At 3:45pm yesterday, three students walked into Mark Kirk's Chicago campaign office and asked to schedule a meeting with the man who wants to be their Senator.
The Congressman is against the DREAM Act, a bill that would give these students and thousands of others the chance to earn a path to legalization by attending college or joining the military. The students thought that if the Congressman actually heard their stories, he might change his mind.
But after four and a half hours waiting... after dozens of friends and supporters joined them and held a joint protest outside... after 2 waves of cameras and press interviews with local medias... after dozens of calls to the Congressman's offices - in DC, Chicago, and Northbrook... and after a Kirk volunteer finally called the police on them... they emerged from the office without a meeting.
"We weren't going to leave until we got a meeting or until the police came," said Cindy, an undocumented student at the University of Chicago who was inside the building.
They weren't surprised that the police came first. Congressman Kirk has refused to meet with advocates from Illinois Immigrant Action and their partner organizations before. Today's refusal came after 2 years worth of efforts, including 40+ formal requests for meetings, 7 in-person visits, 5 prayer vigils, and literally over 16,000 calls/faxes to his office.
"I am not a criminal," said Jesus Morales, a former ROTC member who participated in the sit-in. "I just want to be a Marine and serve my country like Congressman Kirk did."
They agreed ahead of time that if approached by the police, they would cooperate. And so they did. In addition to the 3 students inside the building, another 50 gathered outside, chanted, and wrote their messages on a giant chalkboard. The theme of their event was "Students Take Kirk to School on the DREAM Act," referring to earlier claims by the Congressman that the bill "needed more study," even though it's been around since 2001.
"How many times can Kirk say no to meeting with his constituents? He is playing politics with these kids lives, and he doesn't even seem to care," said Lawrence Benito, director of IIA, the group that organized this and 4 other events this week to raise awareness about Kirk's record - from his vote in favor of Sensenbrenner to his support for racial profiling of "young Arab males" to suggesting contraceptives as a "long-term solution... to illegal immigration." Illinois Immigrant Action has made 437,167 calls to educate Illinois immigrant voters.
After the three protestors left the office amid hugs and chants of "Undocumented! And Unafraid!", the group met briefly to evalute. "I feel good," offered Arianna Salgado, echoing the feelings of many who stuck around for four hours in the cold supporting their friends inside by blocking the front entrance of the office. The discussion turned to how the next time out many would feel ready to force arrest and risk their own deportations, if that's what it took to get a reaction from Kirk.
And so the night ended with one final chant: "We'll be back! We'll be back!"