By Doug Porter
An event billed as a ‘Rally at the Border,’ previously scheduled for Saturday, March 25 has been canceled. I’m not sure ‘canceled’ is the right word. “Collapsed’ might be a better description. I’m hoping the sixteen hundred people who RSVP’d for the rally don’t waste their time showing up.
I’ve been digging into this story for a couple of days, and expect to post updates as people become aware of what’s occurred. There are lessons to be learned from this experience, coming in an era where anybody with a Facebook page and some clipart can call themselves ‘The Resistance.”
I am one of those who now feels fooled by the slick graphics and high sounding words connected with the We Are One foundation. While putting together the weekly progressive calendar of events, I routinely vet groups announcing rallies and demonstrations.
I failed to follow up on my gut feeling that something wasn’t right here.
There was little to no information about the organization sponsoring the event to be found. I googled. I searched Facebook. I asked around. But I didn’t ask the right people.
It turns out groups and individuals advocating for Latinos and immigration justice have been complaining loudly for several weeks about not being informed, consulted with, or excluded from the Rally at The Border.
You’d think a group like the We Are One Foundation would want local groups familiar with the issues to buy in. From what I can tell, outreach was haphazard, follow up was infrequent, and the focus was all about identifying resources that could be exploited.
One source described their experience as, “all take and no give.”
A Fork in The Road
There are two threads to this story. The first is the WAO Foundation, which, from what I can tell, is simply a shell created by Lawrence Deshawn Silva Nathaniel. It was created in January as a means to ‘brand’ the Rally at the Border event, which people who asked were told, was the day the foundation’s aims and purposes would be revealed.
WAO/Nathaniel’s actions need to be looked at separately from those of Mohamed M Elnakib and Natasha Salgado, two college students recruited as volunteers to work on organizing the rally.
Elnakib agreed to be interviewed for this story, Nathaniel hasn’t responded to an invitation to answer questions.
The We Are One Foundation’s Facebook page and website both feature what appear to be professionally produced videos discussing immigration issues in general terms featuring subjects from assorted countries.
The WAO Facebook page announced on March 11, that the Presidential House (which exists only as a Facebook page as far as I can tell) “will be our official headquarters organization, the Presidential House starts their full transition process.”
A Google search for “Presidential House” turned up no results seeming connected to the Facebook page I viewed.
The Facebook ‘About’ section says the group was founded in 2009. The Facebook page itself was created on February 1, 2016. It describes itself as a ‘government organization.’ There is no content, other than several attempts at creating an official looking logo.
Two Events in Texas?
We Are One also has border event pages posted for Laredo and Del Rio, Texas. The event page for Laredo has a speakers list including local politicians. An organizer for the Laredo group told me they’d have no contact with the foundation lately and had paid for the event out their own pockets. The Del Rio page now directs visitors to another page, which no longer exists, according to facebook.
The We Are One Facebook page also has announcements for “Two new online streaming services, for new and upcoming artist a platform for the unheard voices” coming this fall.
San Ysidro activist Olga Espinoza says she was contacted by Nathaniel on behalf of the WAO foundation after questioning a fundraising plea she saw on Facebook. She was asked for a list of grassroots organizations working in the area. Then she was blocked from any further communications.
A Not-Safe Safe Space
Later on, Nathaniel informed people his organization contacted both the SDPD and Border Patrol so that undocumented people during the rally could have a ‘safe space’ to protest at the rally.
Activists working on immigration and border issues were aghast at the concept of cooperation with a federal agency associated with picking up people off the street. To them, it sounded like a trap.
Here’s a snip from a warning posted by activist William Johnson (emphasis mine):
…[We]have been in contact with the organizer over the past week, and throughout the week we became aware of information we found to be very disturbing. The organizer, the “We Are One Foundation”, said that they talked to the Border Patrol, I.C.E., the Department of Homeland Security, and SDPD about their plans for the rally, and asked for their approval to hold it at Larsen Field.
