Humans belong together. Immigrants are not “aliens”.

Rallying for immigrant rights and basic human decency

Activists with Causa Justa :: Just Cause speak on the steps of San Francisco City Hall at a “Families Belong Together” rally, June 30, 2018. One holds a sign reading “Las Familias Pertenecen Juntas”. All photos by Pax Ahimsa Gethen, CC BY-SA 4.0.

On Saturday, June 30, I joined thousands of protesters throughout the country in a coordinated “Families Belong Together” action for immigrant rights and basic human decency. While I had just attended a similar rally the previous weekend, I felt it was important to join this strong show of force against the continued dehumanization of brown bodies by the Trump administration, which justifies its inhumane treatment of immigrants by referring to our fellow human beings as aliens and criminals. The Supreme Court’s upholding of Trump’s ban on Muslim immigrants also added urgency to the cause.

Yes, Obama and previous administrations also had a lot to answer for in respect to the treatment of immigrants and other marginalized people. As I’ve frequently stated, I am an independent voter, not a Democrat, and I have long supported Green and other progressive third-party and independent candidates, without regret or apology. However, I feel that the attacks by Trump and his supporters on Latinx, black, Muslim, LGBTQ, and other fellow non-white, non-Christian, non-cishet humans around the globe are rapidly reaching Nazi-level proportions, not only in words but in deeds. Strong, continued pushback is needed, not just at the polls but in direct action.

Owing to my black and trans status, I feel too vulnerable to participate in actions that could get me arrested, so for now I’m sticking to documenting relatively “safe” protests through my photography and writing. However, while I do not promote or condone violence, I do feel that protests not officially sanctioned and escorted by the police are ultimately more effective.

Protesters fill the street outside Dolores Park at the start of the march.

I arrived at Dolores Park a half hour before the start of the San Francisco march, as the organizers had posted we would start promptly at 10 a.m. Many were already present, getting their signs ready. As thousands of marchers were expected, I wanted to be near the front so that I could get to City Hall in time for the beginning of the rally.

Young marchers head down Market Street, carrying signs reading “I Really Do Care” and “I Was A Stranger And You Welcomed Me”.

We did start on time, and headed toward Civic Center. I felt my footprints were embedded in the pavement from marching up and down Market Street so many times, twice last weekend alone, though that was in celebration as well as protest (for the Trans March and the Pride Parade’s Resistance contingent). But it was a beautiful sunny day, and I tried to draw strength from the energy of the crowd despite my feelings of hopelessness.

Members of the Musicians’ Action Group sing and play instruments. One holds a sign with text reading “Liar Liar Pants on Fire” and a pair of underwear reading “Mama Trump”.

One sight — or rather, sound — that cheered me up as we neared City Hall was the Musicians Action Group. I’d seen them perform at marches before, most recently at an anti-war action in Oakland. I left the march for a few minutes to take photos and sing along to “Down by the Riverside”. I often wish I played a portable instrument so I could join a group like this, but improving my voice, piano, and electric bass skills are higher priorities.

Joan Baez speaks on the steps of San Francisco City Hall. Her shirt (only partially visible in this shot) reads “Make America Mexico Again”.

I arrived at City Hall, and managed to work my way to the front of the crowd just in time for a speech and song by renowned singer and activist Joan Baez. Her appearance and strong voice belied her 77 years of age. Several local musicians also performed, and a number of children joined them for a big group number.

Musicians and children sing on the steps of San Francisco City Hall. Some carry signs reading “Las Familias Merecen Estar Unidas” and “#EndFamilyDetention”.

After the music came a long list of speakers, which included immigrants and people devoted to helping them, but also members of the State Senate, Board of Supervisors, the acting mayor, and other politicians. Some in the crowd disrupted their speeches; though it was hard for me to make out what they were saying (I was wearing earplugs), from the reactions of the speakers it sounded like they wanted to “Abolish ICE”, which was certainly a popular sentiment.

Maria Villalta and Lariza Dugan Cuadra from CARECEN (Central American Resource Center) SF speak on the steps of San Francisco City Hall.

One of the speakers I recognized from the previous weekend’s rally was Lariza Dugan Cuadra of CARECEN SF, an organization that helps immigrants from Central America. She was angry that her organization was scheduled near the end of the program and then was asked to share time with other speakers since the rally was running so long, and she posted about this on Facebook. Her post was removed by Facebook, without (to my mind) good cause; when a friend shared a screenshot of her post, I shared it on my own page.

As I posted there, the organizers had stated in a comment on the Facebook event that this rally would have a “hard stop” at 1 p.m., but it was still going at 1:45. Since I was near the front, I saw organizers holding up signs for speakers to stop, and often being ignored. I didn’t want to cast blame, especially without knowing more details about the situation. But I got more insight when an activist who I was really looking forward to hearing, Alex U. Inn, posted on Facebook that each speaker was only allotted two minutes of time.

I don’t know if all speakers were asked in advance to hold to this time limit, but two minutes seems ridiculously short and unenforceable to boot. I respect that organizing an event like this is extremely difficult, but it seems that they probably tried to fit in too many speakers in too short a time period.

Activist and drag king Alex U. Inn speaks on the steps of San Francisco City Hall. Their hat reads “ENOUGH!” and their shirt reads “HUMAN DIGNITY”.

I was glad I stayed long enough to see Alex, and CARECEN, but after standing and carrying a heavy camera for four hours I was ready to bail. As I mentioned to my partner who came to the rally for a few minutes during his lunch break, I knew my discomfort was nothing compared to what the immigrants we were rallying for endured. However, as I was not acting in a hired or volunteer capacity for the organizers (or for anyone else; I stopped doing hired gigs years ago), I didn’t feel obligated to stay to take photos of the last few speakers in an event that was running way over the scheduled time.

Regardless, actions for immigrant rights will be ongoing throughout the country. Humans, not just families of blood relatives, belong together.

My photos from the June 30 march and rally are available on Flickr. Some are also on Wikimedia Commons, alongside photos from other contributors. Please credit me as Pax Ahimsa Gethen if you use any of my photos, thanks!

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