Melissa Montero

In February 2014, the Lutheran Trinity Church in the community of Sunset Park, Brooklyn hosted a special talk for Black History Month with scholar and intellectual, Dr. Cornel West. In that discourse, Dr. West highlighted the similarities in the struggle for justice in communities of color and the need to continue fighting for economic, political and social justice, including the freedom of our political prisoners who are often the most targeted for egregious human rights violations because of their political ideologies. Dr. West dedicated his discourse to Oscar López Rivera and grounded his comments in the colonial status of Puerto Rico, since the imprisonment of the longest held political prisoner who fought for the independence of his country cannot be separated from the struggle for Puerto Rico’s self-determination and sovereignty.

Puerto Rican women, both here and on the island, have begun their own movement in support of Lopez Rivera. It began 11 months ago in Puerto Rico—without anticipation or planning—when a group of five women gathered and spontaneously came up with an innovative and inspiring way to call for the release of Oscar López Rivera, serving a 70-year sentence for seditious conspiracy. Emulating to a certain degree the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo in Argentina after the “Dirty War,” a group of 32 women in Puerto Rico, known as “32 Mujeres x Oscar,” have organized monthly demonstrations every last Sunday of the month for 32 minutes, and will continue to do so until Oscar is released. Hasta su regreso, as they say. The number 32 was used symbolically this past year by various groups committed to Oscar’s freedom because it represents the number of years he has served in prison as a result of his participation in the Puerto Rican independence movement. Almost a year later, and after galvanizing an island’s attention, these women have organically created an unstoppable group. From lawyers to teachers, social workers, artists and even young girls, the “32 Mujeres” have reawakened the fire that can burn out in activists.

And this is where I find myself today--in New York City as one of the core organizers of the “33 Mujeres NYC x Oscar”. I, along with three other women, and with the support of the women in Puerto Rico, have formed a network of women in solidarity who will be doing the same throughout New York City—demonstrating every last Sunday of the month for 33 minutes, as Oscar comes up on his 33rd year in prison this May.

The action of monthly rallies and demonstrations is just one of the many ways to support the campaign for the release of Oscar López Rivera. The movement has built its momentum in this last year with various actions throughout cities in the U.S. and Puerto Rico, capturing the attention and support of high-profile elected officials such as Congressmen Luis Gutierrez and Jose Serrano and Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez, celebrities such as Ricky Martin and Rene Pérez from the group Calle 13 and religious leaders such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. With a wide range of people speaking out on the human rights implication of continuing Oscar’s imprisonment, this freedom movement has grown to include people worldwide who have different ideologies when it comes to the political status of Puerto Rico. However, it is clear that the driving force that that capture’s the profound sense of injustice and unfairness regarding Oscar’s incarceration stems from the source of his incarceration – his love for and belief in the independence of Puerto Rico. That belief is shared widely throughout the diaspora and on the island. For decades, even centuries, Puerto Rican activists have rallied, demonstrated and advocated for Puerto Rico’s independence and for the release of their political prisoners who have paid the highest price fighting for that independence. Not only does this exemplify the strength that comes out of communities that have been minimized, repressed, or forgotten, but it shows that the issue of Puerto Rico’s sovereignty and its complicated relationship with the United States is one worth reviewing.

The campaign for the release of Oscar has been a lesson to us all. It has united many different fronts and exposed the dark truths of treatment of political dissidents by the United States, but most importantly it has made us fight with every fiber of our being until Oscar López Rivera - a father, brother, uncle, community activist, educator, artist and freedom fighter - is brought home. We are all in this struggle for freedom together. ¡HASTA SU REGRESO!

This post was co-edited by Natasha Bannan

Melissa Montero is an independentista, political activist, dancer, media professional, and filmmaker of Puerto Rican and Ecuadorian heritage from Queens, New York. She has a BA with a major in TV/Video and minor in dance from Hofstra University. For over 11 years Melissa has been involved in the Puerto Rican independence movement, beginning with the Vieques issue opposing the US Navy’s use of the island as a bombing range and later supporting the release of Puerto Rican political prisoners.

Image via El Nuevo Dia