By Linda Green, 11-20-2019
On Tuesday, November 5, 2019 in Philadelphia, PA over 80 members at the American Public Health Association (APHA) meeting and several local activists from Puentes de Salud (Bridges of Health, an NGO) protested detention centers, deportations and borders with a spirited march to the ICE office four blocks from the Convention Center, chanting “No Borders!” to recognize that borders only help the capitalists and divide workers. Thirty (30) marchers signed up to be contacted in the future to strengthen the fight against racist deportations and ICE.
T-shirts and signs conveyed the urgent demands of the demonstration. Community members wore shirts saying, “Immigrants Make America Great,” another marcher held a sign saying “$$ crosses borders, why not people,” and a creative student who had joined Progressive Labor Party’s (PLP) “Troublemakers Coffee Hour” the day before made a sign that proclaimed, “I like my country like my whiskey –without ICE.” Many signs from Health Impact Partners said “IMMIGRANT HEALTH IS PUBLIC HEALTH,” and members from Chicago’s Radical Public Health group displayed their T shirts proudly. A young medical student from the University of Pennsylvania led songs of resistance with these lyrics from the People’s Health Movement and the Poor People’s Campaign:
“…Somebody’s hurting my brother and it’s gone on far too long … and it won’t be going on no more…”
“I am not afraid
I am not afraid
I will die for liberation
Cause I know why I was made
I will live
I will march
I will sing
I will fight
I will stand
I will teach…”
A long term APHA member started the ball rolling for this action, and APHA members contacted their sections to endorse the march. Several sections of the APHA joined in, including International Health, Medical Care, CHPPD (Community Health Planning and Policy Development), and the Socialist Caucus. We met Puentes de Salud two weeks earlier at a Doctors 4 Camp Closure (D4CC) rally in DC who connected us to a local Philadelphia physician who declared at the rally, “We love our immigrants” and despised the terrible conditions they face at the border.
People from D4CC , the People’s Health Movement and Life Undocumented also spoke. An undocumented immigrant from NY who is a supporter of Life Undocumented spoke of his struggles with stress and PTSD even as he had become an anesthesiologist. A young immigrant from Mexico became tearful and angry as he explained that US capitalism had driven people out of their countries, that Customs and Border agents singled out transgender immigrants in the camps for harassment, and that now the vicious capitalists are attacking them here.
A doctor from the Progressive Labor Party decried capitalism’s continuing failure to provide health care, comparing her work 50 years ago in Bolivia and at a free clinic in Durham, NC for black and white workers to her work today in a Maryland free clinic serving immigrants from Latin America, Africa, and Asia. She called on the marchers to build a revolutionary communist movement with multiracial unity to end this exploitative racist system of capitalism. Another activist from Philadelphia explained how his parents had immigrated from Europe under severe conditions and that he appreciated the immigrants stepping up to speak here. He urged marchers to organize support for immigrants in their unions and on their jobs, much as we were doing at APHA.
Organizing at APHA
We built the rally by distributing 1,100 flyers calling for an end to deportations, detention and borders just before the opening APHA session on Sunday and at multiple sessions during the conference. We also used resolutions that APHA has previously passed supporting health for immigrants and no separation of families to encourage participation. This year a new resolution against family detention centers was added to this roster.
These resolutions can help strengthen local struggles, like the one in Philadelphia to close the Berk detention center and turn it into a drug treatment center, and the fight to abolish borders, just as we have used the resolution against racist police brutality that passed in 2018 after a 3-year struggle (“Law Enforcement Violence as a Public Health Issue.”)
Abolishing borders means destroying capitalism, not just electing liberals or social democrats. An auspicious moment in our organizing included meeting a young public health researcher from Puerto Rico who recounted the details of the rallies and demonstrations numbering a million people against the failure of the Puerto Rican governor to serve the people after Hurricane Maria. While the corrupt governor was driven out of office, our new friend agreed that the working class failed to seize control of the government because revolutionary groups were too small and unprepared.
The fight against borders, detentions, and deportations is global. We must use every opportunity to support migrant workers, and organize in our neighborhoods, workplaces, unions, schools, and organizations, such as the APHA (with a membership close to 30,000). For example:
A group of doctors visits the border to give flu shots,
Striking Chicago teachers demanded sanctuary for immigrant families,
Johns Hopkins University students, faculty and staff are telling the Hopkins Medical Center to stop training ICE employees,
Local governments and immigration groups are urging cops to withhold names of arrested people from ICE, and
Members of IfNotNow have blocked entrances to ICE in DC and traffic in New Jersey.
Mass organizations can lead and work together to oppose attacks on migrants and to fight US interference in other countries, such as Bolivia, Chile, and El Salvador, which creates the poverty, violence, and unemployment that drive people to leave in search of a better life. Passing resolutions can kick off a discussion, but scaling up these actions can create a movement for the equity we all talk about and want.