FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Shine a Light for Immigration Rights in Providence

Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) is a network of nationwide groups that puts its energy and focus into educating and organizing so-called white people to oppose white supremacy and racism. Recently the co-founders were interviewed on The Laura Flanders Show (https://youtu.be/mq5NbdVcR_U).

On December 18 from 4 to 6 PM the Rhode Island SURJ chapter is holding a nonviolent demonstration at the Providence Federal Building in Kennedy Plaza to mark International Migrants Day. December 10 saw 32 activists and clergy arrested at the San Diego border as they gathered in a sign of unity with the Central American caravan that has been featured in the headlines over the past month. This began a week of direct action across America in opposition to continuing attacks and systemic state violence against migrants and people of color.

The American Friends Service Committee writes on its Love Knows No Borders campaign website “…President Trump is portraying migrants as a security threat to advance his anti-immigrant agenda. Trump has deployed thousands of military troops to border communities and attempted to further restrict migrants’ ability to apply for asylum.”

I am writing this speaking purely for myself and not on behalf of the chapter or national organization. In this regard I would like to emphasize that I do my activism and organizing with SURJ but none of what is said here is meant to reflect their opinions or positions on matters.

This week saw the death of Jakelin Ameí Rosmery Caal Maquin at the US border. It’s something that really disturbed me deeply when I heard about it because I work with many young people from Latin America. It’s my activism with SURJ that provided me a place to manage the emotions that I felt. Not in an overt or pronounced way, mostly because I do my grieving in private. But also the fact is that, particularly, especially in moments like this, I’m forced to remember what Joe Hill said, “Don’t mourn, organize!”

I first got involved with this group of people when it existed in an earlier incarnation and under another name. There are multiple aspects that I value about it, which I won’t elaborate upon here, but there are two that I find particularly valuable.

The first is the lack of bullshit. In multiple testimonies over the final years of his life, the late Abe Osheroff, a veteran of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade that fought in the Spanish Civil War, compared his time with the old Communist Party in the 1930s with his time, decades later, as one of many who served in supporting roles in the Civil Rights movement. Osheroff was not shy about his annoyance with Marxist-Leninist speechifying from political officers while in Spain, a lot of rhetorical bullshit, to approximate his phrasing. “It has to do with love. In Spain we loved and were beloved by the Spanish people, but inside the Brigades it was ideology, not love which dominated. In Mississippi, we loved and were loved by Black people, and we loved each other in a movement free of ideology,” he told historian Peter Carroll.

What I find so refreshing about SURJ is that, while we do have a political education element, it exists solely in service of the project at hand, organizing so-called whites to oppose white supremacy. Except for the most die-hard dogmatist, there always exists within activism circles the possibility and chance that ideology will be be prioritized above meaningful on-the-ground action. SURJ doesn’t fall into that trap, which is a true joy for me.

Second is the accountability structure. Our chapter has never done this perfectly (which is a sign of our shared humanity) but we have developed within our existence a system of accountability to POC-led organizations in the Greater Providence area. Our actions and activism are derived from their requests and asks of us. As so-called white people, we’ve done things that have been asked of us that subvert the structures of white supremacy in the city. Take for instance the matter of the Community Safety Act. Several years ago, our accountability partners asked us to canvass on the ultra-rich (read: ultra-influential) East Side, the neighborhood surrounding Brown University. We went door-to-door to lobby residents to call their respective City Councilors and advocate for the passage of the CSA, an ordinance intended to put some basic checks-and-balances on Providence Police, who are well-known for carrying on like marauding bandits in the low-income communities of color. Without trying to be too crude here, it does not beggar the imagination to say that, had Black or Brown activists tried such a canvassing effort, they would have been quickly and mercilessly harassed by the cops for this sort of thing. This was one of those efforts where so-called whites needed to step up and use their white skin privileges and it was something I remain truly glad to have participated in. Door knocking is something I’ve been doing for years with Boy Scouts and parochial school fundraising, to be able to use those skills in such an effort was extremely rewarding

