What do immigrant rights have to do with the youth climate movement?

Melting I.C.E.

Yesterday was a Halloween to remember. I had the honor of participating in an inspiring action organized and led by Bay Area Latino & Latina youth. Over 400 high school students walked out of school on Halloween to protest the vicious I.C.E. raids that have terrorized their communities, violently ripped apart their families, traumatized children, racially profiled neighborhoods, and demonized hard working people in the Bay Area and across our country.

When speaking at a convention the National Council of La Raza, Barack Obama has said: “The system isn’t working, when 12 million people live in hiding…when communities are terrorized by ICE immigration raids; when nursing mothers are torn from their babies; when children come home from school to find their parents missing; when people are detained without access to legal counsel.” And yet we see no action being taken on a national electoral level. So yesterday young folks have decided that they must act directly, challenging the concept that a human being can be “illegal”.

But before describing the day, one may ask, what does this have to do with the climate?
(aside from bad puns about melting the ICE...)

Yesterday I felt the power of youth, and the moral legitimacy of young people speaking truth to power – of being bold and not letting injustices stand; of offering leadership; of youth organizing for a better world. A Youth Climate Movement holds this same power, and as young climate activists strive to integrate a deep understanding of power, race, class, and gender into our movement, we would do well to explore the links between our work and the struggles of immigrant youth and their families across the country.

We in the U.S., as principal carbon emitters, have a responsibility when it comes to this issue. The young people in our immigrant rights demonstration held signs that said “our immigration is forced migration” – articulately making visible the effects of policies like NAFTA, and the havoc they have wreaked on Latin American countries, creating the economic hardship that forces families to move in order to survive.

We know that as Climate Crisis intensifies, millions will be displaced from their homes – especially along the equator (and disproportionately in countries that are not responsible for the crisis).

Where will they go?

Once again the effects of U.S. behavior will create a tidal shifts in human migration. Will we step up to the responsibility for helping our world to adapt to a shifting climate? Will our country be the beacon of hope it has aspired to, a refuge for tired, huddled masses, yearning to breathe free? Unless we sharply move toward a sane and humane immigration policy, we will see an acceleration of barbaric dehumanization of people searching for a better life, as more and more people are displaced, forced to adapt to a world with increased drought, famine, floods, new pathways for disease, super storms, intensifying wildfires, shortages of water, and rising sea levels.

The political challenge of transforming our immigration policy to one that is compassionate and human will only grow more difficult as more people search for a new place to call home. Let’s work for immigrant justice now.

Yesterday morning was kicked off when hundreds of East Bay youth were prevented from riding BART to cross into San Francisco for the event. Some were detained. Ironic, huh? Several BART stations in poor neighborhoods were temporarily closed down. The students rallied outside the BART stations, and started making news headlines for the disruption.

Meanwhile in SF (and eventually joined by some of the East Bay youth who made it across), hundreds of young folks and allies, mostly Latino/a, gathered and rallied in downtown SF. We honored the dead and disappeared by painting our faces as skulls and dressing in black. Some wore masks on their faces to feel more comfortable being in public, as undocumented folks who try to find political voice are often targeted. Traditional Cherokee and Aztec blessings, prayers, and drums were offered, grounding participants in the large Native presence and solidarity there, and casting the hypocrisy of the U.S. immigration debate itself into sharp perspective. Signs crying out “I am indigenous to this land!”, “We didn’t cross the borders, the borders crossed us!” were held alongside “Immigrant rights are human rights.”

We began to march to the I.C.E. building, circled it while chanting and asserting that no human being is illegal, while out front of the building people spoke out, including social movement veteran and Latino/a rights activist Betita Martinez. After, Danza Azteca as well as others offered traditional dances and prayers.

As we circled the building again, students aged 18-21 non-violently locked themselves to barrels and lock-boxes, forming two blockades on each side of the I.C.E. alleyway that deploys their vans for raids and to transport prisoners. It was a beautifully and gracefully executed non-violent direct action. Until the facility closed at 6 pm, two groups of demonstrators supported the blockaders, sharing stories of their fathers being taken away in the middle of the night, poetry, music, and chants of justified and palpable pain and anger. At the close of the building, blockaders declared victory and peacefully left the area, no arrests were made.

Their words were far more powerful than anything I could write here. The young folks who blockaded wrote a letter to San Francisco. I’ve shared it below, along with more pictures. Please read it.

All Hollow’s Eve, 2008.

Our Dear San Francisco,

It has begun. Last week we saw government officials blow open people’s doors in the middle of the night to kidnap so called “gang members.” They came for us. Each night we wait in panic, waiting to see who next of our friends and family will be disappeared. But today is something else.

Today, a day when we celebrate the dead and disappeared – a day when we don masks to make the real monsters tremble in their empty coffers – it begins.

CLICK BELOW FOR THE REST OF THE LETTER AND PHOTOS FROM THE DAY

Some say it began 516 years ago with the arrival of European colonizers – but how do we trace the beginning of domination? Fist we will try to offer you, in the language of numbers, what they will call “evident.” We are told we must begin with what is evident:

I.C.E. disappeared 4,956 people in the past 11 months, from Oct 1, 2007 to Aug 31st, 2008.

Last week over 20 I.C.E. disappearances were carried out in the Bay.

