Monday, February 4, 2013

Singing to an Unseen Audience

(Photo- Sandra Stevens)

Three days ago  I was a singer in a choir to an unseen audience. The stage was a sidewalk outside of a deportation centre in Chicago, Illinois. The audience was hidden safely behind large garage doors and blacked out glass in six vans. I wondered if the safety is for them, us, or the system that tries to hide the fact that 425,000 undocumented workers in the US are whisked out of the country every year. It does not matter if they act like good or bad people, they are sent away. The choir sang in somewhat croaking three part harmony- "Courage, migrant brother,/ you do not walk alone/ we will walk with you/ and sing your spirits home.”


The current CPT training group braved the bitter cold wind as they attended the weekly vigil at Broadview Detention Centre. Broadview is a detention center run by the Chicago office of the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Every Tuesday and Friday the bus and vans are loaded with men and women who have been rounded up in raids on their homes or workplaces. Many of them leave behind loved ones. They ride in shackles on the bus to the airport to be flown to a land considered to be their homeland, but which many of them have never lived in. One of the delegates, Cory Lockhardt, wrote in her blog about her experience.


As I experienced this action today I was taken back to my own training in July/August 2010 on a much warmer day. In my notes that I saved in my gmail drafts  I noted that we had met two of the nuns who had fought the system  to gain the opportunity to pray with the detainees before they were sent off to the airport. I wrote, “ I am so I shocked that in this "Christian nation"  they had to fight for two years to be able to pray for these people on the buses.” These nuns asked us to stay within the guidelines, to not plan surprise civil disobedience or some other resistance. For them the important goal was to make a weekly presence and to provide a small bit of psychological support for the men and women who were leaving their homes. We found out that early in the morning they were also allowed to visit any detainee who wished and gave out cards telling them where they could get physical help when they were unshackled and pushed out into the country on the other end.


 I entered one of those buses along with the young man who would become my son in law and another trainee, to pray with and for the persons there. We wanted them to have an image of someone who cared as a lasting picture of the USA. We could do nothing to change their situation at this time, but we could pray with them and let them know that someone knew of their grief and cared.


As we entered the bus and yelled through the plexi glass barrier (because the intercom did not work) introducing ourselves, the whole busload erupted into clapping . That felt so strange. They were thanking us for coming to say goodbye to them. As we spoke our names one man lifted up his handcuffed arms and pointed to the shackles around his waist and ankles and said, “They treat us like criminals. We are not criminals”. We told him that we knew this. Then we read a short statement that we had prepared and that was translated into Spanish by our team mate. We said the Lord’s Prayer together, joined by most of the people on the bus. Then we stepped down to the ground.


Next we were taken to a van that held 8 men being sent to some Central American countries.  Here we were separated only by a grating and we could speak in normal volumes. As I was introduced as being from Canada, a young man right next to me quietly asked, “What is Canada like?” Searching for the correct thing to say I answered, “Canada is good”. He said softly, “I wanted to go to Canada”. I almost lost my resolve to stay calm.  I could not say that Canada would treat him any better. He had shackles and handcuffs just because he had crossed an invisible line in the sand and tried to stay on the ‘wrong” side.


On that summer day in 2010, after the bus and van had driven away, Laurens and I stood with the rest of the vigil, arms around each other and silently weeping. This was not our country, but we knew that in Canada and the Netherlands such scenarios take place as well. I thought of the privilege I had of owning two passports that gave me such freedom to choose where I lived.


Three days ago, as I sang in the choir to the unseen audience, I heard a gentle clinking sound. I turned around to see a man exiting from a car carrying a large armload of chains and shackles. I imagined that he had been there when they released a group of people, and was bringing them back to the centre to put them onto some of the 1000 detainees in that building so they could be sent out.


The three trainees who were in the parking garage praying on this cold day told us that when the large bus sized garage door lifted they could hear our voices. That means that possibly some of the detainees beginning their journey could also. We sang the song over and over, despite voice fatigue and freezing toes, hoping that in some way it would send them on their way with a tiny bit of hope.

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