Protesting ICE

Though all of us at iMatter are passionate about ending the climate crisis, we are not exclusively environmental activists. We recognize that climate change is an intersectional issue, and that we are intersectional human beings living in an intersectional time. That’s why, in this wonderful piece by Annemarie Manley, you will hear about immigration on our climate-focused blog. Annemarie, like the rest of our youth team, is a multidimensional human being with passions in many different fields, and she defends the environment while still showing up as an ally for other social movements – which is incredibly important. Beyond the issues it speaks to, this blog is about what it’s like to be a young person growing up in this world, trying to figure out who you are and how to use your voice to make change.

By Annemarie Manley

When I got to school this morning, my friend was in tears. Before I had time to even open my mouth, she was telling me there was a protest downtown, she was considering skipping class to go to it. I told her that if she was going, I was going. As generally happens with this particular friend, several more people got looped in too. We made our sign in five minutes, in the pocket of time between when we decided to go and when we left. The group of us walked out of the front doors of our school, not even hiding the fact that we were skipping class.

It was chilly in front of city hall. We got there early, before there were any people – well, to be fair, there was one lady in a rainbow scarf holding a sign. But anyway. We sat down on the giant limestone bricks that trickle artfully down the front of the building, like a weirdly oversized staircase, waiting. People asked if they could take pictures of our sign. We thought that was funny, because it had been made in five minutes, but we let them. When we posed for the pictures, we smiled. I couldn’t think of anything better to do besides look kind of sullen. Maybe that would have been a better option.

People started to gather, including reporters. I noticed Hispanic families, Hispanic student groups, the occasional white person. We pretended to be college students, because skipping high school is illegal, or just generally frowned upon, something. It didn’t really matter anyway.

After a while we stopped sitting on the rocks because a crowd was clearly gathering, full of people with signs, livestreaming on facebook and instagram, someone speaking very passionately in Spanish through a megaphone. We clapped even though we didn’t know what she was saying, because whatever it was, it sounded good.

“Thank you for being here when you don’t have to be,” the Hispanic man next to me said.

“Of course,” I said, because I didn’t know what else to say.

I’m not Hispanic. I’m not an immigrant, documented or undocumented, and my family has been here for generations. I’m so white. My ancestors lived in England, Germany, Switzerland, Ireland, Poland. William Bradford – governor of Plymouth colony, an early immigrant to this bountiful country – is my very distant grandfather.

It’s not happening to me. My family isn’t getting torn apart because one of us has been waiting for years to get a greencard. I don’t live in fear that an ICE officer will pull me over and deport me, put me in a camp in South Texas to wait several more years before I can be sent over the US-Mexico border, in many cases a death sentence. I’m not afraid to leave the house to go to the store, to pick up my kids from school, to go to work. I can’t know what it’s like, I can never, ever know what that feels like. I can go to protests and not be afraid of the police, not be afraid of getting pulled over by ICE on my way home. I’m white.

But that doesn’t mean that I don’t have to be protesting. Maybe I did have an option, a choice, but it shouldn’t be that way. It’s not me I’m fighting for. It’s for humans, for people who feel pain just like me, who get scared just like me. People who rolled themselves up in carpets to get into this country, people who risked everything to swim across the (deadly) Rio Grande, people who left their parents behind when they were too small to understand why. These people risked everything to be here, only to be kicked out and risk everything once again. It’s not me I’m fighting for, it’s simple human decency. I’m not asking anyone to do anything demanding, like love anyone else or care about people or have empathy. I’m simply asking for each human to acknowledge the humanity of one another. Is that too much to ask for?

Maybe I did have a choice about whether or not to protest, but that’s part of the problem. The other day, I couldn’t stop crying about these ICE raids. People kept asking me if I was okay, which was annoying because I wasn’t crying for me. When I let it slip why I was crying, the white girl I was talking to said, “just don’t think about it.”

As a white girl, she had the ability to just not think about it. As a white girl, I have the ability to just not think about it.

I’ll be just fine if I do that, and maybe it would be easier on my psyche, or something. But the bottom line is, there are people who can’t afford to just not think about it. And as long as the problem is ignored by all except those whom it affects, the problem will persist. Not only that, but immigrant rights are human rights, and human rights affect all of us.

So long as there are groups of people being oppressed, none of us are free. No one can afford to just ignore the problem. It’s not going to just evaporate. Ever.

Maybe I did have a choice. But my choice went something a little like this: who do I side with? The oppressed, or the oppressor?

Seems like an obvious decision to me.

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