On November 19, 1970, James Baldwin, gifted writer and truth-teller, penned a letter to scholar and human rights activist, Angela Davis. Baldwin’s letter is a public display of affection and solidarity with Davis’s legal fight, In typical Baldwin eloquence, he moves the reader from endearing, self-effacing testimony about his age and failing health as an “old guard” of civil rights activists to eschatological visions of those persecuted by despotic leaders in Nazi Germany and the Roman empire to the racial oppression that tortures the soul of the U.S. body politic. Baldwin also prophetically captures what renders a country unhealthy. He states,
“one way of gauging a nation’s health, or of discerning what it really considers to be its interests - or to what extent it can be considered as a nation distinguished from a coalition of special interests - is to examine those people it elects to represent or protect it. One glance at the American leaders (or figure-heads) conveys that America is on the edge of absolute chaos...”
Upon closing his letter, Baldwin assures Davis that “her fight is our own” because “if they take you in the morning, they will be coming for us that night”. The “they”, we can imply from his words , are those in power, either elected office or self-appointed, who seek to rid the U.S. of those deemed as threats or unwanted and the “our” are those who are most vulnerable to the actions of those in power. For Baldwin, Davis’s fate is not isolated to her as an individual but is a larger threat to the masses, to those, like Davis, like Baldwin, like me, like immigrants, like Muslims, like LGBTQ individuals, with fragile rights and liberties, whose lives are further jeopardized by the actions of those in power.
Fast forward to January 29, 2017, President Donald Trump, after penning an executive order, has banned approximately 218 million people from entering the country. The travel ban affects seven (7) countries: Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, those countries of concern or, in the President’s words, “harbor Islamic terrorists”. As a result, at airports around the country and the globe people are being detained, indiscriminately, those with green cards (legal permanent residency status), those with dual residency status, those who are born in the United States but family origins are linked to the countries on the list. Absolute chaos has been ushered in at the stroke of an imperious pen.
We are witnessing, in real time, the erosion of our rights and liberties, a full frontal attack on immigrants, on Muslims, under the guise of “U.S. safety”. Assertions for safety tend to conceal undemocratic policies and practices. Trump is attempting to supplant the Constitution with his own oppressive and unwritten Law Code, evidenced by quixotic and impetuous decision making. And, like police shootings, these violations of rights are being captured on tape, for all to witness, and warrant raised voices and a united response.
The ACLU has filed a lawsuit to overturn the travel ban, and elected officials in both parties have spoken out and some have joined airport protests against Trump’s actions. This is something we all can get behind either by contributing to the ACLU and/or joining protests. But we also need to develop a longer term strategy on multiple fronts and levels given the potential tenure of this administration.
Since my blog, Tri-Sector Athletes in Education, tends to be focused on solutions, I suggest some possible avenues to “raise voices” and provide a “united response”. For those concerned with undocumented immigrant youth on a national level, the organization United We Dream is doing amazing advocacy work in this area. I had the pleasure to meet with and learn from Christina Jimenez, the Executive Director of United We Dream. I contributed money to their efforts and plan to stay connected to their movement. Black Lives Matter is still focused on black lives, but its network has expanded to join Sioux activists at Standing Rock to the Women’s March on Washington recently, so join their movement as well.
Support Muslim and inter-religious organizations in your cities focused on fighting anti-immigrant and religious bias; reach out CONSISTENTLY to your elected officials by email, Twitter or phone to share your objection to the travel ban and other policies; start a blog to voice your views; and stay informed on issues by reading deeply and widely on Trump’s policy proposals and monitoring this administration’s maneuvers, even when we feel fatigued or want to turn away from the horror film on our video screens or smart phones.
The era of divisive politics we ushered in through the election of Trump requires us to be more alert and vigilant. Yet our shared actions on behalf of ourselves and others will be the only antidote for an unhealthy country.