When they came for me

Now that the Massachusetts Legislature has sold out immigrants, it seemed like a good time to affirm our responsibilities for one another and to our own liberties. Several friends have mentioned this poem in recent weeks (I wonder why?). There have been many versions of this but the martin-niemoeller-stiftung.de identifies this as the first:

Als sie mich holten

Als die Nazis die Kommunisten holten,
habe ich geschwiegen,
ich war ja kein Kommunist.
When the Nazis came for the Communists,
I was silent,
I was not a Communist.
Als sie die Sozialdemokraten einsperrten,
habe ich geschwiegen,
ich war ja kein Sozialdemokrat.
When they locked up the Socialists,
I was silent,
I was not a Socialist.
Als sie die Gewerkschafter holten,
habe ich geschwiegen,
ich war ja kein Gewerkschafter.
When they came for the unionists,
I was silent,
I was not a trade unionist.
Als sie mich holten,
gab es keinen mehr,
der protestieren konnte.
When they came for me
there was no one left
who could protest.

— Martin Niemoller

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Democrats did this

Today Marion Davis of MIRA issued a press release announcing that the Democratic-majority legislature had abdicated moral leadership by stripping four immigrant protection provisions from the 2019 budget. It echoed U.S. Congressional Democrats doing much the same thing last January. Sacrificing immigrants for budgets is becoming a Democratic habit.

In MIRA’s press release, Eva A. Millona, executive director of the MIRA Coalition, was quoted:

“We are deeply disappointed. The Massachusetts Legislature had a prime opportunity to stand up for civil rights and human decency, and under political pressure from Governor Baker and conservative Democrats, it backed down. The safety and well-being of tens of thousands of immigrant families will suffer as a result.”

Democrats did this.

“It is particularly disturbing that the Legislature succumbed to fear-mongering about ‘sanctuary’ policies. Though nothing in the four provisions approved by the Senate actually met the definition of ‘sanctuary’ used by U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, prominent House members embraced nativist propaganda misrepresenting those provisions, using the falsehoods as political cover for their inaction.”

Democrats did this.

“We find it shocking that, with this agreement, the Legislature has tacitly accepted the notion that police should be able to ask people who ‘look foreign’ to show their papers before they can report a crime, and that immigrants should be kept in the dark about their legal rights, so it’s easier to deport them. The Legislature couldn’t even agree that Massachusetts should never contribute to a Muslim registry. That is stunning and embarrassing.”

Democrats did this.

“Our country faces an existential crisis, and in the face of horrific abuses by the federal government, it is morally imperative for states to act to protect their most vulnerable residents. By failing to pass the Safe Communities Act, and now failing to pass even basic legal protections, the Legislature has abdicated its moral leadership, and failed a large share of its constituents.”

Instead, the Massachusetts House chose expediency and making a Republican governor happy.

Democrats had better fix this.

Defiance

At the national level Democrats may be forgiven for doing little for DACA and TPS recipients or for immigration reform in general. But, in a majority Democratic state like Massachusetts, there is no excuse for the legislature dragging its heels on reasonable immigrant protections called for by the party’s own platform. House Speaker Robert DeLeo has repeatedly manipulated and maneuvered to shelve bills and limit votes on immigration, and now he’s trying to strip immigrant protection provisions from the FY2019 budget.

Of course we can’t blame it all on DeLeo — who now has exhausted every last cent of his political capital with progressives. House Democrats can’t — and shouldn’t — hide behind the Speaker forever. Ultimately they will be held to personal account. Too many members of the State House sound like Republicans in their willingness to “go along to get along” with cruel attacks on undocumented families. It’s simply hypocrisy for Massachusetts Democrats to chastise Paul Ryan and Mitch McConnell for their lack of spine when they themselves are guilty of the same.

Last year I attended the Massachusetts Democratic convention in Worcester, at which a new party platform was drafted. Among the hollow declarations of resistance and highfalutin but ultimately meaningless verbiage added to the platform were planks calling for a living wage and sensible immigration polices.

