DSA members held a demonstration outside a fundraiser for Representative Adam Schiff, a centrist Democrat.
On Saturday night, outside Pasadena’s legendary Ice House Comedy Club, a group of protesters marched up and down the sidewalk, brandishing signs and chanting. They were not protesting the club, but Representative Adam Schiff (D-CA) who was holding a fundraiser there that night.
“Adam Schiff created ICE,” they protesters chanted, referring to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency responsible for the detainment and deportation of undocumented immigrants. “If he can vote to create it, then he can vote to abolish it!” they chanted.
Many of the patrons were taken aback by the protesters, with reactions ranging from incredulity to outrage.
“This is the wrong issue!” one man said as he passed by the demonstrators. One attendee flipped the protesters off while another twirled his finger at his temple, indicating that the protesters were crazy.
“Schiff had nothing to do with it,” said Steven Gibson, an attendee, “it’s as dumb as a rock” he said with a chuckle, referring to the protester’s claim that Schiff was somehow responsible for ICE’s actions.
“I don’t believe it…they have their facts wrong” said an attendee named Helen, who declined to give her last name. “He’s a good man… he’s so level-headed and he speaks with truth, there are very few in Washington that do that.”
The demonstrators, most of them members of the Los Angeles branch of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), were referring to Schiff’s 2003 vote for the Homeland Security Act, which was passed in the wake of September 11th, and created the Department of Homeland Security, of which ICE is a part. Schiff was one of only 88 Democrats in the House to vote for the bill.
“Adam Schiff is a Democrat but Democrats are just as guilty as Republicans in the creation of ICE and ultimately the policy that detained a lot of these families in the first place,” Eugene Pesikov, a demonstrator and DSA member said. “Being a Democrat doesn’t mean that you’re opposed to families being detained for nothing more than coming here trying to flee a desperate situation where their lives are ultimately at risk,” he added.
Kelsey Goldberg, a DSA member who helped to organize the demonstration argued with several of the patrons as they headed for the club’s entrance. “A lot of people think it’s Democrats versus Republicans but Democrats expanded ICE, they were happy to use it, they deported two million people,” she said, referring to the number of people deported under the Obama administration. “We want to encourage Democratic constituents to think critically and put pressure on their representatives,” she said.
“It’s more complicated than that,” Brooke Robbins, an attendee who had a heated discussion with Goldberg said. “This is based on a decision Schiff made 15 years ago, they’re saying he started ICE, some of the chants their making aren’t exactly accurate to the record of his political career,” she said.
Indeed, Schiff did not vote specifically for the creation of ICE, only for the act which created the Department of Homeland Security (though the text of that act does specify the establishment of an immigration enforcement agency). Additionally, the large number of deportations under the Obama Administration was in part due to a change in the legal definition of deportations. Before the Obama Administration, immigrants caught while crossing the border were returned to Mexico and listed as “voluntary returns,” not deportations.
Many of Schiff’s supporters who attended the fundraiser stressed the importance of Democratic Party solidarity, saying that getting President Trump and his fellow Republicans was the most important cause.
“Right now [Schiff] is voting differently and advocating differently,” Robbins, a Schiff supporter, said. “So hopefully people will be aware of that during the mid-term elections…we need people to abolish Trump and his administration and his agenda, which is the priority.”
This was an increasingly common scene since the 2016 election, Democrats being challenged or criticized from the left. The strong reactions the protesters elicited from Schiff’s supporters reflected the tension within the Democratic Party over championing progressive policies.
Party stalwarts, reflected in the Schiff supporters at the Ice House, stressed that ousting Republicans was the most pressing goal, and that any other policy consideration should fall by the wayside until Democrats were back in power.
On the other hand, a younger, more left leaning electorate says that the failure to embrace progressive policies is precisely why Democrats lost in 2016.
“If Democrats want to create cohesion they’d get behind people power movements, they’d get behind supporting healthcare for all, they would get behind repealing a lot of these unjust policies that have been created under both parties,” DSA member Pesikov said. “So the Democrats, their problems are their own doing.”