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.

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

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.

Better Angels

The other day I noticed that the liberal-ish press had suddenly become obsessed with civility and had begun hectoring us to listen to our better angels — to “play nice” with the Deplorables. Someone denied a cheeseburger to a White House spokeswoman who lies for a living, defending the cruelest of policies. And you’d have thought the end of civilization was near.

On the importance of maintaining “good form” both CNN and FOX News were in total agreement: “Fox Business host Trish Regan defended CNN’s Jim Acosta on Tuesday, calling verbal attacks on the reporter at a Trump rally are ‘not only bad manners, it’s bad form,’ while calling out both sides for a total lack of civility.”

Lots of people noticed the break from reality and bizarre lack of perspective. Philosopher Robert Paul Wolff (author of “The Poverty of Liberalism”) wrote, “The norms of public political discourse vary considerably from country to country, and even from neighborhood to neighborhood within a country. The British Parliament is much more raucous than the American Congress, and I will not even talk about the Israeli Knesset. Only in the world of the Washington elite does being denied service at a restaurant appear to be a violation of sacred norms calling for serious discussion of the foundations of democratic society. […] But whatever the local norms of civility may be, it can always be asked under what conditions it is right, even required, to violate them as part of a political protest.”

On December 12th, 1964 Malcom X spoke at the Oxford Union Club in England and, with a sly wink to Barry Goldwater, talked about “the necessity, sometimes, of extremism, in defense of liberty, why it is no vice, and why moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue. […] I doubt that anyone will deny that extremism, in defense of liberty, the liberty of any human being, is a value. Anytime anyone is enslaved, or in any way deprived of his liberty, if that person is a human being, as far as I am concerned he is justified to resort to whatever methods necessary to bring about his liberty again.” Earlier that year Malcom X gave his Ballot or the Bullet speech at King Solomon Baptist Church in Detroit, reminding listeners of the incivility and extremism of the American Revolution. Turns out, for much of American history dissent usually trumps decorum.

Media Matters observed that the “right-wing media are criticizing Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) after she encouraged people to publicly protest Trump administration officials who are complicit in the atrocious family separation policy at the U.S border. But the ‘civility’ these outlets are touting has been absent in their many vicious past attacks on Waters.”

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting took the liberal-ish press to task for its preoccupation with manners and distaste for speaking truth to power. FAIR pointed out that the Washington Post had run “three articles between Sunday, June 24, and Monday, June 25, calling for ‘civility’ and criticizing those who interfered with the dining experiences of Trump administration officials.”

In a Bloomberg News editorial, Jonathan Bernstein wrote, “Civility Is Important in a Democracy. So Is Dissent.” Bernstein observed: “In these times, however, it’s a joke to focus on incivility by Democrats even as the Republican president routinely says things that are as bad as or worse than the attacks of the most irresponsible Democratic no-name precinct chair.” In an unusual footnote, Bernstein reminded readers that when it comes to civility in a democracy, “of course incivility wasn’t the most important problem with U.S. democracy; indeed, restrictions on the franchise and full citizenship were so severe that there’s a good case to be made that it wasn’t a real democracy until at least 1965.” Whatever temporary gains we’ve made were made in the street.

Finally, Nation writer Sarah Leonard spoke my mind with her article, “Against Civility: You can’t fight injustice with decorum.” Among Leonard’s excellent points: “Throughout history, activists have seldom won battles against injustice by asking politely. […] The people being targeted [for protest] are adults living and working in a democratic society; facing consequences for their actions, as conservatives would agree, is what grown-ups should all do. […] To cling to civility is to allow the powerful to commit crimes, as long as they do so with a smile and a handshake.”

If we are truly listening to our better angels, they’ve been whispering — “#resist.”

Our answer to hate

This my last appeal for citizens to advocate for protections for immigrant families in the 2019 budget. Originally proposed as Budget Amendment #1147 by Senator James Eldridge, these protections have been incorporated into Senate Bill S.2530 and are now in conference with the House. Call your State House Representative to ask them to support immigrant family protections. What’s happening in Washington should terrify and motivate state House Democrats to support such protections. This should be our answer to hate.

Here’s why the protections are so important

The Supreme Court just ruled in favor of Trump’s Muslim Ban. An ACLU petition asks Congress to pass legislation to block racist exclusions like this. While a ban is not the same thing as a registry, we don’t yet know how Trump’s Muslim Ban will affect citizens of the Muslim-majority countries who live in Massachusetts, whether CPB, ICE, or DHS will ask the Commonwealth to help track these Muslim neighbors — or if the occasional law enforcement official might have personal motivations to share data with ICE without authorization.

  • Protections for immigrant families in the 2019 budget bar the Commonwealth from cooperating with such registries.

Trump’s deportation machine is abusing families and children in shockingly cruel ways. Elizabeth Warren has a lengthy report on her visit to a McAllen, Texas Border Patrol facility where she was horrified by the treatment of incarcerated children. A report issued recently describes racially-motivated abuses of detainees in ICE facilities, including the Bristol County House of Correction. Last week it was reported that the Boston Public Schools took it upon themselves to share data with ICE, and on the Cape high school students were reported to ICE by guidance counselors for supposed gang affiliations simply because they spoke Spanish. This insanity must end. Let police deal with real criminals and end vigilantism.

  • Protections for immigrant families in the 2019 budget prevent state officials from being used as federal agents. Only the Massachusetts Department of Corrections will be able to fulfill some of these federal immigration functions.

Customs and Border Patrol is stopping vehicles on parts of I-93 and demanding that passengers produce proof of citizenship. Warrantless stops with requests for “papers!” is creepy and totalitarian enough without state and local police being enlisted in violations of the Fourth Amendment. Even with the 100-mile border “loophole,” many of these stops are unconstitutional. Let’s affirm that, at least in Massachusetts, a “nation of laws” requires warrants and probable cause to stop people.

  • Protections for immigrant families in the 2019 budget define strict rules under which police officers can ask about immigration status and require training on the law for all officers.

Read about these provisions yourself. Despite malicious misinformation, these provisions do not prevent police from arresting real criminals. They do make Massachusetts a lot safer for everyone and strengthen Constitutional protections many of us can still remember once having.

Call your State House Representative to ask them to support protections for immigrant families in the 2019 budget.