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ICE, Family Separation and Ridicule as a Form of Direct Action

Back in the 60s, during the height of the antiwar movement, one of the dynamics that emerged was a confrontational and anti-authoritarian kind of humor. It was like a constant wave of laughing and pointing at political leaders who were running the war.

Some of what you’d see would be stuff like:

· Constant heckling of then-president Lyndon Johnson with chants of “Hey, Hey, LBJ! How many kids did you kill today?

· Yippies publicizing their attempts to levitate the Pentagon using their minds.

· People wearing silly but politically charged costumes during protests.

· Comedic street theater by groups like the San Francisco Mime Troupe.

· Protesters putting flowers in the butts of National Guardsmen’s guns.

It’s easy to look back at this piece of the movement and scoff, but it actually served an important set of purposes:

1. It made the bureaucrats propagating the war look stupid and, as a result, less powerful and scary.

2. By fostering an environment of ridicule and impunity, it gave protestors courage — and it made political action not the somber demonstration of VERY SERIOUS PEOPLE, but actually fucking fun (which brought more people out to the protests).

3. To the powers that be, the behavior seemed irrational and it disrupted their sense of order. They started responding to it in irrational ways that further eroded their authority.

4. It created an atmosphere where anything seemed possible, like a different reality was starting to peek out from behind a torn piece of the world’s fabric.

All of this became a significant contributing factor in getting LBJ to the negotiating table with the North Vietnamese and, had Nixon not illegally sent Kissinger to sabotage the peace talks in the run-up to the 1968 election, the war would have ended right there.

Where do you find democracy?

Okay, so why am I opening a piece about ICE and family separation with all this ancient business from 50 years ago?

Here’s why.

People in the anti-Vietnam war movement had an instinctive understanding of where democracy really lives. Not just in the polite, sanctioned activity of writing notes to your elected officials or giving money to organizations (don’t get me wrong, these are still valuable actions to varying degrees), but in direct action out in the street.

As all this horrifying shit regarding the treatment of fleeing refugees and their children started unfolding last week (and, honestly, has been unfolding since the Clinton administration), I started getting Tweets and emails from some of my well-meaning friends and acquaintances with links to well-meaning pieces like this one, asking me to do things like:

· Support some legislation

· Read an article

· Donate to an organization

· Write the White House and the Justice Dept.

· Attend a rally featuring some politicians

Direct action is our best bet

You get the idea. Again, not that these aren’t some worthy activities, but they do evidence a woeful misunderstanding of the current reality we’re living in. And that reality is that regular citizens no longer have any meaningful impact on public policy. The government has been nearly completely captured by corporate lobbyists and the national security state. Remember the study that came out four years ago by respected academics Martin Gillens and Benjamin Page that’s been cited six ways to Sunday ever since? What else do you need (besides your lyin’ eyes) to understand that by-the-book political behavior has been rendered meaningless?

In light of our current reality—and the psychotically urgent need for our country to drastically change course — traditional solutions start to seem laughable, pathetically milquetoast, even dangerous in their illusions. And even though some perennially subservient members of Congress went down to the detention centers to see what was going on for themselves, do you honestly believe Trump backtracked on a piece (and just a piece) of his cruel policy towards refugees (I refuse to call them illegal anything) because Jeff Merkley went to Texas? Do you think he gives a SHIT about that?

Or is it more likely that he gives a shit about stuff like this?

· People loudly heckling Homeland Security secretary Kirstjen Nielsen and sending her out of a Mexican restaurant post-haste.

· Protesters blocking a detention center in Portland so ICE employees couldn’t leave, temporarily shutting the whole place down.

· An artist scraping and releasing info about ICE employees to the public.

· Twitter fury coming from the right. After the chair of Republican Party questioned peoples’ loyalty to Trump’s agenda.

· People showing up in large groups to support migrant children.

These are the stirrings of a digital-age version of what we saw from movements in the 60s and, if the goal is to defund or abolish ICE, whose intrinsic strategy is to approach immigrants and asylum seekers as criminals, then we need much more of this from many more people.

Things like:

· Pinpointing where Trump and his family make most of their money and starting to mess with his ability to earn income from his various businesses.

· Doing the same for Jeff Sessions, Kirstjen Nielsen and Trump’s advisor Stephen Miller. Make their lives miserable whenever they’re in public.

· Start identifying people who work for ICE and make them pariahs in their community, online and off. Stake them out like the Guilty Remnant in the Leftovers and let them know what a constant feeling of anxiety and fear is like until they quit. Starve ICE of an employee base.

· Identify the members of Congress who deal with agency funding, ICE and the Dept. of Homeland Security. Find out who their corporate backers are and start shaming them publicly and disrupting their businesses.

· Don’t attend rallies that feature politicians talking politician shit. Attend demonstrations or direct actions with real people from your community.

· Start making the defunding of ICE a political litmus test for any candidate seeking your vote. If they’re not down with it, vocally vote independent.

The place where democracy lives is in your ability to not simply say no, but to act NO, to make NO a verb that slices through the encrusted fabric of this world and starts tearing it aside. Click To Tweet

“Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.” ~ Henry David Thoreau

Stephen Boni
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Stephen Boni

Stephen Boni is both Ghion Journal's current editor and a contributing writer. His main interest is in analyzing the workings of empire and exploring ways to dismantle and replace systems of oppression. A conflicted New Englander with an affinity for people, music and avoiding isms, he lives in Oakland, California with his wife and young daughter.
Stephen Boni
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