A Light That Shall Remain….
I generally try to keep these messages about local issues, but…
As a nation we are beginning an internal political debate with consequences and a seriousness that we have not experienced since perhaps the Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s. Our core values as a country are being questioned, but not being debated in an intelligent, deliberate and informed manner. It is up to us as individuals to make sure the values central to our idea of America, remain long after the debate is over. For me, a big part of that is ensuring we are a welcoming and compassionate nation.
The litany of actions taken by President Trump since his inauguration is both mind boggling and surreal. From Cabinet appointees who have a history of opposing the very work they will oversee and/or cannot answer basic questions about policies that will be in their purview, to replacing the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Director of National Intelligence on the National Security Council with Alt-Right advisor Stephen Bannon, to the executive order on immigration.
I am uncertain about what lies ahead. There are far too many similarities between what is happening in Washington D.C. and the events of pre-WWII Germany. We know that hate crimes against Muslims and Jews have increased significantly since the election, with the Southern Poverty Law Center reporting approximately 1,094 biased-related crimes since Election Day. We know that children of immigrants are frightened about the possibility of their families being split. We know civically engaged individuals who have been here for years, paying taxes, who now fear deportation.
My father was an immigrant to this country. He was fortunate enough to leave Austria in 1938 on one of the last ‘youth trains’ where young Jews were allowed to leave the country, rather than being taken to a death camp. He spent a year in England and five years in Bolivia before finally being allowed to enter the U.S. His parents later joined him in this journey, but much of his family was not so fortunate, and perished in the Holocaust. Last Friday, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, the President issued an order which will ban people escaping horrific circumstances, like my father, from entering the United States. Have we learned nothing?
At the foot of the Statue of Liberty reads a poem. Its last lines are perhaps the most famous, and for over a century, they have ever so simply and purely embodied the American experience and the American sprit.
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
These words speak to our highest ideals and the America that I know and love.
To be a student of history is to understand that immigration has never been easy, but ultimately we have always held to the values best embodied by the poem affixed at her base. We must remember the past and that each of us, except for Native Americans, are a part of the tempest-tossed masses who arrived here with little more than an idea of what America was, and a dream of being part of it.
America is what we make of it, and what we allow it to become. There have been moments in our nation’s history when political shifts have exposed deep divides in our political beliefs. They have been followed by confrontation, resistance to change, and even currents of revolution. We should not fear what lies ahead. Discourse, no matter how awkward or painful is healthy and part of the democratic process. We should however, hold firm to the values that are central to our American identity, should there be troubled days ahead.
Actions and ideas are important. We cannot recede from the debate of ideas or shy from democratic action. An open and welcoming America is a core American value to me. I will vigilantly protect, and proudly hold up high, those ideals that drew millions of those huddled masses fleeing war, oppression and starvation to our country.
I was never more proud of Sacramento, then when 25,000 marched to the Capitol in protest of Trump’s policies. I am excited that my religious congregation voted overwhelmingly to become a Sanctuary Congregation – with much thanks to Area Congregations Together for organizing your membership on this issue. Each of us must decide what we hold dear, and take action aligned with those ideals.
I believe in the values inscribed at the foot of the Statue of Liberty and the value of Liberty’s symbolism in the world. I believe the costs of immigration is offset by the contributions of immigrants and any global complications, pale in comparison to the benefits of having the brightest beacon of hope shine proudly from our shores.
The American values of hope, compassion and opportunity have been a beacon for immigrants for three centuries. It is those values that shine bright in Liberty’s lamp held high, and those that I hope shall ever remain.
In addition to his council duties, Jay works as an independent consultant and policy advisor on education reform and youth policy and strategies.