On Saturday March 12th, the Mayor of Richmond Gayle McLaughlin and more than 30 community organizations gathered at Lovonya DeJean Middle School to celebrate International Women’s Day. For four consecutive years, this event entitled Sisters in Solidarity: Richmond the Beloved Community, has become a wonderful day of celebration and one that links local struggles with international struggles.
Through-out the day, more than 300 people from different backgrounds and life experiences enjoyed a program that included music, dances, short videos, speeches, and a series of round tables discussions. Although most of the participants were women, the audience was representative of the multicultural, multiracial, and multigenerational city of Richmond.
The City of Richmond is located 16 miles northeast of San Francisco on the western shore of Contra Costa County. At the last census, the population of Richmond was estimated at over 100,000. Today, the City is an important oil refining, industrial, commercial, transportation, shipping and government center. Richmond operates under a council-administrator form of government, consisting of a mayor and six council members who serve alternating 4-year terms.
Gayle McLaughlin, the recently reelected Mayor of Richmond, received a strong round of applause when she walked to the podium to welcome the participants. She congratulated everybody and invited them to enjoy the day and learn from each other’s experiences.
The International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5 was part of this vibrant event. Alicia Jrapko, the US coordinator of the committee shared remarks with a receptive audience about the struggle that mothers, wives, sisters and daughters of the Cuban 5 are enduring to bring their loved ones home. People were able to watch a short video of Dolores Huerta explaining the case of the Cuban Five. The Committee presented Mayor McLaughlin with a wooden logo made by a Canadian artist, along with a letter of recognition that included the firm of each of the Cuban 5 imprisoned in the US and a note-worthy phrase by Jose Marti, “Big things can’t be done without big friends.”
Since Mayor McLaughlin first learned about the case of the Cuban 5, she has joined the campaign for their freedom and for the right of family visits. In 2007 she spearheaded a campaign that resulted in a letter being sent to then U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales signed by twelve other California Mayors asking him to grant visas to Olga Salanueva and Adriana Perez to visit their imprisoned husbands.
On April 7, 2009, the City Council of Richmond unanimously passed a resolution calling for the release of the Cuban 5, the right of family visits and the normalization of relations between Cuba and the U.S.
Since then, McLaughlin has joined the International Commission for the Right of Family Visits and has sent a number of letters to the State Department on behalf of Olga and Adriana.
Twenty colorful tables were set up in the large auditorium. Most tables were shared by two organizations and had distinctive themes so people could identify and choose one of the tables to talk to its organizers. Some of the themes included “Look beneath the surface to end modern day slavery,” “Unity is strength,” “Women caring for their communities and resisting oppression,” and “A better Richmond is possible,” to name a few. The Richmond-Regla Sister City Project shared a table with the International Committee for the Freedom of the Cuban 5 and through the day Richmond residents were able to learn about Cuban life and culture as well as the case of the Cuban 5. A number of visitors to the table signed up to keep in touch and receive updated information about the case.
The program ended with a closing circle and closing words by Bishop Edwina Perez-Santiago, from Reach Fellowship International who reaffirmed women’s strength to continue their struggle and fight for justice.