Upstream

Matamoros camp with tent courts in the background across the river in Brownsville

In less than one week ten women and one man will follow the path that many have already traveled. We are traveling from different locations across the country to the southern border which sits along the Gulf of Mexico and between Texas and Matamoros. Many of us don’t know each other but we have begun the conversations that begin when traveling to a common destination. Travel plans, Air BnB plans, who’s staying where, car rentals, the costs, who owes who money, food prep sign ups, lesson reviews, food, margaritas.

Discussing almost everything except the obvious. The reason we are going. Then today that changed. An issue arose and the conversation went back and forth on our group message thread. Different opinions respectfully shared. Confusion created. Fear uncovered. We decided to wait until we were all sharing breakfast burritos and mimosas to discuss our thoughts about this further.

In that short discussion something became clear to me. While I may or may not agree with what was being said, I realized I was privilege to a conversation between remarkable people. We may or may not know what we are preparing to do, where we are preparing to go, but we continue forward anyway. Even though it’s pretty clear that we are basically going into the jaws of hell. There is no other way to look at it. Yet we continue forward. Nervous would be an understatement for how some of us, including myself, are feeling. So I wasn’t surprised when the private texts begin to arrive on my phone, “I’m getting nervous, are you?” “Do you know what you’re doing?” “My husband wants to know, are we going to be ok?” And so my knot grew and I struggled with the weight I felt and wondered if I was lost. Lost in my belief, in my work, in leading others to join me. And yet, while this fear slowly (or not so slowly) and successfully crept in I realized that there really is no choice here. We all know it. That’s why we go.

We decided to go together. Like the caravans that have arrived on our doorstep, we travel together. For safety, for camaraderie, for support, and maybe even a strong shoulder to lean on. For some of us we go to see, to bear witness to learn enough to bring information back to our communities. For some, it’s to work with the people in the tents. For me and I think most of us, it’s both of those things and more. We are compelled, morally, to go. There is no choice; we must go.

These experiences along our southern border allow me to read hate filled comments in our local newspaper and know they are based on ignorance or worse. It allows me to hear our president talk and recognize the deceit and racism behind his statements.

And so I think of this…..

“… I was walking the wrong way,

upstream instead of downstream.

Finally I was advertised on the hotline of help, and yet there I was, slopping along happily in the stream’s coolness. So maybe it was the right way after all.

If this was lost, let all be lost always.

The beech leaves were just slipping their copper coats; pale green and quivering they arrived into the year. My heart opened, and opened again. The water pushed against my effort, then its glassy permission to step ahead touched my ankles.

The sense of going toward the source. ” Mary Oliver from her book, Upstream (I took the liberty to divide up her text a bit.)

May the eleven of us follow the source of our beliefs with open hearts. Let us feel the pressure of the water pushing back and may we continue to push through it and continue. May we relax in the lost knowing we won’t be lost forever. May we continue to walk upstream to the people on the border. Those in desperate need. Those our country has forgotten. May we continue to the source so we will know. So we can feel. So we can see and then tell.

Honored to be part of the eleven. We will do good work…together…arm in arm. Much love amigas and amigo.

Mary

The New Trains Belong to US

This is where we are.

How do we find words to capture the depths of what is happening? For many of us who are paying attention and refusing to look away, it has become more and more difficult. Witnesses (God Bless every one of them), have been getting up early to capture the deportations happening at airports in southern Texas. Deportations are also happening elsewhere in major cities like Chicago and New York, but these witnesses are in Texas. The photo above is just one of many photos documenting the crimes against humanity that are being committed by our government and private airlines and bus companies.

