Why get arrested?
By Fairen Stark, Leland and Gray Union High School student
For the children who cry out in the night for their families.
Wrapped in silver Mylar blankets
Rather than the arms of their parents.
For people who sought asylum but were treated like criminals,
Just because of their skin color
And the countries they came from.
For every Latinx person in this country,
Who is treated
Like they are undeserving
Of the rights that I was automatically given.
I can not sit back
And not use the privilege I have-
Born a citizen without having to fight-
To do the only thing that is right.
I am sixteen years old.
I sit in the street with someone
Who is fourteen.
Sweaty hand in sweaty hand
Our first arrest.
In the road
In front of the office
Of the agency that rips families apart,
That would have Americans turn their neighbors in,
That would have children put in cages
All under the guise of “legality”
Some laws are meant to be broken.
Some laws were unjust to begin with.
And sometimes breaking the law can be powerful.
#Abolish ICE: My first civil disobedience and a call to action
by Rachel Siegel
Last Saturday, I joined a group of 13 people who participated in civil disobedience. We were detained and cited on charges of disorderly conduct. Two among us were minors; one of them my 14 year old daughter. It was the first time either of us was arrested.
We were there protesting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) – calling for the end of the policies that tear apart 1,000s of families, calling for the people involved to be held accountable, and for the elimination of ICE as a whole. The family separations that escalated after Trump’s executive order last spring impacted me intensely. My daily life was not changed, but the pain of it pierced me.
If you don’t already know about the history of ICE and why it’s actually not such a radical idea that we abolish it, check out these FAQs put together by the American Friends Service Committee. I believe that it is a moral imperative to work toward its abolition. Democratic Representative Pramila Jayapal of Washington, one of the most outspoken lawmakers on the issue, said in an email that she wants “to eliminate the agency as it stands and restructure its functions, starting from scratch.” Jayapal, along with Representative Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, will soon be introducing legislation to dismantle the agency. “There will still be enforcement of immigration laws, but it must be without cruelty and abuse,” she said. (From an article in the Atlantic.)
Since I was young, one of the ways that I have contended with how cruel the world is, how unjust, how violent, is to work together with other people to resist, with love, and change the ways things are. This spring, as the reports of the kids in cages came in, the action I was taking was not enough. I know separations have been happening by the 1,000s (back to the days of European occupation of this land and the devastation of so many Indigenous families and communities) and that they escalated under the Obama administration. I think it was the sudden volume of separations, the detention of such young children, and the horrifying conditions of the facilities. I started to come undone emotionally. It is too much to fathom. I needed to do more.
There was talk of civil disobedience on one of the organizing emails I was on. I had never risked arrest and I knew it was time. I have so little to risk compared to most people. My skin privilege, citizenship, extended family and support network, job flexibility, and more, make it so much easier for me to risk arrest than other people. It’s important for those of us who will take less of a hit, to stand up. I talked about it with my partner and got his support and then told each of our kids. My daughter said, “I’m doing it too.” She is 14.
Gertie and I were separated for 13 months starting when she was 12 years old. I knew where she was and I knew it would end, and still the pain of being separated was intense. It was physical. I think for both of us, the family separations at the Mexican border brought up a visceral response. Gertie knows how awful it is to be far from home. I know how awful it is to not have my child under my roof, available for me to hold, to read to, to feed.
Not everyone is in a position to be able to get arrested nor does everyone feel ready for that risk. However, everyone can do something: voting, voter registration, phone calls [see list below], letters to the editor, canvassing, organizing fundraisers, donating, going to rallies and protests, and educating yourself and others. These actions (and so many more) are all important. Activism can be defined many ways and my hope is that everyone who is hurting when they think about the madness our government is perpetrating will do something. We need to do this for all of us. We need to utilize every resource we have (including privilege) to build resistance collectively and be part of a nationwide movement to change these policies and eliminate ICE
Back to our civil disobedience. We participated in the protest with over 200 people. At the planned time, 11 of us held hands and stretched across the road, blocking traffic in front of the ICE offices in Williston. (Later in the process, two more people joined us in civil disobedience.) Once the cars were stopped, we sat on mylar blankets on the road and waited for the police. They arrived after about 10 minutes and we began a cordial negotiation with them. Robert Appel acted as a liaison. We were told that if we stood and came with them to be cited, we would only be detained as they wrote our citations on the spot. The we’d be free to go until our court date. If we became passive or in some other way did not cooperate, they would bring us to the station to book us. We had a quick huddle and the group consensus was to be cited on site.
