Breaking the ICE machine

June 26, 2018

Nikki Williams, Jesse Joseph, Michael Mullinax and Christopher Zimmerly-Beck report on a protest encampment in Portland that has succeeded in shutting down the regional ICE offices — and the effort to keep the occupation going.

A SHOWDOWN is looming in Portland, Oregon, as the occupation of the area surrounding a local Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) office continues through a second week, despite threats from federal authorities.

On June 17, immigrant rights supporters in Portland turned a Father’s Day demonstration against the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy into a blockade of the offices, forcing ICE to close the building by the middle of last week and cancel scheduled immigration hearings.

The protesters are vowing that “Occupy ICE PDX” will continue until the “zero tolerance” policy is lifted and Portland lives up to its claim of being a sanctuary city.

But on June 25, federal authorities circulated fliers warning that those who obstructed the entrance to the building would face arrest and prosecution in federal court.

Organizers of Occupy ICE PDX declared in a statement that they wouldn’t be intimidated into leaving: “We are here to stay. We are calm, organized and focused on our mission: to end ICE terror in Portland and all over the country, and we will do so while ensuring the safety of protesters, especially our most vulnerable.”

The blockade started as a small encampment after June 17 protest, but by June 20, it had grown large enough to force the facility to shut down. As many as 200 people have been turning out to the encampment each day. Dozens of people spend the night at the occupation in tents.

The nondescript ICE building is on a busy road near downtown and surrounded by a Tesla building, a school, a Spaghetti Factory and a business complex.

People found to be in violation of immigration laws have been held at the office until a bus can ship them to a detention center in Tacoma, Washington, or Dalles, Oregon. Both detention centers have been the focus of protests because of the poor conditions for detainees.

As activists kept the ICE office blocked, immigrants who hadn’t received notice from ICE of the closure arrived for their appointments.

They were met with signs that said “Ama tu pro’jimo” (“Love your neighbor”) and “Chinga la migra” (Fuck ICE), along with dozens of activists ready offer help to them and their families. Spanish language translators have been at the camp in shifts to help with communication.

“We invite the rest of the country to join this movement, to gather and occupy your local ICE facility until it’s shut down,” one message said. “Bring candles, signs, noisemakers and tents. Most importantly, bring yourself. Even if you can only come down for a day, for an hour, your presence is important and needed. It takes ALL of us working together to stop this machine of terror.”

THE COMMUNITY that has developed at the camp is a testament to the ability of people to self-organize. In scenes reminiscent of the 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement, basic necessities were provided within days of the first tents going up, thanks to donations from the community.

Despite the new threats from authorities, the camp is still a vibrant place, and activists have organized a social media team, childcare, a community kitchen, a carpentry tent, porta-potties, a medical tent, a community garden, comfortable furniture, books and live music.

Security is run by local Antifa groups with a focus on de-escalation efforts. Barricades have been erected to protect occupiers from drive-by aggressors. The camp holds nightly vigils at 9 p.m., along with general assemblies.

Some other features of Occupy Wall Street — including a consensus-style decision-making process that can result in inaction and a conservatism toward unknown people that can limit democratic participation — are also present at Occupy ICE as well.

It will be important, especially in the face of the government’s moves to shut the encampment down, for participants to resist anything the depletes the protest of significant numbers.

The encampment has endured harassment, mostly in the form of “Proud Boys” — right-wing thugs who drive by and harass protesters — and from building owner Stuart Lindquist, who has threatened to fight protesters and even admitted to hitting a protestor with his Mercedes.

Surprisingly, there has been no opposition from the usually riot-gear-happy Portland Police Bureau (PPB).

Mayor Ted Wheeler has said that he won’t allow PPB to assist ICE because he doesn’t condone the actions of the agency.

While activists are aware that Wheeler’s promise for the PPB not to intervene most likely has an expiration date — and that the federal government could act without collaboration with local authorities — the lack of police violence and safe feel of the camp has contributed to the growth of the protest, especially during the day.

WHILE THE encampment has been spearheaded by the Portland left, it is attended by people with a broad range of politics.

People getting off work have been coming by the camp to make a sign and stand in solidarity. Even signs that might have seemed radical a few weeks ago, like “ICE is a terrorist organization,” are met with support from the public, and a large number of people driving by honk and wave in support.

One woman said that she was happy to make it to the camp since she finds it difficult to balance activism with being a parent. She said that as an immigrant, she felt she needed to come and show her support for the abolition of ICE.

While she believed that change would come through electoral politics, she also believed that politicians only listen when people come together and demand change. “Nothing was ever given to women, African-Americans, immigrants,” she said. “It’s up to us to rise up.”

Neighboring businesses have also supported the camp by bringing free ice cream and coffee. A nearby school is providing electricity and supplies. The Spaghetti Factory is letting campers park in their lot during non-business hours.

While the Tesla dealership’s management is only officially tolerating the protesters, employees have been extremely supportive, moving cars to make room for more tents and chatting with campers. One employee said, “You won’t see us out here in official Tesla gear, but we’ll do what we can.”

A rally planned for June 24 at the occupation site was moved to City Hall because of safety concerns for the camp when online RSVPs for the rally climbed into the thousands.

The rally, which was organized by Multnomah Democrats, had a distinct “get out the vote” message and featured state legislators. But people also consistently called for the abolition of ICE, and rally organizers allowed speakers from local radical and socialist groups to speak and invite people to visit Occupy ICE PDX.

Speakers discussed the crimes against immigrants that have been perpetuated by both Democrats and Republicans. Chants of “Abolish ICE, abolish borders!” were echoed by the crowd and met with applause.

Many people stopped by the camp after the rally, donating supplies and pitching in with help. The front door of the ICE building was taped shut and covered with signs, including one that was a stark reminder of why the camp is necessary: a picture of a little girl in a pink hoodie crying as she looks up at her mother, who is being accosted by ICE agents.

Occupy ICE initiatives like have begun to spread to other cities, with protesters reportedly occupying land around ICE buildings in New York City, Detroit, Tacoma and Los Angeles.

Everywhere, demonstrators are expressing a sentiment articulated on the Occupy ICE PDX Facebook page: “We will not allow a single immigrant, refugee or asylum seeker to pass through these gates without knowing that the community is outside and that they are not alone.”

The camps, as well as the multitude of other protests that have sprung up in recent weeks against the deportation machine, demonstrate a fraction of the power that masses of people have when they come together and demand a world without the barbarism of imperialism, colonialism and borders.

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