There are several international laws that are suppose to protect people from what we are doing. They were developed and signed by countries shortly after World War II ended, for obvious reasons. Yet here we are, again. Human rights organizations within our country and around the world are condemning us for virtually ending the rights of people fleeing violence to seek asylum in our country. Right there, we are breaking national and international laws. Yet we look away. We blame them. We blame everyone but ourselves. If that isn’t enough, we are returning people back to dangerous countries. That also breaks international laws. There are clear rules against both of those things. Yet we snub our arrogant nose at the international human rights groups and international laws that have been on the books for decades and we do it anyway. Why? Because we can. Because we are a country built on white supremacy. And we can successfully threaten other countries, as well as human rights organizations, with withholding money from them if they don’t support the crimes we are committing. And that is exactly what we are doing. We are now the major world bully. I’m trying to remember the last time we have done something truly amazing and good for our world neighbors, something we could be proud of. And for the life of me I can’t. We have stood by when major genocides were being committed, for example Rwanda, Bosnia, Syria, Yemen, Palestine, and there are others. Why aren’t we doing anything? Why isn’t our military used to help these people? I think we are slowly beginning to understand why. Imperialism and colonialism are a harsh, harsh history we must face. But in the meantime we have this, sending a young family back to what will likely be the same violence they fled. And we must also acknowledge that the violence they fled was fueled by our very own policies in their countries.

I look at that photo and feel such grief and shame, and I am amazed at the strength of these brave women. The young mom, standing so tall and strong. We know from all we’ve read, from the stories asylum seekers have told us, from the observations the witnesses and workers along the border have told us, that inside they are scared to death. Because violence is what we are sending them and their child back to. This is what we are doing to “make America great again”. That slogan disgusts me. Right now, we disgust me.

We will come up with excuses to let ourselves off the hook for why we are doing this. But excuses are all that they are. “We don’t have enough room for everyone. They are criminals. Their skin is dark. They are poor and will be a drain on our economy.” We know that none of these excuses are true or even remotely valid for the evils we are committing. We know that what we are saying to ourselves is a lie and I believe that deep down inside we are ashamed of believing those lies. We know that if the tables were turned and that photo was of us on that plane with our children we would hope and pray that we would be taken in, cared for, fed. Yet something, something incredibly deep, dark, and full of fear is causing us to turn away from our own humanity. While we may know why the “leaders” of our country are doing this, aka white supremacy and fossil fuels interests have the control of our government right now; why the people of our country are following along is what truly confuses and deeply saddens me.

Witnessing the above scene and many more just like it. Photo by Karla Rader Barber, Witness at the Border

Don’t look away. What are you doing to support those working and witnessing along the border? Nothing? Too busy? Those excuses don’t hold water for the time we are living in. We all must do something. Say something. Support something. But do not go down in history as doing nothing. Contact me and I will help you if you do not know what to do. There are many options even for those who are living the busy time of their lives raising children and/or working.

In love, peace, and solidarity with the millions of displaced migrants around the world seeking a life free from fear and harm,

Mary

Deep Gratitude to Those Who Give

A few weeks ago I did something I’ve never done before. I put a call out to those I know, and some I don’t know, for money. Spending our elder years working for others is something I have come to believe is a moral obligation. But for some, this work comes at a time when our financial situation takes a deep nose dive. This is the case with me.

As I was working out how to do the next phase of work on the southern border, a new friend of mine said, “Ask for help. There are people out there who want to help but can’t go in person. Ask them.” What? Ask people for money? That just did not sit right with me at all. As days passed and my financial need became apparent I swallowed my pride and did as she suggested. I put out an email and a post on social media. It explained the upcoming work at the border and the need for help to get there. I pressed send.

That’s when the miracles began. Almost immediately my inbox began to ding. Emails from friends and family began to arrive. And here’s the kicker. They were thanking me! So while I sat here wanting, needing to thank them for their unbelievable generosity, they were thanking me. With that my PayPal and Venmo began to chime as well. Donations were coming in electronically. And several were from people I didn’t recognize.

The notes were similar, “Thank you for doing what I can’t.” “Please take this because it helps me feel better. I can’t go but want to help so I’m glad to help you go.” “This issue is heavy on my heart. I haven’t known what to do until I saw your post. Now I do. Thank you and be safe.” “Bless you.” That last one got to me. No one ever “blessed me” outside of confession before!

I thought about all the GoFundMe accts I’ve given to in the past. Runathons, bikeathons, family members who were sick, school trips for kids overseas, education for girls, firefighters medical needs…the list goes on and on. But this didn’t feel the same to me. I learned how wrong I was.

