The Next Step in Caring

Airport resistance is the biggest step forward by the U.S. public in years.

Why do I say that? Because this is unfunded, largely unpartisan activism that is largely selfless, largely focused on helping unknown strangers, driven by compassion and love, not political ideology, greed, or vengeance, and in line with activism around the globe. It’s also targeted at the location of the harm, directly resisting the injustice, and achieving immediate partial successes, including very meaningful successes for certain individuals. It’s gaining support from people never before engaged in any activism. And it shows no signs of any significant undesirable side-effects. This is a movement to be built on, and I have an idea what a next step should be.

Of course it is not at all uncommon for people to selflessly act for strangers. Much of the charity industry is driven by that sort of generosity year after year. But activist organizations are constantly telling themselves that this is not the case, for example that ending the bombing of distant unknown families can only be accomplished by advertising the financial cost of it or instituting a draft or making known the harm to veterans of the military doing the bombing. Yet when the peace movement in the United States has been stronger, in the 1920s in particular and also in the 1960s, acting on behalf of others has been central, as it was to the first big activist campaign, that begun against the slave trade in London, and as it has been in countless campaigns. Working to protect the natural environment is work for future generations. You can’t get more selfless or enlightened than that.

But what’s unique about this moment of sympathy and solidarity with refugees from nations the United States has bombed (plus Iran which it has gone after in other ways) is that it runs counter to U.S. government propaganda, it replaces fear with courage, hatred with love. This isn’t just love stepping into a void. This is a transformation into love from its opposite. This is why I think another major step might be possible.

When I listen to people interviewed at New York protests, or look at the signs they bring to the White House and to airports around the country, I’m struck by the expressions of love and concern for others, more than by the presence of partisanship or hatred for Donald Trump (though it certainly is a factor). And I’m bowled over by the widespread recognition of the lesson from history of the damage done to European Jews by U.S. immigration policy. Protesters’ signs indicate an awareness that Jewish refugees were rejected by the West, that Western governments met and refused to accept their mass eviction from Germany, that the U.S. Coast Guard chased a ship away from Miami many of whose passengers later died in the camps, that Anne Frank’s visa application was rejected by the U.S. State Department. I had no idea people knew these things, much less learned and applied a lesson from them.

Of course, some protesters have personal connections to those put at risk by Trump’s Muslim ban (and that’s what it is, based on his campaign promises and his renaming of the Global War on [of] Terrorism to the Fight Against Radical Islamism). And others find ways to identify themselves with those at risk, such as: “We’re a nation of immigrants. My great-grandparents were immigrants.” But this doesn’t make the movement less altruistic. Identifying with people in some way, even as fellow human beings, is a common part of coming to care about them and to act for or with them.

There are indications that this sentiment is not limited to those protesting and resisting at airports. The ACLU has never raised more money before. And check out this tweet:

John Paul Farmer @johnpaulfarmer

I’m 20 minutes from landing at JFK. Pilot just warned us about delays due to #NoBan protests at T4. The passengers’ response? Applause.

There are also protests happening around the world, outside of the United States, allowing us to build a global movement against global injustices even when those injustices are headquartered in Washington, D.C. And in Washington D.C. and around the U.S. we see unprecedented resistance from an Acting Attorney General and from judges — a group that seemed to be mostly asleep for the past 16 years.

And Canada, which has resisted U.S. wars, aided those enslaved, given shelter to conscientious objectors, and protected people from all variety of U.S. injustice for centuries, stepped up too:

Justin Trudeau @JustinTrudeau

To those fleeing persecution, terror & war, Canadians will welcome you, regardless of your faith. Diversity is our strength #WelcomeToCanada

There are elements of partisanship in this uprising that could hold it back, and of nationalism as well. Some liberals are not so much concerned about human cruelty as about Trump disrespecting their sacred U.S. military. Where were these crowds when President Barack Obama was setting records for deportations, or when he was bombing the nations that Trump is now banning refugees from, or when he was purporting to create the presidential power to do what Trump is now doing?

Our task is not to erase mistakes of the recent past but not to focus on them either. Our task is to move forward with what we now have. And I think the way forward involves taking one additional major step beyond where the resistance is right now. Once people have come to resist injustices to refugees from wars, to identify with them, to contemplate lives lived in horror of immigration police, to consider the suffering of family members in distant lands suddenly blocked from visiting their loved ones, it seems to be a quite achievable step to begin opposing dropping bombs on those family members. If you’re going to oppose harm to refugees, why not oppose the destruction of their homes that makes them refugees in the first place? If you are willing to question government fear-mongering, you are ready to question the government dogma that says more weapons sales and more bombs and more troops will make things better rather than worse.

