In a few minutes, this empty street would be filled with people protesting the continued existence of the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, a privately-run Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility that sat not far away beyond a tall chain-link fence. For now, however, all this street was filled with was a few soaked organizers and rain. So much rain.
Undaunted, the organizers continued to set up tents, throwing tarps over supplies and wrapping speakers in garbage bags to keep them safe from the downpour. As the clock approached the starting time of 12:30, despite the downpour, cars continued to show up, great sheets of water flying out from their wheels as they drove through the many puddles that had formed on the crumbling road.
Observing the impressive resolve of the attendees, the rain slowly abated its quest to disillusion the attendees, clouds sulking off north towards Seattle as they allowed a few precious rays of sun to peak through just as the taiko drum performance that marked the beginning of the event started. By now, the crowd was sizable: hundreds of people gathered to show their support for Tsuru for Solidarity, the main group organizing this event. Both organizations represent groups that suffered mass incarceration in World War Two: the Jewish (Never Again is Now) and the Japanese (Tsuru for Solidarity).
According to Dr. Satsuki Ina, a psychologist who was born in Tule Lake Segregation Center, a maximum security internment camp in World War 2, and one of the event’s organizers, “we [were] pretty nascent until we started hearing about the separation of families and we began to recognize the rhetoric that was being used again that was the very same rhetoric used that led to the American public turning their backs on us as we were being removed from our homes and our schools,” she told me. “We feel the moral responsibility to speak up and stand with these innocent people that are being criminalized.”
Stanley Shikuma, another of the event’s organizers also told me that “Separating children from families, locking children up, this mass incarceration with no real charge or trial or legal recourse, all of that really hits home for Japanese-Americans because that is exactly what happened in 1942.”
The protest was not just aimed at shutting down the NWDC: it is also a part of the buildup to a larger protest to shut down immigrant detention centers nationwide which will occur in Washington D.C. in June. The name, “Tsuru” means “crane” in Japanese, and “represents peace, compassion, and wings of hope”, as Dr. Ina told me. These cranes, in paper origami form, decorated the fence, the stage and the protestors in thousands. Even more cranes will decorate Washington D.C. for the main protest: more than 90,000 have already been folded.
As the event began, their motivation to have the detention center shut down became clear: the organizers had managed to get one of the detainees on the phone, who recanted his accounts of meat being served still raw, food filled with insects, and a 3-month wait time to have his rotten tooth pulled. “We are treated like animals,” he said. “Less than animals.”
At one point, there was a bill, HB2576 in the state House and SB6442 in the state Senate to end for-profit prisons and detention centers like this one across the state, but it was amended into oblivion by the legislature, now nothing more than a bill to study their effectiveness, a fact not lost on many of the frustrated speakers and protestors, including one sign reading ‘Call your representatives and tell them to pass… oh… never mind ☹’.
The following hours of the protest were filled with music, chants, speakers, and even spoken word poetry, each in their own way denouncing the racism and cruelty that the speakers saw in the NWDC and all prisons like it.
I managed to catch one of those speakers, Skyla Sachiko Tomine, a senior in high school on her way out after the protest into what had transformed into a delightfully sunny day. She told me that “your voice, while it may seem like only one person can’t do a whole lot, if everyone thinks that way, then really nothing is going to get done but if everyone thinks that they can make a difference, then it becomes this big movement, it becomes a whole group of people working altogether and you aren’t alone anymore and that does make a difference.” If nothing else,the protesters certainly demonstrated that solidarity in Tacoma.