Fierce Resistance at the Northwest Detention Center

From Seattle GDC

The Northwest Detention Center is a sad complex, both in appearance and in purpose, tucked away next to the Port of Tacoma on top of a toxic EPA superfund site. Built in 2004, the concrete hell has a capacity 1,575 and is one of the largest immigrant detention facilities in the country. To somehow, almost inconceivably, make matters worse this place is owned and operated by Geo Group which is the second largest private prison corporation in the country. Their contract with the federal government in 2015 guaranteed payment for 1,181 of those 1,575 beds which essentially motivates the federal government to keep those beds filled to at the very least get their, or rather our, money’s worth. Obama did a fantastic job of carrying on with the proud tradition of the state attacking immigrant and indigenous members of the working class. Under his guidance, nearly 3.1 million people were compulsorily removed from the country through the courts, more than any other president. With Trump’s immigration policy beginning to crystallize, this trend is all but assured to further accelerate; showing just how little interest either political party has in immigrant justice and liberation.

On Monday April 10th,  over 100 detainees launched a hunger strike to demand among other things, an increase in their $1-a-day wages for running the prison’s basic services, more expedited hearings, an increase in the quality of food provided, clean uniforms, and better access to health care.  By Wednesday the 12th, that number had increased to over 750 across nine “pods” which are the units detainees are grouped into, isolated from the others. In four of those pods, there were also reported work stoppages. The following day, 70 women in the detention center joined the hunger strike. These two tactics, combined with the third tactic of a commissary boycott, constituted an escalation of tactics from the first large hunger strike that hit the facility in 2014. Traditionally, women were under represented in these strikes because Geo Group and ICE have been known to try and use threats of losing their children as leverage to discourage them from taking action but this round of hunger strikes has seen many women at the foreground of it which was described by one NWDC Resistance organizer as “historic”. When the fact that this spread across so many isolated pods is taken into account, the endemic scope of these issues and the levels of fierce resistance against them becomes even more apparent.

There was a brief lull in the hunger strike after Geo Group agreed to come to the table but it quickly became clear to the detainees that their conditions were being worsened in retaliation.  Repression came in the form of one individual on the inside getting 30 days in solitary confinement and several transfers  to the Northern Oregon Regional Corrections Facility or NORCOR. NORCOR, while not an immigration detention center, is a frequent destination for the targets of transfers from NWDC and it is a very isolating and potentially dangerous experience for detainees who often have little English proficiency or social connections there. In addition to this detainees are reporting that Univision, the primary source of news where many first learned that a strike was under way, has been banned in the prison.  On the 19th, over a dozen detainees once more began hunger striking which continued until toward the end of the weekend until they called it off. It remains unclear if Geo Group is going to even try to address these simple demands for better conditions to their imprisonment, but what is clear is that this fight is far from over and that this is a righteous struggle, worthy of everyone’s support.

This is the story of resistance that was relayed to us, representatives of the Greater Seattle and Olympia General Defense Committees of the IWW, by the grassroots organization NWDC Resistance this weekend when we converged on the Northwest Detention Center to visit and join the encampment they had organized to hold a 24/7 presence directly next to the main gate of the facility.  NWDC Resistance is a group of community organizers who have been engaged in supporting and amplifying the voices of those imprisoned in NWDC since the 2014 hunger strike. They repeatedly stressed that this is a struggle entirely dictated by those on the inside of the facility, with them following their lead and providing support as requested.

At their rally on Sunday, one of their organizers spoke of prison abolition while another shared their story of having just returned from representing the organization in Chiapas where they attended a conference with the Zapatistas which saw a variety of struggles from across the globe discussed and connected through an anti-capitalist lens. Even if we had not received the warmest of welcomes at the encampment where we shared stories of struggle and organizing campaigns and broke bread with a variety of individuals from NWDC Resistance and other organizations, there would be little room for doubt that we were on the frontlines of one of the most critical flashpoints of resistance in this region. This feeling can only help but grow when one considers what has yet to come from the hands of the new regime.

With that in mind, we want to end this reportback by emphasizing the critical need for individuals and organizations from within the anarchist and radical communities across the entire Puget Sound region but especially those within Seattle who sometimes have a difficult time showing up en masse to support organizing in Tacoma, to continue to show up for this struggle as frequently and in as many ways as possible. It is clear to us that the work that NWDC Resistance is engaged in coordination with and at the direction of the detainees presents a rare opportunity to move beyond simple reaction-oriented organizing that we often find ourselves stuck with toward a type of organizing that involves creating generalized community resistance to one of the most sinister manifestations of capitalist and state power while keeping the power within the hands of the detainees and beyond the grasp of those who would seek to redirect the campaign in order to pacify or personally prosper. We within the Greater Seattle and Olympia GDCs, consistent with our stated mission of taking community action to defend the working class, plan on taking the necessary steps to further support this struggle and encourage you to do the same.

While the hunger strike is now on hold and the solidarity encampment dismantled until the detainees call once more for a vigilant presence out front to help discourage violent repression, there is still much work to be done. For those who are looking to get involved, please look no further than the NWDC Resistance website (http://www.nwdcresistance.org) which has detailed press releases, pictures of detainee demand letters, and information about upcoming events.

Upcoming Actions

  • This Tuesday 4/25 the Tacoma City Council is holding a public hearing on expanding the NWDC. Please show up early, around 4:30 to sign up for public comment and get in touch with NWDC Resistance organizers to receive a statement to read on behalf of one of the detainees in their own words. Facebook event here.

  • Wednesday 5/10 (Latin American Mother’s Day no less) Cynthia, a community member and mother from Hondouras is facing a deportation which will tear her family apart after fighting for years to remain in the U.S. She has requested that people join her as she shows up to be processed. Facebook event here.