No refuge for Mike Pence in Syracuse

June 25, 2018

Brandon Daniels reports from Syracuse, New York, on a quickly organized protest against Vice President Mike Pence that won national headlines — and helped make a difference.

VICE PRESIDENT Mike Pence paid a visit to Syracuse, New York, on June 19 for a routine fundraiser on behalf of the Republican Rep. John Katko.

He probably wishes he hadn’t.

When Pence arrived at the site of the event, a desolate hotel in a mall parking lot, his motorcade was met by 300 protesters pushing against police as they tried to block the streets.

The rally was called on short notice by a local organization, CNY Solidarity, but the combination of generalized anger at the Trump-Pence administration and the broadly felt horror of the immigrant family separation policy gave the protest a boost in numbers and energy.

Activists protest Vice President Mike Pence and Republican Congressman John Katko in Syracuse, New York
Activists protest Vice President Mike Pence and Republican Congressman John Katko in Syracuse, New York

There was a palpable feeling of outrage at the federal government’s violation of human rights, which was confirmed again and again during the event through conversations among protesters, the spread of chants with radical slogans, and the energy coursing through the crowd.

Prior to Pence’s arrival, the police began parking city vehicles in front of the crowd to spare Pence and his entourage the sight of our resistance to their heinous policies. This action only aggravated the crowd, and as the presidential motorcade arrived, 50 activists rushed passed the police cars and into the street.

While more moderate forces at the rally focused on the limited demand of removing Katko from office, the presence of socialists at the demonstration broadened the message beyond electoral politics to include ending deportations and abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Chants such as “No borders, no nations, stop deportations” and “Dignity, not deportation” resonated with a broad cross-section of the crowd.

AS A Republican in the House of Representatives, Katko has certainly played a part in advancing the Trump administration’s agenda. But the power to use prisons to detain immigrant children and their families for indefinite periods of time is a policy that Obama also pursued, back in 2014.

In any case, as criticism of Trump’s policy rose in intensity, Obama should not have waited to add his voice to the chorus until after Trump signed the executive order reversing himself.

The time is now to protest the violent separation of parents from children, mass deportations, and racist state violence. We can’t afford to wait until November. And as recent weeks have shown, the turn in public opinion, backed up by sustained and repeated mobilizations, has the power to compel the Trump administration to change its policies in the here and now.

In Syracuse, the protest of Pence was a limited expression of the hundreds of people willing to escalate their tactics in order to confront the deportation machine. In the future, our actions should aim to draw in even broader social forces and invite everyone who is willing to participate in democratic decision-making about the strategy, tactics and demands of the protest.

Transforming the nature of border enforcement and ending the criminalization of immigrants will require more than some rallies protesting Mike Pence and John Katko. But the recent protest in Syracuse shows that people are looking for ways to express their anger at anti-immigrant policies and politics.

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