On Saturday March 21, around 3:30 PM, community members formed a line of cars and circled the detention center for migrant children operated by Heartland Alliance at 3500 S Giles Ave in Chicago, honking horns and sending messages of solidarity to the children detained inside, and demanding their immediate liberation and reunification. Cars were decorated with signs of solidarity facing the facility, and signs explaining the demands of the action facing the other side. The action coincides with a call-in campaign that is ongoing and an open letter explaining how and why immediate reunification is possible, the detention of children is unnecessary and violent and why, in times of pandemic, detention puts children's lives at even greater risk. Chicago Police intervened to disband the car caravan and threatened arrest for inciting a riot, disrupting the peace and obstructing traffic. Two tickets were issued to one driver. Once forced to pull over, activists parked their cars and walked around the facility holding signs and chanting for the youth inside the facility. The entire rally was organized and conducted while maintaining protocols for preventing the spread of the COVID virus.
"Essential social services" are permitted by the Illinois Shelter in Place and can be successfully practiced with physical distancing and proactive sanitation measures. Community organizing continues to be desperately needed in times of crisis. It is the basis for building practices of mutual aid on which some of the communities most at risk during the pandemic depend: impoverished and marginalized folks; elders and people with disabilities; unhoused communities; healthcare workers; low income tenants and workers, as well as incarcerated people. "Social services" in the context of a prison nation facing a pandemic requires decarceration, an end to policing and border enforcement and a dramatic redirection of those resources towards care, transformative justice and community self-determination. Organizing for this shift is vital, but governing authorities will not do it. This shift is being built from below and to the left, and it is happening now.
Walking in protest and solidarity is NOT endangering others or working against the greater social good -- it is merely exposing that the US government's notion of social good is historically based on a logic of differential valuation that systematically targets specific communities and lives as surplus, criminal, disposable or a risk. Our vision of "social services" requires urgently redefining how the social is organized. "Social services" is the work of changing the dominant response from calls to "social distancing" to practices of physical distance, mutual aid and social solidarity that insist on care, shelter and liberation for all. The crisis is political as well as biological -- it is an unnatural disaster as well as a virus. Health care workers, grocery store workers, mutual aid networks and organized communities in struggle are not the risk, we are the answer.
We know incarcerated people are resisting and fighting for their survival and we are building the structures of that fight on the outside. Migrant children held in lock-ups, and families whose children have been disappeared from them, are resisting in myriad ways, demonstrating that detention is not the shelter they seek, and incarceration is not for their protection. Please see and co-sign our OPEN LETTER demanding the immediate release of child detainees and reunification with families.