Drawing both its name and modus operandi from the civil-rights “freedom riders” of the 1960s, the Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride Coalition (IWFRC) was established in September 2003 to promote comprehensive immigration reform. Most notably, this Coalition organized 18 busses and approximately 900 riders to cross the United States on nine routes that passed through 73 major cities during a two-week time period. Along the way, they lobbied some 120 members of Congress to pass legislation authorizing the creation of a path to citizenship for the millions of illegal immigrants residing in the U.S.
On October 1, 2003, Service Employees International Union vice president Eliseo Medina, who helped organize IWFRC, indicated that the Coalition’s overall agenda actually extended beyond the matter of citizenship: “We need to organize and use the power of our vote. That’s the next step in the struggle. It’s not just about immigrant workers’ rights, but about living wages, about decent education. This is the beginning of us taking back America.”
IWFRC’s bus campaign culminated on October 4, 2003 at New York’s Flushing Meadows Corona Park, where all the riders convened and were joined by hundreds of thousands of backers. During the campaign, the Coalition garnered the support of many hundreds of prominent groups and individuals. Its National Sponsoring Committee included such organizations as ACORN, the Gamaliel Foundation, the National Council of La Raza, the National Immigration Forum, the National Immigration Law Center, the Service Employees International Union, United for Peace and Justice, the United States Student Association, and USAction.
Other organizational endorsers included the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, the American Civil Liberties Union, the American Friends Service Committee, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, Border Action Network, Citizen Action, the Communist Party USA, the Council on American Islamic Relations, the Democratic Socialists of America, Global Exchange, International ANSWER, the International Socialist Organization, ISAIAH, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC), MADRE, MECha, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, the National Council of Women’s Organizations, the National Lawyers Guild, the National Organization for Women, Not In Our Name, Peace Action, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, Radical Women, the Rainbow / PUSH Coalition, the South Carolina Progressive Network, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the Workers World Party, and the Yale Coalition for Peace.
Individual endorsers included Noam Chomsky, Howard Dean, Bob Filner, Robert Greenwald, Tom Hayden, Maurice Hinchey, Dennis Kucinich, Barbara Lee, Jim McDermott, Major Owens, Charles Rangel, Susan Sarandon, Martin Sheen, Hilda Solis, Nydia Velazquez, Antonio Villaraigosa, Maxine Waters, and Howard Zinn.