At 4:15 p.m. on Monday, July 10, the mood was surprisingly upbeat in front of the Department of Homeland Security offices, where Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, is headquartered on Tyvola Centre Drive in southwest Charlotte.
Strewn about on the sidewalk where Occupy ICE protesters had been camping out for eight days were boxes of bottled water, empty and full; a guitar; an empty box of sidewalk chalk; three small American flags, all burned to varying degrees; a box of Nauzene; bug spray; a huge bottle of hand sanitizer; two bananas; and all sorts of snacks and signs collected over a week-long occupation.
Despite the obvious exhaustion of the protesters at the site, the mood remained jovial.
The Occupy ICE protest never gained the traction protesters had hoped for, but those involved felt they made their message clear. They had not been content with simply showing up at the End the War on Immigrants vigil held at First Ward Park on June 30. They wanted to disrupt.
Now, those who participated in the Occupy ICE protest will continue their disruption tactics by joining forces with the groups that organized the vigil to target locally based companies and corporations profiting from President Trump's terrifying immigration policies, as I reported in this week's news feature on page 8.
Some of the activists participating in the Occupy ICE protest, at first skeptical of the efforts of the more established organizations involved with the vigil, have since decided to join them in highlighting ties between the prison industrial complex and immigration issues and helping immigrants tied up in local immigration courts.
The struggle now will be recruitment, as activists hope that the current outrage over Trump's policies will lead to more engagement from people who aren't necessarily affected by them. For Luis Betancourt, an organizer with the newly formed People's United Revolutionary Collective, the problem lies in the idea that activists like him have it all taken care of.
"I think it's just an issue with the way activism is perceived in general today; it's perceived as a career choice, even though activists don't get paid shit," Betancourt told me at an anti-Fourth of July cookout held by Occupy ICE protesters.
"It's perceived as something that somebody will go into so they'll take care of it," Betancourt added. "It's the same issue we have with trusting politicians or cops to keep us safe. We trust a third party, and they either get overwhelmed or they don't do the stuff we want them to and we get stuck in this irritating system."
If you're a concerned citizen with no background in activism, what can you do to help those who are most vulnerable in Trump's America? Organizers at the End the War on Immigrants vigil walked through the crowd handing out leaflets that listed groups doing solid work in Charlotte and nationally, in hopes that those in attendance would take things a step further once they returned home — by reaching out to and offering their time and/or money to one of the following nonprofits:
The Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy is the only local nonprofit currently representing children who are caught up in the immigration court system, many of whom are facing removal from the country.
Communities in Schools Charlotte puts student support specialists in schools where there are a large number of immigrant children. The specialists provide all types of services to those children to help them stay on track with their peers.
Another way to help vulnerable kids is to donate your time or money to ourBRIDGE for Kids, an afterschool program for refugee and immigrant children, kindergarten through seventh grade, run by the indomitable Sil Ganzo.
You can also volunteer for court watch with the local ACLU chapter by contacting Lisa Wielunski at email@example.com. Court watch is meant to foster fairness and consistency in the immigration courts system. Volunteers receive hands-on training about immigration court proceedings before providing much-needed oversight in cases involving unrepresented respondents, particularly minors and non-English speakers.
If you've been as sickened as I am by recent news of what's happening to our immigrant population, there can be no longer be any excuse for not stepping in to help make change, no matter how small.
There can never be too many allies.