After the Trump administration’s brutal policy of family separation and indefinite detention became a focus of national outrage in June, progressive individuals and groups sought out ways to engage in resistance. In Portland Oregon, a number of independent groups formed a coalition and began an encampment protest, physically occupying space outside of a detention center and causing disruption to the operations of the facility. After some televised news reports about the Portland camp, others in the U.S. began similar encampment protests of their own, including one at the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma, Washington.
The Occupy NWDC protest took the form of a round-the-clock encampment outside to detention center supplemented by twice daily cacerolazo “noise” rallies. A shanty-town style encampment was constructed, using tents, poles, tarps, zip ties and twine to provide some shelter for the protesters. Food, tools, and medical tents were established, and porta-potties were rented for the encampment.
Protesters gathered to call attention to the deplorable conditions at the center, including the incredibly low wages ($1 per day) for intense manual labor and exorbitant prices for basic food and sanitary needs for detainees at NWDC. They also drew a connection between The GEO Group, the for-profit administrators of the NWDC, and Thompson Consulting Group, which both lobbies for The GEO Group and made donations to council members and the mayor in the last election cycle.
NWDC Resistance co-founder Maru Mora-Villalpando has called for the revocation of the GEO Groups business license within the city’s existing legal framework, citing the NWDC’s third chickenpox epidemic in as many years as a public health risk, as well as outlining inhumane and unsanitary conditions within the center.
The city of Tacoma had reportedly decided to take a “hands-off” approach to the protests, with officers regularly driving by at a distance of at least a block away from the encampment itself. That plan was altered after Burlington Northern-Santa Fe Railway Company began to complain to Tacoma PD that the stretch of tracks adjacent to the NWDC had been blocked. This triggered a police action that led to the arrest of 12 people, including a minor. Video posted to social media shows police clearly attacking protesters, and targeting protesters who had been at the camp for multiple days. Police also employed intimidation tactics against protesters at the encampment, occupying space in force within the camp itself and spray painting “no trespassing” onto the train tracks.
By June 29 the protest had disbanded following notice given by police of their intent to sweep the encampment. Once the site was vacated it was immediately fenced off and all structures erected by protesters were destroyed. The prevention of further protests directly outside the detention center was later defended by Tacoma Mayor Victoria Woodwards, who described the policy as being “For [the protesters’] safety.”
Ultimately, city officials will pay lip service to the demands of demonstrators, but they don’t have the interest of workers of any nationality at heart. The brutal exploitation of undocumented people is a lucrative business, and it is the interests of businesses like The GEO Group that they represent. Real palpable change comes from organizations like NWDC Resistance, which are well organized and have clear terms and goals. Only by organized mass resistance can we dismantle ICE and for-profit prisons and secure the rights of all people in the face of xenophobia and capitalist greed. We also stand in solidarity with the noise protests that continue to happen twice daily at 9 am and 9 pm at the time of this writing. In solidarity we are strong, and together we can end the policy of indefinite family separation and detention!