Mutual Aid: The Next Step Forward

Almost right after being elected, the Trump Administration began issuing Executive Orders. Two of these came out January 25th, Executive Order: Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements and Executive Order Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States. These Executive Orders were the Administration’s way of making good on the promise to working to deport all illegal immigrants living in the United States. It did this in a number of ways, such as following up on another campaign promise which was to hire more people such as ICE or Border Patrol to do the deporting, and requiring that local law enforcement comply and assist with federal agencies, and even deputize them into assisting in the federal process of detaining and deporting people. This was the same time a Ban had been passed preventing Muslim people from entering the country from a list of 7 countries.

At the time, I felt like this was it. This was the sign me and my fellow Liberals that we could no longer just do what we were doing. Calling Senators and protesting and things like this were not working. Real people’s lives were being so dramatically affected, for many people, irreversibly, right now, that I felt like things needed to happen. But what, and how?

It’s hard to think outside of the boxes we’ve grown accustomed to. I thought, well writing and calling my Representatives isn’t working. Protesting isn’t working. What is a big thing, how do I do something? I had to do something, because to me this was the point we all said we’d never allow ourselves to get past, this was people being taken away in the night, Nazi’s in the street, terrifying madness, and I had to stop it.

But how?

At the time I was reading The Guantanamo Diary, a book written by a man in Guantanamo, non-fiction. I’ve been pretty tuned into Gitmo since I was in high school and Bush sent a lot of people there. I knew that many of the prisoners in Gitmo had had FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) Requests filed on their behalf by family and lawyers and that was how people like lawyers, family, and journalists obtained information about the prisoners and how we, as the public, received that information. Freedom of Information Act Requests were on my mind. One night, I had a dream about filing one to find out about the people being affected by the ICE Raids. So, my big idea was to file a FOIA request to find out 1) how many people were taken, 2) where they were taken to, 3) where they were now, and 4) and their current status in the legal process, health, whether they had been able to contact family members or legal counsel. I wish I had taken a screenshot of the form before I sent it, but I mistakenly assumed I would get some kind of receipt that showed the information I typed, which was not the case.

The second part of my plan was to post to my various social media accounts to try to get other people to also file FOIA requests for a few reasons. One reason for this was to make people more aware of the situation. Another reason was to get people involved in making ICE and Homeland Security aware that we do not approve of the situation. Another reason was that the more people file their requests, the more chance, hopefully, that at least one of us is actually able to get some useful information. How many people have been taken? Where to? Are they healthy and safe? Have they been able to contact legal counsel or family? We don’t know, and that is not ok. Essentially, these people are being taken away in the night, and all we can do is politely knock on the government’s door and ask what they’re doing. They have the power to not respond. And, what’s worse, is that as far as I know, no one else participated in the action with me, and did literally the action with the least amount of effort to help people whose lives are being torn apart.

A little more than a month after I submitted my request I received a reply. In it, I was essentially told, I needed to get permission from the people that I was requesting information about. That’s strange, how am I supposed to do that, since you took them away and I don’t know where they are? Well, ICE was kind enough to provide a confusing form which I was supposed to fill out and return. This form required the “individual(s)” in question (those taken by ICE that I had inquired about) to sign it allowing information about them to be given to a third party (me). I had a lot of questions, most prominently, how am I supposed to know anyone’s name to put on the form, since the inquiry was specifically to find out who these people are and if they’re ok? Also, it seemed as if each individual I was inquiring about (and I was inquiring about ALL people taken due to the recent Executive Orders) needed their own individual forms. However, I didn’t give up, and ICE had provided a phone number for any questions. So, I called them ASAP because their response had also said that I had to send all my documentation back within a certain amount of time. So, I called to ask my questions and get assistance filling out their paperwork so I could file the paperwork by the deadline.

Well, I have called multiple times, on different days at different times of day, and they only ever have a voicemail requesting that I leave my name and number, saying they will get back to me when they can. I left my information, but I am not optimistic that they will get back to me in time to submit the paperwork, although, if they do I will of course submit it.

Honestly, this whole process was not a surprise to me, but I hope it can help others who are wandering around lost in the current political climate to see the situation clearly. The system is broken. Working within the system to create change is foolish. We’re asking the people in power to do the right thing, but they have the ability to ignore us, or even punish us. I know some people didn’t join me in filing a FOIA request because they were afraid they would get into some kind of trouble. I know this, because some people explicitly told me that. Which, honestly isn’t a stupid thing to think. You do get on their radar. But what does that say about the system you put your faith in, that you’re afraid to have any actual, meaningful interactions with it? That you’re afraid to stand with the people who truly need help in real and not simply performative ways? I have heard so many friends talk about wanting to go to protests but being nervous because the police might beat people up or use tear gas, yet later say “not all cops are bad!”. Yes. All cops are bad. If you take a job propping up a corrupt system, and oppressing people trying to create something better in this world, you’re bad, and your job is bad, and if you aren’t bad you would quit that job today and get some other job. If your choices are beat people up for being Brown or Black and wanting a better life versus get a different job, and you pick the racist one, YOU ARE NOT A GOOD PERSON.

For a long time we have been taught to defer our social responsibilities to others, while at the same time thinking that by doing this we are engaging in meaningful ways. “I called my Senator and told them what I thought!” That is meaningless, and I’m sorry but it is. All that is, is taking the responsibility you have from living in society, and handing it off to someone else. What we need to do instead is to become more intentional, and look at the ways we engage. Is what we’re doing actually meaningful? Is it performative? What is the goal? Try to participate in direct action. That doesn’t mean you have to go all Fight Club, and destroy everyone’s debt tomorrow, but now that you recognize (or even consider) that the state is irrelevant, you can think of new ways to impact your community. Even if you aren’t sure of my premise, consider it a thought exercise, to help you think outside the box. If there was no state, how you you try to positively impact society?

There are lots of good examples of people doing things like fixing potholes, starting community gardens, lending libraries, creating and posting maps of resources such as showers and beds for homeless people, and lots more. This is called Mutual Aid.

Now, lets take it a step further. Our neighbors and friends, our brothers and sisters are being taken away in the night. Their families are being torn apart. They are too scared to leave their homes to go to the grocery stores, to go to school, to report violent crimes committed against them. This winter, many fled on foot across our Norther border to Canada, some losing fingers and limbs due to exposure. Now. What can we do to help these people if the state won’t help us, and in fact only hinders us?

There are MANY things: from each according to their ability, to each according to their need! Ask yourself, what are your skills? Who is in your network? If you and your friends got together, what additional skills, tools or resources do you have to tackle this issue?

Some ideas, could include working together to create neighborhood watch groups that monitor and post about ICE activity to social media. Providing safe places for people to go to if they are running errands and hear of an ICE stop. Helping people find shelter if they have violence perpetrated against them and need a new place to stay. Growing gardens or community gardens to help immigrants who don’t feel safe going to food banks anymore. We can even start by trying to learn another language if we are mono-lingual, so that we can be a resource.

I know the idea of change is scary, and I personally know what it’s like to have the things you have faith in torn away, to see the man behind the curtain, to realize Santa isn’t real, and Mom is the Toothfairy. The state, the system is not here to create a better world for us. It’s to keep us from screwing up the profit of large corporations. It’s function is to maintain law and order. Law and order, period. They don’t care about your living wage, or your multiple jobs, or who is getting deported. They care about having and keeping power.
We are here for eachother. It’s our responsibility not just as members of society, but as human being, to care about, and care for eachother and we can no long hand that responsibility off to anyone else. It is our burden, and we must carry it.




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