So I’d just like to take a minute and say, “Thank you. Thank you to those who gave. Thank you for having faith in my work. Thank you.” There are now 9 of us going together to the border community of Brownsville, TX and Matamoros, Mexico. We are going to help those who have been there helping provide aid to the asylum seekers. They have been there helping for many months. It has become clear to me how vital this financial support is. What would we do without the support of those who “can’t go”? I really don’t think we could continue this work. So thank you to those who can’t go but who aid those who can.

Gracias,

Mary(ellen)

Let Us Not Be Those Who Judge

A good stout after hearing difficult news.

Those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. Proverb.

My husband and I were sitting in a local brewery today. It was odd for us. Middle of the day. Middle of the week. No real reason to be there except to escape sad news. While we were there I witnessed two women in their mid thirties and a preschool child enter, sit down, order beers and popcorn. The boy took out an electronic device, took off his coat and hat, and proceeded to stare at the screen as his mom and friend ate popcorn, drank beer, and talk.

At first glance it was easy to judge. No popcorn for the kid? Talking like he wasn’t there? After a few more sips of my preferred beverage that others could have judged me for, my mind began to thankfully shift. I began to reflect on what a judgmental fart I was. I looked inwards and at the women a little closer. The woman, whom I assumed to be the mom because of how the child rested his head on her arm, was carefully working to hide her distress. It was this realization that caused me to judge myself instead of her. She obviously was in a bad space. Her child was safe and well cared for. She needed her friend. Who was I to sit and judge? Please if there is someone out there above all of us, help me and anyone else who struggles with this flaw. And help us get over it, soon. Why does judgement so often come before empathy?

Today was MLK day. The many posts on social media left me feeling rather empty. Many were as judgmental as the thoughts I had about this woman I didn’t even know. Why do we automatically go there? Today was also the day after finding out news about the murder of a beautiful young woman. She was someone who dedicated her life to help those who desperately needed the help of others. Hence the need for a slice of NY pie (pizza) and a dark, midday beer. The women she helped were asylum seekers trapped in a Mexican city on our southern border because of our administration’s inhumane policies. We know that those who are sent back to these cities have a very high chance of experiencing intense violence. Yet we send them back there anyway. Who on Earth are we?

As I sipped my beer and peered out over the frozen river I found myself trying to untangle the mess we are in. And I found myself reflecting on judgement. Recently an “acting” director (I guess they can’t hold on to anyone) of ICE recently published an inflammatory column in our local newspaper. His judgement of those here as migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, immigrants took my breath away. He was vicious and his rhetoric was extremely dangerous. Many around the country write hateful things about those seeking a safe life for themselves and their families in this country. They judge them mostly by the color of their skin. Let’s not pretend this judgement is not seeped in deep seated racism. It is. And that racism is seeped in deep seated fear that has been fueled for generations and newly fanned by our sitting president and people like this “acting” director of ICE.

May we all work to notice when we judge others. May we work to see that everyone has a story and for many, that story isn’t easy or pretty. May we work to aid rather than judge. And may we work to uncover and discredit judgements that harm others. Recent Letter to the Editor responding then acting ICE director’s comments in our local paper.

On this MLK day may we denounce judgement and work to help those less fortunate. There is so much hate and division today that it will take the active and conscientious efforts of every single one of us to break through them. May we all find time to work for that.

For Isabel,

Love and kindness,

Mary

Why We Go

This morning a concerned young adult called me. She wanted to know why we are going to the border. “It’s dangerous. Why do you go?” She didn’t support our work or us going. She has a loved one planning the trip and she’s understandably concerned. It left me thinking, “Why do we go? Why do so many, from all over the country, step out of their lives and spend money they don’t have to fly to a land so far from home?” It is a question worth examination.

Once I hung up I pulled out my spinning wheel and spun yarn. I spun until I could honestly answer that question in a way that was honest for me and in a way that may help family members understand why their loved ones make this journey.

For me… we go to the border because we hope someone would do this for us and our loved ones. That pretty much sums it up.

When I stood on the ladder in Homestead and saw the children held in that camp it became instantly clear that my life was altered. It was as much a physical response as it was an emotional and spiritual one. I had bared witness to children playing soccer in a foreign land far away from their families. I witnessed someone’s children who were taken from their families. That was a very profound thing to bear witness to. The children in front of me, on the other side of the road and fence, had successfully fled unimaginable violence in their home countries. They had survived an equally dangerous journey consisting of thousands of miles in heat and with very few possession. They survived all that only to be taken away from their family and put in a detention camp made out of tents that sit on the edge of a swamp. I thought to myself, “What if this was my child? Would someone help my child?”