If that step is taken, then this becomes a movement that cares not only about that fraction of suffering populations that finds some tenuous connection to U.S. shores, but about that whole 96% of humanity that lacks any such connection. Then we really have something new under the sun. Then we really transform U.S. policy. Then the trillion dollars a year wasted on preparing for more wars can be cut into a little bit to fund human and environmental needs beyond our wildest imaginings.

I was heartened by this recent tweet:

Yaroslav Trofimov @yarotrof

Number of US citizens who traveled to Iraq, Syria to kills locals on behalf of ISIS: 250. Syrians or Iraqis who carried out attacks in US: 0

I replied:

David Swanson @davidcnswanson

What about number who went there to kill locals on behalf of US military?

photo by Ted Majdosz

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  • paul

    I don’t know what to make of this article, which seems nutty to me.

    The pattern is all too clear. When a Republican is in office, peace and justice movements take off. When a Democrat is in office they die. Such movements appear to be all about partisanship, period, regardless of what sentiments are expressed. The proof I think is that even now no one who is concerned about compassion for refugees, or claims to be, has shown any concern about the US-driven economic and military wars, overt and covert, that have pushed the waves of refugees towards us. They aren’t really being compassionate at all!! They are simply mad that their team’s candidate didn’t win. Had they opposed these wars when their party was in power they could have stopped them. Now they have no leverage at all. They could gain leverage by digging down to the root issues but that is precisely what they continue to refuse to do because it would mean acknowledging that their team isn’t the team of good guys. It would also mean looking across and building bridges across the left vs right divide and that too they absolutely refuse, militantly, to do.

    I think all the compassion is fake compassion. All of it that I’ve seen.

    You are talking about building with what we have, and in a way that makes sense, but that doesn’t work when what we have is quicksand! We need to demand that people face what they refuse to face – themselves, their pals and the party they have supported election after election no matter what, angrily denouncing anyone who dared to question their misplaced loyalty. We need to build some basis for a populist movement for real change and that just isn’t going to happen based on some cheap, fake compassion.

    Where the hell was this compassion when Obama and the Dems were in power? That is the question that people MUST face.

  • andrew1212

    Everyone might want to remember that TIME magazine had Hitler on their cover 3 or 4 times in the 1930’s–even being naming der Fuhrer TIME’s Man of the Year for 1938…

    The Associated Press (AP) actually collaborated with Nazi Germany (from wikipedia):

    Associated Press entered in formal cooperation with Hitler’s Nazi
    Germany in the 1930s, supplying American newspapers with material
    selected and produced by the Nazi party propaganda ministry. It was able
    to retain its access by entering into a mutually beneficial two-way
    cooperation with the Nazi regime. It ceded control of its output by
    signing up to the Schriftleitergesetz (de) (editor’s law), promising not
    to publish any material ‘calculated to weaken the strength of the Reich
    abroad or at home’.

    Schriftleitergesetz required Associated Press to employ reporters who
    worked for the Nazi party’s propaganda division. One photographer,
    Franz Roth, was a member of the SS propaganda division, whose
    photographs were personally chosen by Hitler.

    Associated Press was the only western news agency able to stay open
    in Nazi Germany; they continued operating until Germany declared war on
    the USA in 1941.

    Associated Press also allowed the Nazi regime to use its photo
    archives for its virulently anti-semitic propaganda literature, such as
    ‘The Sub-Human’ and ‘The Jews in the USA’ booklets.

    This arrangement also enabled the Nazis to cover up some of its
    crimes, allowing the Nazis to portray a war of extermination as a
    conventional war; which events were made visible and which remained
    invisible in AP’s supply of pictures followed German interests and the
    German narrative of the war.[56][57]


    So maybe it’s time to turn our backs on these media dinosaurs–anyone remember what the AP did to Bernie the night before the CA primary?

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    • elmysterio

      The US ruling class has always been keen on fascism.

  • elmysterio

    What none of these self-described progressives talk about is where these refugees came from in the first place and who’s responsible for them being refugees. It’s the US Global War of Terror that’s responsible… Y’know, the war that the “progressives” supported when Obama was President…