Before Abigail Bocanegra, an expressive arts therapist with a specialization in childhood mental health, explained the serious impacts family separation can have on a child, she sang a lullaby.
Passed down from her indigenous ancestors, the lullaby, she said, was an offering to the children who haven’t had a parent to soothe them to sleep since May, when the White House instituted a “no tolerance” policy and began separating immigrant families seeking asylum at the United States border.
Bocanegra was one of several speakers who addressed a crowd of about a thousand gathered in Grant Park on Saturday to demand that families held by the U.S. government be reunited and to protest the policies that led to their initial separation. She said the parent-child bond is a sacred, basic human right and when that right is violated, especially in a time of distress, children can bear the psychological impacts for a lifetime.
“I cannot overstate how important the established parent-child bond is,” she said. “It is a fundamental platform for us as a species.”
The event was one of hundreds of Families Belong Together actions held around the country Saturday.
Dominique Niki Zacherle, 24, a member of the Colville Tribe, told the crowd surrounding the park’s gazebo that no one should be considered illegal on stolen land. Standing in solidarity with immigrant families who have been separated, she said Native Americans had been victims of a similar practice.
“It still hurts us as the next generations come,” she said. “We might hold intergenerational trauma in our DNA, but we also hold intergenerational wisdom and resiliency from our ancestors.”
Other local groups, including religious ones, were present as well. Leaders of the refugee resettlement group World Relief called for attendees to love their neighbors not only in Spokane, but at the border.
Master of ceremonies Jan Shannon asked the crowd to get involved. Using the app resistbot, she instructed the crowd to share their feelings with whoever represents them in Congress, regardless of party lines. During the event, organizers circulated voting registration forms and leaders of community organizations urged attendees to volunteer wherever they could.
National Teacher of the Year Mandy Manning, who earlier this year received the award from President Trump and presented him with letters from immigrant students, asked the crowd to consider the potential of young people, and pointed to students she knows personally who have accomplished great things.
A separate protest was held in the state capital Saturday, with a crowd estimated between 2,500 and 3,000 gathering by the state Department of Enterprise Services. The crowd filled the steps to the domed Legislative Building and spread out across the lawn under the U.S. and Washington flags and the steps of the Supreme Court Building.
U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, the Democrat who represents the city and surrounding area, told the crowd that separating children from their families “is reprehensible and it’s wrong” but quoted Winston Churchill in urging them to keep up the fight. “We shall go on to the end … We shall never surrender.”
When a member of the crowd shouted “Give ’em heck, Denny,” a slogan he’s used since his first run for Congress in 2012, Heck replied: “No, give ’em hell!”
Reporter Jim Camden contributed from Olympia.
Editor’s note: This story was changed on July 3, 2017 to correct an error in the first quote in the article from Abigail Bocanegra.
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