The growth of the Siembra NC Solidarity Committee tracks pretty closely with the escalation of immigration enforcement arrests in North Carolina over the past year.
Isabell Moore recalls that the committee started with four or five people meeting around a table at a coffeehouse to support Siembra NC’s work protecting immigrant communities from Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, and from deadbeat employers. Then a wave of raids by federal agents across North Carolina in February prompted a burst of new interest in the solidarity committee, and they moved into the community room at Deep Roots Market. Tonight, thanks to a threatened crackdown by President Trump and a recent rally that drew about 500 people at Governmental Plaza in downtown Greensboro, the solidarity committee is again upsizing. The group of 40 or so, heavily weighted towards women, takes seats around long tables in the fellowship hall at Congregational United Church of Christ off Friendly Avenue on Monday evening.
“There’s a sense of helplessness,” says Kathy Clark. “People want to alleviate those feelings of anxiety and angst through action.”
The facilitators tell volunteers that by the end of the meeting they want everyone to sign up for at least one subcommittee. The verifiers subcommittee, whose members are dispatched to locations of reported ICE activity to confirm their presence or dispel rumors, draws the most interest by a show of hands. Childcare and data entry also get a respectable showing, while hands rise more tentatively in response to a call for fundraising talent.
“We’ve had confirmed ICE arrests in Virginia, Florida, New York and Minnesota, but as of today we don’t have any reports of arrests in North Carolina,” reports Shana Richards, a school counselor employed with Guilford County Schools who has been active with the solidarity committee for about six months. “There has been ICE activity in the area, and we have verifiers out there figuring out what’s going on. If people are worried about ICE, they can’t go to the doctor’s office because they’re afraid a family member might get arrested. If school were in session, people might be afraid to send their children to school.”
A fifth campaigns subcommittee is temporarily on hold — a victim of Siembra NC victories before the solidarity committee can get up to speed. And they’re not tired of winning yet.
In early June, Guilford County Sheriff Danny Rogers withdrew support from HB 370 and an alternate proposal by the NC Sheriff’s Association that would require sheriffs to honor ICE detainers, which are requests to hold undocumented people in jails without a judicial warrant.
“If you saw on the news about Sheriff Rogers coming out against HB 370, if you were a part of the push that helped advocate for that or helped sign a letter or anything, can you raise your hand?” Moore says. “Awesome. A lot of people in this room played important roles.
“Another reason this committee is on hold for the moment is every time we have a breakout to plan for a campaign, then Siembra wins before we implement our plan,” she continues. “Which is an awesome problem to have. They won that it’s in writing that the sheriff’s office has a judicial warrant policy. We had a whole letter-writing campaign to roll out around that, and then he stated that he had added it to the handbook; it was no longer an issue.”
During a breakout session for the verifiers subcommittee, Moore tells the new volunteers that when she took the training she had to learn to distinguish between her discomfort and actual risk. All of the verifiers are people with valid driver’s licenses who are not at risk of deportation. Some verifiers have approached ICE agents and asked them what they’re doing while informing them that their presence is a cause for concern.
“I had to do some of my own Southern, white-woman fear-shedding,” Moore recalls.
The facilitators are aware that the campaign they’re building will be a long one, and its success will depend on maintaining high spirits and good energy. After almost two hours of information-sharing and strategizing, they suggest that the social session — drinking and spending money optional — at the burger bar across the street should be considered part of the meeting.
“You came because you’re feeling enraged; you came because you’re feeling helpless,” the Rev. Sadie Landsdale, pastor at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Greensboro, tells the newcomers. “You know that change isn’t going to happen unless you put your shoulder to the wheel, and we hope that you leave with some emails, a plan of action and more information than you had when you came in.”
The verifiers training takes place at Congregational United Church of Christ on July 22 from 6:30 to 8 p.m.