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The sun sets behind the Statue of Liberty in New York, July 1, 2018.
Andres Kudacki/AP
Citizenship

What We Know About the July Fourth Statue of Liberty Protester

Why Global Citizens Should Care
Therese Okoumou brought increased attention to the crisis of migrant children being separated from their parents at the US-Mexico border. Through her peaceful protest, she joins a long tradition of activists who have fought for equality and justice. You can join us in taking action on this issue and the rest of the Global Goals here.

For more than three hours on July 4, TV news stations were riveted to a woman pacing along and sitting on the base of New York’s Statue of Liberty, according to The New York Times.

It was a surreal image, dense with symbolism, that became even more layered with meaning as the evening unfolded and information about the person emerged — an immigrant protesting the detention and abuse of immigrants on a statue meant as a beacon for immigration on Independence Day.

The protester was Therese Okoumou, a personal trainer from Staten Island who initially migrated to the US a decade ago from the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to USA Today.

Take Action: Call On Your Representatives to #ReuniteFamiliesNow and Stop the Migrant Crisis with Targeted Foreign Aid

She’s part of an activist group called Rise and Resist that protests the administration of President Donald Trump.

Members of the group arrived at the Statue of Liberty on the afternoon of July 4 wearing shirts that spelled out “Abolish ICE” and unfurled a banner from the statue’s viewing area that read the same, Splinter reports.

ICE stands for Immigration Customs Enforcement, a law enforcement body formed in 2002 that handles the deportation and detention of undocumented immigrants, among other responsibilities.

Take Action: Hundreds of Thousands of People March to Keep Families Together

In recent months, activists and politicians have called for ICE to be abolished because of alleged abuses of powers and extreme tactics that have been taken to deter immigration, such as the separation of undocumented immigrant children from their parents.

Okoumou was a part of this initial protest, but then she decided to escalate the act of opposition.

After the banner was unfurled, she climbed 25 feet to reach the base of the Statue of Liberty, The Times reports.

Read More: 7 Ways You Can Celebrate Immigrants This July Fourth

That’s when the helicopters, emergency teams, and television crews arrived.

Although Okoumou was peacefully lingering on the base, Liberty Island, where the statue is held, was evacuated, causing 4,500 tourists to be hastily herded onto boats, The Times reports, and canceling the island’s tourism for the day. National Parks officials told The Times that the protest disrupted the plans of thousands of people.

For the next three hours, security teams tried to coax her down from the statue, but she refused, demanding instead that all of the migrant children currently separated from their parents be returned before she would consider descending, according to the Associated Press.

At times, she could be seen holding a t-shirt that read “Rise and Resist. Trump Care Makes Us Sick,” according to ABC’s Eyewitness News, referring to the Trump administration’s efforts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act.

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Eventually law enforcement cornered Okoumou on the base and detained her. She was charged with various crimes and is expected to be arraigned in court Thursday. Six other members of Rise and Resist have also been detained for taking part in the banner protest, The Times reports.

The organization is supporting its members with legal help.

The Statue of Liberty has long been a site for protests, drawing suffragists, Vietnam War protesters, and advocates for refugees, who regard the monument as a moral compass for the country.

Okoumou’s act of defiance continues that tradition, and many people have said that the image of her on the statue — a speck of human emitting a message of defiance amid giant folds of blue-green — has made it into the pantheon of great American protests.

“On a day like Independence Day, we felt that it was the perfect melding of these huge symbols of what this country stands for,” Jay W. Walker, a member of Rise and Resist, told The Times.