By Elyse Lightman Samuels
At a car wash in Lawton, Oklahoma, mid-morning on a Saturday in July, with the temperature hovering around 100 degrees, Buddhist priests dressed in black robes gathered next to a cohort of Japanese Americans, hundreds of immigrant youth, alongside indigenous communities, representatives of the Black Lives movement, of the Jewish community, and of the movement for climate justice. White allies held protest signs saying things such as “Make Racism Wrong Again,” “What Will You Do When It’s Your Kids?,” and “Mothers Against Caging Children,” and parents carried young children on their shoulders and pushed them in strollers. People looked for shade, drinking bottles of Gatorade, speaking to reporters. Many had flown across the country and ridden on 10-hour bus rides to be there. People from different communities shook hands, introduced one another, hugged, smiled in mutual recognition of each other’s presence; others stood at attention surveying the area, speaking into walkie talkies, awaiting the signal to begin. There was an electrical sense of possibility and anticipation.
All of these communities gathered together to protest at the gates of Fort Sill, an Army base covering 94,000 acres where the administration had said it would house over a thousand migrant children by late summer. The action was led by United We Dream Network, the largest immigrant-youth led network in the country and their local affiliate group Dream Action Oklahoma, alongside over two dozen local and national partners.
The protestors stopped traffic, marching through the streets. People wore the same silver mylar blankets over their shoulders that migrant children are given at detention centers. They shouted, “What do we want? Close the Camps. When do we want it? NOW!!,” and “It is our duty to fight for our freedom! We must protect one another! We have nothing to lose but our chains!” Voices thundered and echoed in unison as everyone gathered in the shade beneath a highway overpass. Car horns honked; a few people hopped out of their car, angry at the traffic disruption; whistles blew. A band of protestors stood on the median with their arms linked, ensuring that the cars would not pass. Several counter-protestors followed the group on foot; at one point, a few members of the American Indian Movement stood with their arms crossed across their chest, face to face with the counter-protestors, protecting the crowd. That morning, Lawton, Oklahoma felt like the nerve center of the national conversation about family separation and detention.