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I Walked Right Up to Militarized Police at the Border

Behind the agents, we could see our brothers and sisters watching from the Mexico side of the wall. We could hear them singing

A group of leaders from different faiths confront U.S. Border Patrol officers at Border Field State Park in San Diego. More than 30 of them were arrested, including Lucy Duncan, pictured here in the front row with the white shirt. (Photo: American Friends Service Committee )

Recently, I was arrested on our southern border for acting on my convictions.

I had joined about 400 faith leaders from many different traditions at the entrance of Border Field State Park in San Diego for a demonstration to launch the Love Knows No Borders: A moral call for migrant justice week of action.

We had marched together on flooded paths through the historic park, which sits on the U.S.-Mexico border, making our way around large puddles, singing and chanting the whole time. It was inspiring to feel the spirit of unity that motivated this group of people to act together with one voice.

We walked to the beach where the border wall can be seen extending out into the ocean. As we approached, a line of U.S. Border Patrol officers wearing riot gear ordered us to stop.

I spoke out in blessing, feeling the support of everyone around me, saying in part that, “We bring this consecrated water to pour out here near the border wall. Water knows no borders, and love knows no borders.”

A Border Patrol officer, hand on his weapon, told us to protest “peacefully” and not “violently” by not moving forward to the border. The hypocrisy of our violent border militarization was clear and obvious right in front of us. Behind the agents, we could see our brothers and sisters watching from the Mexico side of the wall. We could hear them singing.

Agents shouted, “Line formation,” and they formed a line in front of us, then began to chant, “Move back.” We held up our arms in a sign of peace as the first of us were dragged off by Border Patrol officers. The rest of us kneeled on the sand, arms up, singing, “We are not afraid, we are not afraid. We will live for liberation cause we know why we were made,” and other chants of resistance. Eventually we stood and moved forward, which was when some of us were taken into custody. The singing with my comrades continued in the paddy wagon, and I was released two hours later.

As a Quaker, I am called to recognize our shared humanity and “that of God” in everyone. My belief calls me to stand against actions that deny that migrants at the border are our neighbors—our kin.

I believe our government’s militarization of border communities and attempts to keep out asylum seekers is in conflict with my deeply held belief in the worth and dignity of all people.

There’s history behind my conviction.

Quakers and the organization they formed in 1917, American Friends Service Committee, have a long history of principled, nonviolent resistance to unjust laws and government actions. Though at times unpopular and controversial, our actions and positions put us on the right side of history.

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Even before the civil rights movement, we were focused on countering racism in the country, and in the 1960s joined the original Poor People’s Campaign called for by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. before his assassination. We participated in two weeks of protests at the Resurrection City encampment in Washington, D.C., that was eventually shut down by the police.

During World War II, American Friends worked in French internment camps, hid Jewish children and helped to secretly move thousands of Jewish and non-Jewish refugees to safety. For that work, the organization accepted the 1947 Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of Quakers worldwide.

The risk we took at the border is overshadowed by the risks taken by the courageous participants of the migrant caravan.

American Friends staff member and Quaker, Gordon Hirabayashi, was jailed for more than two years for resisting Japanese internment, a chapter in this country’s history now viewed as a national shame.

We supported the controversial and ultimately successful movement to divest from apartheid South Africa, and a year ago were blacklisted by Israel for our support of the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement for Palestinian rights.

I am honored to be part of continuing a legacy of speaking truth to power, including risking arrest twice with the new Poor People’s Campaign earlier this year. In this moment, with so much hateful rhetoric and policy directed at immigrants by the Trump administration, I feel called to take greater risks for justice.

It takes real work and commitment to create the world I want to see. I believe it is my duty to stand against policy violence and abuse by our government. When those in power callously turn away those who come to us seeking refuge, I cannot simply play by their rules and politely ask them to stop violently oppressing immigrants. I need to be among those actively disrupting this new status quo if I hope to change it.

Civil disobedience is a worthwhile risk when taken thoughtfully because it works. Civil disobedience can draw attention to injustice and shift culture in ways that can help make political change possible. Migrant caravan participants in Mexico told my co-workers at the American Friends who traveled on a delegation to assess needs, provide human rights monitoring, and offer aid that they hoped to change President Trump’s heart. We may not be able to change Trump’s heart, but I am hopeful that we can change the hearts of others and shift the political will to support the justice we seek.

The risk we took at the border is overshadowed by the risks taken by the courageous participants of the migrant caravan. Our futures are interlocked and how migrants are treated is connected to the well-being of us all.

I know that policy here in the U.S. is directly linked to factors such as violence, instability, and environmental degradation that push people to migrate. Recent moves by the U.S. have contributed directly to the conditions that led to this exodus, including upholding fraudulent elections in Honduras and refusing to speak out about the worsening human rights situation in Guatemala.

Many communities in the U.S. are willing to open their hearts and resources to welcome people in need. Around the country this week, many more people will participate in actions to say their communities’ welcome migrants with love and compassion.

Now is the time to take risks to make real the world we want and know to be possible. It’s time to put our bodies on the line and be as bold in enacting justice as those we oppose have been enacting injustice.

Lucy Duncan

Lucy Duncan wrote this article for YES! Magazine. Lucy is the Director of Friends Relations for the American Friends Service Committee, where she organizes Quakers to work for justice.

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