Hundreds gather in Berkeley for rally against immigration detention centers

Cheyenne Tex/Staff

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More than 200 people gathered in Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park on Saturday to rally against the federal government’s immigration detention centers, at an event sponsored by the Berkeley City Council.

Many community members and public officials gave speeches against the detention centers, including state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, and Berkeley Poet Laureate Rafael González. The event was led by the office of Councilmember Rashi Kesarwani, who said she hoped the event would be an “outlet” for community members who are angered by the federal government’s immigration policies at the southern border.

“I love the energy that people in the East Bay — Berkeley, Oakland, Richmond, all up and down the East Bay — bring to these kinds of issues,” Skinner said. “All of us coming together and organizing against absolutely immoral policies can make a difference.”

About 100 people had already begun congregating at the park before the event began. The Musicians Action Group, or MAG, was present before the event and played multiple songs at the park, including one called “Impeach the President,” according to MAG member Gene Turitz.

Alameda resident Betsy McNab and Novato resident Kate James attended the rally to call for an end to the situation on the southern border. According to McNab, “there is no excuse or rationale” for the “horrendous” detention conditions and immigration policies.

“You can write letters to the editor or you can call your representative … but real change in society is when people come out and march,” James said.

Multiple organizations from across the Bay Area were tabling on the park’s lawn, including the Berkeley/North East Bay Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, or ACLU.

Chapter chair Antonio Medrano was present at the ACLU table, which presented information about the ACLU Know Your Rights campaign as well as free stickers, pins and flyers about other resources.

Beside the ACLU table was an interactive art display created by Berkeley-based artist Alfred Twu. The display featured a door standing atop the world, and people were invited to draw or write messages on the door. Twu said the art symbolized the community’s welcoming of immigrants.

At about 12:30 p.m., Kesarwani began introducing the event’s speakers, the first of which was Mayor Jesse Arreguín, who called for immigrants to be welcomed into the country.

González spoke after Arreguín, reading a poem about the federal child separation policy and the conditions of immigrant detention centers, both in English and Spanish.

“Here are the limits of poetry. Only resistance will do,” González said at the event. “Revolution. That will be our poem. There is no other.”

Skinner also spoke at the event, and she mentioned in her speech that the state Senate passed a resolution Friday that would require any presidential candidate on the California ballot to release their tax returns.

Mills College professor Melinda Micco also spoke at the event, highlighting that calling the United States a “nation of immigrants” erases the Native American peoples who originally lived on this land. Micco, who is a member of the Native American activism group Idle No More and identifies as a member of the Seminole Nation of Oklahoma, contrasted the treatment of immigrants at the southern border with how Native American peoples treated European colonizers, saying, “We didn’t mass annihilate them.”

After every speaker had presented, the organizations tabling remained for about an hour before packing up their things. The event had a “strong presence,” according to Kesarwani, who added that this demonstrated the engagement and concern community members have for the issues at the southern border.

“I hope the message people take away is that we do have power in our own voices and in our own actions, and we can flex our economic power in our donations or what we chose to boycott,” Kesarwani said. “You can take action. You don’t just have to feel sad and feel bad. You can actually do something.”

Contact Sakura Cannestra at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @SakuCannestra.