By Liza Neal
“Nuestros sueños no se detendrán incluso en la muerte.” Our dreams will not stop even in death.
These words are painted on the Mexico side of the Border Wall. It could have been carved on the Mayflower. Half the Pilgrims that traveled to the “new world” died. The rest would have died if not for the mercy of the Wampanoag, who were repaid with disease, indoctrination, and their leader’s head on a spike displayed next to the Pilgrims’ crops.
Soon we will celebrate the grand myth of a nation begun in friendship. We will give thanks. We will applaud the pioneering spirit of the Pilgrims, championing all they risked in pursuit of freedom.
There are pilgrims today in search of freedom. Yet we do not champion them. The migrant caravan from Honduras is accused of being “filled with criminals and unknown middle easterners”, racist code for terrorist. We send soldiers to the border to keep out those seeking asylum. We send soldiers to the border with orders to shoot to kill those who throw stones in glass houses. We betray our own myth. We betray our humanity.
This August I was in Arizona at a week-long event called Faithful Witness at the Border. The Southwest Conference of the United Church of Christ organized it for people all over the country to come, hear the stories of actual migrants, and learn from those trying to provide care for the least of these.
When it came out that children were being separated from their parents at the border, there was a collective outcry at the cruelty and heartlessness. People across political divides called for the practice to end. Some pointed out that family separation happened at the very inception of our country; Africans kidnapped from their homes, children sold on the auction black, Indigenous children forcibly put into boarding schools. I would like to believe that the fact there was an outcry now when there was none then means that there has been a growth in compassion in this country. Yet even now there are still children unaccounted for. Though the President signed an Executive Order to stop his own policy, he has been talking about beginning it again.
Our attention shifts with each tweet. As Christians we say Jesus’ love is unconditional, and we are called to love neighbors and enemies as he did. Many claim Christianity, yet our compassion is conditional.
Maybe the dreamers deserve it, but not their parents. Maybe Slovenian families like Mrs. Trump’s deserve it, but not Central American families. Maybe those fleeing political violence deserve it, but not those fleeing gang violence, domestic violence. Do we deserve it?
We went to court to see “Operation Streamline.” Instead of individual arraignments, people are tried in groups. The process makes a mockery of our constitutional values. One man pleaded with the court saying, “I can’t go in the small cell. I am thinking about killing myself.” Please help me.” The response was, “You lost your right not to be imprisoned.” Changing the charge of illegal entry from a misdemeanor to a felony is what prompted the taking of the children, what allows us to say all immigrants are criminals. We have made them so.
Jesus said that he came to bring release to the prisoner. Yet here where many in power claim Christianity, we are making billions on prisons. We imprison more people than any other country in the entire world. We have made a mockery of our religious and constitutional values.
This is why the Poor People’s Campaign is calling for a National Moral Revival. Rev. Dr. William Barber writes, “It’s time for a moral breakthrough…this campaign is not about a single party or saving a party. It is about an agenda. It is about saving the soul of America. It is about challenging the evils of systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, ecological devastation, these forces that have been tearing the country apart long before Trump.”
I used to think that protests didn’t matter. But then I had a child, and I could no longer stay at home. This Thanksgiving we will be taking our child to Plymouth Rock, where every Thanksgiving, Indigenous people gather from across the country for the “National Day of Mourning.” This year it is dedicated to “our thousands of relatives who are migrants and are being abused by ICE and other government agencies, including having their children stolen from them.”
We illustrate who we truly are and what we truly believe by what we do. Like Rev. Dr. Barber, “I would rather join with you and die trying to change the moral direction of this nation than to live and die and it be written on my epitaph, “Lived in the time when moral dissent was necessary. And he, and they, said nothing.”
Liza Neal is a spiritual director and writer laboring to explode the boundaries of how we understand ourselves and the world we live in. She studied religion, writing, and dance at Hampshire College followed by mysticism and liberation theologies at Yale Divinity School. She is an ordained UCC minister, partner, and mother.