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The US-Mexico Caravan for Peace Takes On the Drug War

Chris Moore-Backman examines connections between the struggle for peace in Mexico and the struggle to end the racist system of mass incarceration in the United States.

The Caravan for Peace held a protest outside the gates of Fort Benning with the message "Killers are not born, they are made here." (Photo: Caravan For Peace / Flickr)

The horrific drug war violence in Mexico and its connection to the people and policies of the United States are seldom if ever considered by the vast majority of the US public. This moving and provocative radio documentary provides a window into these otherwise obscure, but terribly important, realities. Children of the Same Sorrow chronicles the historic journey of the “US/Mexico Caravan for Peace,” which from August 12th to September 12th, 2012, crossed the entire United States calling for an end to the War on Drugs and bearing witness to the human rights nightmare unfolding in Mexico. Radio documentarian Chris Moore-Backman traveled with the caravan for five days, capturing the spirit and message of those on board and examining the deep connection between the struggle for peace in Mexico and the struggle to end the racist system of mass incarceration in the United States.

The show features a dialog between Michelle Alexander (author of The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness) and Javier Sicilia (renowned Mexican poet and leader of the “Mexican Movement for Peace, with Justice and Dignity”). It also includes heartbreaking testimonies of mothers of victims of Mexico’s horrific drug war violence and interviews with the US and Mexican activists who launched this historic bi-national effort. These twin justice movements point to the crucial need for coalition-building across races and borders.

“Children of the Same Sorrow” is part of the Bringing Down the New Jim Crow radio documentary series produced by Chris Moore-Backman. This segment features the music of Loney Dear, Kit, and Stray Theories.


Chris Moore-Backman: Like many people in the United States, I’ve had a vague notion that in recent years, things have gone from bad to worse in Mexico. A notion characterized by images of chaos and sporadic violence related to narco-trafficking. I’ve pictured skirmishing between competing drug cartels, with disorganized and corrupt law enforcement thrown into the mix. And I realize that the image of Ciudad Juarez with its reputation as the world’s most murderous city, has somehow worked as a reference point for me as I’ve thought of Mexico, every now and then.

A few months ago, I was talking with an old friend that I had been out of touch with for some time, and I was describing for him the radio documentaries I’ve been working on which focus on race, criminal justice and the drug war, and on the growing movement to end mass incarceration. He wasted no time in asking me if I was planning to do a show on the international aspects of the Drug War, and more specifically, he was wanting to know if I was going to do anything about what was happening in Mexico. He said that he thought the movement to end mass incarceration in the United States and the movement to end the drug war in Mexico were deeply connected, but that very few people were seeing it yet or talking about it.

He told me that a bi-national caravan was about to travel the length of the US calling for an end to the drug war. He said that many of the people with the caravan would be family members of those who had been killed or disappeared in the drug war violence in Mexico.

He thought I should consider getting on board the caravan. I asked him to tell me more. And I was shocked by what he related to me. I was shocked at my ignorance about the realities in Mexico, about the interconnectedness of the issue of mass incarceration to all that was going on in Mexico. I contacted the organizers of the Caravan and reserved my space.

Michelle Alexander: This caravan represents one of the most important opportunities for us to link what is happening in Mexico – the violence, the suffering, the needless deaths, with the needless suffering here in the United States.

Roberto Lovato: I know a great movement when I see it. This kind of deep passion and commitment that smashes borders. These people are committed. They are angry, they are sad, they are illuminated, you know, their children’s eyes are looking down on them from the sky, and lighting the path for this caravan.

Janice Gallagher: We see the drug war as a way of keeping poor people, voiceless people down, and it’s parallel logic in Mexico and in the US, connecting the oppression of African American people in the US and what Mexicans are living through now is fundamental, if we’re going to produce real change.

Maria Elena Fernandez: I’m riding on this bus with these people who have lost their loved ones. Some lost them a year ago; some lost them many years ago. Some were able to bury their bodies, and others still have no idea where they are. And just to allow my heart to break and to shed the tears. I think that’s where the revolution starts.

