Catalyst for Change: The Cascadia Freedom Caravan
By Nora Mahto Knutson
The Cascadia Freedom Caravan brought people from Olympia, Portland, and Las Vegas to the Tear Down the Walls National Activist Gathering in Tucson, Arizona, where over 400 people came together to strategize on building a more unified, powerful movement for transformational change in the U.S.
It was a sunny Tuesday afternoon in Olympia when 20 people packed up their bags, boarded a ramshackle old bus and hit the road, headed south to Tucson. There were students, community organizers and activists of varying degrees and levels of experience, some traveling folks, quite a few talented artists and musicians, one county official on vacation, one sweet dog named Yuma, one baby named Shalom and a whole lot of excitement in the air as this motley crew of trail blazers took off in the Cascadia Freedom Caravan.
The caravan was organized by Bruce Wilkinson, a local community organizer, with the help of Rick Fellows, director at Media Island International, who fulfilled the role of bus mechanic, driver and general caravan extraordinaire.
“[The bus] had been driven five miles in the past 10 years, and Rick and I hadn’t the time to really take it on a test run,” said Wilkinson. Nevertheless, with a group effort and some last minute magic, the bus was equipped with tables, beds and a food counter, as well as symbolically painted the colors of the Cascadian flag.
For those who are unfamiliar with the term, Cascadia is the idea that revolutionaries will dismantle the arbitrary political walls of state and national borderlines, uniting a bioregion of people within the framework of the land. However, the designation currently functions more as a regional identity than as a political movement.
As the blue, white and green-striped bus journeyed through space and time, riders shared in what seemed like a trip back to “the good old days,” when a spirit of peace and love intertwined with passionate political activism. Monica Peabody, director of Parents Organizing for Welfare and Economic Rights (POWER), played banjo on the grass at a truck stop and joked, “I’m not really helping to dispel the myth that this is a hippie bus, am I?”
The urgency for a new coalition of activists to take the lead in the U.S. is clear, and both the caravan and the gathering reflected the fervent energy of people who are rising to meet that need. Matt Hurt, organizer for Committee In Solidarity With the People of El Salvador (CISPES) and current Evergreen student, articulated, “The history of single-issue activism is coming to an end as groups realize the interconnectedness of their struggles, and that conference in a lot of ways represented the action part of that realization.”
Tear Down the Walls, organized by the Alliance for Global Justice (AFGJ), was named so to bring attention to the walls, both literal and symbolic, that we must confront in the struggle for justice and peace. Some of the walls brought into focus were Wall Street, the U.S./Mexico border, Israeli apartheid walls, prison walls, Pentagon militarism walls, the walls of capitalism, the walls of oppression and, perhaps the most crucial, the walls that weaken our collective efforts– the walls between our separate movements.
“It is easy to focus on the issue you or your organization fights, and easy to zone in on that issue and tune out the others,” said Sierra Telluric Brown, who participated in the caravan. “The conference challenged us to see the connections of all of these issues and to work together in [addressing] the causes.” Philosophies were diverse, as always, yet the obvious need for solidarity among people working for justice and peace on Earth caused such differences to fall to the wayside.
– Matt Hurt
As Bruce Wilkinson, coordinator for AFGJ, said, “There is a common need in struggle to be an ally and to have allies when confronting the power elite who control the core levers of government and economics and who use oppression to keep the rest of us from organizing around human rights.”
The gathering consisted of 85 workshops led by an array of participating groups on topics ranging from global climate change, to the current state of Syria, to artful activism. In addition to the workshops, there were six People’s Assemblies, which focused on overarching key topics. Each assembly began with a panel of speakers, and then opened up in to a facilitated collaborative process to brainstorm ideas and decide on a nationally coordinated day of action regarding the topic at hand.
This year there will be actions held across the country to raise public awareness about border militarization and immigrant rights, U.S. imperialism and anti-militarism, the relationship between ecology and empire, the Drug War, and the fight for economic justice. Locally, the first day of action is bringing people together in solidarity for immigrant rights at a rally in Tacoma on International Migrants Day (Dec. 18).
A group of five Evergreen students and Media Island interns formed the caravan’s very own media team, stepping up to the plate as photographers, filmmakers and reporters. In Tucson, they live-streamed audio on the KOWA website, and even set up a local radio station, broadcasting the event to people in the community. KOWA, 106.5 FM Olympia, is a low-power community radio station run out of the Media Island activist center, and is one of many organizations across the country working to distribute under-published information on critical issues.
Footage from Tear Down the Walls will soon be posted online at afgj.org, and the Olympia caravan crew will be sharing their reflections, showing photos from the trip, and opening up discussion in a community potluck and debrief on Thursday, Dec. 12 at Media Island.
Tear Down the Walls was a convergence of inspirational energy by people who are unafraid to stand by their ideals and who are doing groundbreaking work in their communities right now. Even so, for most of the people on the bus, the destination was but a part of the overall journey; the caravan itself was a transformational experience, as riders bonded over common passions and visions.
“We left as individual activists and came back unified,” said Brooke Bolding, one of the student interns on the trip. Aside from all of the networking and new projects that are coming out of connections made on the bus, perhaps the most exciting part is that this was only the first trip.