Moral Clarity and Political Courage Yet Again
|John Thornton||Aug 11, 2019|
Below is a speech I gave about a year ago in downtown Winston-Salem at a rally protesting the detention and separations of families at the U.S. border. I’m re-posting it here because it’s really all I have to say after the mass arrests in Mississippi, the ones that left children unsure of where there parents were and what to do. I don’t know what more to say than this which is at least one reason I’ve refrained from posting about it on social media. I also generally reserve my Twitter feed for things like telling off Franklin Graham so I often feel bad for failing to post or say something about what’s going on at our border. I just re-read it and I’m realizing how much this speech has sunk into my own life in the last year and at the same how little that seems to matter. That’s how it goes with speech and actions, postings and change, I guess.
Like many of you, I’ve seen the pictures, and I’ve heard the stories. I read this morning that the Department of Homeland Security has now upped the number of children that separated from their families to 4,100. And like you, I find the stories and the pictures disturbing and overwhelming. And I think that’s a good thing and a danger: that we’ll allow ourselves to be overwhelmed with the horror of what’s happening. It’s good to keep one’s capacity to feel horror at the horrific. But it also presents a problem: that we might feel the horror of what the Department of Homeland security does at our borders in ways that obscure clear thinking and then action. At this moment we need moral clarity and political courage.
For so many, fear drives so much of what we’ve seen these last few days, fear of what lies on the other side of a made up line. I don’t need to rattle off the statistics about immigrants and undocumented people. I don’t need to tell you statistics that they commit less crime. I don’t need to say that because our President has said he doesn’t believe such statistics about productivity, employment and crime. He’s a rich and powerful person, and so he enjoys the luxury of the rich and powerful to choose what they do and don’t want to believe and to have people around them nod along in agreement. But I also don’t need to bring up those statistics because statistics won’t get us out of the mess we find ourselves in. Statistics don’t tear apart
Both Newsweek and Time reported this last week that the US military plan to construct camps to hold up to 120,000 people by the end of the year. Perhaps you too can think up an appropriate term to described militarized camps built for the concentration of particular groups of individuals.
Moral clarity and political courage demand that we look unflinchingly at what they do and demand more than just reunification of families inside military prison camps. We naming we see and where it’s headed.
I think there’s another fear at work for people. It maybe a fear for you too. It’s the fear to look back. The people in power didn’t wake up one morning and create the power to detain families, to house them in cages. So many activists, undocumented people, immigrant families have tried to tell us that this our country has done this for a long time. The border didn’t turn into what it is the day Trump of Trump’s inauguration. Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama each played a significant roles creating, growing, and enabling the power that Trump has access to now. This day has been a long time coming. Bill Clinton put in place a procedure known as “expedited removal” that sped up the process to apprehend and deport people. George W. Bush created the department of Homeland Security (which in turn created ICE) out of the fear of what happened during 9/11. And Barack Obama took the power of ICE and grew it astronomically.
And so I think the fear that many of us will face is that to truly change things, we will have to deal with the fact that politicians we like, politicians we voted for and volunteered for and gave money to played a part in making this happen. This didn’t just come out of nowhere. Powerful people made specific decisions to bring it about.
But we shouldn’t fear moving forward. We shouldn’t let the fear of tarnishing the legacy of politicians we supported hold us back. We must move forward, not back. Writer Naomi Klein has said, “We have to imagine the world after we win. We have to imagine the world beyond Trump. It can’t be the world before Trump because that’s the world that produced Trump.”
The question we face is this: will we be people of moral clarity and political courage. We have to be. Our neighbors need it. We need it.
I work at a baptist church, and the book that I read from every week has this one saying in it that I find helpful: perfect love drives out all fear. Perfect love drives out all fear. If we love our neighbors, we have to act unafraid.
I believe this means three things. First, moral clarity and political courage demand that we begin building power before we vote. We have to consider going on strike. We have to consider shutting things down. We have to consider occupation. If these policies, these practices that dehumanize immigrants and asylum seekers are not to become normal, we have to shut down what is normal until they change. And we have to do it together. And if occupation and strikes don’t sound right to you, ask yourself “What am I afraid of? What kind of love would it take to drive that fear out?”
Second, we have to have the courage to imagine a world beyond this one. A better world is possible. A better world does not seem likely, a better world does not seem imminent, but a better world is possible. Remember that at every step of justice, every step towards a better world most people thought it was impossible. The abolition of slavery wasn’t possible until people made it so. Most people disapproved of the Civil Rights Movement and 75% of the country disapproved of the march on Washington. We here today are a minority but we can change things if we act unafraid together.
We can and should have the moral clarity and political courage to say that “Abolish ICE” is not just some pipe dream, but can and should be our reality NOW.
Lastly, we have to demand moral clarity and political courage from those in power and refuse our support from them until they give it. Part of what got us in this mess is buying into the lie that things are just as they are. It’s funny, the people that tell us that things can’t change usually have the most power to change things. We must demand that politicians make morally clear, politically courageous stands. In November there’s an election and we need to ask all people up for office whether or not they support abolishing ICE. We are not asking if it makes them a more or less viable candidate in their district. We are not asking if they worry about how the opposition will spin it. We are asking if they believe that abolishing ICE is morally clear and politically courageous.
Friends, I believe we can do this. I believe another world is possible. A world in which perfect love drives out all fear. But I do not believe that world will be given to us. I do not believe it will be handed over slowly, piece by piece by those in power. I believe that another world is possible only when we work together with moral clarity and political courage with a perfect love that is unafraid.
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