John Lindsay-Poland: This caravan is a way to say, “Here. Here, look, listen, open your heart. We know you have a heart. Open it.”

Maria Aguilar: Mi nombre es Maria Guadalupe Aguilar. Hace an͂o y medio me desaparecieron a mi hijo. . . My name is Maria Guadalupe Aguilar. A year and a half ago they disappeared my son. The 16th of January, 2011, he was on his way to work, but he never arrived. He was married, and he has two children who ask for their father every day. These little ones are 6 and 3 years old.

Rosa Triana: Yo me llamo Rosa Elena Perez Triana. Soy Mama de Guadalupe Coral Perez Triana. Ella desaparecio . . . My name is Rosa Elena Perez Triana. I’m the mother of Guadalupe Coral Perez Triana. She disappeared July 24, 2011. She was on her way to my house. She told me, “Mommy, I’ll arrive Sunday morning.” And we didn’t hear anything else from her. She was with five of her friends: Judith, Monica, Juanita, Almirsa and Cindy. We haven’t heard anything from all six of them.

Chris Moore-Backman: You’re listening to “Children of the Same Sorrow: The US/Mexico Caravan for Peace Takes On the Drug War.” I’m Chris Moore-Backman.

Just after taking office in 2006, Mexican President Felipe Calderon calls for an all-out war against drug traffickers. The United States pitches in with economic and military support. Six years later, more than 60,000 people are dead, 20,000 disappeared, and 150,000 internally displaced. On March 28th, 2011, renowned Mexican poet Javier Sicilia’s 24-year-old son, Juan Francisco, is murdered along with six of his friends. Javier Sicilia responds from the midst of his grief by galvanizing what has become one of the largest, most powerful social movements in the western hemisphere, leading protests and bringing caravans across Mexico, calling for an end to the drug war.

August 12th to September 12th, 2012, Sicilia and his coworkers join with allies in the United States to bring their message and their movement across the border, leading a bi-national caravan from San Diego to Washington D.C. – 30 days, 25 US cities.

“We’re talking about the level of brutality and extreme dehumanization that happens when armed factions vie for control of territory, resources, and the subservience of the people who might get in their way.”

I was with the Caravan for Peace for five days, traveling from the San Diego/Tijuana border as far as Tucson, Arizona. As my friend had told me, among the 100-plus people I joined on the two chartered buses, which were the heart of the caravan, were many family members – mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters of victims of Mexico’s nightmarish drug war violence. As I began to listen to the testimony of these men and women, I was immediately aware that these were the very same kind of stories I had heard before, in Colombia, stories told from the midst of civil war. I was human rights observer in Colombia in 2002.

It’s been my experience here in the US that the word “war” in the phrase “war on drugs” is mostly understood to be a kind of metaphor, describing a law enforcement policy or strategy – granted, a highly militarized one, but not one that we would associate with the violence and destruction of all-out war. But in Mexico we’re talking about war. We’re talking about the level of brutality and extreme dehumanization that happens when armed factions vie for control of territory, resources and the subservience of the people who might get in their way.

And, as is the case with modern warfare in general, the vast majority of victims in Mexico are unarmed civilians. It is out of this context that Javier Sicilia and the Caravan for Peace made its journey from Mexico to the US. I asked Sicilia to describe the caravan’s purpose. We spoke within the small motor home at the tail end of the caravan, heading down interstate 10, somewhere near the border of California and Arizona.

Javier Sicilia: La caravana tiene una intencion muy clara, que es hacer entender a los norte americanos la responsibilidad . . . The caravan has a very clear purpose, which is to make North Americans understand the responsibility they have in the suffering, in the war we’re living through in Mexico. Calderon declared war on narco-trafficking with the military and economic help of the United States, and with US weapons. And, weapons which are sold here like candy – assault weapons and handguns – are entering Mexican territory illegally, arming narco-traffickers and organized crime. We have many dead and disappeared because of this. We have come here to say that the United States shares responsibility in this and to say that drugs are not a national security issue. Drugs are a public health issue. Behind each of your addicts are our dead, and behind each of your weapons are our dead also – and our disappeared. We need to find a path to peace together and hold that as a fundamental priority. Because in addition to these, the drugs and the arms, there’s the immigration problem and the racism. African Americans are criminalized in such a cruel way. The prisons are filled of them, even though the white population consumes drugs at the same rate as the black population. And there is a great deal of criminalization of immigrants as well. The other piece is the money laundering. We haven’t developed a political policy to wage a multi-national frontal attack on money laundering. We believe that these are the steps to peace: to attack money laundering, to regulate drugs by putting into law government regulation of the drug market, control and restriction of assault weapons, and enforcement on the part of Mexico of the illegality of arms trafficking. So the caravan represents this search for a path to peace against the path to war.

