By Jennifer Piper, AFSC Colorado Interfaith Organizing Director
In July, Coloradoans for Immigrant Rights (CFIR) members Karla and Alonso had the idea to sponsor an overnight at the GEO immigrant detention center in Aurora, Colorado. They felt an overnight would be significant and meaningful solidarity to people on both sides of the wall during the night when people inside might feel most alone and most of us would normally be in our homes and/or with our families. Also, there was consensus among CFIR members that it was time to escalate our presence at the detention center in response to their recent opening of their expansion.
The Interfaith Immigration Coalition (IIC) had also begun rolling fasts across the country in solidarity with Arizona youth who had begun fasting after SB1070 passed. We decided to combine the fast and the overnight vigil hoping to raise consciousness, highlight immigrant voices, create a solidarity community, and demonstrate our opposition in Colorado to SB1070 copycat laws.
Jordan Garcia of AFSC, other CFIR members and I collaborated to create a reflection journal for the fasters, which was used in Fort Collins and Denver and then picked up by the IIC and shared with faith communities in other parts of the country.
The fast and overnight began Sunday evening, August 1, with more than 100 people opening the space. A partner organization, Let Us Rise, led a visioning exercise that helped people get in touch with their roots and values. Karla and Alonzo began a shrine that was added onto by many vigil participants over the next 24 hours.
Twenty people stayed the night at the center, praying and talking together, playing cards to pass the time, and sleeping under the moon. One participant, Kate, summed up the experience saying “I chose to do this to make my own self more aware. While we were lying down to sleep, we realized people inside were doing the same. I’ve never met them, I don’t know what their daily lives are like, but because of this action, because of prayer and time I’m spending with this community outside, I somehow feel a connection with them.”
In the morning we sang and protested together and then began the long hot day. We spoke with two people who had just been released who told us they could hear us from inside, lawyers going in to represent people at the court inside the center, and families looking for their loved ones.
We had 43 people fasting, from 24 hours to a week, in Denver, Aurora and Ft. Collins, for a total of 1,848 hours which is equal to 1 person fasting for 77 days! The fast and overnight drew news coverage from print: Aurora Sentinel, El Comercio TV: Univision, Azteca Radio: KGNU and national NPR. We also collected hundreds of signatures on a petition asking the Governor and the state legislature to reject police-immigration partnerships and SB1070 copycat legislation.
On Monday evening more than 100 people again joined us to close the 24-hour vigil and fast with a Breaking of the Fast ritual written by CFIR member Seth Donovan. After saying the ritual (see below), we broke bread together saying, “With this bread I offer you nourishment, acceptance, and love as a member of my community.”
Read the full ritual here: http://coloradansforimmigrantrights.blogspot.com/2010/08/breaking-of-fast-ritual.html
Leader: We’re here to end our time of physical vigil and fast in solidarity with those inside this detention center, knowing that we will continue to hold constant vigil in our hearts until no person is detained here.
Response: May we have the perseverance to continue to strive for a community where no one is detained or separated from those they love, and where the humanity of all is reclaimed…
Leader: We’re here because we believe that our community can be something different and something better than this broken system of detainment has to offer us. We’re here because we vision a world where borders, barbed-wire, and fences do not control our human relationships.