Photo: How peaceful this photo. There are few things more American than a boy mid-childhood staring down musical notes, instrument in hand. His is a mind engaged in the activities of peaceful learning and growth. This is a house built purely for the benefit of his development so that he may take his place as a thinker and decision-maker within the body politic. This photo gives no indication of the broader story of so many of his peers: the ones living imprisoned, crying out for their parents. The ones living in fear, concerned their parents may leave their home and never return. The ones who live without any clue: too young to know the context, but still in imminent danger of intense and long-lasting suffering. This photo is two truths and a lie: “This is America”– Peaceful, iconic, two breaths away from catastrophe.
There is a very strange way of the world right now. The summer green, the frantic race to the end of the school year, the building excitement for so many wonderful plans made for the weeks to come… all set against the backdrop of suffering that is profound and rattling, shaking the core as well as the root of any onlooker–if nothing else can make a person stop and assess their place in the world and their hand in the events that surround us all, this must be it. This must be it.
And yes, I do believe that we each have had a hand in it. I want to write blame, but I think we know the narratives well enough. Those who sew chaos seemingly for the fuck of it. Those who demand a reordering of the world back into something old and well hidden (but never dead). Those who bitterly deny their complicit mediocrity, who would rather tightly hold on to those crawling out of the barrel rather than seek their own path to ascension. Those of us who snickered as we “flew over” our neighbors. Those of us who sat silent for want of peaceful, smooth conversation rather than standing on carefully cultivated, thoughtful values. Do we not live them? Are they not worth fighting for? Those of us who took up the mantle of fiercely tribal individualism, the singular who is so much smarter and therefore better (and therefore better off than) the whole. Contribution considered conscription, bitterly giving the minimum required while blithely benefiting from what is supposed to be communal infrastructure.
We have come to the beginnings of the incomprehensible and massive consequences of the many, many small, willful compromises of convenience. We have finally come face to face with what happens when we decide we’d rather give in to the elegance of ease instead of doing the necessary hard work of listening, comprehending, discerning and deciding that result in policy that does, actually, work for the benefit of the entire body politic, not just the individual or the very small group.
This is America.
This is who we’ve been for a long while.
Somewhere along the way, we decided that Democracy isn’t work.
As usual, it’s the most fragile among us who suffer at the hands of our many small breakdowns of morality. It’s not just the children in an old Walmart at the border, but also the children in Puerto Rico who suffer at our hands. It’s the children in all communities, really. We forgot that this is a cohort of peers. My two boys will share a nation, state, city/town, and neighborhood with these children we’re currently neglecting or actively traumatizing.
They will share office buildings, coffee houses, roads and highways. They will share boardrooms, breakrooms, meetings and policy conferences. They will share the responsibilities of bearing the burdens we’ve left for them, all while setting a vision for a future we’ll have to all march toward together.
This world is that small. It’s so damn small, Dear Reader.
The task is multi-fold, each layer of it having intense urgency. We have to stop the suffering that is currently happening, create a temporary humane solution that will prevent new suffering from starting again, and demand permanent vision, solutions and execution of policy that will assure that such suffering cannot ever happen again in the future.
If that feels entirely too big for you (and of course it does. Of course it does. That’s ok. Sit with it, breathe, then choose thoughtful action), you can break things down a little bit at a time. (My Father used to say, “you need to tackle this as if you are eating an elephant. Do you know how to eat an elephant, Kyra?” “No. How?” “One piece at a time.”)
Piece one: Speak Truth
If you haven’t made a call to Congress in a while, or if you haven’t written a little postcard to send to the White House, make today your day. Even if you never hear back, even if you think you’re screaming into a void, these communique matter. Even if you have the most progressively liberal representation in Congress (I do, for sure), getting in touch to reinforce your outrage and commitment helps them carry on the fight. Lend them strength by sending them a bit of your voice to take to the Floor and to the meeting rooms where the work gets done.
That’s the easy part.
The hard part is speaking truth in the intimate spaces of your life. At that neighborhood summer picnic. At the family barbecue at your loud-mouth cousin’s. At the town meeting or community event for your representative who is breezing through town on an election stop. At your weekly Bible study. At coffee hour after service. Speak truth. Speak your values. Put them out there and fear not. This is the work. The work of speaking, of listening, of standing, of affirming, of confirming. This is what Democracy looks like. You’re right: screaming matches will get you no where. You know how to speak, you know how to listen. Do the work. Do this hard work. Do it in person. Do it with pride and full spirit.
Piece two: Give where it’s needed
Shore up the walls and give to organizations that are doing the real and specific work to protect and defend families and children at the border. The Young Center does this work and so does Kids in Need of Defense (KIND). The ACLU does so much for so many reasons, but they are very active in this sphere as well.
It’s true that there are people who give sizable donations to places like these, but please don’t think that your money doesn’t make a difference. Money is money and that helps, sure, but it’s also the gesture. By giving, you affirm their work and their mission. You give them further ammunition to fight and fight hard.
Piece three: Continue to fight your chosen fires with diligence and discipline
There are too many fires burning. They seem to grow bigger and brighter and more out of control as the days go on. We knew this would happen. We named it out loud when the crisis was only just starting. And now here we are, mid term, mid crisis… and the fight has been long. This is the time to be reminded: Stay focused. Do not give up. It’s midnight, it’s dark and it’s ugly, but you are still here and that means you still have the agency and the call and the duty to make a difference.
You cannot fight all the fires. This crisis at the border is absolutely one that you should lend some of your water to. Lend it, then go back to your own. Fight your chosen fires. They don’t stop burning because there is a new fire that has flared up. Lend your water, return to your fire, and stay focused.
I’m assuming that if you are reading this blog post today, it means that you are in a safe place and that you know where your children are. We are lucky and blessed today. Hug your babies and kiss them, give thanks for their safety. If you choose to pray for those children who have been separated from their parents, please do so. But remember, prayer is a promise: to take action, to do something, to work within the Earthly in full faith that the Divine has heard and is working as well. Indeed, when you pray and you take action, the Divine does its work through you. No matter what, you must be here for the work.
This is America.
A Democracy that is ours.
Democracies require work.
Be here for the work.
You are loved. What you do matters. For the people in your life, you are the light against the darkness. For the children at the border, you are the key to their reunification, safety, and health. Take action. Do some work. Today.
Until Monday, take care and do the work.