Margarita Perez: Yo soy Margarita Lopez Perez, madre de Yahaira Guadalupe Vaina Lopez, desaparecida el 13 de abril en 2011 . . . I am Margarita Lopez Perez, mother of Yahaira Guadalupe Vaina Lopez, disappeared April 13th, 2011 in Tlacolula de Matamoros, Oaxaca. She was taken from her home by a group of armed men. I went to the military and government officials in Oaxaca, and they told me that I’d have to undertake the investigation on my own, that they didn’t have the resources to look for my daughter. They said I should hire my own informants and investigators. That’s what I did. I spent my children’s inheritance for all the investigations done over the course of more than a year. During the investigations, it became clear that military, state, and federal officials had been involved in the disappearance of my daughter, just like organized crime. Because of what was being uncovered, I was in danger in Oaxaca, so I left and went to Mexico City and filed my report there. But they wouldn’t help me either, saying it would take months to open a case. After all of the searching, I decided to hire informants within the state government, from within the army itself and from within the federal government. And I started to raise my voice. The 20th of September of last year, the general of the 4th battalion of the Special Forces contacted me to tell me that they had found the decapitated body of my daughter. He asked me to come to Oaxaca City. I told him I couldn’t identify her body without the head. I couldn’t accurately identify the body without being able to have the teeth examined.

Chris Moore-Backman: A war on drugs. It’s worth stepping back and asking the question why? One can’t help but wonder what the war is actually about. It only loses battle after battle. It causes more death and destruction than its presumed enemy ever did. Here in the US, we’re 40 years and 1 trillion dollars into this war, and drugs have only gained ground. Drug use, drug sales, and drug addiction all continue unabated. The prisons are bursting at the seams. On the other side of the border, the horrific consequences of this war are only magnified.

You’re listening to “Children of the Same Sorrow: The U.S/Mexico Caravan for Peace Takes On the Drug War.”

John Lindsay-Poland: When I think about drug addiction . . . drug addiction is one of the most internal problems you can have. It’s something that’s happening inside someone that they can’t quite overcome.

Chris Moore-Backman: John Lindsay-Poland of the Fellowship of Reconciliation was with the caravan as far as Jackson, Mississippi. He helped me piece together the true nature of this utterly failed war and the connection between its devastation on both sides of the border.

John Lindsay-Poland: And so to say that this is a problem that is external, that it is located in a substance, first of all, but then also located outside of our borders. The problem then becomes not that someone is addicted but that someone else is producing the substance, outside of our borders. You could also look at the colonialism that’s going on in black communities across the country too; it’s a very similar model, which is we’re not going to acknowledge that white people have a problem with addiction or that white people are dealing in drugs. We’re gonna blame that on somebody else, and then set policy accordingly. So that happens whether we’re talking about mass incarceration or whether we’re talking about “going after the source,” which is the phrase that was used in the 1990s for US drug policy in Latin America. And, in that, the lives of the people who are either in the way of that policy or are somehow denominated as the problem-people in that policy, they just don’t, they don’t matter.

