Yesterday, after a full day of organizing, marching, chanting, fists up in Washington, DC with the Women’s March, I went to the bathroom to wash up. What I saw when I looked down at my arm shocked me.
Five hours earlier, a friend had recommended that just in case we get arrested, or worse there was violence, we write a legal aid phone number on our body. Caught up in the rush of women-led protest and civil disobedience training, I wrote the number of ACLU legal aid on my forearm in her red sharpie. I wrote “WE CARE” on my hands and raised them while we marched from Freedom Plaza, we passed Trump Hotel and screamed “Shame.” On we marched, chanting “Abolish ICE” and “Where are the children?” as we surrounded the Department of Justice. “NO JUSTICE NO PEACE,” as we openly wept, 1,000 women, thinking of the babies in cages crying for their moms. As the women prepared for arrest sat down on the floor and we sang about songs of justice, I stood back in awe of their strength. In the face of unAmerican violations of human rights, abuse and exploitation of brown-skinned babies, and not for the first time, we resist.
Hours later, at the rest-stop bathroom I looked down, surprised what I had done. I flashed back to my zayde, so strong and so gentle, how he would hold me with the number on his arm. He was just a child when he was caged and abused in Nazi-controlled Poland. His parents were ripped from his home by soldiers “just doing their job,” and he never saw them again. A number was tattooed on his arm, he was dehumanized, and declared illegal, illegitimate and criminal. He resisted, escaped, sent back to a concentration camp and was eventually liberated. Would he be shocked by the number on my arm or would he be proud of me today? He would he be horrified, had he lived to see the degradation of the nation he eventually called home, considered free.
I washed my arm furiously before dinner with my Bubbi, upon return from DC last night. A Holocaust survivor herself, she was a child refugee, and no country offered her asylum. With a clean arm, I regaled her with stories from my day and, later still, I tucked my own little boy into bed, the next generation. My fortune, my luck, my privilege, my grandparents’ legacy — I would lay it all on the line to abolish Trump, Sessions, and ICE — to free the families. I would risk my freedom for theirs. But if we are going to free the immigrant children and reunite the families, treat their trauma, then the work has only begun. Because for too many years, right here in New York City, American black and brown boys have been sent to Rikers Island jail for nonviolent offenses that they have not even been convicted of — families separated, boys and men tortured and traumatized in a violent system and in solitary confinement. There is so much work to do.
Before yesterday, a number on your arm was a reminder of unspeakable pain and suffering in the past. Today, the number on my arm was a reminder of what I must be willing to do in the name of justice. Leave my comfort zone, resist, risk, demand change. I know what my children and grandchildren will say about me when they speak of these dark times in America.
Now, what about you?
For more on speakers and future plans search #womendisobey. To effect change in your local community, find a local Make the Road group or a sanctuary church, and volunteer. Or contact me for more ideas: @shirapruce on Twitter.