On my public Facebook page for this trip, a commenter posted this article, suggesting folks wanting to help should not go to the border. But that depends for what. The article makes some good points: a) the goal of any trip should be to amplify what locals are doing, not get in their way or ask to be hosted; and b) there is much we can do from our own local communities. I’ve also learned that offering to volunteer down here is only helpful if you have experience and skills – like Spanish fluency or legal training.
That said, my interviews with local activists and on-the-ground experience suggest there is one way outsiders can absolutely be of use by going down: we can show up to bear witness. Warm bodies are needed for protests. The more protesters, the more media coverage. My week in El Paso told me that protest has been more limited in this region than in other places because locals are conflicted about the issue, and those engaged are so overstretched doing practical service and relief efforts. Outsiders flying in specifically to join protest events can make a huge impact without getting in the way.
That’s what we’re seeing this weekend. Thirty protesters showed up at the Clint detention facility east of El Paso last night – a prelude of the Moral Monday at the Borderlands event tomorrow in El Paso. This will be a major protest coordinated by faith leaders and local groups including the Border Network for Human Rights. It will kick off tonight with a sermon by Reverend William Barber at the First Christian Church at 901 Arizona Avenue. If you are in contact with folks in the region, you can help by amplifying this event and encouraging them to go. There are non-violence training at 8am on Monday before the protest. It is boiling hot in El Paso so people need to bring lots of water and sunscreen!
If you are interested in attending a future protest, or simply coordinating a group of friends who go at a time convenient ot you, a good person to be in touch with is Heidi Li Feldman, who has formed a nation-wide community, #CitizenPresence, formed around precisely this ethic. A Georgetown law professor, Heidi fundraises, coordinates, and cultivates local connections on the ground and a community of resisters around the nation through Slack.com. To join, DM her on Twitter.
Heidi’s goal (which seems consistent with what locals have told me would be helpful) is to keep a steady stream of Americans at these sites even in small numbers to bear witness – freeing up locals to do the important work of practical refugee support.
According to Heidi’s site:
Word of the atrocious conditions at the US Customs and Border facility in Clint, Texas broke on June 21, 2019. Thousands, maybe millions, of Americans wanted to act: to bear witness, to rally, to protest. I believe the best response is steady stream of American citizens heading to Clint, TX to produce a constant, visible presence at a known epicenter of the overall moral disaster resulting from U.S. government policies and actions related to immigration.
Connecting with this group or donating money to support travelers who go down to bear witness is one additional way you can get involved, even if you can’t travel yourself. And research by Christian Davenport and Priyamvada Trivedi shows that when people attend protest, especially if they have to travel far and thus have “skin in the game,” they’re more likely to stay active and do more. Support these initiatives if you can, and help build this movement to resist these camps.
For updates from this weekend’s protest activities, follow me or Heidi on Twitter.