People even get to the point where they think it’s okay to kill people if they’re dealing narcotics. You know, as if, somehow, like it becomes an argument when someone gets killed about whether they were dealing narcotics or not, as if, if they were dealing narcotics it would just be fine – to just throw away their lives. And that’s what I see happening both in Mexico and the United States. I’m not even sure people see them as lives, see the people who are incarcerated or who are bereft by assassinations as a result of the drug war. So this caravan is a way to say, “Here. Here, look, listen, open your heart. We know you have a heart. Open it.” Because it is a bi-national problem, it’s a multi-national problem. You hear political leaders saying that too, but not really taking responsibility for the ways in which, not only drug use contributes to the cash flow that allows for violence, but that prohibition deepens the violence in so many different ways.

Chris Moore-Backman: I sought out Neill Franklin, a 33-year police veteran who led anti-narcotics task forces for the Maryland State Police. Franklin was with the caravan all the way from San Diego to Washington DC. After decades on the front lines of the drug war here in the US, Franklin is now executive director of LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. LEAP is an organization headed up by law enforcement and criminal justice professionals who have committed themselves to bringing an end to the drug war and to drug prohibition itself. I asked Franklin if he help me out with a crash course on the US drug war, from his perspective as an African-American male with so much firsthand knowledge from the front lines.

Neill Franklin: In the early 70s, Richard Nixon literally bribed local law enforcement to get into the federal drug enforcement business through federal grants. This is about the time in the late ’70s that my brother and I are now going into law enforcement. And as soon as I go into law enforcement, I start working undercover. The money’s coming in through the federal government; our narcotics units are no longer units – they’re now divisions soon to become bureaus. We have to spend this money, and what we did – in Baltimore City, there were like five or six major drug organizations. And these organizations managed the business among themselves. I’m not saying there wasn’t any violence. What violence there was was contained within and among the organizations, not out in the streets. But me, and others, started working undercover, infiltrating these organizations, eventually breaking up these organizations, and now as we’re moving through the ’70s into the early ’80s, open-air drug markets start to surface – violent open-air drug markets.

When law enforcement applies pressure to break up an organization, all we do is turn one organization into a hundred smaller organizations. And those organizations are now competing for market share because they don’t know how to manage the business the way their fathers did. We sent their fathers to prison; they became the men of the household and started to do what they saw their dads doing. And we the police continue to arrest. And now come mandatory sentences. Families have no option, but become wards of the state. Welfare programs, food stamps. We now have more drugs available in our communities because we have more drug dealers in our communities.

Chris Moore-Backman: Drug War 101 from a former drug war law enforcement officer. I next asked Neil Franklin if he would widen the frame and include Mexico.

Neill Franklin: People need to understand the correlation of what’s going on in Mexico with what’s happening here in the United States with our prison-industrial complex. Our Mexican brothers and sisters are caught in this vicious war. The drugs that we are selling are coming from Mexico, through Mexico. For instance, cocaine comes from South America, Columbia, Peru, but it comes through Central America trafficking routes. Someone’s got to manage these illegal trafficking routes because of the money that can be made, the money that is made. And because it’s not legal, legal methods of management are not established. They’re fighting for control of these very lucrative trafficking routes. Remember I gave the example of how we in local police, when we pushed, we created a violent marketplace as we broke up these organizations. So now we teach this to the Mexican government. We send them money. We send them training. We send them arms. And then when they start to push against the cartels who are managing the illegal trafficking routes, same thing happens. We now have many smaller organizations that are fighting each other, killing Mexican citizens in the process, more drugs available to their kids. You have a similar scenario. Instead of a city you have whole country that’s experiencing this.

Margarita Perez: Me dicen a los tres dias que ya encontraron la cabeza y que es el cuerpo de mi hija . . . After three days they told me that they had found the head, that the state of decomposition matched that of the body that they had found. So I asked them to test the DNA to see if they matched. The tests they ran came back positive, but after all of the corruption I had seen up until then, I found some professional geneticists who helped me with the DNA testing, and their results came back negative. The DNA of the head didn’t match the DNA of the body. So I continued the search. Then, a public employee, against the orders of her supervisor, started to help me. She succeeded in finding some criminals who had recently been arrested and was able to get me into see them in the prison where they were being held. They told me they were the ones who had kidnapped my daughter, that they took my daughter under orders from a government official. That this government official believed that she belonged to a drug cartel, headed up by a family from Michoacan, and that because my daughter was from Michoacan she could belong to that group. They told me that after they had tortured my daughter, they realized she was innocent. That she was a mother raising her children in her home and that some of them said they should let her go, but the man who was in charge said no. Their orders were to assassinate her, that they couldn’t let her live.

