It is the 1820’s. White supremacist and US president James Monroe is serving his second term. Pundits refer to this period as the Era of Good Feelings which is tongue-in-cheek for the division beneath the surface. The Federalist party has collapsed and from its ashes rises the Democratic Party. The Missouri Compromise has passed introducing the free state of Maine and the slave state of Missouri. This is the Pre-Civil War era. Anti-immigration sentiment was increasing in response to job shortages. Wealthy families are bragging about their new contraptions: the cookstove. North American football is emerging as a past-time.
There were also rumors of an underground railroad…
The rise of The Underground Railroad almost parallels the growth of the traditional conventional railroad both coming to prominence in the 1800’s. It’s no wonder that the clandestine railway employed terms borrowed from the railroad industry: so long as slaves could make it to stations/depots (safe houses), a conductor could guide them to safety; Harriet Tubman being one of the most famous conductors.
The underground railroad was a network of spies, fighters, liberators, guides, and of compassionate souls who opened their homes to hide escaped slaves from bounty hunters who made their fortunes by capturing those risking it all to taste freedom. Both the African Methodist Episcopal Church as well as the Quakers were part of this network along with what’s known as Vigilance Committees. This system rescued more than 100,000 slaves.
This wasn’t easy work. The Fugitive Slave Acts made it punishable by hefty fines and jail time. And yet the people committed to equality persisted in what was a real resistance in which they put themselves on the line to usher society’s most vulnerable and most exploited to safety.
Black history month is upon us again, and the headlines are making the rounds are loud. Apparently, Kristen Bell said a thing, Trump’s physical exam results are laughable, and there is a bar famous for not serving alcohol (what’s the point?). So much noise. Everywhere. Everything is fine. This is the Era of Good Feelings part deux. Can’t you just feel it?
Beneath the surface of those absurd stories we pretend are news… something more sinister lurks. A father is deported. And a doctor. And possibly this little girl with cerebral palsy. Immigration agents are asking for papers on a bus and rounding up those who can’t provide them. Border Patrol agents are sabotaging water left for immigrants fleeing for their lives in the desert. Border Patrol agents are murdering young boys on the border with impunity. Immigrants are being forced into labor camps where they are enslaved. The federal government is detaining immigrants and imprisoning them in freezers. Raping them. Murdering them. Hell, local police are working as a modern slave patrol returning escaped “migrant workers” to the businesses enslaving them.
Too often left out of the conversation about the plight of immigrants is the fact that immigrant doesn’t solely refer to those coming from Mexico. When Trump made his distasteful, but true to form, comments about “shithole countries” the rest of America was reminded that we must not allow the immigrants from the many countries of Africa and the Caribbean islands to be left out of the discussions about what we can and must be done to stop the tide of Xenophobia and Racism from destroying our country.
You see, people from these countries contribute a great deal to our nation’s economy. Losing that would destabilize many communities, communities that house some of the most vulnerable within our borders. Diversity is about more than just having a smattering of brown faces in a photo op or merely having people from all communities present. America must ensure that everyone is given the opportunity to participate in the ongoing but quickly sinking experiment of this nation. Full credit must be given to those who make up about 25% of entrepreneurs in this country. America must respect and recognize the wealth of knowledge these all these countries bring to our shores as Doctors, Lawyers, Inventors, and much more.
These folks are our people. Not in the sense that we share biology or a family name. But in the way that we share ourselves, our communities, and our traditions with each other. We are inescapably tied. And not just because immigrants are the bedrock of our economy. They matter. Their lives inherently hold value. They are beautiful because they exist. The federal government is quickly rounding them up. Enslaving them. Raping them. Denying them basic necessities. Killing them. And let’s remember why these undocumented immigrants are here, to begin with: optimistic parents, fleeing certain death, economic opportunity, and ongoing enslavement of black and brown people.
But did you hear about that latest Trump tweet? Did you see that most recent episode of The Good Place? Hilarious. You’ve got to try that new restaurant around the corner. So much noise.
Sometimes we need to unplug for the quiet, shut off our phones and seek out a small, peaceful corner of the world where we can think clearly and even dream. Let’s imagine a society in which we have the courage to create a nationwide Underground Railroad until the wheels of justice can catch up to what’s right. A society where people open up their homes to undocumented citizens, usher them to sanctuary cities and set up GoFundMes so that they can start to build a new life. Let’s dream of an America where the hundreds of thousands of women who showed up to March in their pussy hats form human chains separating ICE agents from immigrants. Let’s make that a reality, let everyday people film and post the acts of aggression and abuse they witness ICE agents committing and dismantle the need for brutal ICE tactics.
We want those agents to be the workers who help usher newcomers to shelter and safety. We want to see hundreds of thousands of Americans take to the street and riot for amnesty. Total amnesty. For all. And we mean riot. Let those in power tremble with fear. Let buildings in every capital shake. Because tonight, someone in our family will go to sleep plagued by worry that they’ll be rounded up and torn apart before the break of dawn. Because not all immigrants are afforded the opportunity to say goodbye. Because we don’t want to live in a society where immigration can patrol our schools looking for children to arrest. Because we have had enough of all this god damned injustice.
Let’s not allow undocumented immigrants to become the modern-day slaves on our watch. Let us not sit idly by while we fully regress to the disgusting, criminal slavery, and genocide upon which the US was built and for which restitution was never paid (can you shout REPARATIONS! with me?)
But to quote some Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
Pamela Getz co-authored this post. You can find her on Twitter @goddesspamela.