This problem is compounded by the fact that law enforcement seem to be the only organizations that the We Are One Foundation has talked to in San Diego, as many orgs and activists who have been working on Border issues for decades have publicly stated that the We Are One Foundation made no effort over the past 2 months to reach out to them or their organizations.
The Party’s Over (& It’s Everybody Else’s Fault)
At 9am on March 23, a notice canceling the event was posted on the San Ysidro event page:
The Rally was meant to show, the love of hope and peace and unity. Over the past few weeks, because of lack of communication and transparency, the vision for this event failed to come to light.
I believe we are the future and we should stop living in fear, and get out and make a change. It is sad to see the hard work that so many put into this just go to waste, we have a long walk to freedom and we will have setbacks and at times it may feel like our voices are not being heard. By shutting down this event, we did not shut out our voices. This rally was more than any local organization, this was never about the foundation but it was always about the people, this was about you.
It was heartbreaking to see the push back from many local organization, in the San Diego community. When fighting for humans we are fighting for each other, it’s never about fighting for which organization means more than the other.
Thank you all for the support and the hard work…
The $460.00 will be donated to local groups in the San Diego area.
Threats, Conspiracies, and Ambition
Some of the notices/comments on Facebook indicated the event was being canceled due to bomb threats. The San Diego Police Department is unaware of any such threats. I have asked Nathaniel for details about the threats but so far…[crickets].
There are comments following this notice from people who seem think there was some sort of local conspiracy to quash the event and are still planning on attending.
Some of the people I contacted this morning believed the We Are One foundation was a front for “Democrats from back east who are looking for new jobs.”
The most likely conclusion about WAO/Nathaniel, based on people I communicated with, is that he’s seeking fame. And maybe has a desire to use his involvement as a platform to run for office. Here’s a link to a video Nathaniel posted seemingly indicating his intentions. (Warning: It’s on autoplay, which is why I didn’t embed it.)
Another Rally Announced
Mohamed Elnakib and Natasha Salgado, the local students recruited to do the legwork on the now-canceled event, are trying to atone for their involvement with WAO/Lawrence by organizing another border rally on May 13.
We are individual organizers who are no longer associated with the We Are One Foundation. We have retracted ourselves from the foundation and will want to continue this event and pursue the message but we want to take a more personable approach and do it correctly. We want to incorporate the local community in our planning process for a successful and inclusive event and do it in a way that should have been done since the very beginning. We hope you can still support the community and us in this endeavor and if you would like to be part of the planning process please message us directly.
Look for more updates….
Looking for some action? Check out the Weekly Progressive Calendar, published every Friday in this space, featuring Demonstrations, Rallies, Teach-ins, Meet Ups and other opportunities to get your activism on.
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Lonnie Rowell says
Thank you for the good investigatory work on this one, Doug. Proved to be helpful in the face of so much confusion over the past four days. A shame it turned out the way it did, but better to have some of the background.
Anne Marie Barron says
any event that purports to support a population of people that are more vulnerable to US policies should at the very least work with representatives from these peoples. thank you for shedding a light on problems with FB organizing.
Thanks for this information. I had calendared the event and not looked at it again. I’m far away from San Diego (Joshua Tree) and got on line tonight to figure out where I would need to park and to map my route, etc. I’m glad I stumbled onto this page or I’m afraid I would have made the drive for nothing. Thank you!
P.S. I just followed you on Twitter so I can get your calendar updates. Thanks.
Glenda Overfelt says
The Del Rio event was extremely successful.
Doug Porter says
About 150 people, including a Congressman from both parties showed up and formed a human chain across the bridge over the border. We Are One was not mentioned in any of the media coverage of the event, so I’m assuming, like the Laredo event, this was locally run.
Liz Shopes says
Mohammed and Natasha have successfully led the rallies against the Muslim ban at the airport. They deserve our help in making the May 13th rally a successful event.