The Civil Disobedience Event (A Play in Two Acts)

Illustration by Julio Salgado - In Collaboration wtih Alejandro Cano/La Prensa

By Fernando Romero


I stood there in my neon-range security vest, unsure of what to think.

When I turned my head right, I could see the snow-capped San Bernardino Mountains to the east encroaching upon us; just hanging and towering over all of us. They looked so majestic and peaceful like oil on canvas painting. Unfolding right in front of me was the perfect storm; five undocumented students, (fellow dreamers) laying it all on the line right outside the DHS Offices. ICE trucks were to my left. When the ICE trucks arrived on scene, the chants of “undocumented and unafraid,” grew louder and louder as they deafened Rialto Avenue and the overcast sky only augmented the acoustics of the chants as they echoed and seemed to rumble in the clouds only to come crashing back to earth. The San Bernardino Police Dept. meddled some fifty feet away from where the dreamers rallied and chanted. I stood there acting as security, but also taking photos and recording video. One of the police officers put his right hand up, like almost waving at me, when I scanned the street through my viewfinder. I waved back as I continued filming. It was a strange, eerie feeling. It reminded me of how much we really are children; all of us. Children curious about other children.

A man, who identified himself as Oscar came up to me and asked me simply what was happening. I told him. He told me he had just come out of the ICE Offices behind and pointed at the door some fifteen feet away. He told me he had been in the Intensive Supervision Appearance Program (that’s the one where the put an ankle bracelet on you, stripping one of their dignity) recently and was now awaiting a court date with an immigration judge. He asked some questions regarding dreamers and their “situations” and I answered him best I could. I asked him to join the rally, but he left because he had to go to work.

The first part of the action went as planned; almost mechanical. Even though ICE vehicles were present, the arresting officers took form in the San Bernardino Police Dept. They gave us the three warnings to disperse and after much show, they moved in unison like a death squad on each of the five students sitting in the middle of Rialto Avenue in front of the DHS Offices. One by one, the students were taken into custody.

In a matter of minutes, the street was once again clear and desolate as if though no one had ever been there; no students, no protesters, no media, no law enforcement. Nothing

We marched back to City Hall. It only took a few minutes. The rally seemed to be picking up steam as we marched back and rallied back, more and more people kept joining rank as we chanted and marched. Upon reaching City Hall, the second act of dissent unfolded. This one seemed to have caught everyone by surprise. In a matter of seconds, Downtown San Bernardino was flooded with patrol cars. Six students sat down in the middle of the intersection. There was tension in the air. The local police had only been given information on the staging of civil disobedience at DHS Offices not at City Hall. At one point, the entire procession of protestors sat down encircling the six students sitting atop a banner emblazoned with “we will no longer live in the shadows.” Dissent can always bring about community. On the other side of the spectrum were the police; who looked pissed off. Mostly because they were put in this situation again, but I presume because the second act of dissent made the police force look like buffoons. If they were feeling frustrated now they know how we feel. The procedural course of action enveloped the scene once again. Heavy (unnecessary) police presence. Three orders of dispersion. At the third order, many of those who had formed the perimeter surrounding the six undocumented youth, stood up. The police moved in quick. Once again, one at a time into custody.

Some of the participants in this action and even some of the organizers are people who I’ve come to know and respect very well.  But since I’ve never participated in act of civil disobedience, I cannot speak from first-hand experience on emotions and adrenaline running high as the world seems to be imploding right in front of you while conducting civil disobedience. All I know is that coming out as  undocumented has been an arduous process for me, one that manifested itself via my activism in the dreamer movement. For the generation of dreamers, born in the early 80s (or earlier) most of us didn’t come out as undocumented and unafraid until recently when in our mid to late twenties. The conditions for the perfect storm have to be, acutely perfect, more perfect even. This is not the case in other parts of the country wherein dreamers continue to live in fear of deportation and/or at least from marginalization from their community and society.  Therefore, to see restless youth empowering themselves and their community, I can’t help but applaud in awe for their courage.

Civil disobedience always brings out an ancestral maternal instinct within me. Specially because in instances like these wherein dreamers are involved, the repercussions can be dire as deportation proceedings can be a veritable outcome. In this instance the undocumented students sat down in the middle of the street to obstruct traffic heading in either direction. It’s an interesting use of the human body. It says that by doing so, the human body takes precedent and higher importance of oncoming traffic. It says that the disruption of traffic and the status quo is virtuous because the plight of undocumented youth and immigrants is one that should take center stage. But more importantly, I think civil disobedience in the immigration movement speaks of the moral dilemma that this country (and other countries in the world) has to come to grip with. When a human being sits down in traffic to protest a morally and unjust laws, my instinct kicks in telling me that the most important is that person’s safety. Dreamers conducting civil disobedience embody that sentiment in their dissent because as ironic as it seems, they’re fighting for that feeling of safety; safety from persecution, safety from oppression and safety from subjugation as second-class (or third-class) citizens.


(p.s. Civil disobedience is as American as apple pie. Don’t let anyone make you think otherwise; not your professors, not your family, not your co-workers, not anyone. Dissent! Dissent! Dissent!)



One Response to “The Civil Disobedience Event (A Play in Two Acts)”
  1. ja says:

    great imagery!! se siente las emociones