Saturday, March 24 , 2018, 1:10 am | Fair 47º


Audrey Williams: Standing on the Side of Love

Santa Barbara woman reflects on her experience protesting Arizona's immigration law, her arrest and her hopes for the future

I recently answered a call that came from a Unitarian minister in Arizona to participate in a protest of the immigration law that was due to take effect on July 29. My reasons for participating and my choice to be arrested were rooted in three experiences: 1) The recent experience of my Latino brothers and sisters in Santa Barbara, 2) the training offered by Just Communities two weeks before the scheduled protest, and 3) my years of ministry and service in a variety of social justice ventures.

The protest was organized by a number of groups, including Unitarian Universalist, Standing On the Side of Love, and Puente. I am a member of the Unitarian Society of Santa Barbara. July 29 started with an interfaith prayer service in Phoenix. I would guesstimate 400 to 500 people were in attendance.

In the row in front of us, several Latino women held up a large statue of Jesus on the cross. Even though I have never considered Jesus as my savior, I understood fully the meaning the cross held for these women. It was an interfaith service, bilingual and offered several families a chance to share of their experiences. We were told that after Gov. Jan Brewer signed the bill, eight Latino youths ages 14 to 21 started to pray. They prayed every day, and the group grew to more than 1,500 youths.

We were chanting, singing, holding hands and carrying banners. When we first arrived, our group was off a distance from the Puente group. This didn’t feel right. One of the organizers suggested we join Puente. This was a defining moment for me. I was clear about why I was there — to support them and others — it felt so right. I felt honored to be a part.

We were in a large circle. Another group sat on mats on the ground and locked arms with one another. In what seemed like just a few minutes, we were surrounded by police in riot gear. There were probably about 150 of them. They stood facing us, then formed a group in front of and behind us. I was terrified. I prayed for strength.

Our experiences varied. I was in jail for about 26 hours, denied medical attention and placed in a solitary cell for about 16 hours. Of the 89 people who were arrested, most of us consciously chose to participate in civil disobedience. A few were caught up in the crowd. Some of us witnessed assaults on others by sheriff’s personnel. A group of supporters held a vigil all night outside the Maricopa County Jail.

My life has been changed by these events. My heart has expanded, and I feel the terror and fear of my Latino brothers and sisters.

While I agree that we need comprehensive immigration reform on the federal level, I am deeply saddened that many of us are content to allow others to be targeted, harassed, marginalized and oppressed. Our lack of empathy is visible with regard to immigration, and so many other issues in our city and our nation. For me, this is a human rights issue on a fundamental level.

This approach to immigration reform further victimizes people who are already victims. If I lived in Mexico and had children to support, I would cross the border in search of a better life. I have no doubt that this is also true for many of you. Why not target and fine all employers of undocumented people? Is it possible for capitalism to thrive without an underclass?

Historically, there are many reasons for the current economic conditions in Mexico, including the harmful impact of NAFTA and exploitation by the United States and other nations. Before Abraham Lincoln was president, he stood against the half-truths that were told to justify the Mexican-American War. He denounced our leaders for manipulating the truth and our reckless and self-serving pursuit of land.

As a woman of color, I have within my DNA memories of slavery, Jim Crow and racism in this country. It is my sincere hope and prayer that as a nation we seek creative solutions to the many problems of our time and refuse to use anyone as a scapegoat. America is dependent on cheap labor! Let us own up to that truth, admit the privilege and sense of entitlement that makes it OK to treat others the way that some people are treated in Santa Barbara and around the world.

— Activist and advocate Audrey Williams is the founder of Healing Soul of America Inc. in Santa Barbara and the visionary behind One America Projects. She can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Read the full account of her experience on Facebook.

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