A large group of people standing up against ICE in the city of San Gabriel (Photo - Melissa Michelson).

      A large group of people standing up against ICE in the city of San Gabriel (Photo – Melissa Michelson).

      “Things happen for a reason”, right? “If it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.”  Or is it?

      These phrases allow us to shrug our shoulders, throw up our hands, or just look the other way and hope someone else will handle a problematic situation.  But achieving positive change in society doesn’t work that way. It takes every one of us to do our part.

      By Melissa Michelson

      On Tues. Feb. 6, a momentous city council meeting in the city of San Gabriel resulted in a 3-2 vote to rescind the contract that the police department, unbeknownst to the city council, had made several months prior with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, commonly known as ICE.

      The City Council listened to over 100 public comments for over 3 hours. There were those who touted themselves as supporters of the police chief and law enforcement and pro-MOU (memorandum of understanding), but the majority of the public wanted the MOU rescinded, opposed racism, wanted to make sure San Gabriel was inclusive, and wanted to be sure all residents regardless of immigration status could feel safe to report crimes.  Three of the five councilmembers, while not pleased about the lack of transparency on the part of the police department to enter into the agreement privately and also concerned about the consequences of contracting with ICE, voted to immediately rescind the MOU.  Furthermore, Councilmember Pu motioned to make San Gabriel a sanctuary city, but because the Brown Act states the public needs to be notified 72 hours in advance of agenda items, it will have to wait for a future meeting.

      Residents reviewing a video (Photo - Melissa Michelson).

      Residents reviewing a video (Photo – Melissa Michelson).

      When citizens come together

      What I saw last night was an incredible coming together of several concerned residents, competent local journalists, organizations and activists groups mobilizing their supporters, and a culminating coming-together at the city council meeting.  But behind the scene, city council members who after first finding out about the ICE contract in the Pasadena Weekly put it on the agenda in the first place, not to mention the local, concerned residents who happened to get a hold of the MOU and shared it with the Pasadena Weekly reporter who broke the story.  Let’s also not forget the citizen-journalists who observed and recorded what went on in the theater that evening, from the audience protests, the agitators being escorted out and the discussion from the council (see multiple videos here.) The City Council itself only makes meetings available as audio recordings.

      The main-stream (L.A. TimesSGV Tribune) and independent (Alhambra Source) media stick to the ‘just the facts’, but what happens on the ground is being captured more and more by citizen-journalists and shared on social media.

      A swatter outside of the meeting (Photo - Melissa Michelson).

      A swatter outside of the meeting (Photo – Melissa Michelson).

      Perspective beyond the media’s reports

      I got word via social media about the 6:30p.m. press conference and arrived to see a large group of people ready to stand up against ICE in San Gabriel. The council meeting room upstairs was already packed with MOU proponents, while the pro-immigrant rights and community activists conducted the rally outside. When that was done, we peacefully marched upstairs but were stopped as the security unit realized we would fill the main room to capacity, along with the two over-flow rooms.  We were then told the meeting would be moved across the street to the Playhouse, an impressive deco theater from 1927, ironically inspired by Spanish, Mexican and Native-American cultures.

      While we waited for the meeting to formally begin in the theater, a few attendees held up a banner that read “Ice out of San Gabriel,” and the room broke into loud chanting that reverberated in the hall, while pro-MOU proponents booed.

      This is
      looks like

      About 10 minutes into the meeting, I saw that one anti-MOU citizen journalist and her neighbor got escorted to the front lobby by a police officer.  She had been videotaping the public speakers, and the man next to her swatted at her and took her video camera because she had also videotaped the woman he was with. The assault was caught on her video, but she decided not to press charges so long as he and his partner removed themselves from the theater.

      About 20 minutes later, during one resident’s public comment, a pro-MOU agitator heckled and started to boo non-stop. The rows of people around him simply pointed at him, exposing exactly who the problem was. He was escorted out, but his friends remained and spoke for the MOU.

      To echo what one of the chants was at the press conference: “This is what community looks like!” It’s regular people who have had enough of standing by silently and safely. This is neither the time nor place for that, if there ever is. There are individuals, like those that leaked it the MOU to the press, there are community organizers who can gather groups of people together and hold rallies, and at the end of the day, there are the people who take time out of their routine to join together to let their local legislators know what kind of community they want.

      And in San Gabriel, they were heard.

      Melissa Michelson, a San Gabriel Valley Progressive Alliance founding member, is a 10 year-resident and active community member of the San Gabriel Valley.


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