Lights for Liberty – Raleigh, NC and Washington, DC

On Friday, July 12, thousands of people participated in over 750 events around the country (and around the world) to protest the racist, inhumane, and fascistic US border regime, specifically the policies of the Trump administration. Two such events, in Raleigh, NC and Washington, DC were attended by Struggle for a New World writers.

Raleigh, NC

One of over 20 events statewide, the Raleigh Lights for Liberty protest was organized by the Carolina Peace Center, and held across from the state legislative building. Attended by around 200 people, the protest consisted of a moment of silence, a candlelight vigil (many candles were repeatedly snuffed out by the wind), the reading of the names of those who have died, and several speeches and chants.

D_T95DfWkAIC0fHphoto taken by Spectrum News RDU

Speeches were made by protest organizer Faisal Khan, head of the Carolina Peace Center, as well as Reverend Edgar Millan, a local pastor and chair of the Hispanic/Latino Committee of the North Carolina Council of the United Methodist Church. Besides these speeches, a middle school age son of immigrants, a local immigration lawyer, a local pediatrician, a local psychiatrist, and an 18- year-old member of local synagogue Temple Beth Or spoke. Each speaker spoke from their particular backgrounds, with the middle schooler speaking of his fears for the future and how he dreamed of a world where families like his aren’t used as political bargaining chips, and the paediatrician reading part of the report made by a doctor who visited the camps and reaffirming that these camps are state-sanctioned child abuse.

Every speaker diagnosed a common problem and prescribed a common cure. The problem is the racist policies of the Trump administration and the Republican Party, and the cure is calling your congressperson and voting for the Democrats. Mr. Khan ended his concluding speech by encouraging the crowd to vote in November, and said that next year things would be different. The official message was that we must “Make America Humane Again,” as was written on a sign propped up in front of the microphone. Those who lead the protests are unwilling and unable to articulate the fact that America has never been humane, that what is happening at the border is the product of the system and its twin parties, and that voting blue will not solve this. The speakers urged us not to let the situation be normalized. But in 2021, with a Democratic president, the odds are good that many protesters will return to their normality while the border regime grinds on under more acceptable liberal leadership.

Washington, DC

Hundreds of people attended the rally in front of the White House in Washington, DC, which was sponsored by a variety of immigrant rights organizations, LGBT organizations, and faith-based organizations. An even wider array of activist groups and organizations were in attendance. The speakers included immigrant activists from a variety of countries targeted by US policy, faith leaders, a representative of the American Federation of Teachers, and a lawyer who had worked to expose the conditions in the camps.

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All of the speakers called on the crowd to take further action, to oppose all manifestations of racism and xenophobia, and to refuse to become complacent. Many discussed the violence they had personally experienced at the hands of the U.S. immigration system, both as they crossed the border and after. Others discussed how they, as citizens, had acted in solidarity with more vulnerable communities.

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There were two speakers whose presence was surprising. A former White House staffer spoke, discussing her own family’s experience coming to the United States as refugees from Sri Lanka. She contrasting the Trump administration negatively with the Obama administration, under which she had worked, and led the crowd in a chant of “USA” that was picked up with enthusiasm.

Congresswoman Nora Torres, who immigrated to the United States from Guatemala as a child, also spoke, directing anger against Trump and calling on the crowd in both English and Spanish to continue to organize. Torres had voted in late June to appropriate $5.4 billion in so-called “emergency funding” for the border, which she and other supporters claimed would only be used for humanitarian purposes. Since that vote, ICE has opened three new detention centers, and jailed migrants remain in the same horrific conditions.

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Conclusion

A recurring theme, common in protest signs and echoed even by the speakers who decried the role of US imperialism in Latin America and systemic white supremacy in this crisis, was that the current situation at the border is some kind of deviation from supposed “American ideals”.

On the one hand, this is positive in so far as it shows that the furious opposition to the very existence of these camps is a popular sentiment extending far into the liberal center of US politics. The large crowds responded with resounding support to calls for continued organizing against them. However, efforts towards such organizing will be weakened and ultimately fall short of any effective change if they cannot emphasize that this crisis is fundamentally the result of the state’s own “American ideals”.

If such large numbers of people are willing to stand publicly against the camps, it should be made clear to them that the Democratic Party is as responsible for what has happened there as the Republican Party, and that a true response must go beyond stating opposition to a particular Trump administration policy, which could easily be continued into a Democratic administration, as US imperialism’s “War on Terror” was from the Bush to the Obama era.

The calls for more action and organizing are absolutely correct and must be embraced and carried forward in practice. We must continue to stand in solidarity with migrants and all oppressed peoples, shoulder to shoulder in a popular front against rising fascism. But our message must be clear: the problem is systemic, and so too must be the solutions.

Close the camps, free them all!

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