"Business as Usual"
Protesting Congress’s Complicity with Trump’s ICE Camps
Nikita Minkin is a DSA activist and a student organizer who was arrested in Senator Cantwell’s office on August 6, 2019, waiting for the Senator to issue a statement on the immigration crisis.
On the thirty second floor of the Jackson federal building, tucked around the corner, is a small office dedicated to serving US Senator Maria Cantwell’s (Democrat, WA) constituents. The IRS shares the same floor, along with other offices whose only distinguishing feature is the presence of a door. The Senator’s office is on most days empty.
The IRS bustles with old folk, young folk, black folk, white folk—with people. Take a number. Wait in line. Wrong Line. But on most days the Senator’s office is empty.
Past reception and the two receptionists who strain behind taut smiles are empty cubicles and empty desks and empty offices. And one of those offices belongs to the Senator. And everyday that I worked there I was answering your phone calls. Some of you cried, other people yelled, some praised the Senator, some condemned her, but it didn’t matter because I would “pass it along to the Senator” and “the Senator hasn’t issued a statement on that yet.” And on most days the Senator’s office is empty.
And everyday that I worked there this country and its people were subjected to another small crisis. And we called our representatives, and we formed our coalitions, and we went to the Senator’s office. And we walked past the taut smiles, and the empty desks, and the empty cubicles. But the Senator wasn’t there. And then the Senator’s office was empty.
And everyday, I will admit, I dreamed of sitting in the Senator’s seat. I dreamed of having the power to make this right. I even dreamed of the newspaper headline that I would have framed on my desk. “The Senator endorses Medicare for all,” “the Senator backs the Green New Deal,” “the Senator donates his salary to furloughed workers.” But on that desk the framed headline says something about tax breaks for Boeing.
And the final injustice arrives. And hundreds of men, women, and children are treated like cattle, are torn from each other. And we can’t bear it any longer. But still we call empty offices and we plead with the taut smiles and “I understand your frustration” and “please fill out a visitors form” and “there are no signs allowed in the federal building.”
And so we take to the streets, to the parks, to the churches. And we speak and we march, and we get our protest permits and make sure our paperwork is in on time. And it is, and nothing changes. And now the streets are empty too.
And still we can’t bear it. And we all know that it has to change. Because it is injustice when children die, it is injustice when families are torn apart, and it is injustice when we stay silent.
We can be justice.
But we cannot place our destiny in the hands of those who seek to maintain this status quo. And I know that you don’t need me to tell you that things are bad. Because they are. And they have been. But what we need to hear is that none of this will change if we continue to give our tacit consent. All of our lamentations, our emails, our phone calls, our letters are quickly deleted, hung up, shredded, and forgotten. Every flutter and tremble of our voice becomes a data point in an excel spreadsheet whose purpose is to convince its curators that the Senator’s office isn’t empty. But it is.
We can no longer afford to play by the rules of this game. When our leadership is content with abdicating their power it is up to the people to seize the mantle of progress.