“The thing that we need in the world today is a group of men and women who will stand up for right and to be opposed to wrong, wherever it is. A group of people who have come to see that some things are wrong, whether they’re never caught up with. And some things are right, whether nobody sees you doing them or not.”
~ The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in his sermon Rediscovering Lost Values, Detroit’s Second Baptist Church (28 February 1954)
This week in the U.S., the groundswell of men and women standing up for right, for decency, reached a tipping point that forced a reversal on a grotesquely cruel and inhumane ‘zero tolerance’ policy concerning individuals fleeing violence and crossing the borders into the U.S.
It’s a groundswell that’s been building for weeks; that met with a macho defense of what, to people of conscience, is indefensible or as the late Thomas Merton might have said, unspeakable.
The last straw in the issue of taking a couple of thousand children away from their mothers/fathers and distributing them “to foster care or whatever,” as Chief of Staff, Gen. John Kelly quipped, was the revelation that these “whatevers” included “tender age” centers for infants and toddlers who’d been separated from their parent(s).
Even worse — as if it could be worse — is a seeming ambivalence and disorganization about tracking which children, infants, toddlers were taken from whom when “processed” and where, exactly, the children went, and how they’d be reunited once the parents were “processed.”
So much for “family values,” much less the values upon which the United States was built, including regarding immigration.
And yet, one example of those values provided a much needed “check and balance” on a small group that has become a bit too drunk on their power and were, in fact, abusing it.
Plenty of examples from history — recent and decades if not centuries ago — that these sorts of inhumane, dehumanizing acts of punitive cruelty turn into greater tyranny and atrocities if not checked earlier on.
It boggled my mind and stunned me, for a bit, into a shocked silence, before the fury and heartbreak started stirring. From conversations I’ve had, I know that was the case for quite a few people.
The fact that so many people rose up, spoke out, had conversations, took photos (like those of Getty photographer John Moore), shared comments and photos and articles via social media, contacted legislators, corrected false statements made to justify the policy — and then there was ProPublica, which released the audio of border facility agents joking about the cries of frightened children.
Photos and audios made personal what the zero-tolerance agenda-pushers were working hard to intellectualize and dehumanize (and thus gain support from their base for what would otherwise tweak the conscience of even more conscience-and-heart-dissociated types).
The other conversations helped build the groundswell to the point it reached this week, forcing the reversal in policy.
The collective conscience and heart stirred awake.
People of various walks, ‘sides’, and beliefs spoke their conscience — which they had in common — together. Humanitarian advocates, Democrats, Republicans, all living First Ladies (Democrat and Republican), evangelical leaders, whole congregations (including 600 people from Jeff Sessions’ Methodist church community), and many others.
That collective-conscience groundswell is as heartening and encouraging as the policies and harshly punitive “power without mercy” actions were shocking and discouraging.
The people spoke, providing that much-needed check-and-balance. For now.
The issue still isn’t resolved — a significant number of children (including the infants and toddlers) need to be tracked down and returned to their parents; and the gaslighting and blamestorming have already begun (macho Zero Tolerance advocates pointing fingers (in predictable directions) to rewrite history, even though the ‘history’ is only a few days old and on camera … DOH!).
As we know, it’s not the only issue for which the collective conscience is roused and needs to be expressed with enough groundswell-force to cause the forces of systemic dehumanization, power abuse, and punitive cruelty to stand down.
It’s heartening, though, that we have so fresh an example now in our collective memory and experience of the collective conscience, finding voice, checking unnecessarily punitive abuses of power and reflecting back those lost values, and the lost heart being reclaimed.
Featured Image Credit: U.S. DHS 2018 (Circulated by immigration lawyer Prerna P. Lal, Esq.)
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