The Anti-ICE Movement Must be an Openly Anti-Capitalist One: A Night of Action in New Jersey

By: P. Brik and L. Zorfass

On July 12 2019, two days before intensified ICE raids were to begin, activists gathered outside of the Essex Detention Center in Newark, NJ to denounce not just the raids, but more importantly, the American concentration camps that were installed by the Obama administration and utilized by the current administration of President Trump. 

Police repression began as soon as protesters began to show up. The public parking lot, which is normally open, was shut down by the police for the “safety of protesters.”  This enforced “safety” meant parking across the street and having to cross an extremely busy road populated primarily by large 18 wheeler trucks. This is certainly not a safer space than a parking lot, especially when one considers how many senior citizens were in attendance. Many senior citizens who showed up had a hard enough time sitting in the summer heat and now had to dodge massive trucks over two lanes of the freeway. 

After moving our cars, the cops then attempted to herd the gathering crowd into a smaller area. They achieved both the moving of cars and the herding of protesters with the compliance and active assistance of the North and Central New Jersey Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) who were in attendance.

The radical elements of the crowd had gotten to the protest first, led by the American Party of Labor and the NJ Anti-War Agenda. We started by hanging agitational signs and banners against fascism and demanding the closing of the concentration camps. We made statements and chants against the concentration camps, demanding their closure, and connecting the situation to the imperialist racist state that currently occupies the American people and millions around the globe and were shown a great deal of support from the many working-class truckers passing by who honked their horns and raised their fists in a show of support.

Many of the protester spoke to us, stressing their solidarity to those suffering the brunt of the increased oppression of immigrant communities. Others had experienced that oppression and pain more personally. We encountered a family of Haitian immigrants who recently moved to the United States. Frantz and his two middle school children appeared at the protest with signs displaying “Stop Separating Families!” Frantz was forced to flee his home, Port-au-Prince, due to the devastation wrought by civil unrest due to austerity measures implemented by the corrupt government and insane inflation. He said that he still doesn’t feel safe in the United States given the escalation of right-wing organized movements, the general attitude of constantly being targeted by the majority of society as a black male, and most importantly, the inability of the United States government, including the Democratic Party, to do anything about the brutal reality of being in fear for one’s own family due to the escalation of anti-immigrant actions carried out by the capitalist state that we exist under. 

There were also people in attendance who were inspired to participate in the protest as an expression of direct action. A lot of us may feel like we have the urge to do something about this horrible existence, and a protest may seem the most natural way to express one’s unhappiness, or sympathy towards the cause, or simply trying to agitate the masses. Therefore, the protest is a direct form of expression – it is the declaration of one’s political alignment, an expression of solidarity, it is an extension of a person and a pronouncement of who one really is politically in relation to the world that one faces. However, what a lot of moderate organizations and individuals fail to see, is that a protest is not the end goal. In order to achieve the very same demands that the moderates raise, protesting on the side of the road will not suffice. While agitation is important, it will not bring about the real changes people in the US crave. But this is perhaps fitting: a lot of those same moderates are the ones whose main goal is to actually preserve the status quo – those same organizations who are backed up by the Democratic Machine, which has failed the American people and functions to protect the rich. Such is the function is the DSA, as well as other organizations whose main concern is to get Democrats elected. They are not concerned about the American people. All their progressiveness is a clever advertising tactic, as we see in demonstrations across the country on issues afflicting millions of people, to appeal to politically-motivated people, especially youth. 

Some protesters emphasized the fact that one does not and cannot exist outside of politics: even by taking an apolitical stance, one either chooses to be benefiting from the structures of oppression, or is blindfolded as a result of capitalist alienation that most of us face every day. By choosing not to care, or to prioritize their own comfort while proclaiming the futility of any kind of political work or action, is a stance predicated by the false consciousness imposed on us by the social relations (“the society”) — the same kind of relation that makes us so concentrated on ourselves, on the individual. One may think that the horror of family separation and deportation may not affect them, but this is wrong, as in this case, the very same underlying capitalist forces which make concentration camps in the 21st century possible derives its power from exploiting workers, relying on those who deliberately chose to be apolitical, as well as the moderates and the centrist cowards who work for the benefit of the ruling class.

Meanwhile, as more “moderates” showed up, these divisions amongst activists started to grow. Throughout much of the protest outside of the detention center, the DSA and their allies openly worked with the police surrounding us and helped enforce the orders given by the cops. The DSA continually obstructed and disrupted speakers and chants that were not from their own people. The DSA made open statements against the anti-fascist banners and demands to close the camps. Instead, giving speeches “begging” the state to not close the camps, but to make the conditions of the camp better. All of this was not said openly to the public but to the activists already in attendance. A large group of people who could be mobilized for action were now sitting around patting themselves on the back for standing on a patch of grass. 

Other moderate organizations and individuals present exposed nothing but weak demands of “better conditions” for children while sending empty prayers for those who died in detention. 

It became clear that the protest had to move and be brought to the people of Newark who did not show up to the protest. Along with the NJ Anti-War Agenda and other more radically minded groups, we began to build up a march from the gathering of protesters. The DSA and their allies continued to try to impede this effort, wishing instead to stay in the confines set by the police and talk to each other rather than reach the people, the public, the masses. We were not going to sit around, pat ourselves back, and then go home. There had to be movement, a show of will, and of militancy.

When we finally started moving, the number of cops around us nearly tripled. We were swarmed by at least a dozen police cars and over a dozen cops on foot who set up a line blocking our path. We stood our ground and blocked the entrance to the detention center and the road connecting to it. More and more cops showed up. The situation became tense quickly with cops grabbing protest signs from us and a few with their hands in the “ready, set, draw” position over their gun holsters. The DSA and their fellow police-friendly allies simply sat back and snickered. Ultimately we were forced back from our position, as we would have been easily overtaken without being able to make the situation productive in that particular interest. 

It has been clearly shown through recent mobilization that one does not need to be a radical communist to have the consciousness to oppose concentration camps, but it is also being made clear that the nonradical elements are holding back the struggle and the chances of mass mobilization against concentration camps may bring. The various so-called moderate groups openly, and have elsewhere in the past, worked with the same cops putting children into concentration camps. These groups are enforcing the cops direction. They have rejected the closure of the concentration camps to the better conditions of the camps, so much so that a speaker attempted to get the crowd to thank Phil Murphy, the current Governor of New Jersey who approved the camps in Jersey, simply because Governor Murphy had allocated more state funds to the improvement of detention conditions in the detention centers Murphy has officially approved of. 

The forces of reaction in the United States become more powerful by the day. So much so that concentration camps have been built. The burgeoning fascist apparatuses can literally put children in cages to die. Yet, the “acceptable left”, the “reasonable left” openly works with the forces that carry out this fascist agenda. They call not to end the horror but make the horror more comfortable. At most, they want to close the camps but not meaningfully address the social catalysts that brought them about.

The camps must be ended. Getting them closed may be the first step but if the system that allows them to be built and exist continues, then fascists will only use a new form to further their fascist, white supremacist cause.

To bring an end to the camps, we must end the ruling class which profits off detention both monetarily and in power, and which constructs these concentration camps where children die, and drops bombs on and politically intervenes in their countries across the globe. We must not just end the ruling class but end the imperialist state which carries out the will of the ruling class. These goals should not be written away by reformist oppurtunism—history is watching us, as are those currently imprisoned, we cannot settle for police-approved half-measures. 

Categories: U.S. News

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