Chris Moore-Backman: The Caravan for Peace came to the United States to show the human face of the drug war in Mexico, to show the human suffering. At each stop, the family members of the murdered and the disappeared would give their testimony at community events and press conferences. They held posters showing the faces of their loved ones as they spoke.

Along with those faces, and those stories, the caravan also brought five very clear requests:

1.) To end the drug war;

2.) To end the illegal trafficking of arms;

3.) To revamp immigration policy, which has militarized the border and criminalized immigrants;

4.) To bring an end to the money laundering associated with the drug war;

5.) For the US to abandon its “war” focus in relation to Mexico and to instead adopt a focus on human security and development.

Embedded in the caravan’s call for these dramatic political shifts was another call I heard time and again on my five days on board. But this other call wasn’t directed toward the politicians. It was directed to the movement itself. This was call for unity between those struggling for justice in Mexico, along with their Latino counterparts here in the United States, and the black community in the US, which is facing down the crisis of mass incarceration. Everyone I spoke to about black-brown unity, said they thought it was absolutely essential in the struggle to end the drug war.

Marco Castillo Martinez is a Mexican activist who knows the United States well. His work with Mexican immigrants and their families has him living part time in the US and part time in Mexico. Heading down the freeway in the caravan’s lead bus, he shared some of his thoughts with me about the commonalities and barriers between the black and brown communities.

Marco Castillo Martinez: Latin American immigrants and people of color in the United States, we share the same neighborhoods, the same spaces, the same needs. We suffer the same violence. We suffer similar consequences. We share the same prisons. Most of the prisons here in the United States are filled up with people of color, including Mexicans, Latin American immigrants and African Americans. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean that we’re united. We are divided because we haven’t been taught how to interact. We fight for the same jobs. We fight for the same opportunities. And sometimes we see in each other an obstacle instead of an opportunity. And that’s because we still have a lot to learn, and we still have a lot to learn because we haven’t been taught to live in a culturally and racially diverse society. It is not in Mexico and I know for sure that it’s not an interest of the government of the United States, or the educational system, to better the relationships between the new immigrants with the African American communities. So it’s a battlefield. We urgently need a call for unity, and we hope that this movement and this caravan represent an opportunity for all of us to come together.

Chris Moore-Backman: Michelle Alexander’s book The New Jim Crow links the drug war to the rise of the modern US system of mass incarceration, and Alexander likens that system’s treatment of black men to a new form of Jim Crow. Her arguments were a common topic of discussion on board the caravan.

Roberto Lovato: You know there’s a genealogy that’s deeply rooted and specific to the black community, but I don’t know that the new Jim Crow actually does have a melanin line. They’re jailing a lot of brown bodies with that new Jim Crow too.

Chris Moore-Backman: Roberto Lovato, cofounder of, points out that Latinos are not only unfairly targeted by drug law enforcement, in much the same way that the black community is, but that they also bear the brunt of a system of immigration that has been subsumed by criminal law – a system which scholar Juliet Stumpf refers to as “crimmigration.”

Roberto Lovato: The drug war created a system of laws that created all these triggers for young African American men, and now even women, to enter the criminal justice system. The immigration laws have been redesigned to, and subsumed under criminal law, to create triggers that facilitate the jailing of young Latino men and women to the point where we’re now the largest group in federal prison in a matter of like, you know, like less than a decade.

Chris Moore-Backman: You’re listening to “Children of the Same Sorrow: The US/Mexico Caravan for Peace Takes On the Drug War.”

Maria Elena Fernandez: I can see how incredibly powerful we could be if we could put those two dialogues together, and not just dialogues, but actual movement together. Now that’s a long way away because we have a lot of exchanging of stories to do first. The Mexicanos, you know, and all the deep suffering and the narco-violence, tell their stories and that they can be heard by people of color here working on these issues. And their stories can be heard by the Mexicanos. If we can open our hearts to each other, I think we can be very, very powerful. And I think honestly it’s going to scare both our governments, because I think that’s how powerful we can be when we’re actually talking to each other and working together.

