Holly Stein on raising her voice for immigrant justice

JOIN Alum Holly Stein with grey shirt and dark shares on.

Holly Stein, activist and JOIN alum.

JOIN for Justice: When we heard that you were arrested and jailed, we shared the information with our supporters.  What led to the arrest, and how long were you in jail? And what was the crime?

Holly: Last summer, as things were really ramping up on the national level around people being kidnapped and held in detention centers throughout the country, the FANG Collective organized a direct action carried out in solidarity with hunger-striking detainees at the Bristol County House of Corrections in Dartmouth, Massachusetts. 

Sheriff Thomas Hodgson, who was the sheriff of that county, is a close ally of Trump and was speaking out at that time (and continues to speak out), saying things like “We should just send people from the detention center to help build the wall,” and has really been pushing both the 287G agreements but also something that’s even more extreme that wouldn’t even have to be a contract between the federal government and local police. So we wanted to bring attention to that specific facility, also because in Rhode Island there’s no detention centers, so when people are picked up in Rhode Island, that’s where they’re being held. That was the link to Providence as well, and Rhode Island in general. 

So we orchestrated a nonviolent, direct action that took place at the two entrances of the facility. One of the entrances, there was a really large structure that had been erected that said “Stop Family Separation” and “Shut Down ICE.” The guard of that entrance met that large structure really violently. Something that has been seen in other cities and other places, as a way of people really holding space for a long time in the street, and it’s because it usually requires some more thoughtful extraction to get people out who had just been met super violently, and they just grabbed the poles and pulled, basically threw people to the ground that were like 25 feet in the air. That resulted in people getting concussions and just really brought to light the violence, just on the outside, how they were addressing something that they didn’t approve of, and how violently they responded to that. 

I was at the other entrance, with another person, and we were locked to the gate of that entrance with a piece of equipment that said “Abolish ICE” on it. They arrested all four of us, with Trespassing, Disturbing the Peace, and Resisting Arrest. So that was the action itself. 

One of the tactics of nonviolent direct action is to stare large institutions in the face and see how they react to that. It was clearly one of those examples of, yeah this a really violent institution that doesn’t really have that much regard for the individual, regardless of whether they agreed with how we chose to protest, or not. 

So that resulted in what has been a year-long back-and-forth in the courts (not a trial). I think going in, they dropped everybody else’s Resisting Arrest charges except for mine. What I’ve learned through this process is that it’s an example of how the court system works. If they had a larger charge over my head – there’s a chance of – we haven’t seen this, but the maximum they had with a Resisting Arrest charge was two and a half years, and so it started to become really clear – we had a couple different agreements with the prosecution, and our lawyers were from National Lawyers Guild and they were working with the prosecution, and a couple of those agreements got thrown out because of the judges. So it became really clear that the judges were actually our biggest roadblock. 

So I accepted the plea.

They sentenced the three other people to 10 days for resisting arrest, and those three are taking it to a trial to contest that the charges don’t meet the crime, the necessity of bringing attention to detention and to the treatment of people doesn’t merit a jail sentence. In my scenario, because the judges were coming down really hard and the lawyers were concerned, if they take it to trial and lose, it’s a horrible sentence. But 30 days in jail is the maximum they can have without passing charges. But they would have the liberty to make an example with six months, or a year. So that was why I decided to take the plea of the 10 days and a year of probation off of a disturbing the peace charge. They’re pretty extreme charges for the specific actions. We haven’t seen this happen yet in any of the other protests throughout the country. Similar types of really big scenes to hold space and to disrupt business as usual, but a lot of these cases are being either dropped or dismissed or fined.

JOIN for Justice: Are there any particular organizing skills that you learned from JOIN that you use in your organizing today? 

Holly: Yeah, creating power analysis and power mapping. Those were some concrete things of how to look at key players when you’re looking at a situation, how to take it from the macro to the micro and really get a sense of how to focus in on different aspects of a really large issue. Those are things that I use today. And just a continued development of my one-on-one skills and my relational building skills. I think the biggest thing at this point is the JOIN network still provides me with friends, and community, and other people who are working in all different areas. Being able to bounce ideas off of people who might be working from a different angle is really helpful.

JOIN for Justice: Can you give an example of where some of those practices manifested in some of your recent work? 

Holly: We’re working right now to focus on the immigration issues that are impacting Providence and obviously on a national and international level. Taking something as large as Immigration and Customs Enforcement and then thinking about that issue really broadly – it can be very overwhelming. 

One of the things we’ve been able to do is to break it down and look at it both as the large issue and also directly a community issue. As a result, we’ve looked at the context, the 287G argument, contracts, that are between Immigration and Customs Enforcement and local police and really evaluating the area that we’re in: We asked questions, such as who holds a lot of power within that area? and who is upholding those contracts? and how is it directly impacting Providence and the people in Providence who are trapped and picked up by the police? I think the ability to take the bigger issue at hand and really hone in, and focus in, on the 287G agreements is one tier of a really large organizing challenge.

JOIN for Justice: Is this work that you’re doing with an organizing collective? 

Holly: Yeah. This is work I’m doing with the FANG Collective, there’s a lot of similar people who while we are looking at structural problems and institutional problems and inviting to change, we’re also trying to build something that we see as a sustainable way for a community to be supporting each other. The Shut Down Ice Campaign is with the FANG Collective, and then we are one of the many local groups who are part of the AMOR network, which is an alliance to mobilize resistance, it’s a collaboration of a lot of different grassroots organizations in Providence to end state violence that directly impact people and communities. Whether it’s through deportation or through policing. There’s a lot of different organizations that are involved in that, so we are working in collaboration with that network and taking lead from folks in that network, but then also have a separate campaign where we’re specifically focusing on putting pressure on the counties in the surrounding areas that have 287G agreements. 

Since our interview with Holly, a lot has happened, including Never Again. She sent us this note, updating us on the Fang Collective’s work.

The momentum around Never Again has been real inspiring.  As many of you know a month ago I was sentenced to ten days in jail.  Today the judge sentenced another person to a 30 day suspended sentence and the entire restitution of $ 3,000 dollars.  Another person just did a 10 day jail sentence and another one awaits a trail sometime in August or September. Last week 18 Jews in Rhode Island got arrested protesting the Wyatt detention Center, which has a contract with ICE and brings people from the border to Rhode Island.  At the protest we saw the Bristol County Vans and Plymouth County Vans pull into the facility one which was stuck because of the demonstration.  All 18 protestor’s had their chargers dropped.  Bristol County has been extremely harsh on protestor and it is important that we continue to show up at the courts and financially contribute to people of color doing this work and people fighting these agreements in conservative counties where the punishment for bringing attention to these issues are often harsher!

See all of the great work the collective have been doing throughout Massachusetts and Rhode Island here.

See Holly speaking to reporters in the video below.

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