By Symone Saul
What separates sympathy and sorrow from empathy and compassion? As we consume a bottomless diet of man-made suffering and human rights violations, how do we let our own discomfort manifest from an unmanageable state of inaction to springing forth with an all-powerful burst of Movement? Which neurons have to fire to drive a person from a piteous but languid awareness of injustice to a steady constant stream of bleeding-heart tears, wiped from the corner of your eyes as they narrow towards the enemy that concocted them?
When does that barely-cognizant itch of malaise you half-heartedly scratch away at finally split your nail and rip back the skin to bare the boiling hot surge of righteous outrage underneath?
Where’s the switch from understanding to activism?
I know the excuses- we’re already doing so much, stretched so thin, too many problems to solve. I know the dissonance- that it is what it is, that our armchair activism will abide, that reading (or writing) about peace and justice enables us to create it. Sometimes it is and it does. Sometimes, we need to do more.
There are many problems in the world at this moment that need to be addressed. As a white American, I feel directly complicit in a lot of these man-made issues. This is because they’re all connected and must be solved in cohesive, long-term strategies through the tangible and intangible sacrifices of white Americans. As a 20th century Jew, I spent my childhood obsessing over the Holocaust, wondering how average Germans allowed it to happen, and idolizing the every day citizens who risked their lives to protect others.
I will be returning to Somi Se’k, the ancestral land of the Esto’k Gna tribe, at what we call the Texas-Mexican border in September. I believe the situation there to be the frontlines of the devastating grip that racism, corporate greed, right-wing authoritarianism, and the ongoing genocide of Indigenous and Immigrant populations has left us strangled. This strangulation is a pitiful display of guilt and shame paralysis. It is an environmental fight, a humanitarian catastrophe, and a political and social struggle. It is absolutely a test of our willingness to turn a blind eye as conditions get increasingly worse and our government tightens its fist of fascism around the most vulnerable necks they can get their tiny hands on.
Let’s do an exercise in empathy: Take a moment to imagine yourself or your child. Many Americans have never experienced the hopelessness of having no choices, so if it helps- pretend your doctor only takes Highmark and you carry UPMC. Confused, desperate, no options left. You are forced to walk thousands of miles from your home only to be terrorized, starved, financially and sexually exploited, before you are stripped of all dignity and personal belongings and thrown in confinement by people whose language you don’t understand. Shackled, forced to endure extreme temperatures and vile humiliation, sleeping on the ground and brutally intimidated. At that point, you might’ve forgotten the horrors back home and be nearly wishing for deportation. You’ll likely get it.
Since my first trip to the border, I’ve attempted to remain rational but it suddenly seemed trivial to focus on retaining the small luxuries we still experience here, like abortion rights or public transportation. Haunted by memories of the Tornillo Detention Center, mingled with nightmares of Nazi Death Camps. Scrolling through images of children packed heel-to-heel in searing heat for days on ICE busses, like Jews in cattle cars being herded to Auschwitz. Gutted by the knowledge that rosaries and sneakers are being stolen by the thousands and replaced with ankle bracelets.
We know that no one is free until we all are free, and we know that these immigrant concentration camps are only an escalation of the U.S. history of mass incarceration from plantation to reservation to prison and internment. It will only get worse until you toss this paper aside, take half of what you own and share it freely. It’s time to take a real, live stand against this abomination of our values and violation of innocent people. Do it now, before violation becomes violence and violence becomes annihilation.
Peel back the skin where you are rotting underneath, let your guilt seize you into direct action, not despair. Take your place in history in this generation’s greatest intersectional and redemptive, revolutionary struggle.
If you’re ready to free yourself and our neighbors from the chains of unjust laws, follow Operation Badass on Facebook for more info, or contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CARTOON: Russ Fedorka
Symone Saul is humbly hoping to help those in greatest need of attention and care