So This Is What It’s Like

Living among the concentration camps of America.

Concentration camps in the United States are nothing new.  As has been widely reported, one of the many new, austere, prison camps for dividing up and indefinitely detaining families for the crime of being refugees that has recently opened up is one in Oklahoma that was previously used for the same purposes during the Second World War to imprison Japanese American families and to kidnap and abuse Native American children.  Concentration camps in America go back to the days when white people could supplement their farming income by being paid for each Indian scalp they turned in to the colonial authorities — they go back to the reservations and the slave plantations, and they continue to this day with mass incarceration, mass torture through solitary confinement and by many other means.

What’s different now, as opposed to how it has been in anyone’s living memory up til the present, is the authorities are bragging about their concentration camps, very openly expanding them, openly flouting court judgment after court judgment telling them to return the children to their parents, and the government departments ignoring the courts and committing crimes against humanity that flagrantly violate US and international law are being led by what is known as “acting” heads — these are mostly people that have not even been vetted by any Congressional procedures, and just appointed, as blatantly political appointments, with no sign that the administration is ever going to submit to the normal appointment process, that involves a bit of Congressional oversight.

What’s different now is there are no more dogwhistles, there are no more fig leaves, there’s just completely open, naked racism, xenophobia, sexism; and then, plans for a new world war, beginning with an impossibly draconian embargo on global trade with Iran, that is designed to provoke some kind of desperate response from an increasingly cornered political leadership of an increasingly hungry, angry nation full of young people whose dreams are currently being crushed by Uncle Sam.

And you can hear how the corporate media suddenly then talks of “the US government” when it comes to the potential war with Iran.  It’s no longer the crazy, arrogant Trump, but now it’s “the State Department” — as if said department weren’t actually being led by a totally deranged ideologue bent on nuclear war.

So they increasingly put this veneer of respectability on this administration that they have for years now been describing in overwhelmingly negative terms.  The corporate media doesn’t use the word, but much of the population increasingly realizes, either with glee or with horror, that they are living in an nascent sort of fascist country, where ultimately the future is very unknown and, for many, far more terrifying than the present.

Both in person, before I left the US to spend the summer in Denmark, and, of course, online, I encounter more and more people saying things like, “my country is kidnapping, imprisoning and torturing refugee children.  We have concentration camps.  I don’t know what to do.”

Of course, people may go protest, and come home, and they — we all — know this isn’t going to change anything.  To one degree or another, most people realize that challenging what is becoming an entrenched fascist sort of regime will require far more than some protest rallies.  People know you have to shut down the country, stop business as usual, like in other recent examples on planet Earth where popular movements have caused governments to fall.  But one person can’t just start being a movement.

So we wait for that massive, militant movement to form that we can join, and we wait, and we wait.  We all had that conversation when we were kids about how if we could go back in time and shoot Hitler, even though we’d be sacrificing our lives in the process, we’d do it, but we probably wouldn’t, and we don’t.  The overwhelming majority of humanity, quite sensibly, according to the historical record, don’t stick their necks out like that unless they think there’s at least some remote chance of coming out the other end with their heads intact, along with a victorious social movement and an end to the fascist dictator they’re trying to get rid of in the first place.  Social movements are based on optimism, and this isn’t an optimistic moment in America.  So this is what it’s like.

David Rovics is a songwriter, podcaster, and part of Portland Emergency Eviction Response. Go to to sign up to receive text notifications, so you can be part of this effort. Another Portland is possible. Read other articles by David, or visit David's website.