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A Reflection on the Action at the Otay Mesa Detention Center

June 30, 2018

As many of you know, I was in San Ysidro on June 22 and 23 for an action that was being planned protesting the “zero-tolerance” policy leading to large-scale separation and detention of families coming to our borders seeking refuge. I know that many of you were praying for me over those two days, and several more of you made generous donations to Sacramento ACT, the local federation of PICO California who was helping to organize everything, in order to cover some of their costs. Their interim director thanked me and said that people from St. John’s donated nearly $300. Thank you all for your love and support. It was felt and deeply appreciated.

 

In the short time between deciding to go late Wednesday afternoon and leaving early Friday morning, I spent as much time as possible considering my intention in going. I asked myself about what I thought this action would accomplish and what value I would bring. My first instinct when all of the news was starting to break about children being separated from their parents was to go to the border. This was an opportunity for me to do that with a group of faithful people. And still, we weren’t going to be meeting with anyone with the power to change things.

 

I kept thinking of all of the people who were being held in detention. The message that they must be receiving through the actions of our government is, “"We do not care about the circumstances that led to your coming. You are not welcome here."” My hope was that we could start to shift the narrative for them, by somehow letting them know that they were, in fact, loved, seen, and valued.

 

As we marched past the barbed wire fence of the Otay Mesa Detention Center we chanted, “¡No están solos!” (You are not alone!). Tears came to my eyes as cries from within the detention center of those being held there came back to us. They could hear us and it is my sincere hope that they knew our love for them. It was an incredibly profound moment.

 

Although I quickly decided to take part in this action, I was also aware of the many instances in which I felt resistance within myself throughout the two days. Prior to this trip, I have been participating in an online course focused on anti-racism. It has provided me with some important tools, one of which is an article that identifies some of the markers of white supremacy that continue to oppress marginalized groups. Having read this article a couple of times before leaving, I was able to see the moments of resistance I felt were connected to the characteristics of white supremacy. I will try to illustrate this here a little bit, thought I would urge you to read the article as well--perhaps even two or three times--and see if anything comes into focus for you.

 

For example, my initial instinct in doing this “action” was a deep desire to know that the carrying out of this action--a march and protest at an immigrant detention center--would lead to  some distinguishable change, whatever that would be. I wanted to be able to see direct correlation to my action and accomplished change, or else what good would my efforts be? The effect of this logic is that most people don’t become engaged or risk anything because of lack of certainty around measurable outcomes. It also devalues intangible things, like shouting encouragement into a detention center to people who are cut off from the world outside. Sometimes what is needed is to simply go to the foot of the cross, to where the pain is, and meet God there.

 

Additionally, as we took over the entire width of a street to march to the detention center, I felt resistance in myself again. Although these were not roads with heavy traffic,I knew we would likely irritate many people as they waited for us to clear the space. We were not in a rush. We claimed the streets as our own for that period of time. I didn’t want there to be conflict, even small conflict. I identified more closely with people simply going about their lives as usual, and prioritized my and their comfort rather than being present in the moment of protesting the injustice--an injustice far beyond inconvenience--happening only half a mile away.

 

There were certainly other moments that I could write about, but I am also still processing my experience. I am so grateful for the opportunity to have gone and with so much support from St. John’s. Thank you.

 

This work is not yet done. There will be some next steps coming from the organizers of this action, and I hope to be able to share those with you as well in the hope that we won’t lose sight of the trauma that our brothers and sisters from other countries are experiencing because of their great need, and our broken immigration system and needlessly destructive policies. Protests are being organized all over the country this Saturday, June 30. Please pray about what being a part of such action yourself might mean for you. If you do find that you are being called to act, please contact me at rebekah.turnbaugh@st.johnslc.org or call at 916-444-0874.

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