Yesterday, 104 women, including many undocumented women, were arrested on Capitol Hill for peacefully protesting the House’s inaction on immigration reform that respects women and children. We asked our three interns to reflect on the experience.
We Belong Together and partner organizations including The Center for Community Change (CCC) and The Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM) hosted a rally and an act of civil disobedience to protest the need for comprehensive immigration reform. Prior to today’s action, I had never before witnessed an act of civil disobedience. I was fascinated by the spirit and strength of the women who participated, and I admire them for their efforts to push for social change. As I listened to the women who spoke at the rally, it was clear reform is not only a political issue, but also a personal one. Their stories served as yet another reminder that the fight for civil rights is still not over.
While over 100 women gathered today to risk arrest and support the need for immigration reform, I was amazed to learn that about a quarter of those women were undocumented. As a result of their arrest, these undocumented women may face the even greater risk of deportation. Yet their readiness to fight for comprehensive immigration reform only shows how far they are willing to go to see to it that the House of Representatives will give this issue the attention that it deserves.
The efforts of the women who took part in today’s civil disobedience will go well beyond the reach of Washington. Their determination speaks not only for themselves, but for the millions of immigrant women across the country. There were many children present at today’s action, some who probably had mothers who were arrested. These children should not have to live with the fear that their mothers might be detained or deported due to immigrant status.
It was impossible to ignore the courage of these women as they accepted arrest for their civil disobedience. Even as they stood in line to be searched, some of the women continued to energize the crowd with chants. The members of the House cannot postpone immigration reform any longer. The time has come, and that time is now.
An unusually diverse assortment of people took to the Cannon House Office Building steps yesterday morning: Capitol police sporting neon traffic vests, local news cameramen and their boom operators, Hill staffers in business attire and badges, a family of tourists wearing their ID belts and long-zoom cameras and I, in my shorts, T-shirt and Toms. We waited together for the women in red shirts and high spirits to take to the street.
Most of the Hill staffers were probably staff assistants and interns, not much older than I am, who had been arriving at the office or gazing out the window when the spectacle began on the east lawn of the Capitol. The eyes and ears of their respective offices, these staffers looked out upon the scene, turning to one another in surprise.
The juxtaposition of these two groups—the women and the staffers—was remarkable. The police, tourists and news media members served only as props and scenery in the action amounting on the Hill that morning. The women were talking to the fancy, dressed-up staffers. And the staffers, more confused than anything else, were actually listening to the women in red T-shirts and white armbands. The crowds began to chant, “This is what democracy looks like,” and I couldn’t disagree.
Though the contrasts between the staffers and the women were great, I realized that the conversation on the street corner indicated that democratic communication can transcend the boundaries of law and lifestyle.
Hearing about a civil disobedience rally and actually taking part in a civil disobedience rally are two very different experiences. As I walked down to Capitol Hill, I did not know what to expect; I was excited, yet I was anxious. Knowing that there were undocumented women who were at risk of deportation gave me a new respect for what reform means to so many women and families.
During the press conference my emotions were all over the place. Hearing the different stories and why these women were risking everything to stand up for immigration reform was unreal. I wish I could do more for these women and the Latino community, whose families have been destroyed by detention and deportation. Just being in that atmosphere to pass out rally signs, listen to the women stories and take pictures of these courageous women gave me a once-in-a-lifetime feeling of a connection to something bigger than myself.
One quote that stood out to me the most from one of the women was “injustice to one is injustice to all.” The immigration reform movement is not only about passing a bill, but about fighting against civil injustices for all people, no matter what color or race. I was inspired to see women of so many different backgrounds and communities come together to fight to keep families united.