By: Melissa B. Manuel. Ph.D.
On June 30th, hundreds rallied in Auburn, Alabama standing in local solidarity with over 700 Families Belong Together events across the United States. The march to historical Toomer’s Corner and ensuing demonstration; including personal testimonials, songs of unity, and speeches by community leaders served as a public outcry against President Trump’s immigration laws that separated families.
The participants of the Auburn rally varied in age and represented a multiplicity of racial backgrounds, but stood in singleness of purpose raising hand-made signs and their voices to support the cause.
Several of the rally-goers shared their personal motivations for participating.
One said: “We're all immigrants or our ancestors were immigrants. I wanted to send a message that we shouldn't be locking people up -- not on my watch!”
Another said that she wanted other citizens to see that there are a lot of us who feel strongly about this issue – “we shouldn't be separating children from their parents.”
Judy Collins, who serves on the Board of the Selma Center for Nonviolence and moderator for the June 30th Families Belong Together rally, shared personal commentary with me regarding her first hand experiences with immigration activism.
What was your motivation for participating in the Families Belong Together rally?
I participated in the “Families Belong Together" rally aiming to educate, hoping to help awaken passionate concern on behalf of suffering immigrant families particularly BECAUSE I became quite familiar with the roots of much of that suffering while in the 1980s being a coordinator for Auburn's Conscientious Alliance for Peace.
What was the primary work of Auburn's Conscientious Alliance for Peace (CAP)?
Among many other activities, CAP worked with a variety of groups and individuals providing potluck dinners for Latin American refugees seeking sanctuary farther north. We knew well why they were fleeing, e.g., the El Mozote massacre of 600 people, primarily women and children in El Salvador. Prior to that, the assassinations there of the three U.S. nuns and a Catholic lay woman, also of Archbishop Romero, later proven to be done by troops our United States had trained carrying out policies of a government the U.S. supported. We knew about the destruction of entire villages in Guatemala, of thousands of disappeared throughout Latin America.
How did Auburn's Conscientious Alliance for Peace (CAP) respond to these atrocities?
I long wore my bracelet remembering Salvador Ramirez Gramajo and wrote my Guatemalan Bracelet Song:
"What was your crime, Salvador, you a planter of seed
Did you refuse to kill your brother
Refuse the civil patrol's wicked deed?
And for you, my brother, we’re marching
and to our government say:
‘Salvador is one among thousands
No blood money to his country in our name".
We showed films, distributed documented leaflets about Latin troops trained at the nearby School of Americas who participated in these and many more atrocities; we participated in vigils outside the gates of Ft. Benning which housed SOA (dubbed School of Assassins) when it was earlier based in Panama before moving to the U.S. It's since been renamed Western Hemispheric Institute for Security and Economic Cooperation). In Auburn we sponsored speakers, like Fr. Roy Bourgeois, founder of School of The Americas Watch.
What is your opinion of the present immigration issue in the U.S.?
We knew--and know today--about Latin American lands and livelihoods being
taken, people tortured and killed and thus the multitudes forced to flee their
native lands. Dr. King warned, "hatred multiplies hatred, violence multiplies
violence . . .in a descending spiral of destruction." The spiraling continues.
My husband, other area residents, and I befriended a Salvadoran teen who
had recently fled death threats by gangs invading his village.
Are we shocked? The gang violence is indeed horrific, but the seeds of hatred
and violence were planted there and throughout the Americas many years
ago, in large part by policies of our country. We U.S. citizens are obligated
to these neighboring American brothers and sisters and precious little children
whose displacement is in large part our responsibility.
In your opinion what will begin to alleviate immigration woes that we are presently facing?
At the rally, I shared a story told by Don Luce, a speaker with the Indochina Peace Campaign during the time U.S. bombs were falling throughout that area:
"The child asked the ancient one, 'Can you tell me the exact moment of dawn?
Is it when I can look on the hill far away and tell a sheep from a dog?'
'No, my child.'
'Is it when I can look and tell a peach tree from a plum?'
'No, my child. Only when you can look on the face of every man and every woman and say, "You are my brother, you are my sister."
Until then there can be no dawn and we dwell in darkness.'"
Closing thoughts: As the leader of Becoming The Beloved Community, it was insightful to be a part of this conversation. It is my hope to continue this dialogue and to also report on other important issues facing our collective communities to activate even more participation.