National Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) organizer, Zoë Williams and family with Jeanette Vizguerra, an immigrant mother and community organizer who is taking sanctuary at First Unitarian Church in Denver to fight her deportation. Credit: Showing Up for Racial Justice
Tears filled my eyes as I watched my five-year old son River and my partner Jardana testify on behalf of a sanctuary resolution before the Louisville, Kentucky Board of Education. With Trump’s attacks on immigrants and refugees beating down upon us day after day, my son heard his mom speak out for immigrant and refugee families in our community, for dignity and justice in our country. Then he got his chance to speak in favor of the resolution too.
At a time in history when Trump’s racist right wing authoritarian regime is unleashing horrors against immigrant and refugee communities through policy and by stoking hate and vigilante violence, my son also got to witness a multiracial coalition, led by the Louisville chapters of Mijente and Showing Up for Racial Justice, win a victory with the passage of the Safe Haven Resolution.
The Trump-led GOP is rooted in the long history of white supremacy that divides white people from people of color in our country — a history of racism that raises white people to believe that when people of color demand equality, it comes at the expense of white people. This history tethers white working families to an elusive American Dream where the hardships of economic and political inequality are blamed on people of color, rather than the elite who gain profit and power from structural inequality.
Growing up in my extended white, working class family, I heard my grandpa and uncles complain about how immigrants from Mexico were taking all the jobs, lowering everyone’s wages, and overcrowding the schools and hospitals. They didn’t discuss the fact that we were living in Southern California, which had been Mexico until the U.S. Army took it from the Mexican people in 1848.
They never talked about the CEOs of corporations who were taking union jobs out of the country to exploit cheaper labor, all the while making record profits and salaries. They never talked about how it was really wealthy bosses who drove down wages by paying legally unprotected, non-unionized, immigrant workers less, just as bosses did in the late 1800s with our ancestors — working class immigrants from Germany, Ireland, and Norway. They also never talked about the right wing or Democratic politicians who gutted the safety net, cut social spending, and attacked unions while creating opportunities for the wealthy to get richer at our expense.
Niles Frederick, 6 years old, at Louisville, Kentucky Rally for Sanctuary.
Photo credit: Rebecca Frederick
Thankfully, my mom spoke out and said NO to the racism in my family. Thankfully, my parents encouraged me to learn about Martin Luther King, Jr. and Cesar Chavez as heroes to celebrate. My parents raised me to believe in a multiracial democracy, and they raised me to know that we had to fight for it.
Today, we need white families and white communities all over the country, in small towns, rural areas, suburbs and big cities to rise up against Trump. Communities must rise up for immigrant and refugee rights, rise up for racial justice, and fight for multiracial democracy. Many are already doing just that.
Zoë Williams is a visionary leader with the national network Showing Up for Racial Justice, an organization that supports poor and working class white anti-racist leaders around the country. She has a clear message: “The big issues facing the working class — food insecurity, a lack of healthcare, housing instability — were created by Trump, mega corporations, and the 1%. Trump and his people will use anti-immigrant racism to scapegoat our neighbors and manipulate our pain instead of meeting our needs. If we work together to defend immigrant rights and demand what our communities need together, we can create a powerful force for change.”
In rural communities in Oregon, working and middle class white people have been fighting for immigrant rights for over 20 years through the statewide Rural Organizing Project. They are actively working against the Trump agenda today. Many lessons have been learned through their work with people in small towns and rural areas.
Rural communities in Oregon fighting for immigrant rights.
Photo credit: Rural Organizing Project
In mostly white, working class, small towns and rural communities in Vermont, the Vermont Workers’ Center has a long history of challenging the divide and conquer rule of racism. They make it clear that undocumented immigrant workers and families are Vermonters too, and immigrant rights are an integral part of their campaign for universal health care and economic justice.
White working class community in Williamstown, MA protesting for immigrant and refugee rights.
Photo credit: Peggy Kern
It is imperative that we do all we can to unite the hopes and aspirations of white families and communities to multiracial democracy, to immigrant rights, to racial justice, to solidarity across differences for economic justice for all. And it is imperative that we unite white people resisting the Trump administration to the resistance movements of people of color. The fight for sanctuary at the local level presents opportunities for us to do both of these things. We can interrupt racism and speak out for racial justice in our everyday lives. We can move forward and create sanctuaries to protect and advance immigrant and refugee rights.
- Watch this video: Don’t Be a Bystander: 6 Tips for Responding to Racist Attacks.
- Check out the Jefferson County Board of Education’s Safe Haven Resolution to help propose and pass a sanctuary resolution with your school board.
- Read Mijente’s report on how to create, expand, and defend sanctuary policies at the local level. Mijente is one of the leading immigrant rights organizations in the country.
- Launch a campaign or get involved in existing campaigns for sanctuary, with Mijente’s crowdsourced guide — an outstanding compilation of existing resolutions and nuts and bolts advice on how to win sanctuary in your community.
- Get advice and next steps on organizing for immigrant rights and sanctuary in rural and small towns from the Rural Organizing Project in Oregon.
Chris Crass is the author of the new book “Towards the ‘Other America’: Anti-Racist Resources for White People Taking Action for Black Lives Matter.” He writes and speaks widely on anti-racist organizing, feminism for men, strategies to build visionary movements, and creating healthy culture and leadership for progressive activism. He was a founder of the anti-racist movement-building center, the Catalyst Project, and helped launch the national white anti-racist network, Showing Up For Racial Justice (SURJ). Rooted in his Unitarian Universalist faith he works with congregations, seminaries, and religious and spiritual leaders to build up the Spiritual Left. He is also the author of “Towards Collective Liberation: Anti-racist Organizing, Feminist Praxis, and Movement Building Strategy.” He lives in Louisville, KY with his partner and their two sons.