Why I am going to Georgia
I am going to Georgia for the purpose of making the invisible visible. In the spring of 1960 while a college student, I read about African American students in the South sitting in because they were unable to be served at lunch-counters of national chain stores. I was shocked! I had believed my country was better than this. This outrage was made visible to me by a national media which daily covered the sit-ins. The knowledge of this injustice led me to organize a demonstration at a Woolworth’s in upstate New York.
Later I left my graduate studies to join the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and I lived here in Atlanta for two years working for equal justice. More recently I have been part of an anthology, Hands on the Freedom Plow: Personal Accounts of Women in SNCC, which lifts up the often invisible voices of women who left college and careers to join the civil rights movement.
I am motivated by the same values now as then – understanding that if someone else is not free, I am not free; if someone else is denied their human rights, this affects my human rights. It is my firm belief that in this age of globalization, we are all connected in the world. I believe that the reasons people migrate are for survival. Our country was built by immigrants – from my own European ancestors who came to escape famine and poverty, to the enslaved Africans who were brought in ships to work the sugar and cotton plantations to the Chinese workers who did the grueling work of building our railroads. While I can only imagine the struggles of my own ancestors from Ireland who came to the US during the potato famine, I currently work with many low-wage workers, immigrant and native born, who struggle to survive and are organizing for human rights in Baltimore with the United Workers.
How we are connected globally: I know that when the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) was passed in the 1990’s that U.S. corn was able to be sold cheaper on the Mexican market than corn grown in Mexico; this led countless Mexican farm families to lose their livelihood and many ended up coming to the US to find work. This is only one example of how connected we are – the policies made in one country affect the people of another.
I also know that deportations of immigrants without papers are on the rise. Last July I heard testimony from a California congresswoman who talked about the fear children in her district had of going to school worrying that their mother would not be there when they got home; likewise, mothers were worried about going to the bus stop to see their children off to school for fear that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) would take them to detention. And, these children are more likely than not US citizens. As a mother and grandmother, I would be devastated if my children had to live with that fear.
During the civil rights movement we documented the conditions faced by sharecroppers and others who were denied the right to vote and right to equal education. This was a powerful force to turn the tide for humane civil rights legislation. I am going to Georgia to hear the stories of immigrant women and children who are facing difficult challenges, especially with the passage of the Arizona SB 1070 look-alike legislation, and I plan to publicize those stories on my return to my home city of Baltimore.
Betty G. Robinson, Generations for Peace and Democracy, Baltimore, Maryland