So that’s why we do it. Many of us are older women. In our 60’s and older. Our health isn’t what it use to be. Many are Grannies. We’ve raised children. We easily imagine if they were our children. That’s why we do it. We aren’t young. Our children are grown. We literally have nothing to lose. We do it because we can.

In a few short weeks several of us will travel to the border. For some of us, it’s a first visit. For some it’s a return visit. We will cross the border into Mexico. This does not come free from risks. But the risks have been assessed. Those who work on the ground there, many retired themselves, work in an organized group that has been at this for months. They know there is safety in numbers so we will travel in a group, during the day, and back in U.S. by night fall. Each night we will be reminded of our privilege. We will be allowed to safely leave the dangers of camp at night. While we will struggle with the guilt that will come with that we will not allow fear or guilt guide us. Love, love will guide us.

During our work we will see some of the most desperate people we have ever laid eyes on. Our hearts will break over and over again. Yet with each break we will also gain strength. Strength that will allow us to continue our presence. For each face we see, we will be reminded of our children and we will partly do this for them. I believe grannies have that in common. We raised children, our children, other’s children. We are their keepers and protectors. Witnessing this and remaining silent and immobile is just not an option for us. It’s totally impossible.

So why do we go? We go to show those there that they are not alone, that they are not forgotten, that they are not abandoned, that they will be fed and cared for as best we can, and that not all from the other side of the border believe in what we as a country is doing to them and their loved ones.

That’s why we will go.

In some way, whatever way you can, please respond. Show up, speak up, sponsor someone who is going, donate to those who are there…something, anything. With love in our hearts, and strength in our numbers we will end the inhumanity that has taken over our southern border and the soul of this country. Please, do not look away.

Peace, love, and solidarity….Mary

Giving the Gift of Warmth

“Kitchen” for five families in a shelter in need of heat and hot water in Juarez, Mexico.

“I sent my daughter across yesterday,” said a defeated, young mother in a refugee camp in Matamoros.

Those words were uttered from a Honduran mother as she sat around a campfire with a woman volunteer from the United States. She sent her sick 9 year old child across the US border, alone.

The volunteer’s account: “Her daughter is nine years old. Violeta had stood near the bridge and watched her child leave. She waited until an officer took custody, and then Violeta walked back to her tent. Alone. ‘I couldn’t let her suffer anymore,’ Violeta explained.”

This is what desperate parents who have fled unimaginable violence and who have been illegally detained in Mexico are being forced to do. They are sending their sick children alone, across the United States border as winter settles in because that is the only way their child(ren) will be allowed entry and access to medical care. They do not know if they will see their child(ren) again. This is what it has come to.

It is hard for us who live a “normal” life in the United States to understand the desperation and pain thousands are suffering with along our border. This is just one story coming from the borderlands. Just one. Everyday I receive stories from friends who work and live along the border. And every story seems to be worse than the story before it.

After feelings of desperation settle in we ask, “What can we do?” Well for one, we can listen and look. We can pay attention. It’s hard. I know it’s hard. I want to turn away too and go back to life without such sadness. But that is not the right thing to do. Actually, doing that is morally wrong on every level.

What is happening along our southern border and at detention camps and prison cells across our country is blatant and historic abuse. We have seen this before and it is rightfully labeled, genocide. Here, in our country, by our government, on our land, and on our watch. It is so very, very wrong. It cuts through our core and deeply threatens who we are as a people.

The entire world is watching the humanitarian crisis unravel on our southern border. They are also watching our response to it. They are watching as it is being orchestrated and carried out by our government and many recognize it for what it is because they too have experienced this. Can we take a minute to stop and absorb that? Genocide in the USA in 2019 directed by our government. Sadly, this is not the first time our country has committed this crime (think Indigenous genocide that has been occurring for 500 years). History has not treated us well because of that. It will not treat us well for this either unless we use our power to stop it. It is our decision; will history note our resistance to it, or not? How do we want to be remembered? Because we will be remembered by our response. Did we show up, rise up, speak up or sit idly by?

