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ASHES organizes protest of ICE at Morrow County Jail

ASHES organizes protest of ICE at Morrow County Jail

Helen Cunningham ’21 and Graham Ball ’21 spent months organizing a protest of ICE’s contract with Morrow County Jail, a temporary facility for detainees. | BEN NUTTER

Several dozens of Kenyon students, along with students from Oberlin and community members from Columbus, rallied outside the Morrow County Jail in Mount Gilead last Saturday. For over three hours, they stood in the cold to protest the Jail’s contract with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

The protest was organized by Active Students Helping the Earth Survive (ASHES) as a way to provide students with more opportunities for direct action.

“I knew that there was a dearth of activist opportunities on campus, but I wasn’t sure if that was because people weren’t interested in it or because there weren’t opportunities,” Helen Cunningham ’21, co-chair of ASHES, said. “I found in organizing this that if you build it, people will come, and that is really exciting to know going forward.”

President Decatur was proud to see students taking their activism efforts off campus. “I’m glad to see that students are really taking the thoughts and ideas that are discussed on campus and finding ways to put them into action in the broader world,” he said.

ICE and the Morrow County Sheriff’s Office have had a contract dating back to 2008 which allows ICE to house their detainees at the jail. Once they are there, they are treated the same as regular prisoners.

The contract with ICE is fairly lucrative for the County, whose jail is one of four facilities in the state where ICE detainees are kept. Most of the immigrants being held at the Morrow County Jail don’t stay for long — approximately 14 days — before they are transferred to a more permanent facility.

While ASHES’s initial goal for the protest had been to end the Jail’s contract with ICE, their efforts gradually become more focused towards the more feasible goal of showing solidarity with the immigrants being detained.

Graham Ball ’21, the other co-chair of ASHES, felt that the protest was a huge success. “We did exactly what we set out to do,” he said, “which was to stand in solidarity with immigrants and to mobilize student activism.”

Met with a single counter-protester holding up a small photo of rapper Vanilla Ice, the protesters had brought a megaphone outside in order to make sure that the prisoners inside—over half of whom have been detained by ICE—could hear them. The most prominent chant was “no están solos,” which translates to “you are not alone.”

“In that moment they weren’t forgotten,” Cunningham said. “There [were] people out [t]here who [were] fighting for them.”

The event also included testimonials from students, poetry readings, as well as many songs, including “This Land Is Your Land,” and chants, such as “No ICE, no KKK, no fascist USA.”

Despite the chilly weather, the protesters remained passionate and determined. “It was cold,” Ceci Rodriguez ’22, an attendee of the protest, said, “but that means we stood closer together and screamed louder.”

“Next time we’ll bring hand warmers,” Ball joked.

The protest culminated with an impromptu decision on the part of the ASHES leaders —  after packing up, a precaution in case a speedy exit was needed, the protesters moved closer to the side of the jail where the detainees could hear their chants. “No están solos,” they shouted again and again to the jail walls: “You are not alone.”

Both Cunningham and Ball agreed that it will require much more sustained action to convince the jail to end their contract with ICE. “We gained valuable experience, we gained confidence, and I think we gained the ability to go out there again in the future and continue this campaign,” Ball said. “We have to keep going and we plan to do so.”

Evey Weisblat contributed reporting. She is a member of ASHES.

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