Our most recent call to action was asking people to go down to the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma. While the camp packed up on Sunday 6/25, there will most likely be more solidarity encampments as GEO, the company that owns the detention center, is not acting as though they will improve conditions for the detainees. I wanted to give everyone a summary of what it was like at the encampment so people knew what to expect if they chose to join!
Vicky Matey and I headed down on Friday June 23rd to join Maru Mora and other activists at the encampment. We stopped by a gas station beforehand to use the bathroom as the detention center is located in the middle of an industrial area with no bathroom access. This would be one of many times that we visited the gas station. When we arrived, there were only a handful of people there. We set up our tent and settled in. There were lots of activities to do. There were instruments, and arts and crafts supplies. Vicky and I grabbed some chalk to add art to the already decorated sidewalk.
While we were outside, a family came out of the detention center. The mother went into the tent to talk with Maru and the other activists, while Vicky and I hung out with the kids. We gave them food and chalk and drew with them while we talked. They had been visiting their dad in the center to say goodbye because he was being deported the next day. They told us this in a very matter of fact manner. Only after Vicky asked them how they felt about it did they tell us how scared and sad they felt. It was heart wrenching to hear. The kids left with their mom and we said goodbye before heading into the communal tent.
Last time the encampment was outside of the center, while the protesters were sleeping, someone (almost certainly employees at the center) snuck into the camp, vandalized the generator and stole some items. Because of this, someone has to stay at the camp and awake at all times so that night, we took it in shifts to keep watch. Vicky and I took the shift until 2:30 a.m. so that the others who had been there longer could get some rest. It was a relatively uneventful night with only the occasional car revving their engines at us. One thing we noticed was how nice all the employees cars were. How much were they getting paid while people were not being fed real food? Sometimes the employees would yell or flip us off, but that night we just got dirty looks. We went to sleep and woke up around 7 a.m. the next morning to start setting up for the day.
We had a rally planned for later in the day so we started to clean up and organize camp. One of the other community organizers was going inside to visit one of the detainees. She said that Vicky and I could go in as well and visit with someone to get an update on how they were doing and to learn more news about the conditions inside. We went into the center and walked up to the front desk. It was almost 90 degrees outside so I was wearing shorts and a tank top. Vicky was wearing pants, her ‘fuck la migra’ t-shirt, with a jacket covering it. They told me that I couldn’t go in dressed the way I was. I left to go change. I put on long pants and threw on a jacket. They had given me a sheet of guidelines to meet and I doubled checked it before heading back in. The guard once again told me that I couldn’t go in because jackets were not allowed. I looked around and counted at least three others in jackets that had already been allowed in. One of the guards was too cheery, cracking jokes left and right. The other guard was incredibly rude and was yelling at visitors. I think they knew we were part of the camp. They probably had seen me outside of the tents when they came in for their shift. Since they wouldn’t let me in, I went back to the camp so the Maru could rest before people started arriving. Vicky and the other activist returned and made their reports. I am not going to share any of the specifics that the detainees said but they did report that the conditions were not getting better.
People started to arrive for the rally and so we started tabling, taking donations, and signing people in. Maru as well as Wendy, another organizer spoke. We were also very lucky to get to listen to Jennicet Gutérrez speak about bringing trans people into the conversation. We also heard a former detainee speak about what it was like to be inside. After that Maru spoke some more and Vicky stepped up to explain the use of expletives in the campaign. She noted that people have expressed distaste for the mottos like Fuck I.C.E. or Fuck La Migra. She shared that people who are not undocumented do not know the fear and pain that undocumented people live with. She explained that she is done being nice, she and others are angry and are standing their ground. Then we were lucky enough to receive calls from some of the leaders inside. We expressed our support and listened to what they were asking for. They asked for our continued support, our presence, and for us to keep showing that we care. It was a wonderful event to be a part of. Check out the whole video! https://www.facebook.com/KeepBellinghamFamiliesWorking/videos/1911846179078379/
We helped to clean up the camp a bit and then headed out as we had another commitment that evening. It was a very emotional but rewarding trip. The support we were able to give, in many different ways, made a huge difference both inside the center and outside of it. I hope everyone is able to go down to Tacoma to support this amazing movement. The conversations that you will have will help you learn so much. Please, next time this is one of our calls to action, show up down there. It is not enough to support undocumented people before detention. We have to be showing up after, as well. It is our job. We should be doing this and much much more.
Feel free to message the page, comment on here, or to contact me personally with any questions about the trip!