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Month of Daily Demonstrations Begins Outside San Francisco ICE Headquarters

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Protestors outside ICE headquarters. (Kate Wolffe/KQED)

In recent weeks, protests against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) have been cropping up all over the Bay Area.

Activists rallied outside Amazon's office and in front of Sen. Dianne Feinstein’s office, but the newest effort is concentrated: 30 days of consistent protest all in one place, the ICE headquarters at 630 Sansome St. in San Francisco. These protests also have another constant: They’ll be waving a long red banner emblazoned with "Close the Camps: Seeking Refuge is Not Illegal."

The organizers, called Month of Momentum, plan on sending a new set of advocates each day from many different sectors—such as lawyers, teachers and health care workers. They'll gather almost every day from noon to 1 p.m. for the rest of August.

On Thursday, the activists assembled for their first official action to protest the detention of migrant children at camps along the border. The building they gathered in front of is innocuous, blending in with the other high-rise offices in the area. You’d miss it, but for the chanting and banners.

Protestors display signs showing photos of children who died in detention centers to motorists along Sansome Street during the Aug. 1 protests.
Protesters display signs showing photos of children who died in detention centers. (Kate Wolffe/KQED)

Sixteen people were arrested the night before and cited for illegal camping in front of the building. But there was no trace of that the next day.

At the beginning of the protest, lead organizer Penny Rosenwasser summed up the group's goals. "Caging children, keeping them from having access to basic necessities, from their families, is unacceptable," she said. "We need to close the camps and pressure Pelosi, Kamala Harris, Dianne Feinstein to defund ICE."

For Rosenwasser, the action is about addressing her helplessness: "I call it 'activism as therapy.' "

She thinks this is why so many different groups have signed up to be part of the monthlong action. Those listed on the roster include people not normally represented at immigration protests: witches, librarians, a medical cannabis action committee.

"Folks said, 'Oh, apartheid will never end, the Berlin Wall will never end,' " she said. "But you have to believe it can happen and have that vision and organize people!"

On Friday, a different group, Bay Area Women in Black, took over leading the protests.

Japanese internment camp survivor Chizu Omori speaks on the parallels between the internment of Japanese Americans during World War Two and the detention of migrants today during the August 1, 2019 protests outside of the ICE building in San Francisco.
Japanese internment camp survivor Chizu Omori speaks on the parallels between the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II and the detention of migrants today. (Kate Wolffe/KQED)

Robb Godshaw, an adjunct professor at San Francisco State University, decided to come out and join them after hearing about it through friends. He's now planning on coming every weekday in August.

"The presence of racist and unsanitary concentration camps is deeply disturbing to me," he said, noting some members of his family was persecuted during the Holocaust.

Godshaw brought three co-workers to join him as a way to channel frustrated energy.

"There are so many atrocities brewing, so much outrage on a daily basis, that it kind of fosters this sense of helplessness where people feel extremely disempowered," he said.

More coverage on ICE

While the Month of Momentum will carry on through August, protests against current immigration policies and practice have been cropping around the city.

On Tuesday, a group called Abolish ICE also assembled outside the ICE building. They spent one night at the location and planned to spend a second, but the San Francisco Police Department broke up the group around 2 a.m.

According to  the Abolish ICE organizers, officers were unnecessarily violent.

The SFPD declined to comment, saying they don’t comment on police tactics for safety reasons. Officer Adam Lobsinger said one person was booked into county jail and is still there.

That action followed a protest in July in front of Feinstein's office on Post Street. There, protesters were criticizing Feinstein and other local lawmakers for voting for a $4.6 billion emergency border funding bill. 

"In response to recent protests, ICE has taken additional security measures to ensure employee safety and the security of all offices," said Paul Prince, a spokesman for Homeland Security, in a statement. "ICE operations across the country have and will continue to proceed as normal despite these events."


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