The vigil at Riverside Church compelled listeners to see and feel the consequences of the drug war in both Mexico and the United States through the testimonies of victims on both sides. Carol Eady, an African-American mother who was formerly incarcerated in New York for selling drugs, humanized the drug war crisis by describing it as a public health issue.
"Many women in New York, all over the United States, and probably all over the world, are usually incarcerated for nonviolent drug offenses," Eady said. "And instead of treating [these] occurrences as health hazards or diseases where we turn to drugs to medicate our pain, they [authorities] lock us up. As a result, I myself became separated from my children, my family, my home, because I turned to drugs to medicate my own pain."
At other moments, the testimonies from drug war victims reminded the congregation that both Americans and Mexicans need to unite as "good neighbors" to overcome the walls of silence and indifference that alienate victims. When Melchor Flores Landa, a Mexican father who lost his son in the drug war, lamented how his voice is being drowned out by pain, the congregation chanted in support, "You are not alone."
This solidarity between neighbors, Sicilia pointed out at the end of his speech, is the cornerstone for a new policy that could drive the United States and Mexico on a path towards peace. The poet and the caravan hoped to renew the community spirit that King praised in 1967 for pushing forward "new systems of justice and equality."
"The shirtless and barefoot people of the land are rising up as never before," said the reverend. "'The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light,'" he quoted from the Gospel of Matthew (4:16).
Following that light towards peace, the congregation marched out of Riverside Church at the end of the vigil with candles in hand. They filed into rows of four people each on the street, and set forward into the humid night to Saint Cecilia Church in East Harlem, a majority Latino neighborhood with a growing Mexican population. Along the way, they passed project housing and rent-controlled apartment buildings where black and Latino residents have been detained for nonviolent drug offenses in recent decades. And at that moment, when marchers chanted, "El pueblo callado jamás será escuchado" ("A silent community will never be heard"), New York could have been Mexico, Vietnam, or any other place ravaged by war, including 1941 Auschwitz in Sicilia's 2012 novel "El fondo de la noche" ("The Depth of Night").
The next morning, Sicilia and the caravan suffered a setback. While they attracted the attention of numerous media outlets during a press conference on the steps of City Hall, Sicilia said that Mayor Bloomberg neither accepted nor declined to meet with them. Univision News reached out to the Mayor's Office for a confirmation, but was unable to get a statement before deadline.
And now that the caravan has reached its final stop in Washington, D.C., they hope that they will have better luck with President Obama and other politicians, so that they can break through the indifference of government and rally support for more humane policies that benefit the people.