Chris Moore-Backman: That was Maria Elena Fernandez. She teaches Chicano/Chicana Studies at Cal State Northridge in Los Angeles. Fernandez decided to join the caravan after hearing Javier Sicilia speak at a community event in LA. Hearing Sicilia share about the suffering and struggle in Mexico, she said that she felt her heart open and that she realized that his call for solidarity was meant for her.

Sicilia has had this same effect on countless people in Mexico, and a growing number here in the US. Riding along with the caravan, I reflected a good deal on his leadership, on his role as both symbol and spokesperson for the Mexican victims of the drug war. And I thought of Michelle Alexander’s very similar role here in the US, and of the special part figurehead leaders play, how they provide both a spark and a kind of glue for a social movement.

As I considered the importance of black/brown unity in the struggle to end the drug war, I wondered what a conversation between these two leaders would sound like. I floated the idea to a handful of folks on board the caravan, including Janice Gallagher, one of the main organizers. Of everyone I spoke with, she was the most enthusiastic about the idea of inviting Sicilia and Alexander to talk with one another.

Janice Gallagher: The New Jim Crow really captures the essence of the connections we’re trying to make. We see the drug war as a way of keeping poor people, voiceless people down, and it’s very, very parallel logic in Mexico and in the US. It’s about the same thing. It’s about laws that are not designed to keep people healthy – they’re not designed to keep people safe. That narrative, connecting the oppression of African American people in the US and of what Mexicans are living through now is fundamental if we’re going to produce real change. I think it’s really hard. We’re figuring out kind of moment to moment how to do that, but that’s the heart of what we’re trying to do.

The reason I want Michelle to talk to Javier, I think the thing that they’ve both been able to do is discern incredibly complex dynamics into things that resonate with people’s hearts. And I think putting them together, having a conversation, if they could connect – and I think they could because they both have this calidad humana, this human quality, that I think would let them – I think could produce a really exciting conversation about how to make these narratives parallel.

Javier Sicilia: Es un honor escucharla. Es un honor que puedo hablar con Usted . . . Michelle, it’s wonderful to meet you. It’s an honor to be talking with you.

Michelle Alexander: Oh and it’s such an honor to talk to you.

Chris Moore-Backman: Javier Sicilia and Michelle Alexander were thrilled at the idea. So Janice and I set up a call. After exchanging greetings, I invited Michelle Alexander to open the conversation with her thoughts on the significance of the Caravan for Peace.

Michelle Alexander: Well I think it’s just a profound significance. This caravan represents one of the most important opportunities for us to link what is happening in Mexico – the violence, the suffering, the needless deaths with needless suffering here in the United States. Mass incarceration, the destruction of families and communities, and the birth of a new caste-like system, where young people are swept into prisons and jails often before they’re old enough to vote, saddled with criminal records that will lock them into a permanent second-class status for life. I confess that I was largely ignorant of the level of violence that existed in Mexico until relatively recently. But as I have learned more and my eyes have been opened by the courageous, truly fearless advocates in Mexico who have been speaking up and speaking out about the horrors on the other side of the border, I have become more and more convinced that this is a shared struggle. The struggle to end mass incarceration is one in the same with the struggle to end the drug war and the needless violence in Mexico. On both sides of the border, what we have are people who have tremendous amounts of power, unwilling to end a drug war that is causing needless suffering to countless families. Poor people, people of color on both sides of the border have been treated as if their lives do not count; their fates are of little concern. And as Howard Thurman pointed out quite some time ago, “There are few things more devastating than to have it burned into you from birth that you do not count and that no provisions are made for your literal survival.” And that is true in the United States, as the drug war has been waged almost exclusively in poor communities of color, and it is true on the other side of the border. I hope that people of all colors, people of faith and conscience on both sides of the border will join hands together as they are demonstrating through this caravan and cry out “Enough.”

