Why was I drawn to the wall? Back in September I started to feel a leading. We’d been hearing about the border wall for a while but this was different, yet familiar.
Every year in March, my Armenian friends and I notice our attitudes change, we tend to be depressed: The Armenian Genocide is memorialized on April 24 every year. A famous picture of an entire village of Armenian men being chased into Lake Van by Turkish soldiers flashed in my mind when I heard about the border wall. As I heard news of women and children being teargassed at the Mexico border, the journey through the Syrian desert that my ancestors were forced to endure became real once again.
Why travel and look at a wall, what would that accomplish? As I looked for opportunities to be of service and do something positive about the border, my lack of Spanish limited my choices. I struggled with a response. I shared my thoughts with two friends from a previous political action, Joshua Chasen, a retired Rabbi; and Peter Wohl, a Buddhist Priest. (The three of us had met a year ago in an action that resulted in our arrests, and have we met often since because our faiths are really very close.)
Then I received a message from American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) looking for faith leaders to take part in a border prayer vigil with possible civil disobedience as part of a week of action organized by AFSC, "Love Knows No Borders." We three wondered whether the cost of travel could be better used to help the people in the caravan, but research showed that not a lot of what we could give would ever reach the families we cared about.
The same day we three in Maine met and decided to go, the Yearly Meeting Legacy Committee met and decided to establish an emergency fund for witnesses for this type of event! Once we decided to join the vigil, within a week support committees had met, money found, registration and housing arranged, and tickets bought! The Quaker, the Buddhist and the Rabbi were headed to San Diego to take part in an AFSC border action. I wasn’t going alone any more; I was standing for all the prayers and gifts people sent with me, privileged to stand for people and saying “this is not okay with me.”
A wall. A barrier. The reality is even stranger than I could have imagined. Are walls to keep beings out or do they exist to keep beings in? Does it depend on who builds the wall? On the Mexico side, people are able to walk right up to the wall—I was able to see them waving as they leaned on it. Taking part in a prayer ceremony with 400 other faith leaders and clergy, I couldn’t get that close—no one on the U.S. side can. About 50 feet from the wall is a roll of concertina wire. Think barbed wire, but with razor blades in place of barbs.
During our peaceful protest, behind that roll of wire, standing shoulder to shoulder, were highly militarized Border Patrol agents. There were also ships, helicopters, a tank and a drone. An agent stood 3 feet in front of me with a machine gun, four canisters of tear gas, and a sidearm. I am 5 feet tall, armed with the knowledge that this wall is wrong. Shutting out desperate people is not what G-d has commanded us to do. A 30-foot wall, a militarized Border Patrol, concertina wire—all of these cannot keep out the prayers sent forward that day at the wall.
Wonder where your money goes? There was more military on the tiny part of the border known as “Friendship Park” than could ever be needed. Do our borders really need this amount of military? What would happen if natural migration patterns were allowed to happen through open borders? Our lives can only be richer through legal and democratic immigration and asylum. One of the myths, that we can’t afford it, is heard repeatedly. It is a lie which allows hate to build these walls and allows people, children, to die.
The reality is there is enough for everyone. We live in one of the most abundant times the world has ever known, yet repeatedly we hear that we can’t afford more immigrants, we can’t afford to provide healthcare or that we can’t afford basic rights to clean water and air that is fit to breathe. And yet we build a wall and send an army to protect it. But the wall is 30 feet high and there’s no way anyone could get over it, so why is the army there? To give Americans the illusion of safety from a false threat, a threat that does not exist.
It was a whirlwind four-day trip that has been life-changing. It took days to get over the impact of Border Patrol hitting our shoulders and pushing us back, watching military might outmaneuver us and hearing yells of “De-escalate! Pull back!" while seeing people efficiently grabbed and tossed behind for arrest for "assaulting" an agent by falling against them. Video went viral of faith leaders at the protest being pushed back. Our jokes about losing track of Joshua took on a different reality when he almost fell, but we grabbed him in time.
We witnessed the militarization of the border and it is terrible—a war zone. I’m sure if there’s another vigil at the border, my friends and I will go. Witnessing our inhumanity to each other makes me work harder to erase poverty and inequality.
People ask whether I am glad I went to the border. To be able to represent my Friends in New England Yearly Meeting was an honor. Your prayers and good wishes were with me during the entire trip.