That Big Green Lady

Could America possibly have a more relevant poem right now than this one? 

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

Image by H. Zell, Wikimedia Commons

Thanks to a wonderful article* by Walt Hunter in The Atlantic, “The Story Behind the Poem on the Statue of Liberty–and thanks to a very un-wonderful comment by the president–I’ve been thinking a lot  about Emma Lazarus’s poem.

Hunter’s article points out many features of  poem which I had never thought about before: its unusual structure (Petrarchan Sonnet–can I get a “yeah” from my English nerds?); its usage by various politicians in underlining our favorite dream of American exceptionalism; the nuance of the statue’s gender in contrast with statues of yore.

But here’s the passage of Hunter’s that really sticks with me:

The philosopher Simone Weil argues that the impersonal cry of “Why am I being hurt?” accompanies claims to human rights. To refuse to hear this cry of affliction, Weil continues, is the gravest injustice one might do to another. The voice of the statue in Lazarus’s poem can almost be heard as an uncanny reply, avant la lettre, to one of the slogans chanted by immigrants and refugees around the world today: “We are here because you were there.” The statue’s cry is a response to one version of Weil’s “Why am I being hurt” that specifies the global relation between the arrival of immigrants and the expansion of the colonial system.

“We are here because you were there.” America has immigrants because the global system we benefit from displaces people. But lucky us–we BENEFIT from those desperate people.

Raise your hand if you’re a child of immigrants. Thought so. Can’t find a way to talk about this with your anti-immigrant neighbor? Yeah, I struggle with that too. Meanwhile–stay involved. Stay heartened. And VOTE.

*Note: shout-out to Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings for bringing this article to my attention.

What If I Did? Four Words Away From Empathy

When I make my way through my American day, I don’t have to think about the way my skin color, or the style of my dress or hair, or my accent might be taken by my fellow Americans. But what if I did?

I don’t have to worry that someone’s phone call to authorities might lead to my deportation away from my family. What if I did?

I don’t have to fear for my sons that a chance encounter with law enforcement might kill them. What if I did?

I don’t have to worry that a friend or family member might succumb to addiction and death despite everything I did for them. What if I did?

I don’t have to think hard before choosing which bathroom to use, knowing the wrong choice could get me beaten up. What if I did?

I don’t have to check my wallet or the family budget before buying myself a cup of tea, or a muffin, or even dinner out, whenever the urge strikes. What if I did?

I don’t ever have to suffer from lack of natural beauty. What if I did?

In each of these scenarios, I can imagine different responses, in thought or action or both, from the ones that flow from my usual cushy oblivion. I can imagine more involvement, yes. More self-education. But most of all, I don’t have to imagine, I FEEL more empathy, both toward people I am different from, and toward people with whom I deeply disagree.

So what? Still working on that one. Stay with me.

Hate Phone-calling? Me Too. But Let’s Not Let the DACA Dream Die.

I hate calling politicians. I’d much rather go for a walk with them and rant and rave lecture them ask them what the hell they were thinking explain my point of view–and, of course, politely listen to theirs.

But today I called a whole bunch of them about DACA. [That’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an Obama-era act which has granted permission to stay and work to about 800,000 immigrants brought to the U.S. originally by their parents.] 

DACA’s the kind of act that makes me feel proud to be an American. Stay, you fine, hardworking kids, you Dreamers–stay and prosper! (And while you’re at it, teach some of our native-born kids what it means to be an American.)

And DACA being under threat makes my stomach turn heavy and cold. This is what last year’s election boded. Now it’s happening. Or it might.

From the May 2006 Immigration rally in Los Angeles (courtesy Jonathan McIntosh, Wikimedia Commons): No Human Being is Illegal!

Hence the phone calls. The president is on the fence so far. As the New York Times explains,

 

Since attacking DACA on the campaign trail, President Trump has pledged to keep the program alive, calling recipients, also known as Dreamers, “absolutely incredible kids” who deserve compassion. But in recent days, key players in his administration have advised Mr. Trump to wind down the program, and his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has informed him he considers it unconstitutional and cannot defend it in court, according to people familiar with the discussions who insisted on anonymity to describe private deliberations. While the White House has declined to comment on the fate of DACA, several officials and people briefed on the discussions now say the president is on the brink of ending it, although they note that Mr. Trump often changes his mind.

Mr. Trump has been pondering — and publicly agonizing over — what to do about the program since he took office. But discussions about it inside the White House took on new urgency after a group of conservative state attorneys general threatened to sue the Trump administration in federal court unless it begins to dismantle the program by Sept. 5.

Maybe I’m naive. But I see a slim bit of hope here. If you do too, here are some people to call to register your opinion:

White House Comment Line: 202-456-6213

Jeff Sessions, U.S. Dept. of Justice Comment Line: 202-353-1555

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan: (213) 335-2244

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (855) 336-0788 (Note: these last two numbers will begin with a brief message about the threat to DACA–very useful info)

And if you prefer to talk to (and thank) someone standing up for immigrants, Washington’s Attorney General Bob Ferguson is leading a coalition of 15 other attorneys general to support the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans (DAPA) against a separate legal challenge.  Is your state’s AG on this list? Call Bob’s office to find out: (360) 753-6200.

You know what? I still hate calling politicians. But I feel better knowing that maybe a few of you guys are now joining me.