I was happy to join Rev. Dr William J Barber II and the Repairers of the Breach at the border today. Perhaps happy is not the right term. I’m quite tired and a little sunburnt and ready to be home. But I think this day will be one to remember for a long time. What’s more important is that the objectives of the day be reached. That will be a longer haul.
The day began early for me as I attended a training for “moral fusion direct action”. I was still a little fuzzy as to what the direct action was going to be. But I knew going in that some were prepared to risk themselves legally in protest of the crisis at the border. So we had a frank and serious conversation about the implications of being arrested. Trainers were very clear that getting arrested was NOT a goal, but a possibility depending on the ethics of the situation. They firmly decried those who got arrested as a matter of ego or vainglory. Those who were willing to present themselves in this risky way were asked to don a yellow armband. We were given instructions about following marshals (crowd-control volunteers) and the police. We were given a reality-check by a local lawyer about likely charges, etc. We were also asked to sign a code of conduct covenant.
Around 10am the public meeting began. We sang to get in the spirit. Those who weren’t taking yellow armbands were given green armbands. At this point, I was still a bit fuzzy as to what was going to happen. Rev. Barber and Co entered. He told us “Take off your armbands”. At first I thought that was temporary. Some good mission theology ensued. One of the principles that we were to follow was to follow the lead of the local organizers. In this case, that was Fernando Garcia of the Border Network for Human Rights. Conferring with the local organizers it was decided that getting arrested was not in the plan. Rev. Barber made very clear the understanding that being present and bringing attention to the issue is the goal. More eloquently, we were going to “arrest attention” onto the matter of horrible treatment of migrants at the border.
We then got on buses and headed to an empty lot near the border. It was 11:15am-ish, but it was already ‘Texas-hot enough for me’. Rev. Barber and Company held a press conference on the corner. And then we walked to the Border Patrol facility where they are holding detainees. As we got to the gate, the clergy were called forward to the entrance. Rev. Barber rang the bell on the gate! I didn’t hear any reply, but in essence, Rev. Barber told the intercom that he had dozens of clergy there and we were there to make pastoral visitations to the detainees. The intercom went silent. Imam Suleiman, Rabbi Jacobson, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, Rev. Dr. Liz Theoharis and Rev. Terri Owens (president of the Dicisples of Christ) and Bishop Carlton Pearson took turns inviting us into the facility. Ultimately, they were speaking into a silent and uninterested intercom. After some more public words, we marched back to the lot for a recap and then returned to the church.
I was moved that what we chose to do was offer comfort and care to the detainees. I had been apprehensive about being arrested. As they called clergy forward to make this offering, I appreciated the simplicity and the creativity. We are caregivers. And ultimately our goal was to raise the nation’s care for the stranger. In that moment, I felt capable of that work, should we have been allowed to go in. I lack Spanish, which may be a huge barrier. But I cut my teeth as a minister in the clinical setting of the children’s home. I have CPE experience. I go bedside with my congregants and at times, complete strangers. While I’m not much for shouts and chants of protest, I know how to be present and to get to the heart of the matter.
The moment that got me the most was when Bishop Carlton Pearson took to the intercom. He began with “I just called to say ‘I love you’. I just called to say ‘I care'”. Yeah, he began by quoting Stevie Wonder! I was amused at first, but in that old Pentecostal way, he turned on a dime. He told the intercom that we were there to provide care to the detainees AND to the workers. He said something like ‘We know you’re in a hard spot and might have heavy burdens’. I just choked. Yes. He got it. Detainees are the ultimate victims. That is not in question. But dehumanization damages the one doing the dehumanizing. Bishop Pearson got the theology of the matter.
As I sit here, I wonder how this will change things. I wonder how I might be changed. The Repairers of the Breach were very clear that this was a “movement not a moment”. I have developed enough of my own mission theology to know that going on a trip to the border is one thing. It is a completely different thing to get into the work when I get home.