With issues of mass incarceration and deportation hanging heavy over the current presidential race, both Black Lives Matter activists and immigration rights activists have had a great deal to say about the policies and commentaries of each potential commander in chief. But while hashtags like #SuperTuesday go viral and problematic award shows drag up questions about Black and Brown solidarity, some young people are forging ahead on the front lines, arm-in-arm with those whose issues many would divide from their own.
On February 15, a bold act of protest brought traffic to a standstill outside the Regional Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Field Office in downtown Chicago. During rush-hour morning traffic, protesters raised a pair of ladders in the crosswalk of Congress Avenue, blocking inbound traffic to a major expressway, as a row of participants locked themselves together in the streets. Within moments, a local activist was secured to the top of each ladder, creating a spectacle of rage and resistance to the deportation raids that have terrorized immigrant communities.
While opposition to recent raids targeting Central American families in the United States have been widely discussed, they have not always been linked with the broader spectrum of structural violence that threatens Brown and Black people in the United States. The recent Chicago protest represented a convergence of radical perspectives on issues of policing and deportation – intersections that are frequently erased in national policy discussions. As Brown and Black activists stood side-by-side in defiance of the state, protest organizers made it clear that their concerns were broader than the recently publicized raids.
“I am here to say that there needs to be an end to [all] raids and deportations,” explained protester Francisco Canuto. Canuto says he was taken into custody by ICE last year after a raid at his home. “Agents entered my home under false pretenses, they fingerprinted me and my roommates, and took me into detention. I spent 13 awful days in a detention center that I don’t wish on anyone,” Canuto said.
This radical stance – that all deportations should be halted throughout the United States – wasn’t the event’s only thematic departure from protests showcasing a more reformist agenda. The coalition of groups that carried out the blockade, in of itself, represented unity at the intersection of Brown and Black struggles, and a sweeping condemnation of the state violence both communities face.
Among those working in support of the event and participating in the civil disobedience aspect of the action were members of the grassroots group Assata’s Daughters, which is an intergenerational collective of radical Black women located in the city of Chicago. Assata’s Daughters worked in concert with Organized Communities Against Deportations (OCAD) last October, as the groups carried out one of five blockades in Black Youth Project 100’s shutdown of the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference. That event, which embarrassed Chicago’s former top cop Garry McCarthy on an international stage, was premised on the demand that Chicago’s infamously violent police be defunded, and that resources instead be allocated to projects that would help “Build Black Futures.”
On February 15, the groups once again joined forces, this time tackling issues that are having a profound impact on immigrants in Chicago and around the country.
Assata’s Daughters released a statement stating that they participated in the act of civil disobedience “because we understand our struggles are connected,” adding that “we did so because we were asked by friends, and we did so because it is our duty to love and support each other.” The statement also drew connections between the climate of fear imposed upon undocumented people and their families, and the constant threat of police violence with which Black people in the United States are confronted. “Our communities experience that fear when Chicago Police Officers patrol our neighborhoods, stop and frisk us, occupy our schools, and arrest us in mass. Our struggles are distinct but connected,” according to the statement.
Erased by the Headlines
As waves of progressives expressed outrage over Donald Trump’s landslide victories Tuesday night, Black author William C. Anderson offered some rather grounding words on Twitter:
No matter what happens with Donald Trump, Hillary, or any politician; you will never vote away the hatred that white supremacy has for us.
Anderson was speaking specifically to Black struggle, but the sentiment could just as accurately describe the relationship between Brown struggle and the current election cycle. Because, while Donald Trump’s anti-Blackness and anti-immigrant sentiments may be the stuff that nightmares are made of, Black and Brown communities have long been confronted with the social and political realities that Trump represents. As Anderson succinctly stated in his tweets on the subject, “If Donald Trump is what it takes to make you feel disgust at the state of things in the USA, you must’ve not been paying attention … ever.”