Javier Sicilia: Estoy acuerdo absolutamente contigo, Michelle. Yo creo es una guerra . . . I completely agree with you Michelle, this is a war against the people in service of major profiteers, both legal and illegal, who are depending on the blood and suffering of others. The prisons in the case of African Americans, the armies, the police, organized crime, arms dealers and manufactures, corrupt public officials, the banks, money-launderers – they create criminality, they create criminals. This is a great moment for us to hold a united front, a common front.

Leticia Nieto: Mi nombre es Leticia Mora Nieto. Mi hija esta desaparecida el dia 30 de mayo de 2011 . . .My name is Leticia Mora Nieto. My daughter disappeared May 30th, 2011. Her name is Georgina Yvonne Ramirez Mora, and she disappeared in Atizapan, Mexico.

Maria Herrera Magdaleno: Mi nombre es Maria Herrera Magdaleno. Estoy en busqueda de mis hijos . . . My name is Maria Herrera Magdaleno. I’m in search of my sons. In my area, there are 19 people that have been disappeared. In that group of 19 are four of my sons. Two that disappeared on the 28th of August, 2008. Their names are Jesus Salvador and Raul. Then, without warning on the 22nd of September, they took another two of my sons, Albis Armando and Gustavo.

Michelle Alexander: When we educate people about mass incarceration, educate people about the drug war here at home, we’ve also got to say, “This war is causing suffering overseas. This war is causing suffering across the border. This war is causing suffering around the globe.” And we must be committed to doing the right thing not only because it will benefit our communities or our families, but because it’s in the interest of justice literally for all, for people all around the world who have been harmed by a drug war really born here in the United States and exported aboard.

Javier Sicilia: Yo creo que esta muy bien, pero creo que ahorita . . I think this is all very good, and I think now is the moment to continue to make visible the victims and all they are suffering. To make them visible together. To make African-American victims and Mexican victims visible is to make the world’s victims visible. In Mexico, people don’t know the victims of the war here in the United States, but the caravan is now making them visible in Mexico. If we can do more of this, our message will come through much stronger both here and there, and we’ll be building this sense of bi-national responsibility. This is a war against the people, people with different faces.

Chris Moore-Backman: In January 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. turned the pages of an article in Ramparts Magazine. The article was called “The Children of Vietnam.” It described the atrocities being committed against Vietnamese civilians, focusing especially on the suffering of the children and showing photographs of victims of napalm. After finishing the article, King closed the magazine, deciding then and there that he would no longer hold back on the issue of the war in Vietnam.

King’s decision to begin speaking out boldly against the war was received by many with dismay and anger, and not only in the white establishment. Many freedom movement activists were also deeply upset. They feared and expected that King’s decision to take on the war issue would weaken the movement’s chances for progress on civil rights.

But King’s response was clear. After all he had done and given in the fight against segregation, he said, he wasn’t about to segregate his conscience. On April 4, of that same year, in his “Beyond Vietnam” speech, King argued that in the struggle to build a beloved community in the United States, the crisis at home and the crisis in Vietnam could not be separated. That the nature of one reflected the nature of the other, and that their outcomes were completely interdependent.

Toward the end of her conversation with Javier Sicilia, Michelle Alexander referred to King and though I’m not sure if it was intentional or not, she revisited King’s “Beyond Vietnam” speech, re-enunciating the call for a revolution of values. As I listened, it occurred to me that these two eras were eerily similar, that I could see an unmistakable connection between Vietnam during the struggle for civil rights, and Mexico during the struggle to end mass incarceration.

You’re listening to “Children of the Same Sorrow: The U.S/Mexico Caravan for Peace Takes On the Drug War.”

Michelle Alexander: At bottom, what is required is a revolution of values, a revolution of values on both sides of the border, so that we will care more about poor people and people of all colors who are suffering in this war than we care about who is in office and who is out, and who has power and who does not. Cornell West once said that “Justice is what love looks like in public,” and I believe that rings true in this case. If we are to show genuine care, compassion, and concern for the victims of violence in Mexico, for those who are dealing with violence here in the United States spawned by the drug war, as well as the crisis of mass incarceration – if we’re going to show what Martin Luther King called “unsentimental love,” a genuine caring for people across race/class lines that will give birth to a new kind of movement that will end not just the drug war but also mass incarceration, and this tendency we seem to have to want to declare war rather than to work for justice, we are going to have to learn to care more for one another as human beings. That is the necessary prerequisite.

