While watching the brilliant 2007 film The Visitor for the second time and nearly crying in response to Walter’s raw compassion and righteous anger, I could not help but think of a real-life undocumented immigrant/visitor in detention who was arrested early this week while meditating peacefully at Occupy Oakland.
Francisco “Pancho” Ramos-Stierle was released from detention just before a massive rally was to take place in Oakland calling for his release — the culmination of mounting public pressure in the form of group meditation, phone calls, e-mails, tweets, faxes, and a Change.org petition that was signed by nearly 8,000 people in two days — but the campaign is far from over.
Pancho, who — in playful fashion — goes by his childhood nickname, must appear in court to defend himself against the much-maligned U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which can be as cold as its acronym would indicate. Activists take particular exception to its Secure Communities program, which places responsibility for immigration enforcement in the hands of local and state officials in order to ostensibly crack down on those (few) undocumented individuals who commit serious crimes in this country. I use the word “ostensibly” here not to be flippant but to be truthful. The case of Pancho Ramos-Stierle, who was shackled and held in a crowded cell for 72 hours, is but one (albeit particularly egregious given his perpetually smiling face and steadfast dedication to Gandhian nonviolence) example of how undocumented immigrants are mislabeled as terrorists or criminals.
Even if Pancho secures victory over ICE, the Occupy Together movement along with his friends and family from the United States, Mexico, India, and elsewhere — in keeping with his own words while in detention — will not stop until the dignity of all undocumented immigrants is restored. Pointing out that five schools were closed while millions were spent on excessive police actions to evict Occupy Oakland protesters culminating in his own arrest, Pancho affirmed that “this is not an economic crisis [but] a crisis of priorities.”
We must place among our priorities a commitment to be rebellious by being kind, which is Pancho’s raison d’être, and to make this not only a private commitment but also a public one that will replace front-page photos of riot police and angry crowds with those of radical, intoxicating cheerfulness, good will, and meditative stillness. Although this may sound trite to some, infantile to others, and utopian to the remainder, in keeping with the zeitgeist of the last two months, I cannot think of a better way to undermine the oppressive status quo that maintains itself through violence and manipulation while giving no quarter to those who are selfless, vulnerable, and pure of spirit. This is Pancho’s revolution, and I can only hope that the Occupy movement will jump on board. This is the revolution that a faltering, divided nation such as this one — built on the blood and exploitation of millions — yearns for and indeed should demand. Let us hope that these values occupy hearts and minds until no one is treated as less than any other and until we all see ourselves as world citizens first and for all!