Then they came for me--
and there was no one left to speak for me.
Last Sunday in Laguna Beach, an anti-immigrant, white supremacist group held a "vigil" for the families of the victims of illegal immigrants and refugees. It would have been just another in the series of such vigils that had managed to take place mostly unnoticed every month for the past four months-- but this time, the hate and vitriol spewed by the event organizer poured salt on the fresh wounds of all of us who were still reeling from the aftermath of the recent deadly events in Charlottesville, VA.
I was at home with my daughter during the Charlottesville protests, and we were both horrified as we watched so-called Trump supporters turn a quiet college town into ground zero for a showdown between average folks, activists, Antifa and the Klan. Both my daughter and I clearly saw the flags of a union that I love dearly and currently serve as a delegate outside of my work with CLUE. When the car plowed into stopped vehicles along the route where counterprotesters were taking to the streets, my daughter turned to me and asked if the car could have hit someone we know. I desperately began reaching out, but several hours would pass before we knew an answer or could account for any fellow workers who were out there in Charlottesville.
In the days leading up to the counter-protest and the accompanying interfaith action in Laguna Beach, its organizers at DSA invited me to participate in a strategy call because of my union roots. I wasn’t sure that I would be attending the counter-protest because I knew there was a real, palpable, chance that things might turn violent once again. As a single mother, I usually take my daughter everywhere with me. From labor meetings, strike lines, and immigration actions, to gatherings with Clergy and Community, it has always been my hope that by exposing her to these settings that she might become well versed in social and economic justice issues at an early age. And in doing so, that she might begin taking a stand for justice earlier on than most of her peers. This counter-protest was the first time ever that I knew we would not be standing on the front lines together. It deeply impacted me, and I know it frightened her to see me leave home that Sunday.
Over 2,000 counterprotesters and interfaith clergy (organized by CLUE partner org OCCCO) descended on the main beach on Sunday afternoon. Arguments quickly broke out between opposing factions, and the heavily militarized and policed beach turned into a shouting match separated by officers on horses to keep groups several hundred feet apart. At one point, the interfaith clergy made their way into the middle of it all as they marched with arms linked. We heard Ben McBride speak out against racism, and asking all in attendance to hold space to send notice to those who would seek to intimidate us that these are our streets, and this is our beach. I was asked to speak in front of the large crowd, joined by fellow workers who traveled as far as Sacramento and the Inland Empire in a show of solidarity to those of us confronting racism in Orange County. When I was introduced, the crowd surrounding me began singing the chorus of the song “Solidarity Forever”, penned by poet laureate of the IWW, Ralph Chaplin. My heart swelled with joy that so many young faces would sing this fighting anthem song before I had a chance to share a simple message:
“Sisters and brothers, the rise of the far right can be attributed to the destruction of the union movement. If we want to stop fascism for good, then we need to organize all workers on the job to build power. El Pueblo Unido Jamas Sera Vencido!!” I stepped off the bench once I finished my address to those who had gathered before me, followed by heartfelt cheers, and rejoined the massive crowd.
Audre Lorde once said, “Revolution is not a onetime event." These words are true now more than ever because I knew it would only be a matter of days before the next racist event would be scheduled in Orange County, and it already has. For those who might still be on the fence about joining the hundreds if not thousands of folks who have publicly denounced white supremacy, I leave you with the following encouragement:
Lutheran Pastor Martin Niemöller was imprisoned by the Nazis in 1938 because of his opposition to their platform and only released when the concentration camps were liberated by the Allies in 1945. Initially a supporter of Hitler and in the years preceding the war often indifferent towards, and at times intolerant of his Jewish neighbors, Niemöller was by no means a perfect witness. Yet he nevertheless eloquently expressed the guilt and grief he felt at his lack of empathy and action and offered a warning to future generations in his widely-quoted poem:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out-
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out-
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out-
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me-
and there was no one left to speak for me.