BY LUKE O’NEIL VIA ‘WELCOME TO HELL WORLD’
“My community is under attack,” Mateo Emanuel Alejandro Cox said. “Being targeted by ICE is like carrying an invisible backpack full of stones. Our backs are giving out.”
They were speaking inside the lobby of the corporate office of Amazon in Cambridge, Massachusetts which for about an hour or two on Thursday evening was occupied by hundreds of protestors under the banner of Never Again Action a group comprised of Jewish activists around the country calling for the closure of the camps along the border and demanding businesses like Amazon stop working with ICE among other things.
Previously workers at Amazon and other protest groups have demanded that the company stop contracting its technology services to aid ICE and DHS in the more efficient processing and identification of immigrants for deportation. It’s a situation that echoes the history of companies like IBM whose then revolutionary data processing technology made them complicit in the perpetration of the Holocaust.
“I see my reflection in the brown eyes of the children in cages,” Mateo who identified themselves as a Latinx transgender and disabled Jew went on. “I see myself in every headline describing the ongoing massacre of the transgender community. I see myself in every homophobic beating and every synagogue shooting. I see myself in every anti-immigrant protest. Moses once told the pharaoh ‘Let my people go,’ and here together as Jews and allies we say unto the system ‘Let our people go!” they said and then everyone joined in together chanting and it was inspiring I’m happy to admit. This is the second Hell World in a row in which I’ve confessed to feeling inspired and I’m sorry about that I don’t want to lose my edge but that’s just how it is at this particular moment I am sure it will not last.
Confused Amazon workers disembarked elevators into the lobby in twos and threes likely unsure of what all the commotion was about. Others reportedly waited upstairs scared to come down until the protestors dispersed although this was an extraordinarily peaceful crowd. Certainly the employees in question aren’t to blame specifically for the policies that have lead to Amazon partnering with ICE but you know the old saying about just doing your job.
Outside dozens of Cambridge police including campus officers from MIT and Harvard for some unknown reason huddled together trying to figure out what they should do like a football team who only has one play. Eventually they would force the majority of us out of the lobby and back out onto the streets in an intimidating show of force but not quite as menacing as you might think and certainly nowhere near the level of state sanctioned violence on display at last weekend’s “straight pride” parade.
Ultimately twelve members of the group would be arrested for trespassing which is an outcome they had planned for. You would think they will be let off easy with a warning like others have in similar recent arrests but considering how bad the situation involving the people arrested at the protest last weekend has gone under the fascist watch of Judge Richard Sinnott—who refused District Attorney Rachael Rollins’ request to dismiss charges against many of the protestors leading to a whole fucking thing—who is to say what will happen.
Here’s the paragraph where I’m supposed to get a comment from Amazon to explain their side but since they have not as of yet announced they are discontinuing their collaboration with ICE who gives a fuck what they have to say.
“As Jews we have witnessed technology companies willfully partner with racist governments to support state violence,” a second speaker whose name I didn’t catch on account of the noise and packed crowd inside said.
A best-selling book titled “IBM and the Holocaust” by Edwin Black first published in 2001 then updated with new research in 2012 laid out much of the case against the company. Black wrote in 2012:
From the first moments of the Hitler regime in 1933, IBM used its exclusive punch card technology and its global monopoly on information technology to organize, systematize, and accelerate Hitler’s anti-Jewish program, step by step facilitating the tightening noose.
“Amazon is today’s IBM,” the speaker said. “Amazon is providing the tools for ICE’s raids and camps. Amazon contributes software systems and skills to prove the dehumanization of immigrants at the border and in our communities. Amazon makes millions and millions of dollars from the tracking, capture, imprisonment, deportation and dehumanization of our neighbors. How long before execution is on that list? Jeff Bezos, how bad would it have to get before you stop collaborating with ICE?”
And then they sang and chanted some more although by they I mean we because I was part of this protest too which is something really freeing to be able to do and say. When you’re a real journalist working for a serious publication with values and standards or whatever you’re not supposed to take part in things like this because it means you are biased and therefore not trustworthy I guess? You have to be able to see both sides when it comes to the issue of whether or not massively rich and powerful companies should profit off of technology that grinds immigrants into dust.
We did a lot of chanting and singing throughout the evening as several hundred of us marched through the streets of Boston on the way to Amazon in a protest that had begun earlier at the Holocaust Memorial in Boston.
“We’re here today in particular to speak out toward private tech companies that are complicit with ICE,” Elizabeth Weinbloom a spokesperson for Never Again Action told me as we marched down Cambridge St. blocking traffic on the typically heavily congested streets. At one point an ambulance passed as we approached MGH Hospital—hey that’s where I watched my father die I thought—and one thing people often say when there are protests like this that fill the streets and block traffic is What if an ambulance needs to get by and when that happened on Thursday the crowd immediately and efficiently dispersed.
“These tech companies are collaborating by selling data tools, software systems, and cloud based storage, and data management tools,” Weinbloom went on. “They like to present these tools as being neutral — it’s just about data whatever you do with that is up to you! — but these tools are being sold to ICE and DHS specifically to track immigrants, to track activists, and to use that information across law enforcement networks to terrorize communities and split families apart.
“When these tools are being designed specifically to be maximally efficient for the detention and deportation of people in our communities these are not neutral tools. And we’re here as Jews because this has all happened before … We’re telling these companies they need to face a moment of moral reckoning, they should take a moral stand. They’re some of the richest companies in the world they don’t need these contracts.”
“We’re here to say we remember what it was like to be persecuted during the Holocaust and we would’ve wished that Germans would’ve spoken up and not stood silently by,” Ari Fertig another spokesperson for the group told me earlier in the shadow of the memorial. “That’s what we’re doing right now. We’re standing up and not standing silently by.”
“We know that any company doing business with ICE is a shame. Whether you’re a tech company or any other big business, you don’t have to do this. They’re not struggling to get contracts, they have plenty of money, and this is a choice to be complicit with ICE.”
Amazon had something like 230 billion in revenue in 2018 and its owner Jeff Bezos is the richest person in the world if not in human history. One can’t imagine that the contracts with ICE are really contributing all that much to the company’s bottom line or to his personal wealth and even if they were would he even notice? It’s hard not to think given all of that that Amazon is doing this for any other reason than they really want to.
You can read a longer version of this on Luke’s ‘Welcome to Hell World’ Substack and buy your copy of Luke’s Welcome to Hell World book at orbooks.com/catalog/welcome-to-hell-world