After the decision, my daughter expressed frustration. She really wanted to be fully booked. She wanted to make more of a statement. She wanted to say, “I will not play by your rules if your rules say it’s OK to torture children” as loudly as possible. I told my daughter that this was a good first time for us. We can up the ante next time.
There were three arresting officers who took one protester at a time. My daughter and I were taken together by the youngest of the officers, a white man with a kind face who appeared to be about 30. Gertie and I had role-played how we would interact with the officer, under the guidance of Ruby Perry and Andy Simon, to whom I am very grateful. I’m glad we had practiced. My heart rate accelerated. Gertie was composed but when she and I talked about the experience after, she said she was completely terrified: “It was scary being completely under their mercy and understanding what must have been going through those kids’ heads… I mean, I can’t really understand it but somewhat understanding it. I really felt how evil it is to do that. I already knew it was evil and I knew we had to do everything we can to make it stop. Being arrested made it more real.”
When the officer took us, we engaged him, appealing to his humanity, asking him about his family, his kids, can he imagine being separated from them, did he know why we were protesting, would he like to join us next time, etc. We spoke calmly but with conviction. I cried. My daughter hugged me. He asked us all the questions you’d expect: name, date of birth, address, etc. We answered all of his questions and after each answer we would add on a statement. For example, my daughter said her date of birth and then said, “Can you imagine not celebrating your kids’ birthday with them?” And when asked our address, we answered and then said, “We are so fortunate to live together. Can you imagine not living with your kid? Not knowing where they are? Not knowing if you’ll see them ever again?” Robert came over and said to us, “He’s just doing his job,” with the implication that we didn’t need to take up the fight with him. I responded that we were doing our job. The officer said it was fine, we could keep talking, he just couldn’t answer. Mostly he kept a neutral face and voice. A couple of times he faltered. And one time he answered our question: he has a two year old child. I think we were getting through to him. He may have been sympathetic. We continued to tell him why we were willing to be arrested, to tell him the horror of family separation, the terrorism our government is responsible for, and that it is the responsibility of each of us to put an end to it for the sake of all of our humanity.
After everyone was detained and given their citation, the police asked us to clear the area. I said to them as we were leaving, “Please join us next time. You seem like really nice people. You know what’s right.” All three smiled and one of them said, “If you schedule it on my day off I might!” It was hard to tell to what degree he was joking but it seemed to me that there was some truth in it.
It is important to note that our experience with the police was relatively easy. That is not always the case and certainly less common for people without the privileges that this group had. We were a group of all white-appearing people, and all grey-haired except me and two female teenagers. If we were all black, male, and in our 20s, for example, there’s a good chance this would have gone down differently. Also, while these individual officers were decent to us, I do not have faith in or support the police as an institution.
I was emotionally drained and very tired when we left. I was also completely invigorated. The feeling of purpose and community that came with participating in civil disobedience took me by surprise. It has been three days and I am still invigorated by it. It felt right. It wasn’t that it was fun to be detained, it wasn’t, but I no longer feel completely undone by the state of the world. I feel impassioned and I have clarity that I need to continue to up the ante.
Please be in touch if you’d like to join a statewide group for regular organizing meetings to work to #AbolishICE and reunite the families.
Media coverage from July 28, 2018 protest: Channel 3, Channel 22, Channel 5, The Brattleboro Reformer, VT Digger, Williston Observer, and archived facebook live streams videos that show the speeches and the arrests. (Scroll down to the four videos from July 28.)
Places to give. (Scroll down.)
People to call and suggested scripts.
Petition to Governor Scott.