By Nikita Minkin
Beginning as a car-ride conversation between/ two University of Washington students and taking shape over the course of a few weeks, the August 1st Rally Against ICE sought to bring out a diverse cast of people and organizations in the spirit of abolition and freedom from institutions such as ICE that restrict the mobility of people through violence and incarceration.
It’s principle organizers: Nikita Minkin and Ava Sharifi are two long-time friends who first became acquainted in Introduction to Labor Studies, a course offered annually at the University of Washington. Both organizers are second generation Americans. Ava is of Iranian descent; her family having fled political repression. Nikita is of Russian Jewish heritage; his family having come to the states as refugees in the early 90’s. As children to immigrant parents, who migrated to the United States seeking safety and stability, “you can imagine why we became involved” stated Nikita.
“We have witnessed many undocumented workers being inappropriately targeted and brutalized by the federal government” said Ava. “Their actions have been condemned by immigrant rights leaders such as Maru Mora-Villalpando. She came into our labor studies course at the UW as a guest speaker and this is when we first got a closer understanding of the human rights violations that are occurring within these facilities across the nation and here in Washington state. We must stand in solidarity with our community and protest the actions of ICE”.
Rally planning began when the political consulting firm the two organizers worked for offered to give all of the interns under its employ a self-determined summer project. Nikita, seeing this as an opportunity, offered the protest as an idea and was quickly supported by his friend Ava. Despite resistance from the firm and the withdrawal of their support, which left the task of organizing and funding the event entirely to the two students, Ava and Nikita continued on with the project.
“We can no longer wait for our politicians to decide when the right time is to solve this crisis. With every child that dies in a cage due to inhumane conditions, we are reminded that the time is now. ICE violates the very being of our most vulnerable communities and they must be abolished. We are the solution” said Nikita.
The two got to work immediately and soon enough the endorsements came rolling in. First Never Again Action, the national Jews against ICE protests, endorsed. “That was our really big break,” said Nikita. Then local politicians like Seattle City councilmember Kshama Sawant and District 4 council candidate Shaun Scott. And finally, activists like Maru Mora-Villalpando whom both organizers regard as their inspiration. Nikita also received an Undergraduate Research Grant from the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies, which went towards supporting outreach for the rally.
The two hit their first major obstacle about two weeks before the August 1st deadline when word broke of an armed neo-fascist counter protest. Club USA, an affiliate of the so-called Proud Boys, an all-male group that promotes the values of White Nationalism and Islamophobia, was calling on its members to “show these AntiFa/Communist/Illegal Criminals [sic] we will stand up for ICE”. “We will be standing with I.C.E. in their [sic] effort to keep our American borders and communities safe.”
“We were really surprised that our action was getting this kind of attention, we were just two students and we weren’t sure if we had the resources to combat an armed counter protest,” Nikita stated. “In the weeks prior to this coming to our knowledge we were made aware of multiple other such events”. Earlier that month, an armed militia member had stood outside the door of a café in which immigration justice groups were holding a meeting. Earlier still, Three Percenter militia members had stage armed counter protests against folks at the Northwest Detention Center. “Suffice it to say we were extremely concerned,” said Ava.
That concern evaporated on the day of the rally however when the two saw the massive crowd that had gathered outside of ICE’s Seattle offices. “At the outset we told ourselves that if we got 30 people we would be happy, this looked to us like about 800”. As each speaker came up to add their part, the cries of the counter protesters were drowned out by hundreds of voices. In the end a paltry showing of 20 neo-fascists couldn’t stop nor intimidate the crowd
Nikita and Ava began the process or organizing the rally in the hope that it would offer a space for different organizations to come together and connect with each other over a similar struggle. On the day of the rally, people from all over the Greater Seattle Area showed up in solidarity with one another in the fight against ICE, with speakers such as city council member Sawant and immigrant rights activist Villalpando speaking out against the global capitalism and fascism that has allowed immigrant discrimination, deportation, and incarceration to continue and grow under Trump’s presidency. In organizing this event, Nikita and Ava were also hoping to embed themselves further into social justice organizations, which they succeeded in: Nikita became the co-chair of mobilization with the Democratic Socialists of America, and Ava has started working with Radical Women, a feminist organization, dedicated to the fight against racism, sexism, homophobia, and labor exploitation.
“One of the greatest challenges we faced afterwards was unsurprising” said Nikita in the aftermath of the rally. “The media has little interest in our narratives and would rather report on these events as if they were devoid of human interaction”. “One might expect them to report on a tree falling on parked cars in a similar fashion”. “The challenge going forward will be to build a people’s narrative around similar events”.
Both Ava and Nikita plan to work together in the future on similar actions.