They were ready. After weeks of meetings, huddled in the backroom of the Peace and Justice Center and Rights and Democracy or on the Fletcher Library Lawn, it was time. There’d been hours of nervous conversation – what happens if they go to trial? Should they resist arrest? What if the police hurt them? Is what they are doing actually impactful? Are they ready for this risk? There’d been hours of walking too – 800 people marching through the downpour towards the Williston ICE facility, dozens of organizations with their banners and signs, chanting and tears and speakers belting their hearts out. Then the hours of sitting on the concrete and blocking the ICE entrance with butterfly signs and accordions, of wondering how the police would react, of wondering what they were risking.
Protestors sit on the pavement to block one of the driveways to the Williston ICE facility. Photo Credit: Mike Chamness
It was our most chaotic moment. The federal police had told us that protests would receive felony charges if they stayed blocking the driveway. The blockaders crowded into the road, as trucks rolled past and the federal police bunched on the sidewalk. “You are still obstructing the driveway,” one of them announced, face immobile. “You must move so that ICE employees are free to leave.” It was a split second decision – fold the protest and walk away, or dance with the cars to block the road and ensure misdemeanor charges.
After days of discussion, suddenly it was time to act. A quick vote, and then the protestors filed across the road, joined hands, and blocked the cars. They kept the blockade up, singing and chanting as one by one they were led away and arrested. Then people started jumping off the sidewalk to join.
Protestors in white hold hands to block the street outside the Williston ICE Facility. Photo Credit: Mike Chamness
It was incredible to see a team form like that. Standing on the sidewalk with my walkie talkie helping to coordinate the action, I watched indecision and uncertainty crystallize into resolve. No, they were not ready to risk felony charges. Yes, they would keep the blockade for as long as possible. In an instant, all of the nuances and theory debates and disagreements fell away to 19 people willing to put their bodies between ICE and the street. It was chaos, and then it was beautiful. All of a sudden, we were a unit.
We need more of this. We need more actions that transform strangers into comrades, that inspire people on the sidewalk to jump into the street and resist. We need more actions where we remove our consent from the system. And we need them fast. Sunday was not a celebration. There was adrenaline, sure, and song and color, but there were also the rings under organizers’ eyes, the presence of police dogs, the tears for Abenaki and Lakota and Jewish and Japanese and Mexican and El Salvadorean and enslaved African ancestors. There were the speakers who talked of centuries-long injustices, of police brutality and deportations, of loved ones in cages. Sunday’s march and actions kept ICE employees from coming to work, stopped traffic for 3 hours, and foiled an ICE checkpoint. And they were a scratch on the surface of what needs to change.
Marchers parade down the sidewalk holding signs for migrant justice. Photo Credit: Bob Fishel
We need to step it up. We need more people marching, speaking, making art and food and running sound systems and ensuring accessibility and writing demands and alerting drivers about checkpoints and training and coordinating and blocking. We need to do it every day, until the concentration camps are closed. And then we need to keep going.
We need more actions that say, “You can do this. You can remove your consent from systems of oppression, whatever that looks like to you. You can be part of a movement.” And the thing is, we can do it. I’m terrified of facism right now, but I also know we can stop it. We can abolish ICE. We can overthrow Trump. We can abolish borders, and we can fight for climate justice. To make it all happen, we need commitment, and nonviolence, and intersectionality, and everyone.
Hundreds of marchers flood down the street, carrying banners about abolishing ICE. Photo Credit: Jeff Tolbert
Watching the people take action the other day, I saw a window. A tiny moment in time when something clicked into place, when the relationships were built and the plan was laid, when something new was created. I saw a moment when people stopped being individuals and became a collective, when resistance made more sense than scattering. All of a sudden, a collective goal was possible, and people were drawn in. I want to see that window again. I’m determined that we’ll recreate it. Again and again, bigger and bigger. Until our whole gorgeous, destructive world slides through. And everything changes.
The coming September Global Climate Strike and Week of Action will focus on climate justice, including migrant justice and the movement against ICE in Vermont. To get involved in the global strike, click here:
To join in action planning around the week of action in Vermont, email firstname.lastname@example.org