"What do you do when you come head to head with the very evil you are working against?"Jack Spector-Bishop reports from the Unitarian Universalist College of Social Justice (UUCSJ) Activate Southwest Border program– Ed.
“The ants crawl under it, the birds fly around it, the sky connects over it.” This is what I wrote in my journal while I sat in the shade of the US-Mexico border wall, near Douglas, Arizona. The wall loomed behind me, constructed of massive, two story high rusty metal beams and stretching as far as I could see. Poles with floodlights and cameras were everywhere, along with trenches, barbed wire, and fences. All of it seemed so arbitrary. It was weird a place to be -- it was just an inanimate, sterile wall and yet I felt a suffocating atmosphere of pain. Even though we were in an empty desert, it felt like a place of violence.
I traveled to the wall during the UUCSJ’s Activate Southwest Border program, in which around 20 youth (mostly Unitarian Universalsists) from around the country met in Tucson, Arizona for 10 days to learn about immigration issues in the borderlands, and receive training in social justice organizing. I and my fellow travelers had countless moving and informative experiences (including witnessing Operation Streamline, and working with the We Stand with Rosa campaign), but our visit to the border wall still sticks in my mind as the most memorable.
As our group began trudging up a hill, we saw a fast approaching cloud of red dust in the distance take shape as a U.S. Border Patrol squad car. We had no reason to be afraid -- the public does have access to the pathways along the border, but it still made us a little anxious. This anxiety only increased as the car pulled up alongside us, parked, and the Border Patrol agent began getting out and talking to us.
Part of me, deep down, hoped that he would be one of the “good ones”. That this was just a job to him. That he was a decent guy trying to bring dignity to a cruel institution. Unfortunately, I was disappointed. As he chatted with us and asked us what questions we had for him, it became clear that he fit exactly the stereotypes of his profession. I’m not going to repeat what he said -- just turn on Fox News or watch the GOP Presidential debates and you’ll hear the same things. It was ugly, hateful racism, spoken in the most casually self-righteous manner you can imagine.
What do you do in that situation? What do you do when you come head to head with the very evil you are working against? As I pondered these questions over the following days, scripture came to mind, “We wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers” (Ephesians 6:12). That border patrol agent was not the enemy -- he was just flesh and blood. It became clear to me that the enemies we are fighting are the institutions he stood for. We are fighting Border Patrol, we are fighting Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and we are fighting the legislation that makes the persecution of undocumented citizens legal.
Jack Spector-Bishop is 17 and attends the Countryside UU Church in Palatine, Illinois. He is currently serving on the Midwest district’s Northern Area Youth Council and this is the second UUCSJ program he has attended. He is passionate about art and social justice, and hopes to someday work for the Unitarian Universalist Service Commitee (UUSC).