Love knows no borders. Not only is this a truth in the reality of people’s lives and experience today – it has always been a truth – we’ve been loving beyond and across barriers and borders since we knew we could love. And earlier this month, Love Knows No Borders was also a campaign, organized by the American Friends Services Committee – a campaign to draw attention to what has been happening to migrant families, to people living in dangerous circumstances and crippling poverty who walked for weeks to our border, to seek asylum, to try for a better life for themselves and their present and future children. In spite of the horrible treatment our government has imposed on families already living in this country – separating families, taking children out of the arms of their parents (15,000 children currently living in temporary tent cities and shelters), the caravan of people from Latin America came in hope. And though I was recently back from part 1 of my sabbatical, I knew I needed to participate. I had to respond to the immoral and inhumane behavior of my government and how they were treating people who were coming to our border to ask for asylum.
Rev. Tania was away on vacation so Rev. Ian, Intern Minister Stevie Carmody and I met to discuss what our response would be. After much discussion, it was decided that Rev. Ian would be our support person while Stevie and I would join the campaign and march. We knew there were various actions within the march that we could participate in. Stevie attended some training sessions to gain information before deciding which actions he would do. I chose to march and bear witness to what was happening on our border. There were about 400 clergy and people of faith who gathered at Border State Park around 10:00 that December 10th morning and it was good to see some lay leaders from First UU Church there too; we had a prayer vigil and rally before we began the march and in some ways, it felt like a Pride parade, people greeting one another, feeling happy to be together. There were numerous signs, like Love Knows No Borders, Revitalize not Militarize Border Communities, among others. But as we walked down the muddy road on that morning, the mood shifted. We walked four-by-four and then, two-by-two down the road towards the beach. When we got close to the beach, we all stopped while those in the front of the procession, on the group’s behalf, did some rituals and offered more prayers. Then we turned left and began walking onto the sand. The waves were beautiful, crashing onto the shore and I was caught between joy and apprehension; joy at the beauty of the sky, sand, and ocean and apprehensive of what lay before us. At first, looking south, it was hard to see any detail…I could only make out the wall and the fence, which extends well into the water. But as we got closer to the border, I could make out dark figures standing with what looked like their backs against the wall, with sunlight glinting off of them. We continued to walk, mostly in silence now and the figures began to be more defined…the cammies they whole, the sunlight glinting off of their face-masks; it was easier to see the large rifles they held at the ready – not aiming at us but certainly the barrels were easily seen. Still we continued to march toward the wall, getting close enough to easily see the barbed wire all around and to read the posed signs that read: WARNING, No TRESPASSING in red print; Restricted Area, Keep Out, Authorized Personnel Only in black ink. I found myself becoming more and more still in the center of my being and then we stood – say with about fifty feet between the clergy and directly behind the barbed wire, the soldiers, police and border patrol agents. Other uniformed people were standing at attention above us, on the cement pads of Friendship Park.
We began singing a song adapted from the Peace Poets – “We are not afraid, we are not afraid, we will work for liberation ‘cause we know why we were made.” I joined in singing the song – and I was afraid; at some point, I stopped singing because of my fear; the tension in the air was palpable; what was going to happen here. A smaller group of clergy, including Stevie, had made the choice to get in a line, two-by-two to try and get close enough to the wall to touch it and offer a blessing to the land, and to the people standing on the other side of the fence. For many reasons, I had made the decision to bear witness and be a support, but that I would not participate in direct action. Even though I stopped singing, others did not…I looked at the soldiers, the border patrol agents, the police…my mind spinning with various thoughts: they are fully human, just like me; they were here because of their jobs; they were here because politicians in Washington refuse to do their jobs and fix our broken immigration system, refuse to follow our own policies and practices of how people seek asylum. The song interrupted my thoughts and I began to sing again, and the fear I felt diminished some. I braced myself for what was possible. Soon, I saw a man from our group, who was in the line to offer a blessing, he was surrounded on either side by uniformed men, his hands behind his back, held together by a plastic band, being led away from the group and up a path toward Friendship Park that sits on top of the hill. After just a few minutes, two clergy were also led away in the same manner. We kept singing. After a while, the three who were taken away, came walking back down the hill; we figured they were either given a warning or were arrested and released. And they went right back down to the line to offer a blessing.
At one point three uniformed and armed men came closer to the barbed wire that separated us and with a megaphone, the man in the center of the three told us that we were trespassing and to leave the area. None of us moved. They repeated their message and informed us this was our first warning. I grew more concerned and wondered how a public beach could be trespassed by peaceful, singing clergy. I checked in with a clergy friend about my wondering and she reminded me that the border patrol’s jurisdiction is up to 100 miles inland from the border. It was now about 1:00 pm and I decided that I needed to head back to the park. Stevie knew to call me if he needed assistance. Rev. Julie Forest, one of affiliated community ministers and I joined other clergy who began walking back. It was hard to decide to leave but I knew I couldn’t do anymore there. And I made the decision to not get caught up in direct action but to be available for support – I was already the support person for two other clergy who made a different decision. We were on the I-5 headed north when I received a phone call from Robie Evans, our Director of Operations and then a text from one of our lay leaders – informing me that Stevie and 30 other clergy had been arrested. I went into active support role and began contacting people and making plans to do what was needed to gain their release. It wasn’t long after getting home that I learned Stevie and the other 30 clergy who had been arrested were released. All but one – who was held until the next day.
Sometimes it’s scary standing up for your values, for doing what you know to be right. Did the march change policy or make it easier for people seeking asylum to do so? I don’t think so. One can ask, then why do it? I made the choice to do it because my values and faith call me to work, to demonstrate, to put myself on the line in the ways I can for liberation’s sake; I did it because I wanted the people on both sides of the border to know we are watching, we care, we know there are different and better ways to live together than with fear, walls and barbed wire. I did it because I don’t want to become accustomed or used to the militarization of our border and our police force. I did it to remind myself that this is not how our country has to be. I did it because we can be more humane and creative than this. I did it because I would never want to be treated the way our government is treating people. I did it because we are better than this and I don’t want to ever forget that. I did it because Love knows no borders.
Stay tuned to this space for Stevie’s blog about his experience.
Posted on Thu, December 27, 2018
by Kathleen Owens