This reflects an earnest and serious effort to avoid the “parachute” phenomenon, described by the pamphlet Accomplices Not Allies (http://www.indigenousaction.org/accomplices-not-allies-abolishing-the-ally-industrial-complex/) as “Parachuters rush to the front lines seemingly from out-of-nowhere. They literally move from one hot or sexy spot to the next. They also fall under the ‘savior’ & ‘self-proclaimed’ categories as they mostly come from specialized institutes, organizations, & think-tanks. They’ve been through the trainings, workshops, lectures, etc., they are the ‘experts’ so they know ‘what is best.’ This paternalistic attitude is implicit in the structures (non-profits, institutes, etc) these ‘allies’ derive their awareness of the ‘issues’ from. Even if they reject their own non-profit programming, they are ultimately reactionary, entitled, and patronizing, or positioning with power-over, those they proclaim allyship with. It’s structural patronization that is rooted in the same dominion of hetero-patriarchal white supremacy. Parachuters are usually missionaries with more funding.”

SURJ has been a place where I have been able to make a lot of mistakes and grow as a result. It’s where I’ve been able to develop a lot of humility that I needed, as well as a backbone. I’ll maintain privacy for members here but I don’t think it’s too absurd to say that it’s become a nexus where some extremely valuable relationship have been developed.

So Happy Holidays to my comrades in SURJ.

And RIP Jakelin Ameí Rosmery Caal Maquin. May some justice be granted your family and loved ones for the holiday, if possible.

More articles by:

Andrew Stewart is a documentary film maker and reporter who lives outside Providence.  His film, AARON BRIGGS AND THE HMS GASPEE, about the historical role of Brown University in the slave trade, is available for purchase on Amazon Instant Video or on DVD.

January 23, 2019
Paul Street
Time for the U.S. Yellow Vests
Charles McKelvey
Popular Democracy in Cuba
Kenn Orphan
The Smile of Class Privilege
Leonard Peltier
The History Behind Nate Phillips’ Song
Kenneth Surin
Stalled Brexit Goings On
Jeff Cohen
The System’s Falling Apart: Were the Dogmatic Marxists Right After All?
Cira Pascual Marquina
Chavez and the Continent of Politics: a Conversation with Chris Gilbert
George Ochenski
Turning Federal Lands Over to the States and Other Rightwing Fantasies
George Wuerthner
Forest Service Ignores Science to Justify Logging
Raouf Halaby
In the Fray: Responses to Covington Catholic High
Kim C. Domenico
No Saviors But Ourselves; No Disobedience Without Deeper Loyalty
Ted Rall
Jury Trial? You Have No Right!
Michael Doliner
The Pros and Cons of Near Term Human Extinction
Lee Ballinger
Musical Unity
Elliot Sperber
The Ark Builders
January 22, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
On the Brink of Brexit: the Only Thing Most People Outside Westminster Know About Brexit is That It’s a Mess
Raouf Halaby
The Little Brett Kavanaughs from Covington Catholic High
Dean Baker
The Trump Tax Cut is Even Worse Than They Say
Stanley L. Cohen
The Brazen Detention of Marzieh Hashemi, America’s Newest Political Prisoner
Karl Grossman
Darth Trump: From Space Force to Star Wars
Glenn Sacks
Teachers Strike Dispatch #8: New Independent Study Confirms LAUSD Has the Money to Meet UTLA’s Demands
Haydar Khan
The Double Bind of Human Senescence
Alvaro Huerta
Mr. President, We Don’t Need Your Stinking Wall
Howard Lisnoff
Another Slugger from Louisville: Muhammad Ali
Nicole Patrice Hill – Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
The Scarlet “I”: Climate Change, “Invasive” Plants and Our Culture of Domination
Jonah Raskin
Disposable Man Gets His Balls Back
Thomas Knapp
Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go
January 21, 2019
W. T. Whitney
New US Economic Attack Against Cuba, Long Threatened, May Hit Soon
Jérôme Duval
Macronist Repression Against the People in Yellow Vests
Dean Baker
The Next Recession: What It Could Look Like
Eric Mann
All Hail the Revolutionary King: Martin Luther King and the Black Revolutionary Tradition
Binoy Kampmark
Spy Theories and the White House: Donald Trump as Russian Agent
Edward Curtin
We Need a Martin Luther King Day of Truth
Bill Fried
Jeff Sessions and the Federalists
Ed Corcoran
Central America Needs a Marshall Plan
Colin Todhunter
Complaint Lodged with European Ombudsman: Regulatory Authorities Colluding with Agrochemicals Industry
Manuel E. Yepe
The US War Against the Weak
Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail