I woke up this morning to Joshua Rubin’s horrifying account of Homestead and the incredibly unsettling photo of fully armed police standing next to girls inside Homestead facility. It made me close my computer feeling that this essay is so meaningless in the big picture of what is still happening at Homestead. But after a cup of coffee I decided, that no, we all need to continue to give voice to our experiences in case it resonates even with just one person. So with that in mind…
Saturday was to be an early day. Meet Debbie W., the morning witness, at 8:00 at the SouthDade train station and drive down with her to Homestead. Debbie witnesses from 8:30-11 every Monday – Friday. She sets up camp, waves to the kids, and documents what happens before the other daily witnesses arrive later in the morning. She shares many of her early morning videos on the Target Tornillo: Witness Homestead FaceBook page. (If you are not following that page, please click on that blue link and follow it. It has the most up to date info you can get on Homestead.) Debbie is a retired principal and she is an invaluable witnesses.
Once we arrived we went about setting up camp and putting up cones to reserve parking spaces for the extra folks coming because of a planned press conference. Debbie has setting up camp down to a science. I noticed that while it was no small task, it was easier than end of the day dismantling because the sun wasn’t around to this side yet. She luckily sets up in the shade but it is still very hot and a very large task. Because of her determination and dedication camp gets set up everyday.
This was a big deal day since the congresswomen in the photo above were coming to tour the camp and then hold a press conference. This was to be Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell’s 7th visit to Homestead camp. As you can imagine she is nothing short of a true hero to the witnesses here. After we set up camp, people started arriving. Faces I recognized from Facebook were there to finally meet. It was wonderful meeting Anna, Carrie, and Enrique as well as a few of the Dedicated Democrats who come witness every single Wednesday. But as wonderful and exciting as all this was, the heat was a persistent backdrop and I was once again feeling sick and fixated on making it through the morning and the events that stretched out before us.
As I was putting up signs, a large black SUV pulled up along side of me. I thought it was Homeland Security and wondered what I had done wrong. I was on the right side of the street so what could it be? The passenger side windows both rolled down and there were Debbie and Veronica! Huge smiles on their faces and thanking me profusely for being there. They wanted hugs and to shake my hand. I respectfully declined because I was already gross, covered in sweat, bug dope, sunscreen, mud and who knows what else. But I was tickled pink to be so close to these amazing women who I admire so very much. They pulled in behind the fence and were quickly out of sight. As more people continued to arrive we were all watching to see when Debbie and Veronica would come back out. A bit of a while went by when we saw a white van transporting them and their staff to the other side of the street, the main camp entrance. About an hour and a half later they came back out and held their press conference in full sun. Even in the blaring heat, they looked strong and determined. Yet there was a visible hint of sadness. How could they not be unnerved by what they just witnessed inside? I got shaken up every time I looked across the street at the iconic image of the Homestead sign next to the two flags and the cavernous gold building behind them. Our minds wonder what lurks in such an evil place. Yet many others come and go looking like nothing is happening. Are they numb from all their entries? Are they shut down to what this place houses, children taken from their families? Or is it the response of greed that allows them to not see and feel? We may never know.
Rather than describe the press conference, you can watch it here (Debbie) and here (Veronica) and I strongly recommend that you do, especially if you are unfamiliar with these women and the work they do. They lay out exactly what is happening. I’ve watched it twice already and find I pick up something new each time. I happen to be behind the women as they speak, in the back with the pink baseball cap and the umbrella. Initially we were under the shade of a large tree when someone asked us to go stand behind the congresswomen. Never waste a photo op I guess. No signs were allowed though. As I stood there a young man come up next to me and said numerous times, “God bless you for this umbrella; thank you.” He had on a long, well pressed white shirt and long pants. I believe he was part of the crew with Debbie. I was happy to provide a little bit of relief to someone else who appeared to be struggling as much as I was.
I did not make it through the entire press conference. I sadly retreated to the lovely tree in camp that serves as a memorial for the children who have died in border patrol custody. Charlie set it up and it’s quite moving. I sat there with ice on my head, literally, and watched from afar. It was there that I met a local woman, Jennifer. We talked about witnessing and how important it is to her to come when she can. She is a mom and comes on weekends. She said the heat affects her too and she needed to leave after the press conference but that she would come back at 4:30 to help take down camp. Bless her soul.
After the conference was over and some camp tidying up I said my goodbyes and Debbie and I left. Debbie’s shift was over and she was my ride. Everyone was hot and spent and it was very anticlimactic. Something that was quite obvious was that one minute there were so many people there and the next everyone was gone and we had left Tina there to continue on. Thank you Enrique for staying with Tina. I felt sad and guilty that we were leaving. Is this what happens after all big events? The most dedicated of witnesses are left to deal with the aftermath, alone? And yet, we too left. With heavy hearts, Debbie and I stopped to sit in some AC for a while and to get some lunch. I had the best rice and beans I’ve ever had even though it was a fast food place. I guess I was hungry and incredibly sad. This trip had not gone as expected. Not the least bit.
Once Debbie dropped me back off at the train station it took quite a while for a train to arrive. I guess being that it was Saturday they don’t run as often. On that train ride back to Miami I tried to untangle the emotions I felt and was rather unsuccessful. I finally gave in to the tears. I spent the remainder of the afternoon trying to cool my body down and forgive myself for not doing the things I came to do such as stand on the ladders more, give Tina and Charlie some time off, take better care of camp, and take Tina and Charlie out to dinner and have an icy cold drink with them. Life often does not go the way we plan.
As I sit here, 1,500 miles away writing this I am overcome with thoughts of Homestead. I had read about that. About how “reentry” into our worlds was difficult. It’s all true. How do we gracefully leave all that behind and not continue to be there helping? If anyone has suggestions I will gladly take them.
Thank you beautiful witnesses who alter your lives to stand up for and with the kids day in and day out. You are my heroes.
Final reflections coming tomorrow.