by Hanne Williams-Baron

As the 2018 cohort arrived at Arete, coverage of the Trump administration’s migrant family separation practices and the Supreme Court’s upholding of the Travel Ban dominated national news. Though at first our tech policy dissuaded us from reading online media, we quickly recognized that “tuning out” was neither realistic nor acceptable. Some of us felt useless being far away, with an isolation standard distancing us from processing the news with our loved ones. Some of us were exhausted and estranged from the headlines, especially considering the larger historical patterns of white nationalism and xenophobia that have led to our current circumstances. We wondered about how best to orient ourselves toward action, while still upholding our commitments to seclusion.

A few days after we amended our tech policy to allow for communal reading of the news, Fiona, Arete’s kitchen coordinator, told us about an upcoming Asheville rally against family separation. We talked it over in a self-governance meeting, weighing the pros and cons of attending. We quickly decided that participating would be a critical first step in bringing our politics and goals to a wider context. We also thought it would help gain traction for a movement we all feel connected to, and would allow us to better understand some of the larger socio-political region of the mountains. For some in our group, this would be a first introduction to the world of political demonstration. We were excited to make the trip, and planned our Saturday around it.

When we arrived in Asheville, we were surprised by the layout and dynamics of the rally. We learned that the event had not been coordinated by Latinx organizers; instead, the hosts were from Indivisible, an organization mainly focused on electing Democratic candidates. The majority of the speeches focused on white allyship as a way to combat state violence against immigrants— a goal shared by many white residents of Asheville— and just two out of the eleven speakers explicitly focused on the lived experiences of migrants in detention. As I looked at the folks in my immediate vicinity, we shared similarly disoriented expressions.

While processing my mixed emotions after the rally, I was forced to reckon with how I had romanticized the event, and my part in it. There is no perfect protest, and there will always be room to grow. Asheville, like any other city, is struggling towards justice in the ways it can. We have so much to learn from the people who live here, like about integrating faith and organizing, and the history of protest in North Carolina. We were also lucky to connect to some organizers meeting direct needs of Latinx folks living in Burnsville, and we are excited to to do more work with them this summer (like volunteering at the community garden and food bank!). The rally helped to instigate and ground our political work here, and made the complexities of rural activism much more clear. All in all, we were glad to have gone to the rally, and got much more out of its complications that we initially expected.

Going to one rally does not constitute a radical politics of migrant justice. Making five posters against I.C.E. won’t stop them from harassing families for documentation. But I’m proud of our group for recognizing our responsibility to this area beyond food waste and water use. Before we left the rally that day, I looked out at my cohort, their faces glimmering with high noon sweat. I felt a deep, deep love, and more ready than ever to get back to work.

Hanne Williams-Baron is a member of the 2018 Blue Ridge Session cohort. She attends Oberlin College, where she majors in Comparative American Studies and Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies.