Refugees: What Would Mr. Rogers Think?
As the new administration took office in early 2017, two groups were firmly in its crosshairs as threats to our way of life: Muslims and refugees/immigrants. My goal is to use the photo essay as a way to challenge the false narratives about these people: Muslims want to take over our political system and eliminate anyone who stands in their way; refugees and immigrants want to hurt us and take our jobs.
“Muslins: A Well Kept Secret” was published in early 2017: http://www.tgoldmanphotography.com/muslims-a-well-kept-secret.html. I’m now working on a series of stories about refugees and immigrants. This first story is a result of the recent self inflicted wound by the administration, the Zero Tolerance Policy, that separated children from families who crossed the border illegally. Images of children in cages created a nationwide firestorm of protest. This story is about my experience at the "Families Belong Together" rally in Washington D.C.
I had a hard time choosing a title for this photo essay: “I Really DO Care, Don’t U?” or “This is America- This Is NOT Who We Are!” or “This is America- Maybe This IS Who We Are!”… But one protestor’s sign provided a title that says it all:
Refugees: What Would Mr. Rogers Think? What would the late great humanitarian, caregiver to children, and advocate for diversity, say to refugees trying to reach safety in America?: "Won’t you be my neighbor?"… Protestors chanted: "No hate, no fear… imm-i-grants are welcome here!"
For what seems to be an eternity, the news has been a non-stop flurry of charges and denials about interference in the 2016 election. Any other story that comes up, even a summit with North Korea, quickly gets swallow up with "The Russia thing." But then came the announcement that the administration would begin separating children from their asylum seeking parents at the southern border. Then came the images of children in cages. Then came the sounds of toddlers wailing for their parents. This became a 20 megaton news story with images that looked like internment camps, and with children being dispersed around the country as their parents were detained and then deported. And then it became clear there were literally baby prisons somewhere in the country. People trying to enter the United States, either because they were fleeing violence or trying to find a better life, were being referred to as vermin infesting our country. We are reverting to acts of our shameful past such as Japanese American internment camps and so much more. As a country, we have to admit and accept that such things have happened.
With all the claims that only congress could solve the child separation issue, national pressure resulted in a reversal. As of this moment, families will now be detained together for what amounts to prison for a misdemeanor. Over 2,000 children remain separated with no clear process to reunite them with their parents.
An outcome of the many policies of the administration is a resurgence the likes of which we haven’t seen since Vietnam: mass marches and rallies against the government. This latest policy issue is no different. Almost overnight "Families Belong Together" was organized for June 30, 2018. Rallies were planned for all 50 states plus the epicenter- the White House:
“June 20, 2018, 8:00 PM ET — EVENTS ARE ON!… The executive order that Donald Trump signed today is not a solution to the crisis created by his administration; it keeps kids imprisoned indefinitely, and doesn't reunite thousands of separated families. But it does show the administration is reacting to public pressure, so we will continue to increase our pressure for justice at hundreds of events on Saturday, June 30, to say that families belong together - and free.”
There was only one place to be on June 30: Washington D.C.!
It was unbearably hot with sun blazing when I reached Lafayette Square just across from the White House. I had vowed not to set eyes on that building as long as the current occupant was there, but that commitment needed to be put on hold. The only thing that saved me and other older folks from the heat were large shade trees.
The rally consisted of speeches, music, and unending cheers and jeers from the large crowd. At the conclusion we marched passed the White House and then on Pennsylvania Avenue towards the capital.
The Rally- Sights and Quotes
“We rally in front of the White House and the world to demonstrate that we resist, we condemn…”
“How did we get here?”
“How did we get to this moment in time where thousands of children have been separated from their families?”
“They have endured unspeakable hardships and violence in their own countries.”
“Their mothers and fathers risked everything to bring them here to the United States of America to seek asylum, justice and to build a better life.”
“But when they reached our border these children were ripped from their parent’s arms”… (Las Familias Merecen Estar Unidas: Families Deserve To Be United.)
“Young boys and girls, toddlers and babies.”
“Yes, babies held in cages and in detention.”
“This cruel and inhumane policy wasn’t an accident- it was by design.”
“This administration and the president have been planning this for more than a year.”
“Yes I'm considering (that), in order to deter more movement along this terribly dangerous network; I am considering exactly that… They will be well cared for as we deal with their parents.” (John Kelly, Secretary of Homeland Security- CNN interview)… Tell that to Mariesita’s family!
“They were arresting everyone including asylum seekers and Attorney General Jeff Sessions got the green light from the president for the Zero Tolerance Policy.”
“Throughout the month of May thousands of families were divided.”
“Children were shipped to different states in the middle of the night.”
“Young boys held in detention camps.”
“We still haven’t seen the girls and the babies.”
“The children who have been taken- their sense of safely has been stolen; these children try everyday to summon their parents as children do with whimpers and cries, with calls and lifted arms; every time their cries go unanswered, they experience again the terror of being alone and helpless… As days pass and their cries for their parents go unanswered they often grow quiet and despondent; the chemicals that are released under this kind of stress breakdown the developing brain and body sending off a cascade of damage, much of which may never be repaired; there is no more damage that can be done to a child than to rob them of their parents- not war, not physical pain; parents are plunged into their own panic and grief… That this is done purposefully is unthinkable- this separation and torture can never be allowed to happen again.”
“The president lied that he couldn’t stop it, but we refused to back down and he signed an executive order.”
“But we know that all he did was to add to the horror making indefinite detention of families as the policy.”
“This is why we march in cities and towns today.”
“We want to reunite these families with their children and stop their separation in the first place.”
“We want to end indefinite detention and we want to stop the inhumane policy of zero tolerance.”
“This society is in a state of moral emergency!”
“As a Syrian Muslim woman I wake up each day with a knot in my stomach for my own family wondering what injustice this day will bring... This past week five men on the Supreme Court made it legal to discriminate against me and my family solely because of what we believe and how we pray.”
A 12-year-old daughter of undocumented immigrants: “I don’t understand why they are being so mean to us children; don’t they know how much we love our families- why do they hurt us like this?… It’s evil!... I live with the constant fear of losing my mom to deportation; I don’t want to live with this fear- it’s scary- I can’t sleep- I can’t study- I am stressed… I’m afraid they will take my mom away while she is at work.”
“I want to speak to my community right now in small towns all across the country… Incarcerating families together does not solve the crisis we are facing in Haywood County North Carolina- it won’t bring back jobs or give us health care… If we come together things will start to get better for everyone and everything will grow- we just need a little vision and open-mindedness… I still live right where I grew up; my ancestors were immigrants and I see myself in their humanity… I’m here to say I stand with them and I hope that you will too.”
Protesters were of one mind- one voice- one commitment.
Mr. President: What if she was YOUR child?
The rally ended and we marched. Emotions were high and the intense heat didn’t seem to matter anymore. First stop: the Lily-White House.
Candidates to occupy this house have no minimum requirement for humanity, honesty, intellect, and wisdom. Voters have no requirement to seek the moral high ground. We get who we get- sometimes good and sometimes not so much… Candidates often make promises they cannot or decide not to keep. This day bears witness that the current administration is committed to deliver everything it promised including walls and travel bans to brown/black refugees/immigrants from S-hole countries: “… vermin who would infest our country!”… They must really think this will keep America lily-white, but it’s time to wake up to the reality of a diverse world!
Protesters had their say.
Heading To Pennsylvania Avenue and the Capital
The crowd chanted:
- “Tell me what democracy looks like… this is what democracy looks like!”
- “No hate, no fear… imm-i-grants are welcome here!”
- “No more torture at our borders… you don’t have to follow orders!”
- “Say it loud, say it clear… fam-a-lies are welcome here!”
- “Our fam-a-lies are under a-ttack, wha-do-we-do… fight back!”
Emolument Monument: “… no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.” (U.S. Constitution)
There were many calls to abolish ICE- but this one had teeth!
A proud flag that welcomes immigrants.
A sad flag turned upside down just like the country it represents.
Checks and Balances: Our representatives could do something… but they won’t.
Why is this happening in the United States of America?... Here’s what people said:
- “People in the middle of the country are uneducated; they’re predominantly white and in terror of becoming the minority… But it will happen and there’s nothing they can do to stop it; #45 and Fox News just feed their fear.”
- “It’s the perceived loss of their rights- I say perceived because when you empower other people you don’t have less power yourself; it plays out across the board with African Americans, Muslims, Latinos etc., and one thing I see in common with those groups is they are all brown; what really bothers me is that it happened in Germany- it’s the same thing… I’ve traveled all over the world and I’ve found that everybody wants the same basic things- a job that pays enough to provide the basics, a good education, the right to express your opinions; when you only interact with people like yourself you never hear another opinion.”
- “It’s capitalism and greed- money and profit is the most important thing as opposed to human rights; and right now white men are shaking in their seats because they have enjoyed being the upper echelon for centuries and they see that more brown babies are being born than white babies; they are seeing that their power is eroding and they are very threatened by women and people of color… That’s how Trump got into power from white men and the women who support them; they are kicking and screaming and holding on for dear life- they will allow anything to happen no matter how heinous to keep their position just like you saw in Nazi Germany; but white power is going down, like it or not- it’s just a matter of time.”
- “In Spanish we have the saying: 'These are kicks of a drowning man'… the demographics are changing and traditionalists are afraid.”
The issue with white male power is clear. But are there deeper questions? Male dominance seems inherent in nature, but what if the color palette were reversed- or is it always about whiteness? Or even more basic, is it the primal instinct for survival that makes us fear others who are different? Who are we and why do we behave the way we do?
Whatever the reason, humans do have an advantage over lower animals and our distant relatives- we have the ability to reason. We have the ability to challenge our deepest visceral urges if we choose to do so. But fear is so easy to stoke within a vulnerable population at the hands of an effective charismatic leader. This was the case in Nazi Germany and we are seeing it today in the United States… the results can be devastating.
“Democrats are the problem. They don’t care about crime and want illegal immigrants, no matter how bad they may be, to pour into and infest our Country, like MS-13. They can’t win on their terrible policies, so they view them as potential voters!” (Presidential Tweet)
But there are leaders who speak to our better angles. One that I particularly admire is Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney. In his soft-spoken way he always says that Philadelphia should be a welcoming place with opportunities for everyone.
He spoke at the 2018 World Refugee Day celebration at Philadelphia’s City Hall. After reading his prepared remarks he took off his glasses and spoke from the heart: “I would just like to say, my own history in this country is one of a refugee- not me personally but my ancestors…”
“Because they were being starved out of their homes and farms, they decided they had no other choice but to leave; they got on what were called coffin ships and they sailed across a terrible ocean in the northern part of the Atlantic- many of them died in the crossing and were buried at sea… When we got to Boston, New York and Philadelphia, we literally crawled off those coffin ships and went on with our lives; we had no papers or documents- Ellis Island didn’t open until 1892 and most of us came here in the 1840’s.”
“We were told: ‘Get the hell out- we don’t want you here- your presence here is a plot from the Catholic Church and the Pope to take over America’… sounds similar to what they say about Muslims today; these no-nothings were the Donald Trump followers of the 1840’s; they felt it was necessary harass, start riots, to burn down churches; two were burned to the ground in Philadelphia- one in Kensington (St. Michael’s) and the other in Old City (St. Augustine’s); they were going after St. Philip Neri in Queen Village but were fought back by the Pennsylvania Guard and 12 people lost their lives.”
“I tell you these stories because when you are a 'hyphenated American' and you’ve been here for a long time you sometimes forget your heritage and history; you have to remember your history so you don’t push other people away who are trying something similar to what your own ancestors did and that goes for every ethnic group in this country… My religion, and all others if I’m not mistaken, teaches us to be kind to the stranger, to feed the hungry, to visit those in prison… And I can assure you that the people who are directly involved in this debacle- in this terror we’re seeing in Texas with these babies and baby prison- they are going to answer to God when they present themselves for entry into heaven and she’s not going to be happy at all!!…They may have the capacity to brush this off and lie their way out of it, but there’s no lying lying in heaven- they will have to answer for themselves.”
“So God bless you all- let’s stick together as a city so we can get through this terrible time in our country.”
And One More Thing
On August 9, 1974, Gerald R. Ford took the oath of office as President of the United States after the resignation of President Richard M. Nixon, the result of Watergate. President Ford said: “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.”
Hopefully we will hear these words again- soon… Wherever he is, Mr. Rogers would surely approve.
Published July 9, 2018
Published July 9, 2018