“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.



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