19 June, 2018

During the day I spotted a post by @catpowerofficial calling people to meet in Union Square in New York City to protest the separation of children from their parents when detained for illegally entering the United States on the Mexican-US border.

The outrage amongst my friends and people I spoke to was overwhelming, but also tainted by a feeling that it was no surprise the government was becoming more and more outrageous. Given that within the first week of Trump being elected, he instituted the Muslim ban, the separation of children 18 months later was a logical but detestable progression.

By 6pm a modest crowd had gathered: definitely big enough for a march through the city. We learned the destination would be the I.C.E recruitment office on Varick St. There was murmuring that it was actually a detention centre and there maybe children inside.

It was a beautiful, hot sunny evening with perfect blue skies. Most New Yorkers were finishing work and had found a piece of grass to sit on and enjoy the sun. Everywhere you looked, life appeared unsettlingly normal. This sense of normality is so disorienting: people go to work, meet in bars, keep the restaurants lively and routines are kept. But in nearly every conversation I have with locals, there is deep anxiety. 

People in their 20’s have explained how they were born into the 911 moment, and life has only got worse: they have never known an optimistic world.

911…terrorism…GFCISIS….North Korea…Trump….

Because of this they say: “I am only living for today….I don’t think about a future, because I don’t think I will have one…”

This nihilism and despondency has bled into everyone here who is not a Trump supporter (not just millennials). I constantly hear…”it’s going to only get worse” and the unimaginable is being asked…”are we living in pre-war Nazi Germany?” 

I honestly can’t believe I am having these conversations. I can’t believe these words are coming out of our mouths. It is utterly surreal. Especially as I come from “happy”, peaceful New Zealand where it feels like one big holiday camp by comparison. Life is described here as being upside down with no certainty except that it will get worse.

There is real talk about the breaking up of the Union. Armed resistance. Race wars. How long can people keep pretending that life is normal? How long can they maintain the facade before they break?

Tuesday’s protest felt very different. This was tangible. This was real. It has crossed over, past petty politics, to the sanctioned abuse of human rights and violating the sanctity of family. 

This very day, the US had withdrawn from the United Nations Human Rights Council. Amongst the crowd questions floated….”does this mean the American army can now torture, and commit war crimes?” ….”what does this mean for American citizens, let alone enemy combatants….or illegal immigrants !” 

The implications of the day began to hit hard. 

As we began our walk towards downtown, with the golden sun painted across the streets we began to chant: 

“Keep families together”

“Trump and Pence must go! Let these children go!”

“No hate, no fear, immigrants are welcome here”

“Who’s streets? Our streets!”

I had met up with a New Zealand friend for the march, and part way through I turned to her and said: “I am so happy to be here” and she agreed that it felt “right” and “special”. I had begun to feel quite emotional. 

There was no other place I would rather be, and we needed to be there. 

It really feels like we are “living” history.

Since I have been in NY for the past month, Americans have asked me why I would want to be here. They say how ashamed they are to be American, and I have begun to feel some of that myself. I have always loved America, the American people, and American spirit, and I have tried to assimilate as best as I can. This has led to a sense of belonging, and this now includes feeling shame. 

As the march snaked through the streets, the Police managed crowd control and traffic. There was absolutely no push back from either side. I saw Police working gently with the protest organisers to keep things flowing. I could not help looking into the faces of many officers and thinking they had to be children of immigrants. 

© Adam Custins, 2017