A spirited group of hundreds of Jewish activists and their allies marched from downtown Boston to Amazon’s Cambridge office Thursday evening, gathering to protest private companies doing business with US Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
“Never again means abolish ICE,” the protesters chanted as they walked past rush hour commuters and cars stopped in their tracks.
“I was just following orders,” read one sign. “Close the camps,” read others.
Many wore white because it is a color of mourning, said Ari Fertig, one of the organizers. A woman near the front blew a shofar, a ram’s horn that will be used in High Holiday services this month, as the crowd inched forward from the New England Holocaust Memorial in the center of the city.
Twelve people were arrested on trespassing charges by Cambridge police after sitting down in the lobby of the Amazon offices following the march. Each of the arrested protesters was led out a back door in plastic ties, while other demonstrators stood outside the glass lobby doors, chanting their support and filming the scene on their phones.
The protest was planned by Never Again Action, a nationwide group of Jewish activists that formed about two months ago. Their first protest in Boston in early July shut down traffic during rush hour to protest immigration detention in the city. In August, while the group was protesting in front of a detention center in Rhode Island, a captain at the prison allegedly drove his truck into the crowd. Never Again Action activists have also led protests in cities around the country, including San Francisco, Chicago, and Baltimore.
Their main rallying cry, “close the camps,” draws on the language of concentration camps to denounce migrant camps at the US border, which lawmakers and lawyers have described as overcrowded, squalid, and inhumane.
Of course, those border camps were more than 2,300 miles away from those who marched Thursday evening. But the activists said their goal was to make Bostonians realize that the issue of immigrant detention is not confined to the border. Disruption — blocking traffic, chanting, singing, and potentially getting arrested — is part of the point.
As of 5:40 p.m., aerial news footage of the demonstration showed dozens of marchers blocking traffic near the holocaust memorial. The march snarled traffic on the mile-and-a-half route to Amazon’s office located a short walk away from the Kendall T stop.
Messages left with Amazon were not immediately returned Thursday evening.
Protesters filled the roadway into Cambridge on the Longfellow Bridge shortly after 6 p.m. Three police cars with blinking blue lights followed the crowds onto the otherwise empty bridge, which spans the Charles River, and a line of cars followed the police.
Participants with Never Again Action often refer to their own family histories, and the horror stories about the Holocaust that they learned in synagogue or Hebrew school, to explain why they are in the streets.
“I really feel like this is the future of the Jewish people,” said Susan Abramson, rabbi at Temple Shalom Emeth in Burlington. She leads monthly rallies against ICE and had come to learn from the young group about how to “up the ante” at her own community’s protests.
“Our businesses here in Boston are actively collaborating with ICE,” said Maya Yair, 27, one of the organizers of the march. “This is no time for business as usual.” She said she hoped the public pressure from the march would make local businesses “feel people are watching.”
The protest ended at Amazon’s office, where activists filed into the lobby of the office building chanting “The whole world is watching!” They dropped a banner next to the building reading, “Never Again means # No Tech for ICE” and told the crowd about the history of IBM’s collaboration with the German government during World War II.
“Private companies and tech companies need to stop collaborating with ICE,” said Elizabeth Weinbloom, a Somerville resident.
Boston resident Ben Lorber said this was not the time “to be on the sidelines.”
“As a Jewish person, we’ve seen this before. I had ancestors killed in the Holocaust. We feel this in our bones,” he said. “We need to mobilize.”
The activists chose to march to the Amazon office because, they say, the company makes it easier for ICE to detain and deport immigrants. In June 2018, Amazon employees wrote a letter to company executives detailing their own concerns about the company’s relationship with ICE. The employees specifically asked Amazon to cut ties with the data-mining company Palantir, which provides much of the technological backbone for ICE’s detention and deportations; Palantir runs on Amazon Web Services, according to the employees.
Last year, Amazon pitched its facial-recognition system to ICE officials as a way for the agency to target or identify immigrants, according to The Washington Post.