Prays for Immigration Reform
A dozen members of L.A. Voice joined volunteers of Faith in Action for Day 6 of the 11 Days for 11 Million campaign. The faith-based organizations met at St. Paul Episcopal Church for breakfast and canvassing training and were greeted by the church's congregation.
L.A. voice member Lee Winkelman spoke to the congregation about his great grandmother, Sarah, who emigrated from Eastern Europe to escape persecution. Sarah arrived in New York with her husband and had to sell Sabbath candles and wine to get along.
My great-grandmother had come here legally in the early 20th century, however, the laws have changed since then. If she came now under the current system, she would be considered illegal. Our current system is broken and must be fixed.
After the gathering at the church, more than two dozen volunteers descended on Rep. McCarthy's office. There, L.A. Voice member Sarah Schreiber led a prayer for the Congressman to open his doors to us and hear our message. The group closed the program with songs in Hebrew before hitting the streets and phones, contacting voters throughout Bakersfield.
Today marks the end of a full week of action and a full week that Kevin McCarthy has locked his office doors to his constituents. Members of FIELD will be holding a press conference at 10am today in front of McCarthy's office with civic engagement to follow — and more events are scheduled throughout the rest of the week.
Check back here later this week for highlights from the second half of “11 Days for 11 Million.”