The National Puerto Rican Parade and Oscar Lopez Rivera: “Still We Rise”

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The observation that freedom struggles use the same words to describe historically similar moments at different junctures came to mind last week, in New York, as we mobilized for the Free Oscar López Rivera contingent in the National Puerto Rican Parade. The particular words, and the vision inspired by them, was the poem “Still I Rise” by the beloved, recently deceased poet, Maya Angelou. Seeing and working with all the groups preparing to mobilize for the parade, among them the NYC Coordinator to Free Oscar López Rivera, the Puerto Rican Nationalist Party of New York, 33xO, the National Lawyers Guild, the Puerto Rican Independence Party, 1199SEIU, former political prisoners, solidarity activists and children of activists-activists themselves, friends and family-all turned out in an amazing display of how the moment for the Campaign is changing in the Diaspora. A summary of the events leading up to the Parade follows:

* The National Puerto Rican Day Parade Board of Directors, newly reconstituted, successfully and remarkably, held a series of events including the honoring of a sister city, Chicago, and its representative, Hipolito “Paul” Roldan, our champion of quality and affordable housing for all but most importantly for the elderly and the working poor. As well, the Parade opted to honor the “Borinqueneers”, the 65th Infantry regiment, days after President Obama signed the bill into law, and in what might have been a controversial decision a year earlier, the Board chose to pay tribute to Oscar López Rivera. Oscar was represented by Clarisa, his daughter and José, his brother. Our respect goes out to the Parade Board of Directors and its President, Lorraine A. Cortés-Vázquez for their courage and dedication in restoring the Parade, to the very community and people from which it has sprung.

* Almost a year ago, Puerto Rican artists Miguel Luciano and Juan Sánchez took the initiative in organizing, along with the National Boricua Human Rights Network, the postcards4oscar event, which took place on Wednesday and Thursday, June 5 and 6. Over 80 artists contributed 175 pieces of postcard art in an unprecedented outpouring of love and solidarity for Oscar, and just as importantly, of respect for Juan Sánchez and Miguel Luciano. Artists from the US and Puerto Rico, In that 2 day period, over $9,000 was raised. View the Flickr sethere.

* The NY Coordinator held a press conference to laud the Parade’s decision to call for Oscar’s excarceration and describe the Campaign-led events leading up to the Parade. View the Youtube video below.

Press Conference: In support of National Puerto Rican Parade Tribute to Oscar Lopez
Press Conference: In support of National Puerto Rican Parade Tribute to Oscar Lopez

* Since May 2012, 1199SEIU has become a lynchpin for the Campaign to Free Oscar. With a letter of support for Oscar’s freedom signed by it’s Executive Bureau, it has provided vision and leadership among the labor movement. 6 months ago, key organizers spearheaded the planning to raise funds for the East Coast’s commitment to get 50,000 petitions to Obama signed by this November. Every organization in New York devoted to the Campaign, bought and sold tickets to the dance. On Friday, June 6, 2014 at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Labor Center. Over 300 people celebrated the “Pre-Puerto Rican Parade Dance” and helped raise close to $6000 for the East Coast campaign.

* Close to 100 individuals came to the 116th Street Festival to pass out La Voz de Paseo Boricua and collect petitions for Oscar’s freedom. In a sea of community, estimated by some to surpass 500,000, the activists fanned out talking, educating and getting signatures for Oscar. View the Flickr set here.

* Over 500 people from organizations, committees, representatives from Chicago, Philadelphia, Cleveland,  Detroit, Boston, San Juan and Aguadilla, Puerto Rico, Springfield, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, as well as the New York area, Leading the Oscar contingent was Congressman Luis V. Gutiérrez, his wife Soraida, and Chicago’s representative to the Parade, Hipolito “Paul” Roldan,  and José E. López, Oscar’s brother. The Chicago National Boricua Human Rights Network and Puerto Rican Cultural Center contingent, with 50 people that drove to New York to participate and help gather signatures, were next. Through the generous loan of ASPIRA of Illinois vans to the Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos Puerto Rican High School, students, teachers and Chicago community youth and members were able to attend the parade. Halfway through the Parade, New York City Council Speaker Melissa Mark Viverito, Rene Pérez, Residente from Calle 13, Artist Miguel Luciano and Clarisa López, Oscar’s daughter joined the contingent. Edwin Cortés, Luis Rosa and Ricardo Jimenez, all former Puerto Rican political prisoners, also came as evidence of our will to free Oscar. Tens of thousands of spectators cheered the unitary contingent as it winded its way along 5th Avenue. View the Flickr sethere.

All of which moved the New York Times to say that there were, “… a succession of banners calling for the release of Oscar López Rivera, a former leader of a radical Puerto Rican independence group, who has been in federal prison since the 1980s.” The New York Post published it’s usual lies.

In all of the events, there was a feeling of coming together, of working towards a common goal, with our community, for our community.

It was, to quote Maya Angelou, the coming together where we were “the dream and the hope of the slave. I rise. I rise. I rise.”

Together, We can Free Oscar López Rivera.