I haven’t been able to stop listening to Fetch the Bolt Cutters. That’s not what this is about but i think it’s important to document these things.
Today I went to my first protest in a really long time. Today, we were fighting for the children being detained in Heartland Alliance. HA is an incredibly corrupt organization who imprisons migrant children who have crossed the boarder without their parents AND PROFITS OFF OF THEM. This organization claims they protect these children, but they are essentially holding them hostage and for ransom. They claim that these kids have nowhere to go and no families to take them in, but this is simply a flat out lie. Their parents are desperately searching for them, but are denied any information from the Heartland staff (due to procedure) until the kids relay extensive family history and information to the center, which is then put into a database that ICE has access to. Once they get all of the information they want, the kids are finally allowed to return to their families, but not before their parents pay for exorbitant airline tickets for their child and a staff member to make the exchange. Oftentimes, staff members will take on cases that go to specific and desirable vacation spots, like Florida or California, in order to spend a few extra days on vacation time, paid for by the parents of these children.
Recently, amid the COVID outbreak, 37 kids in the facility have tested positive for the virus. Detention is deadly and these kids, if they don’t recover on their own, will likely die in detention.
This is a for profit prison of children.
This article, written by a former staff member of the center explains the situation much better and with more background information than I could. https://itsgoingdown.org/this-is-legal-kidnapping-former-child-detention-staff-speaks-out/
Here is a story from one of the kids who was detained in one of these facilities: https://twitter.com/CRitsem/status/1251268719373942786
I arrived late, as I was anxious about attending, unsure if I should even go, but always knowing that I had to. I read that article and saw that video and realized that I had no other choice but to do what I could to help these kids. I arrived, thinking I would simply do a car caravan to show my support, but once I saw how many people were there and how loud their cries for justice were, I couldn’t drive away. I drove through, honked my horn, drove up the block only to drive back down again. Parked, and made my way to the smaller-than-I-realized crowd. Though small, about 10 or so people, they were loud and I wished that I had brought something to make noise with. Still feeling anxious, I stood around for awhile not really knowing what I should do and eventually began to clap along to the beat. Clapping and shouting, when prompted, I felt like, even though I was doing the bare minimum, I felt like just being another body in the crowd was something significant.
After around 20 minutes or so, I heard a cacophony of what sounded like more people on our side. I looked towards the corner to see around 20 more people coming back from the alley screaming, drumming, and carrying huge banners making their way back to us. I felt a surge at this moment. Seeing all of those people, passionate and fighting for what I was fighting for, sparked an electricity within me. I knew I was supposed to be here, for the kids, obviously, but it was also more than that. It was a surge of purpose.
I was still more on the outskirts of the action, still clapping and chanting, when I saw my friend who invited me. They came over with the big crowd of protesters and I felt more at home. We moved from the front of the building to the parking lot, where, at one point, we ended up working the beat to the rhythm of Gasolina, which was playing on a sound system that somebody brought. Eventually, someone handed me the corner of one of the big banners asking if I could take over for them. I agreed, of course, I was barely adding to the sound and I was happy to help in whatever way that I could. So there I was, holding the banner and then we moved to the alley. The curtains on all of the windows were pulled shut. The kids weren’t allowed to communicate with us after the first protest, which occurred a few days ago, and I did not attend. At the first protest, one of the kids held up a sign that said “HELP” which ended up floating through social media and became the sort of poster image for the movement. Since then, the kids have faced more restriction.
We moved to the alley. Banner in hand, it guided me through the Bronzeville streets. Picking up the Chicago wind like a sail of liberation. I held on tight. The alley is where the action felt the most important. We all kept banging our drums and clapping our hands, screaming “FREE THEM ALL”, “BREAK DOWN THE PRISON”, and “WE LOVE YOU” to the kids inside. Here is where I felt most comfortable to scream my anger at the institution and compassion for those kids. Here is where I felt the most community. There was no interaction in the front or parking lot of the building, but in the alley, the kids would sneak to their windows to wave at us, acknowledging the work we were doing was for them.
The pigs kicked us out a bit after 4, and after initially not expecting to stay the length of the rally, I ended up leaving with the last of the group. It felt wrong to leave. We will be back. This isn’t the end of anything.