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A Radical Expansion of Sanctuary: Steps in Defiance of Trump’s Executive Order

We are fighting for the widest idea of sanctuary, and that aspirational demand is under profound attack.

Demonstrators march with a "Wall Off Trump" banner during a protest at the 2016 RNC in Cleveland. (Photo: Marisa Franco)

A moment of stinging clarity is now upon us. Today, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to set in motion the process of building a wall along the US-Mexico border, stripping federal funding from sanctuary cities, increasing the size of US Border Patrol forces and increasing deportations. In response, we must plunge even more urgently into the hard local work of building sanctuary.

A year ago, my team at #Not1More Deportation and I drafted this reflection on the nature of sanctuary:

We are from a lineage of our community who made a way when there was no way, who provided political and spiritual cover so the rest of us could come ahead …. When we seek to enter movement, and we converge, these spaces, they are sacred, because they are a form of sanctuary. Sanctuary is a spiritual stance. Sanctuary says: oppression is trying to fill our lives with fear and blood and daily numbing horror. But not in here. Not in my home. Not in my bed. Not in my movement. Sanctuary makes a ring of fire around our people. Sanctuary grants us a taste of reprieve and protection so they can gather strength to go out there again and fight. Sanctuary is our duty. A movement space must hold sanctuary.

These words have new meaning to me today. And in a political moment when pillars of justice appear to be falling all around us, sanctuary also has new meaning for millions of other people throughout the US. Those of us who cannot vote, those of us who have been marginalized — we were not asked if we wanted to live in such times as this, in a place such as this in which we now find ourselves. But we must decide what to do with the moment now upon us.

As we move into Trump’s first 100 days, the attacks on our advances, on our bodies and on our values come from all angles. This moment can be disorienting and overwhelming. I know it is hard to get up and fight. I know many of us are not sure what comes next, or how. But, deep down, we know what is happening.

We can find clarity because there are not many messages in the actions of Trump: there is only one, core to his character, from which all other messages flow. That message is that in order to “make America great again,” some of us will have to die, some of us will have to be pushed out, and some of us will have to be silent, malleable and complacent.

I demand of myself, as I implore of all of us, to see how this moment requires something different from us. Though we are creatures of habit, we must question our conditioned tendencies of alliance, of political line and of tactics.

If Trump seeks to strip us of sanctuary, then we must defy him. And our defiance must not simply recreate what existed, but instead expand, reimagine and breathe life into its possibilities.

Creating sanctuary in our local communities will require focusing on places and people many of us tend not to notice. There is no silver-bullet plan. There is no national government or national movement leader who will come save us. To jumpstart ourselves, we have to start where we are, where we live, and we have to get out of our bubbles.

We are fighting for the widest idea of sanctuary, and that vision, that aspirational demand, is under profound attack. Through collective action, however, we can create our own walls — walls of protection — that Trump cannot conquer.

Sanctuary in our times will require very deep and hard local work. Here are some first steps I see:

1. Sanctuary is now about shared political fate.

Where once we may have seen “them” as coming for “others,” now we see that the destiny of our planet, our towns and our lives is caught up in each other’s fates.

2. Sanctuary is not single-issue.

We have multiple targets on our backs. There is no time for our ideas of sanctuaries to be exclusive. Sanctuaries must include not only undocumented people, but also non-immigrant Muslims, LGBTQ people, Black and Indigenous folks and political dissidents. Trump cares nothing for our survival, and he is willing to persecute us. He has put people in power who are obsessed with our torture, subjugation and oppression. What else do we need to know? Not one of our movements or organizations is strong enough alone: Without shared force we will be decimated. Our sanctuary organizing must include this expanded understanding.

3. Sanctuary can be created through policy and through community.

Trumpism is seeping into all of the branches of the federal government, but we still can and should demand that local elected officials stand with us in defiance. We can still engage our mayors and city council representatives. And if they don’t respond, we should run for office and replace them. However, we can’t stop there. We can build zones of sanctuary that engage hospitals, schools, business owners, faith communities and neighborhoods.

4. Sanctuary cannot be based in paternalism or a white savior mentality.

This will be very hard work, and it will require everyone involved to realize that we are not in this to “save” anyone. This work requires us to deeply listen, build relationships and confront power. Charity models will not make it structurally possible to win.

5. Sanctuary is no longer about four walls.

The Trump administration will not respect spaces designated for sanctuary. That is why we must contest for power and fight like hell in open water: We must not relinquish public space as not ours. We must fight to re-align our counties and towns with our needs.

6. Sanctuary will require local organizing to converge nationally.

If Trump spreads a dangerous poison at the federal level, let’s spread the antidote person-to-person. We can get ourselves in motion on the local level. To do so, we have to break our isolation by remembering that we are not a small minority opposing this agenda — we are the majority. It’s time to go out and find our people locally. Go out and move an organizing strategy to change the local conversation. Spend less time on social media and more time in our neighborhoods. In moments of opportunity, we can converge nationally to show power.

7. Sanctuary will require clarity, courage and spiritual fortitude.

We must prepare ourselves for the times ahead. We will be persecuted for our actions and beliefs. We will be under attack. The more clarity we have about what we are doing and why, the more we can build our numbers and build our courage. Part of that involves resisting isolation and taking care of each other and ourselves in community. We seek the wisdom and skills of cultural workers and healers to provide us with tools and guidance.

As this new president seeks to take us apart piece by piece, we must resist. We must remember that even though threats to immigrants have already escalated just in the first few days of the Trump regime, our communities also faced similar problems just one month ago. Those of us who already have practice in creating sanctuary and protection for community can make available the very practical tools we’ve already created on how others may do so as well.

As we resist, and as we build sanctuary anew, we must resolve to expand it to more people in more places and in new ways.

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