It was left to groups like RaiseUp to fight to get living wages on the November ballot because Democrats themselves didn’t find it important enough. And even though the state party’s platform calls for immigrant protections, these proved to be hollow promises as well:

  • “Becoming a sanctuary state, where all immigrants and refugees feel welcome and safe in all communities of the Commonwealth.”
  • “Eliminating policies that make local and state officials responsible for the enforcement of national immigration laws.”

For many of us the MassDems platform has no value other than to document the hollowness of a party whose real-life politicians have no intention of standing by the party’s professed values.

Representatives, start acting like Democrats. Ultimately voters are going to look at your positions and voting record, not Speaker DeLeo’s. Do the right thing. Stand up for the principles we voted for last year. Stand up for some of the state’s most vulnerable people. Show some backbone. Defy the Speaker. Keep immigration protections in the budget.

Bring in the bulldozers

Here in Massachusetts we have 38 days to register for the Massachusetts primaries, 58 days until we vote in them, 100 days to register for midterm elections, and 121 days until the fate of nation is sealed. But it’s been over a year and a half since the 2016 presidential election and we feel only the faintest of pulses from a Democratic Party led nationally by septuagenarians older on average than Brezhnev’s Politburo, with few new ideas and little backbone. This is a party desperately in need of major rehabilitation, not the slow-moving suicide in progress.

Despite a progressive insurgency, the DNC and DCCC still can’t bring themselves to give up the Big Money donors and slick top-down campaign machinery they’ve always counted on. Their direction hasn’t changed — today it’s even further to the right with campaigns featuring more veterans, more members of the security establishment, more prosecutors, and more tech wizards and hedge fund managers. Capitalism may not be working for most of the country, but it sure is for these Democrats. When Tammy Duckworth quipped that Alejandra Ocasio-Cortez represents only the Bronx, it spoke volumes about a party unwilling to confront the future, much less the present.

Our last president left the Democratic Party in virtual receivership, according to Donna Brazile. And the losing presidential candidate called in the DNC’s chits to literally turn it into her own presidential campaign. Today the very existence of the Poor People’s Campaign is a symptom of how badly Democrats have represented the working poor — or anyone a paycheck or two from sliding out of the middle class. Yet, while Democrats do little for the average American, Republicans are doing their worst.

In November we again have a choice between truly evil or lesser evil, oligarch or technocrat. We’ve been properly conditioned to always vote for the lesser evil. And the Democratic Party can always count on us. Liberals smugly argue that Conservatives vote against their own interests, but that’s not entirely true. In 2016 White America got exactly what it always wanted — Reconstruction 2.0. Whether trade, taxes, budget, infrastructure, medical care, or even their children’s lives or their own retirement, White America was willing to take any hit to unroll and unwind everything the Black Guy had tried to accomplish. Last year the Democratic Party leadership traveled down to Berryville, Virginia to specifically court the white middle class. We should all be watching midterm results in Berryville to see how this works out for them.

Liberals won’t admit that they also vote against their own interests by supporting massive military budgets, corporate bailouts, and helping dismantle the social safety net. And centrist Democrats apparently love trickle-down economics every bit as much as their kleptocratic Republican brethren. The “Better Deal” that Democrats announced in Berryville focuses on “pocketbook” issues and, just like Republicans, claims that what’s good for America’s corporations is also good for America’s workers. But progressives take issue with this neoliberal fable, increasingly questioning not only income inequality but the Capitalism behind it.

Each year, those of us who recall — that the Democratic Party was the party of the Bay of Pigs, Viet Nam, the largest increase in federal and state prison inmates in American history. carte blanche for the Patriot Act, Libya, Syria, Drone Tuesdays, and the biggest corporate bailout since the Great Depression — each year we remind centrist Democrats they’ve been hoodwinked. And each year they call us irresponsible dogmatists. But history and newspaper clippings don’t do them any favors.

