Local activists speak out at “Lights for Liberty” event held in Central Park
Over 200 local activists met in Davis’ Central Park on July 12 for a candlelight vigil, protesting the allegedly inhumane conditions that asylum seekers face in detention centers nearby in Marysville and across the country.
The Phoenix Coalition, a local activist group, organized the rally that featured a handful of speakers, musical performances, a poetry reading and a candlelight vigil. The protest was also sponsored by the Yolo Democratic Party, Yolo Interfaith Immigration Network, Davis People Power and Safe Yolo.
The rally in Davis was one of many “Lights for Liberty” candlelight vigils across the country on the same date, according to the coordinating organization’s website. Roughly 50 miles from Davis in Marysville, a corresponding vigil was held outside the Yuba County Jail, the last remaining ICE detention facility in Northern California.
The local rally began at 7 p.m. as attendees convened on the grass in front of a small stage near the carousel in Central Park, some holding signs with slogans such as “Close the Camps,” “Kids Belong in Schools, Not Cages” and “Never Again is Now.”
On the small stage, representatives from the local activist groups delivered speeches in opposition to the detention centers. David Lichtenhan, the vice chairman and treasurer of the Yolo Interfaith Immigration Network, spoke to the crowd and compared the current detention facilities to the infamous “Tent City” jail in Arizona. Lichtenhan noted that Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio had famously called his own facility a “concentration camp.”
“What we’re up against in the United States of America is the most appalling thing I have ever been through,” Lichtenhan said.
Josh Kaizuka, the co-president of the Florin Japanese American Citizens League, spoke on some of the parallels between the current administration’s policy and Japanese internment during World War II.
“‘Never again’ is happening right now,” Kaizuka said. “Our communities see the parallels today […] 77 years ago, there were no voices for us.”
Kaizuka later clarified some of the similarities he saw between modern detention facilities and Japanese internment.
“Now, with the same type of things happening in the political climate — the racism that we’ve all seen in the past three years, the racist rhetoric, the fear-mongering — that’s the same kind of stuff they said about Japanese-Americans,” Kaizuka said. “We have to be here. Family incarcerations, and on top of that, they’re putting these people in the same camps that Japanese-Americans were [held] in during World War II: Crystal City, Fort Sill.”
While the former internment facility in Crystal City, Texas is permanently closed, according to the New York Times, the former internment facility at Fort Sill in Oklahoma is slated as a future holding facility site for immigrant children. In order to combat internment holding, other speakers urged attendees to take action, such as by volunteering to host refugee families or contributing to organizations that provide legal aid to immigrants and asylum seekers.
Eliana Kaimowitz, an immigration advocate, implored the crowd to take whatever action they could to oppose the current administration’s detention policy.
“I ask you to leave here today — perhaps with a heavy heart — with the question, ‘What can I do tomorrow?’” Kaimowitz said.
Tracy Tomasky, the co-chair of the Davis Phoenix Coalition, echoed this call to action, stating that the goal of her organization’s protest was to build community support and encourage action.
“[The goal] is to bring the community together [and] to let everyone know that we have to do something,” Tomasky said. “When everybody does something — whether it’s writing a postcard or calling your congressperson — that collective effort, that’s what’s going to make the change. The Davis Phoenix Coalition is really about bringing a coalition together [and] to bring the community together.”
After the speeches, organizers handed out white candles to the attendees and led them in chanting, “close the camps” and “families belong together.” The protest closed with attendees singing, “This Little Light of Mine” all together.
Written by: Tim Lalonde — firstname.lastname@example.org