Please be patient while I do something I have never done before. I am going to beg. I beg you to look. I beg you to see. I beg you to get out of your safe comfort zone and show up, say something, do something. One thing you can do is help those who are working so hard and with such desperation to provide humanitarian aid to those in so much pain at the border.

Something we have learned about, and I was sadly a witness to the effects of, is the use of ice boxes or hieleras along our border. Coming into the US, asylum seekers are put into these freezing cells. The experiences they recount are awful. Now in shelters they are still cold. It’s winter. Many shelters do not have heat or hot water. Something simple we can do is provide warmth. Seems like we can do that.

After speaking with the incredible woman whom I spent time with working in shelters in Juarez, she informed me of the need for heaters and water heaters to provide heat in one of the larger shelters. Please know that the people I met who are living there while they wait for their asylum hearings, are good, kind people. They are traumatized and they are in incredible pain. And in all honesty, so are the people helping them. While most of us can’t be there to help those who have put their lives on hold to help, we can support their work this way. Please donate towards heating and hot water for this shelter in the mountains of Juarez. Please give as generously as you can but anything will help. Then share this post and/or fundraiser link with your friends, family, and on social media.

Let’s get the hot water flowing and some heat turned on.

Thank you. During this holiday season may we take time to help those who are suffering because of our policies. May we give of ourselves and help their children like we would hope someone would help ours.

Give here: https://www.facebook.com/donate/441026999909906/2716569265056164/

In deep gratitude. Happy Holidays,

Mary

“Just Show Up”

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez breaks down witnessing children separated from their families and kept at the Texas Tornillo migrant child detention camp.

What do you notice when you view this photo? When I first saw this photo almost a year ago I wondered what would make her so upset. This photo changed the course of this stage of my life. As I would come to learn, this was the correct response for witnessing what is happening along our southern border. Sadly, it is not the response of all our elected officials.

After months of working to close these facilities many activists have turned their attention to the refugee camps along our Texas and California borders. (We sadly have not succeeded in shutting these child camps down. As of this writing, this past year there was an estimated 70,000 migrant children in detention around our country. Most, separated from their families upon arrival at our border. I don’t know if that estimate includes the “adoptions” that are also occurring.) Several friends that I have met through this work have gone to the border. We try to share what we witnessed. But we struggle to find the words. As I told an elderly gentleman yesterday that I struggle to find the words, he said, “That is because there are no words. There are no words to capture the depths of the evil that you have witnessed. ” He is indeed correct. But I can capture the feelings. And those feelings include a deep, deep sense of sadness; grief really. Another friend is planning on going to the border soon. As we communicate about her plans, I encouraged her to try to prepare herself emotionally. Witnessing crimes against humanity is not an easy thing to do. She too will come back without words.

As we continue this work we discuss how helpless and hopeless it often feels. We share the notion that the more we work, the worse it gets. But it is important that we continue to witness, to look and see and tell what we see. If nothing else, history will judge us on if we “showed up” or not. Did we decide to do something, say something, to show up? Or did we continue to ignore, pretend it wasn’t so bad or that it’s not happening? It’s easy to deny reality but history will not treat us kindly if we do.

Recently I spent an afternoon listening to United States Representatives discuss the Remain in Mexico policy that we are enforcing on our southern border. I was taken aback by the harshness of their words and thus emotions. I was also taken aback by their denial that what is happening is harmful. They were the epitome of denial. And/or extreme racism. It was clear that they do not see the people on our border begging for help as people. How could they? You don’t treat people the way we are treating them. Daily on social media I read harsh comments that steal my breath away. I can only surmise that these folks are shut down, in denial. Or then again, that they are incredibly racist and don’t see those suffering as human beings.

“Activism saved my life,” was the comment from a vet who recently shared his story of serving in Iraq as a sniper. He shared how the grief and guilt that he struggles with and the subsequent PTSD and substance abuse have been held at bay since he began to protest our military involvement around the world. He decided to “show up”. That’s all it took. So this holiday season, as requests for phone calls to representatives are made and invitations to attend rallies are shared, consider just showing up. We can’t do everything but we can all do something. Showing up is something we can all do and it may well create a path for those struggling with how to respond during this historic time.

Mary