Some things simply have to be abandoned and created anew. In software refactoring only gets you so far: sometimes you need a complete rewrite of the code. With a dumpy old house, add-ons and endless tinkering with electrical and structural problems often turn out to be more costly than bulldozing and rebuilding. Now, because of widespread dysfunction and corruption, many Democrats have begun to recognize that ICE must be abolished and rebuilt from the ground up. What they don’t see is that the same applies to their own party.

Rage against the dying of the light

In some not-so-distant dystopia Americans will educate their children like Elon Musk, abandoning the language arts to make more time for robotic flamethrowers. Or they will live in a state like West Virginia, where the Department of Education was just abolished. It’s safe to say that most Americans will spend more time checking their messages than reading poetry — especially the old classics.

One of my favorite bloggers — himself an old classic — is the philosopher Robert Paul Wolff. Besides his many political and philosophical writings, Wolff knows and loves poetry. He recently quoted Dylan Thomas to echo his thoughts about our receding democracy. I confess I hadn’t read “Do not go gentle into that good night” for more than thirty years, but it echoed my own feelings as well. The poem expresses the sadness that most of us “of an age” will fail to achieve what we so dearly hoped for in our youth.

Thomas’ poem both forgives and curses the wise men who couldn’t figure life out, the good men who didn’t do enough good in it, the wild men who tried vainly to hang on its fleeting joys, and the serious men blind to its realities. Thomas asks his dying father, who has come to a point where he can survey the landscape of his own life, to “curse, bless” him with his fierce tears as he passes into “that good night.”

“Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

Despite the acceptance end of an old man’s unrealized dreams and days, there is no other way to live than by refusing to abandon those dreams.

And although this may now be the dimming of our own democratic ideals, what choice do we have but to rage and fight?


Do not go gentle into that good night

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

— Dylan Thomas (1952)

 

Do not go gentle into that good night 1965 Ceri Richards 1903-1971 Presented by Curwen Studio through the Institute of Contemporary Prints 1975 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/P06483

Bowed Heads to Raised Fists

Yesterday I attended a “Families Belong Together” rally in New Bedford, one of hundreds of similar events taking place nationwide. Between 400-500 people attended, overflowing into the balcony at the Bethel AME Chuch on County Street. It was good to see friends, neighbors, my sister-in-law, and to hear heartfelt expressions of concern for detained children and famillies. It was a tangible reminder that we — our undocumented friends included — are all members of a single community. It was also an affirmation of our responsibility for one another.

Over the years I’ve been to a number of events like this, often following something horrible — mass shootings, acts of hate, threats to civil liberties. Now it’s the Federal government caging children. Over the years I’ve noticed the same concerned citizens meeting as one, praying as one, the same clergy bowing their heads in unity, making the same reassurances, hearing the same exhortations from politicians and community leaders. There’s a “feel good” aspect to it all that disturbs me. Why aren’t people marching in the streets? Why aren’t there fewer bowed heads and more raised fists?

To be sure, the good friends of immigrants showed up and were counted. Reverend Sharyn Halliday and the Bethel AME Church cared enough to host the event. Community, union and faith leaders lined the pews. New Bedford House Representative Tony Cabral brought a daughter with every reason to be proud of her dad. New Bedford City Council member Dana Ribeiro spoke warmly to her city, and Brockton Council member Jean Bradley Derenoncourt delivered a moving appeal for America to keep faith with those who arrive here just looking to survive. The Coalition for Social Justice’s Maria Fortes pressed for House adoption of Senate Amendment #1147 — immigrant protections being now considered in conference by the House.

But the event did not reflect well on an overwhelmingly blue Massachusetts House that refused to vote on the Safe Communities Act and on Congressional Democrats who have done little for TPS and DACA recipients (both of whom were present yesterday). With the exception of Tony Cabral, not one other state representative bothered to show up at the New Bedford rally. And the lone U.S. Congressman who spoke should never have been invited.

