Activist Faces Prison for Climbing Monuments to Protest Family Separation

Last week, immigrant activist Patricia Okoumou climbed the Southwest Key building in Austin, Texas, to protest the company jailing immigrant children. Now a judge in New York will decide whether to revoke her bail from her first arrest, when she climbed the Statue of Liberty on July 4 to protest President Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy. Okoumou was with the group Rise and Resist on July 4 last year as they dropped a banner from the statute that read ”ABOLISH ICE.” She broke away from the group and climbed all the way to Lady Liberty’s left foot, where she continued to protest and refused to leave until she was arrested. She has since pleaded not guilty to trespassing, interference with government agency functions and disorderly conduct. Her sentencing is scheduled for March 19, but prosecutors claim her latest protest was a violation of the terms of her bond, and she has been ordered back to court today. She joins us just hours before her appearance.

Transcript

AMY GOODMAN: Immigrant rights activist Patricia Okoumou, who made national headlines last year after she scaled the Statue of Liberty to protest family separations, climbed atop a Southwest Key building last week to protest the company, which operates detention centers for migrant children. Today, as thousands of children remain separated from their parents, a judge will decide whether to revoke Okoumou’s bail from her first arrest because of her activism in Texas last week. Okoumou was with the group Rise and Resist on July 4th last year as they dropped a banner from the Statue of Liberty that read ”ABOLISH ICE.” She broke away from the group and climbed all the way to Lady Liberty’s left foot, where she continued to protest and refused to leave until she was arrested. She spoke to reporters after she came down.

PATRICIA OKOUMOU: Our beloved first lady, that I care so much about, said, “When they go low, we go high.” And I went as high as I could.

AMY GOODMAN: Patricia Okoumou has since pleaded not guilty to trespassing, interference with government agency functions and disorderly conduct. Her sentencing is scheduled for March 19th. But prosecutors claim her latest protest this past week in Austin, Texas, was a violation of the terms of her bond, and she’s been ordered back to court today, where her bail could be revoked and she could be immediately jailed. Just hours before she presents herself at the courthouse, immigrant rights activist Patricia Okoumou joins us now in our New York studio.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, climber.

PATRICIA OKOUMOU: Thank you, Amy. I am psyched to be right here sitting next to you. I watch your show all the time, and I’m a fan. I’m a big fan.

AMY GOODMAN: So, tell us about what you did last week in Austin, Texas.

PATRICIA OKOUMOU: Well, last week, let’s not forget, was Valentine. And I was planning ahead of time, at least two to three weeks, about my action. I targeted CEO Juan Sánchez. He is a billionaire who is making money off of this detention center. He makes about $750 to $770 per day per child at his detention centers. Obviously, his interest is in making money and not hosting migrant children, as his staff want us to believe.

So, I wanted to deliver the postcards that my friends and supporters have written down to these children who are in cages. And I went and delivered them. We had a gallery in El Paso called Glasbox, who donated a space for us. And I went there for a 10-day journey, starting at El Paso. I went to Tornillo, in which—

AMY GOODMAN: The Tornillo detention facility.

PATRICIA OKOUMOU: Tornillo, correct, detention facility is ground zero. Our action there, with the coalition that was with me, is to remember what happened on that site. And also, this site, there’s another site that’s just 20 miles away, where I was able to climb a fence while the group was cheering and calling the children and telling them how much we love them and wishing them happy Valentine. We were on the outside. That’s how I do my activism: I climb things. It’s innate in me, and—

AMY GOODMAN: Why do you climb? Who inspired you?

PATRICIA OKOUMOU: Climbing—my father was an airline pilot for the president of my country, Denis Sassou Nguesso. So—

AMY GOODMAN: You’re from Congo?

PATRICIA OKOUMOU: I’m from the Republic of Congo. He was flying the president all over the country. And I was inspired by his leadership. So, we were healthy, and we live in this environment. We’re close to the airport, where I got to climb a lot the facility, the buildings there.

AMY GOODMAN: It sounds like you’ve also gotten some inspiration from current and past first ladies. Can you describe what you’re wearing?

PATRICIA OKOUMOU: What I’m wearing is a dress. It’s green, and it says, “I really care. Why won’t you?” I wore this the first time, on August 3rd, when I went to one of my hearings, and I spoke in front of the press. The dress went viral. The media was reporting that I was trolling first lady Melania Trump for her hideous jacket that she was wearing on her way to a detention center. I think she is cold and calculated. She does not care about my grandchildren. And I’m here to say we do care, hashtag #WeDoCare.

AMY GOODMAN: Because her shirt—her jacket, that she wore, said, “I really don’t care”?

PATRICIA OKOUMOU: Exactly.

AMY GOODMAN: “Do U?”

PATRICIA OKOUMOU: And my action shows that I really, really care. I don’t have a 9-to-5 job. I’m a full-time activist.

AMY GOODMAN: And when you climbed the Statue of Liberty, for which you might now be put in jail today because of your violation of the bond conditions by climbing Southwest Key, you said you were inspired by Michelle Obama?

PATRICIA OKOUMOU: I was inspired by Michelle Obama. I think she was warning us throughout the campaign trail to hold on dearly to our democracy, to our values and traditions. Our culture and tradition is at stake. Our democracy is at stake. I come from a place where we hold dearly our values. It’s just very important. We don’t compromise these things.

AMY GOODMAN: So, when you climbed the Statue of Liberty, is it true you talked about what she had said—”When they go low, we go high”?

PATRICIA OKOUMOU: I did, yes. I felt like I could have gone higher. So, I said I went as high as I could. When they go low, I went high, and I went as high as I could.

AMY GOODMAN: What is your message to separated children?

PATRICIA OKOUMOU: The message is that children do not have a sense of time. God gave them a sense of identity, by smelling their parents, recognizing the mother’s milk. So, when we rip them, tender-age children, from nursing mothers or their father, we break their spirit. So, psychologically, we’re creating a damage. To me, these are the concentration camps.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you talk about what’s happening today and why you risked your freedom to climb the Southwest Key facility, now the judge calling you back in?

PATRICIA OKOUMOU: I don’t think that I risked my freedom, because on March 19, come sentencing, nobody knows what’s really going to happen. We don’t know if the judge is going to send me to jail for 18 months.

AMY GOODMAN: What about today?

PATRICIA OKOUMOU: Today, I’m facing prison, incarceration. And it is what it is. The way I look at it is, I was inspired by God to do an act that is courageous, that many people dream of doing. Our children are watching us. When we call human beings “aliens” or “illegals,” we’re setting a bad precedence. It’s a rhetoric that we need to stop, because that’s all fearmongering. What’s happening today is also about fearmongering. I am being intimidated to stop my actions.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you’re called into court today at 12:30?

PATRICIA OKOUMOU: I’m called into court today at 2:00, and I’m asking my friends and supporters to come in at 12:30.

AMY GOODMAN: And this is in court in Manhattan, New York?

PATRICIA OKOUMOU: It is in court today, 500 Pearl Street. And I thank you for giving me the platform to talk about my message, about the children in cages, and this is a perfect opportunity to continue the work.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Patricia Okoumou, I want to thank you very much for being with us, immigrant rights activist facing possible prison time for scaling the Statue of Liberty on July 4th last year to protest President Trump’s “zero tolerance” family separation policy. She’ll find out today if her bail is being revoked and will have to go to prison ahead of time, ahead of her March 19th sentencing, for scaling a Southwest Key facility in Austin, Texas, Southwest Key known for holding immigrant children.

This is Democracy Now! When we come back, we’ll hear from children who confronted Democratic Senator Dianne Feinstein, demanding she support the Green New Deal. Stay with us.