Even President Obama, who has been hailed by Democrats around the country as a bastion of progressive values, has overseen more deportations than any previous president, including his infamous predecessor, warmonger George W. Bush. And while Obama has offered some cursory attention to the Black Lives Matter movement, the president has been fairly recently taken to task by some within that movement as offering little more than lip service on the subject.
Black activist Aislinn Pulley, who turned down an invite to the White House for what she described as a “sound bite for the president,” expressed that while real dialogue about anti-Blackness and state violence is needed, Obama has not offered such dialogue.
Rather than travel to the White House at a time when presidential politics dominate nearly every news cycle, Pulley chose to stay in Chicago, where frontline work against anti-Blackness and state violence is unfolding every day. In an op-ed explaining her refusal to meet with the president, Pulley made numerous demands on behalf of Black Lives Matter Chicago that reflected the group’s intersectional organizing praxis, including “an end to the ongoing police violence against Indigenous people” and “the immediate halting of the deportation raids of undocumented people,” in addition to “full reparations for all descendants of the trans-Atlantic slave trade.”
While Chicago has seen intense discussion of how Black and Brown struggles intersect, thanks to groups like We Charge Genocide and Black Lives Matter Chicago, these conversations are also happening on a much broader scale.
On occasion, I’ve made the mistake of referring to slavery as America’s “original sin”, which ignores the fact that our current democracy would not have been possible without the genocide of indigenous people. I think we should speak of “original sins” – in the plural – if we want to give an accurate account of our nation’s formation.
As an Indigenous woman whose organizing centers the violence of the carceral system, I deeply appreciated Alexander’s statement. Because just as the prison industrial complex is an extension of slavery through the continued commodification and control of Black bodies, deportation, immigrant incarceration and state-sanctioned border violence is the continuance of Native genocide.
Colonialist borders may have divided Indigenous people into state-based identities, but many who are considered “Latino” have far more ties to what is now called the United States than any descendant of white settlers. The practice of divorcing people from land and thereby erasing a group’s identity and claim to resources is consistent with the history of both anti-Native and anti-Black policies in the United States. Acknowledging the ways in which these mechanisms continue to affect our lives is crucial to the work of dismantling them.
The prison industrial complex and state-sanctioned anti-Black violence are matters of both policy and philosophy in the United States. They are embedded in every layer of this country’s social order, just as the continued violent displacement of people with an Indigenous connection to this land reflects the same political mindset that brought forth the Trail of Tears.
The overlap of these oppressions – which ensnares Black immigrants and Indigenous prisoners alike – bears out the reality that the violence of white supremacy is not composed of straight lines, jutting forward in various directions, but is, in reality, a tangle of human suffering.
And while groups affected by various forms of injustice will always generate works that center the struggle and survival of their own people, it is important to note that both action and complex discourse are happening at the intersections of Black and Brown struggle. Interrogation of the ways in which our communities have been alienated from one another – and at times, betrayed one another – under white supremacy is also happening.
As OCAD and Assata’s Daughters have recently demonstrated, there are Brown activists committed to undermining anti-Blackness at the state level and within their own communities, just as there are Black freedom fighters who are willing to put their bodies on the line to stop deportation raids.
The media has recently been rife with think pieces about what young organizers ought to be doing to expand and sustain their movements. While often well intended, these sideline debates all too frequently erase the work that communities are already actively engaged in. Fortunately, that work is managing to find an audience, even if the mainstream media has yet to embrace it.
Jenni Martinez, a 19-year-old youth leader with OneAmerica in Seattle, has experienced the violence of immigration raids and deportations. After watching OCAD’s action unfold on social media, Martinez says she was deeply inspired.
“Seeing Chicago’s Black and Brown organizers putting their bodies on the line, side-by-side, left me in awe,” Martinez told Truthout. Martinez noted that “media narratives have a way of erasing the labor, innovation and analysis of young organizers,” adding that, “I just hope these brave young people know that we see them. Because we need them, and we are proud.”