Bill Keating (MA-09) gave an energetic shirtsleeve speech — all clenched fists and outrage at the Trump administration’s caging of six year-olds. The problem with Keating’s performance was not its dramatic fist-pumping; it was the hypocrisy. Keating has voted repeatedly for GOP anti-immigrant bills. H.R.3009 punished Sanctuary Cities. H.R.4038, the American Security Against Foreign Enemies Act, restricted absorption of Syrian refugees. H.R.3004, “Kate’s Law,” took a hard line against desperate people who re-enter the United States. And Keating’s “On the Issues” statement on immigration reads like it was written by Jeff Sessions himself:

“Bill Keating opposes amnesty. As a District Attorney, Bill Keating enforces our laws and believes that everyone must obey them. His office has prosecuted thousands of criminal cases that resulted in defendants being detained for immigration and deportation action. Bill believes that we must secure our borders, and wants to punish and stop corporations that hire workers here illegally. Bill does not support giving people who are here illegally access to state and federal benefits.”

Toward the end of the rally a group of local children recited ‘families deserve to stay together” in multiple languages, sweetly honoring children now sitting in ICE and CPB cages. With the event ending, clergy lined up awkwardly, a long interfaith blessing was delivered, and attendees filed outside into the hot summer air.

Dreaming of Dred Scott

A recent set of Gorsuch-weighted Supreme Court rulings have finally given Republicans something to crow about. The court’s approval of Trump’s Muslim Ban seemed like a blast from the German Vergangenheit but recent labor and reproductive rights rulings have been equally disturbing. Mitch McConnell and Neil Gorsuch met for a photo-op to troll Democrats. Their meeting demonstrated just how badly “checks and balances” work in this country and how shattered American democracy really is.

But while the extreme right exults in the belief that their Crusaders have finally pulled off a Reconquista, let’s remember the Dred Scott decision. Then, as now, the case reflected a Supreme Court that had totally lost its way — and the irreconcilable differences between Americans’ views of what sort of nation we want to be.

Dred Scott was a slave who sued for his and his family’s freedom in a state where slavery was illegal. In 1846 Scott filed suit from St. Louis, Missouri, where since 1824 there had been legal precedent for recognizing the freedom of escaped slaves: “Once free, always free.” Scott’s wife Harriet was friendly with Abolitionists who championed the family’s legal case. Scott lost the suit, re-filed and appealed, and lost again. In 1857 his case was again heard by the United States Supreme Court.

On March 6th, 1857 the Supreme Court ruled 7-2 against Scott. Chief Justice Roger Taney delivered the majority opinion, which was that Africans, free or not, could not be citizens of the United States. “The right of property in a slave is distinctly and expressly affirmed in the Constitution.” Furthermore, African-Americans had “no rights which the white man was bound to respect.” Consequently, freedom and citizenship could not be conferred upon non-whites and, since by the court’s criteria Scott was not a citizen, Scott had lacked “standing” to bring the suit in the first place.

The South did a victory lap. The Richmond Enquirer wrote, “A prize, for which the athletes of the nation have often wrestled in the halls of Congress, has been awarded at last, by the proper umpire, to those who have justly won it. The nation has achieved a triumph, sectionalism has been rebuked, and abolitionism has been staggered and stunned.”

But the Charleston, South Carolina Mercury speculated that this was just the beginning of a greater conflict between North and South: “In the final conflict between Slavery and Abolitionism, which this very decision will precipitate rather than retard, the principles of the judgment in the Dred Scott case may be of some avail to the South in giving an appearance of justice and moderation to its position.”

The Supreme Court had ruled in favor of White Supremacy and slavery but now it was the law. Abolitionists mocked the reckless, immoral ruling and doubled their efforts to end slavery. Ultimately Dred Scott, just as the Mercury had predicted, ignited a national conflagration that overturned slavery and destroyed the South.

Modern-day slavers and reconquistadores want to return us to 1857. America is as deeply divided now as it was then, and the prospects of a Trump Court for decades is deeply unsettling. But the fight for America’s soul is far from over. The arc of justice is frustratingly long but it will arrive. Whether in 2018, 2022, or later — Congress will pass into younger, browner, more progressive hands. Laws will be written to make legally explicit our liberties, protecting them from capricious, partisan rulings. The Trump Court will shuffle around in their robes, dreaming of Dred Scott.