How do we explain to our neighbors that what is evident for us began so many years ago? How do we explain that so many of our grievances stem from the way in which wealth is organized, exchanged, and stolen? Tell North American Free Trade Agreement of 1994 brought many of us here, into this country, following the wealth as the working conditions in our own countries were degraded, as our farm lands were stolen. The rich in our countries lined their pockets while we found that our best option was to leave behind our communities, loved ones. That, we suppose, is our first disappearance.

For us, it began there, in our leaving.

AND HERE, IN THE U.S., WE DISAPPEAR. Our schools disappear us from their histories so our young people fight each semester to recognize themselves in the books they study. We are disappeared into the dark corners of streets – for a breath of cold SF air, or to catch up with the block, the cops maddoggin us. Restaurants disappear us into the back rooms of kitchens. We walk babies of the walthy; our own motherhood disappeared behind a $1,200 stroller. We clean their homes. We are disappeared in the house between check-in and check-out, folding new bed sheets, replenishing the toilet paper for businessmen. We are disappeared into the gulf’s economic disasters and have our passports held by new corporate masters. We are disappeared into labor camps under firearms. We disappear in the brush behind manicured lawns. We are disappeared inside of sewing lairs and strung between trunks of new fall fashion. We disappear in the drowned out steam of spas and massaged into other people’s pleasure. We are disappeared behind filer masks to hide our gagging from the feet we touch and clean every day. We are disappeared into homeless and women’s shelters, SRO’s publish housing hi rises. We are disappeared into their marriages. We are disappeared into their ballot boxes.

And finally we are disappeared in the middle of the night, shoved into black vans, bound to the labyrinth of cells in the I.C.E. building downtown. We are disappeared to Guantanamo, into the industry of terror, or we are disappeared into the city, state, or federal prison industry so they can turn millions of dollars each year – so they can disperse our communities.

But today is something else.

FOR US, we who laugh in the face of this absurd situation, we who are not so much in awe of the enormity of oppression as we are freedom fighters, community organizers, mothers, rebel workers, rebel students – those of us who with our feet walk today towards their terrible theaters of power and dominance, with our arms push back harder, and with our hands build new worlds – today, we do not only denounce at our late night kitchen tables, we do not speak quietly, wounded, overwhelmed by the federal police.

Today we do not vanish into this terrible era of disappearances, today we become more than our enemies, more than their workforce, more than their electoral base – today we become more than our own private traumas, today we learn to trust one another more than we trust the politicians, the bosses, and their police – we take a confident step towards a world where we meet our own needs with dignity, where we make justice real, malleable, palatable. Last week, they came for us. And today we come for them.

TODAY, IN SAN FRANCISCO, WE SHUT DOWN I.C.E. with the hope of creating a culture that will shut every last one of their institutions down, finally, and for good.

IT is always beginning.

It was our backs you saw on the cover of the Examiners being hauled away by I.C.E. agents,

- 5 of your “criminal” kin in San Francisco

* pictures from indybay.org and Kevin Barnard

* I have published an expanded version of this post as an article on Znet

* see an amazing slideshow of the action here: http://www.alianzanews.com/archivo/altoredadas/index.html

8 Responses to “What do immigrant rights have to do with the youth climate movement?”


  1. 1 Mattie Reitman Nov 1st, 2008 at 6:53 pm

    It’s inspiring to see this kind of organizing in the U.S. today. Many lessons for us to learn and connections for us to forge.

  2. 2 Cascadia Brian Nov 1st, 2008 at 10:32 pm

    great article!!!

    the links are clear for anyone to see. Injustice against one is injustice against all.

    The greater the coalitioning between issues – indeed taking us beyond “issues” toward broader movement – the greater our ability to make real change. It’s especially important for people coming from places of economic, race, or social priviledge to go the extra mile to support social justice struggles.

    We must be vigilant against those that would see us divided too:
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/aug/01/immigrationpolicy.usa

  3. 3 Joshua Kahn Russell Nov 2nd, 2008 at 7:29 pm

    Wow, thanks for posting that link Brian. Scary stuff.

  4. 4 rachel Nov 3rd, 2008 at 11:03 am

    that gave me goosebumps. amazing.

  5. 5 matt Nov 3rd, 2008 at 1:03 pm

    thanks for posting this. I don’t know if ya’ll have been paying attention but papers like the New York Times and the Nation have been running ads by alleged eco groups blaming immigrants for ruining the environment. We must fight these racist attempts to co-opt our movement.

  6. 6 deirdre Nov 10th, 2008 at 10:56 pm

    what an amazing action! gave me goosebumps too.

    and.. hunab ku on the sweatshirts..!

  1. 1 Melting the I.C.E. « praxis makes perfect. Trackback on Nov 1st, 2008 at 2:54 pm
  2. 2 Immigrant Direct Trackback on Feb 28th, 2009 at 12:03 pm
Comments are currently closed.

About Joshua Kahn


Joshua Kahn Russell is an organizer serving movements for social justice and ecological balance. He is an action coordinator, facilitator, & trainer with the Ruckus Society, and has trained thousands of activists. He has helped win campaigns against banks, oil companies, logging corporations, and coal barons; worked with a wide variety of groups in a breadth of arenas, from local resiliency projects, to national coalitions, to the United Nations Climate Negotiations. He has authored chapters for numerous books, most recently The Next Eco-Warriors. His articles have appeared in Yes! magazine, Left Turn, PeaceWork magazine, Upping the Anti, and Z Magazine. His blog is www.praxismakesperfect.org and you can follow him on Twitter at @joshkahnrussell For a full bio see: http://www.aidandabet.org/roster/russell-joshua-kahn

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