Margarita Perez: A mi hija la estuvieron torturando muchos dias. Mi hija fue violada y asesinada brutalmente. Fue decapitada viva . . .

They had tortured my daughter for many days. She was raped and brutally assassinated. She was decapitated while she was still alive. My daughter, before she died, pled with them that they wouldn’t kill her, that she hadn’t committed any crime, that she wasn’t going to say anything. I know this from the same criminals. They even imitated my daughter’s voice when she cried out for help. They said she pleaded for her life up until the last minute. She held out hope even while they were digging the grave where they were going to bury her body. They decapitated her. Then, they even grouped together to play with her head. These detainees laughed when I told them that I had been told that my daughter’s body had been found. They said, “No, it’s a place that’s far away, that’s not her body.” They said that the only people who know where the body is are two men from their group. I hope that with this Caravan for Peace to Washington, we will raise the consciousness of many people who hear our voice – that they will know that the Mexican people aren’t safe in their own country because we don’t have protection. The authorities are themselves involved in organized crime in each and every state. There are thousands of us in Mexico who are suffering all of this. There are people who cannot raise their voice because of their fear. There are people who don’t have the means to relocate. I used up my children’s inheritance to look for my daughter, and I’m not going to stop until she’s found. Even if I lose my life doing this – because this is my only daughter. The people have to know what we’re going through. I hope that the authorities become aware, that they realize that we are human beings. We’re not less than human. We’re not collateral damage. We’re shouting for the help of all of them, in the United States also, because we can’t go on like this. We can’t keep going in this struggle, going against the stream, without being helped by anybody.

John Lindsay-Poland: How to convey the multifaceted, beautiful and exhausting nature of the caravan. Its unrelenting creativity and pain. Its affection and love of people both present and gone. Its logistics deep in water up to the nose. Its crying out for change in a money-soaked gray election year. The commitment of a diver, head into the pool, but done collectively, seeking our beauty, our national and personal identities faced toward power and whatever comes next. The tender grief of recent loss, longing for the beloved’s bones, the determination to know to settle an account with those who took, those who profited from the blood and looked away. The fearless turning to face you, to face me, saying: This is what it is. Open. Open the case. Open your heart. Open the putrid systems ticking out our doom. Open the long held clichés about Mexico, about the United States, about what’s possible. Open your hands. Open your mouth and say something true. Open the gates and locks to the those heavy doors that separate and divide us. Open your deepest desire for something better. Open the crypt where your dreams for justice lay waiting. You know how; you know it is wrong to force millions of young black men into cages. You know an AK sold in Texas is not just for sport. You know you’ve leaned on something ingested to change your mood and feel better. That the trigger-man and boss shouldn’t kill and walk freely and armed. You, I, we know better. This is my hand; take it.

Chris Moore-Backman:

Children of the Same Sorrow is part of the radio documentary series “Bringing Down the New Jim Crow,” which explores and gives voice to the continuing struggle for racial justice in the United States, during the era of mass incarceration.

The reflection on the caravan, featured at the end of the show, was written and read by John Lindsay-Poland. The music, used with kind permission, was “I Grew Up Here” by Kit, from the album Tray Em, released in 2012, “Even Though We Sleep” from the album of the same title by Stray Theories, written and performed by Micah Templeton-Wolfe, also released in 2012, and “Name” by Loney Dear from the album Hall Music, released in 2011. Many thanks to these recording artists. Thanks also to Sarah Downs and Marc Albert who provided voiceovers.

Children of the” was made possible by KZFR community radio in Chico, California, by the Chico Peace and Justice Center and by the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Thank you for listening.

Copyright, Chris Moore-Backman. Original transcript produced for Truthout. May not reprint without permission.

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