By Robert Velazquez
On a humid Saturday morning, deep in Baltimore’s Highlandtown neighborhood, a coalition of immigrant rights attorneys, activists, and concerned citizens met in a basement. It’s one remnant of the almost 700 “Families Belong Together” protests held across the United States on June 30, 2018. The group, Baltimore Immigrant Solidarity Coalition, a loosely tied network of organizations whose mission is to help immigrants on a range of topics from housing to health services and even helping apply for asylum.
Attendees of the meeting ranged from post-college 20-somethings to young families and devoted retirees. All clearly shaken by the actions taken by the Trump administration to varying degrees. Quick and formal introductions gave names and hints of political affiliation ranging from democrats to green partiers and committed anti-fascists.
Leaders of these groups discussed how concerned citizens could become involved. Leaders from immigrant rights organizations peeled back the layers of their organization from origin story to action, urging members that there are constructive ways to get involved in the immigrant rights battle aside from storming the southern border.
Views expressed by organization representatives seemed to span from traditional Democratic Party views that were very critical of not only the Trump administration but of the Obama administration. On the opposite end of the spectrum, a representative of the People’s Power Assemblies, called for the abolition of the Baltimore Police Department and ICE, going so far as to cite them as a terrorist organization. She continued that anyone interested in protests similar to that of the ICE facility in Portland, Oregon, should inquire within.
While not every individual was as radical, there seemed to be a notable tension growing in the room. As, Dr. Zainab Chaudry, Director of Maryland Outreach for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), called for the “restructuring, not abolishment of ICE” there was visible opposition from members whom were self-proclaimed “committed anti-fascists”.
As discussions continued, the abolishment of ICE remained a major talking point. One attendee stating he would settle for nothing short of the abolishment of the agency as a whole. Dr. Chaudry argued, the Republican party was weaponizing the term “Abolishment of ICE” to the detriment of their cause. Her argument was that restructuring or reforming of the agencies policies to reflect the cause at hand was a better political move than the brash tactic of abolishing the agency all together.
As tensions seemed to grow over political nuance, the issue of writing a list of demands grew. Demands to end family detention and family separation, and a permanent path to citizenship for the DREAMers, were listed as compatible goals. Goals that seemed perfectly reasonable by most attendee’s standards.
When the issue of political accountability was raised, it all sort of went to hell. The question of whether they intended to deliver these demands to Governor Hogan or his democratic opponent Ben Jealous, for political accountability was raised, the true rift of this group was exposed. One, committed anti-fascist, raised his desire for the abolition of the Democratic party and the total two-party system. State Delegate candidate Andy Ellis, expressed his reservation in endorsing either politician as a means of losing political leverage, should they failed to deliver on the subject of immigration reform. Another member was quick to point out that member organization, CASA, had already endorsed the candidacy of Ben Jealous, leading to a palpable pressure in the room.
With tensions flaring and eyes rolling, an unnamed volunteer from the Esperanza Center interrupted everyone to chime in with “I look around this room and I see a bunch of white faces. You guys are arguing over what you can do for “them”. What we can do for “them”? Let me ask everyone a question. Have you spoken directly to an immigrant to see what they actually need? What they actually want? I work with at least 50 different people a week. It’s incredibly dangerous to fetishize immigrants and that’s what you’re doing here.” She went on to argue that most pieces of meaningful legislation that have passed on immigration, were because immigrants advocated for themselves, not because people with good intentions did it for them.
After a few more exchanges, a retired college professor remarked on the fact that there were obvious areas of contention in the group but as an educated retiree he had time and experience to offer. “Writing letters, stuffing envelopes, or knocking on doors. I’m happy to help in whatever way I can.”
Ultimately, this glimpse into the left-wing resistance was deeply troubling. If anti-fascists and green party voters of Baltimore are so quick to throw political nuance out of the window, how does the left as one side of the political spectrum expect to have a conversation with each other? More importantly, if the extreme left continues to divide such a crucial piece of the electorate, how sure of a thing is the Blue Wave really going to be?
In the year 2000, a presidential election was decided by 537 votes in the state of Florida. 97,421 citizens voted for Ralph Nader of the Green Party in that Florida that year. Let’s consider for a moment that ideas of single payer healthcare, immigration reform, and a $15 minimum wage weren’t in the collective Democratic message in 2000, at least not the way they are today. The great tragedy of 2018 and beyond would be a repeat of 2000 when the policy points are so clear for the party as a whole.
Ben Jealous seems to be about as left as they come. If elected his victory will prove a valuable strategy for the Democratic party on an executive level. With ringing endorsements from Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris and Joe Biden behind him, he seems to have the backing of the democratic party for single-payer, criminal justice reform, and tuition free college. One of his great accomplishments was passing the DREAM act in Maryland. If the far left seems unsure of backing a candidate who is willing to risk his political standing for the sake of progress. Who’s going to be good enough? Is it worth it to pass up an opportunity like this because you’re opposed to the traditional 2 party system?
2018 is a chance for the left to prove themselves to be the party of leadership and governance. If there are individuals out there so fiercely opposing the reformation of policies, agencies, or even the democratic party they’ve got a part of the electorate trying to perform surgery with dynamite instead of a scalpel. Not exactly a comforting thought when American democracy is hanging on in critical care until November.