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Cosecha GR confronts the contradictions of July 4th in America

July 5, 2018

There are many things that we are taught to believe about the United States of America. We grew up reciting the Pledge of Allegiance without understanding or critically investigating the words. We are taught to blindly accept that the Founding Fathers were great defenders of liberty, without knowing that many of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were slave owners.

However, we can fight back against the nationalistic tendencies that most of us are raised with and we can begin to seek out deeper truths about the US. The great abolitionist Frederick Douglass said this about the Fourth Of July, in a speech he gave in 1852:

“What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are, to Him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages.There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States, at this very hour.”

The contradiction of the 4th of July is evident to people who dare to look closely at the history of the United States. Indeed, the contradictions are self-evident even today. While many people across the country gathered yesterday for a cook out, witnessed the spectacle of fireworks or attended one of the many parades that took place in West Michigan, there were people who were unwilling to accept the dominant narrative about the 4th of July.

About 50 people participated in an action yesterday organized through Movimiento Cosecha GR. The action took place in East Grand Rapids during the 4th of July parade that made its way on Wealthy Street for just a few blocks in downtown East Grand Rapids.

Movimiento Cosecha GR set up for mock cages of detained children and families, like what we have been seeing near the US/Mexican border in recent weeks. In additions to the mock detention cages, there were several banners that were held on both sides of the street, calling for an end of the contract that the government of Kent County currently has with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). 

The action yesterday, is a follow up to the larger action that took place last Thursday, where some 200 people came to the Kent County Commission meeting to demand that the county end their contract with ICE.

In addition to the mock cages and banners, people were chanting “End the Contract,” especially when politicians and candidates were walking past the crowd. As is the case for most fourth of July parades, the bulk of those participating in the parade were candidates or people currently holding office. Rep. Justin Amash walked in the parade, as did Winnie Brinks, who is running for a State Senate seat in Michigan. There were also current Kent County Board Commissioners, specifically Phil Skaggs and Robert Womack. Those taking part in the action were sending a loud message to both of these commissioners to End the Contract, as not one single Kent County Commissioner has come out against the contract since the commissioners were confronted at the June 28th meeting.

The only movement on the issue of the county’s contract with ICE, was a Facebook posting proposal from Commissioner Jim Talen on June 28, who stated:

At the end of today’s meeting, my colleague Dave Bulkowski and I both asked Chair Saalfeld to consider appointing a task force to take a look at what can be done to address the concerns that were shared.

Many have responded to this proposal to have a task force with swift criticism that it is only a way to distract or re-direct the people from demanding an end to the contract that Kent County has with ICE.

We know that ICE is arresting and detaining immigrants on a weekly basis in Kent County. ICE is separating families and terrorizing the immigrant community, which is exactly what the County Commissioners were told during the June 28th meeting.

Back to yesterday’s parade.

On a few occasions, those who participated in the action also sang songs. One song, a old labor song, included the lyrics, “which side are you on.” One strategy that Movimiento Cosecha uses is the strategy of polarization. Movimiento Cosecha will take a public stand on immigration, like the County’s contract with ICE, and see how the public responds to the issue. The public will be polarized to either join Movimiento Cosecha in their call for an end to the contract with ICE or they will reject it and side with those who support oppression.

The whole point of the action yesterday, was to polarize people and see which side they are on with this issue. In addition, to the mock cages, the banners, the chanting and songs, there were people conducting interviews with those attending the parade, asking them what they thought about the issue of freedom on the 4th of July, while children and families are being detained by ICE at the border and in Kent County.

Lastly, people were handing out information about upcoming meetings and actions related to the Kent County contract with ICE. Activist were also asking people to sign a petition, demanding that Kent County end their contract with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which you can sign here.

In addition to signing the petition, Cosecha GR and GR Rapid Response to ICE are inviting people to take part in several upcoming events and actions that challenge the legitimacy of ICE in Kent Count.

Movimiento Cosecha GR has an Ally Training on Monday, July 9th and GR Rapid Response to ICE has their next monthly training on Thursday, July 19th. There is also a Facebook group called, End the Contract, which people are encouraged to join and get regular updates on this campaign.

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