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Cosecha Michigan protest encampment – Day 2: The con of representative democracy

September 15, 2022

On Day 1 of the Cosecha encampment in Lansing, we talked about how the systems of power pushed back against their plan to have a non-violent encampment, along with interactions the immigrant activists had with a far right Christian rally. In this post we want to primarily talk about how the political system of representative democracy fails the basic needs of the people.

In Day 2, Cosecha members were still being harassed by local police and the private security firm that security for Lansing City Hall. DK Security has had a contract with the City of Lansing for several years now, which is part of the privatization of security for local governments. Interestingly enough, DK Security is based in Grand Rapids, plus the Sr. Vice President of the company is Kevin Belk. Belk was part of the GRPD for several decades, and like many who used to work police departments, Belk transitioned to doing private security, which has even less accountability.

The Lansing police department kept sending officers to talk with the Cosecha police liaison, playing the good cop role, while sending patrol officers out to monitor and film Cosecha members throughout the day. The cop pictured here on the right, was filming immigrant activists while he was driving, using a cell phone.

One of the activities that the Lansing Police were filming was their crosswalk action and their information distribution. Since Cosecha members were located in front of City Hall (which is right across the street from the Lansing State Capital), they were able to distribute literature about their efforts to win Driver’s Licenses for All. This area in front of the State Capital is a business district, with lots of foot traffic, so Cosecha members were handing out information to people throughout the morning. In addition, their crosswalk action – which is when people walk slow, holding signs and banners, often causing some backup of traffic – was a useful tactic to get even more attention and to hand out flyers to people in cars.

At about 1:15pm, the immigrant activists when into the State Capital, since there was a scheduled session of the State House of Representatives. The session on Tuesday did not have enough people, so it was cancelled within 20 minutes. When the Cosecha activists showed up at the entrance of the State House room, they were told by the men in the red coats – also Capital security – that the session had already been cancelled, since there would not be a quorum. The guys in the red coats even changed the signage to Thursday, while Cosecha activists were talking with them before it was time for the scheduled session on Wednesday.

At this point Cosecha members decided to go to the office of the Speaker of the State House, Rep. Jason Wentworth. Wentworth was named Speaker of the House just after the 2020 Election. Rep. Wentworth was the person who cancelled the scheduled hearing for Driver’s Licenses last year, which Cosecha Michigan planned to speak at. Three Cosecha members were allowed to enter Wentworth’s office to talk with his staff. The staff person did not seemed to know anything about the Driver’s Licenses bill, but told the Cosecha activists that Rep. Wentworth was not in town. In fact, Wentworth’s staff said he was out campaigning to win re-election this November. According to Ballotpedia, Rep. Wentworth has raised more than any other legislator this election cycle, raising $831,900 as of July.

Once Cosecha members had finished their brief conversation with Wentworth’s staff, then went back up to the area in front of the entrance to where the House of Representatives holds their sessions. It was here that the immigrant justice movement members decided to do two things. First, they decided to provide a live Spanish/English description of the meeting they just had with Wentworth’s staff, which included letting people know that Wentworth was not only available to meet with residents of Michigan, he chose not to come to the House chambers, since it was his priority to campaign run for re-election.

The second thing that Cosecha activist did was to hold their own hearing on Driver’s Licenses, what they referred to as a People’s Hearing. During the People’s Hearing, Cosecha members talked about their own lived experience as undocumented immigrants and why obtaining Driver’s Licenses is so vitally important to them and their family. Other members talked about how so many undocumented workers, which are essential workers, don’t have driver’s licenses, which constantly puts them at risk with the cops and ICE agents. One Cosecha member, an older woman, talked about how essential having a driver’s licenses was, especially for basic things like going to the pharmacy to get medication or to the grocery store to buy food, things we often take for granted. The People’s Hearing is exactly what they what the State Representatives needed to hear, but because so few even bothered to show up to do their job of representing the people, they wouldn’t hear the powerful testimony provided by Cosecha activists.

What the past few days has demonstrated to this writer, is that the system of Representative Democracy is a bankrupt system. Residents of Michigan, who traveled hours to come to Lansing to speak with elected officials were denied the opportunity to do so. Not only were they deny the opportunity to speak with elected officials, they were denied the opportunity to show elected officials how urgently important it would be to the immigrant community to have something as essential as Driver’s Licenses to provide basic necessities for their families and their community. There was nothing that happened over the past two days that would demonstrate any aspect of the most basic democratic principles, apart from the autonomous, horizontal, compassionate actions of the immigrant justice activists who refused to give up. Hasta La Huelga!

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