Archive for June, 2012

A Wise And Compassionate Take on Social Justice

Friday, June 29th, 2012

Or not.

I’ve been writing so much on immigration that I somehow missed this May 2012 Tweet from Moscow’s Pontiff of Privilege and Potency:

“Whenever you hear someone appeal to social justice, check two things. One, where you put your wallet, and two, where he keeps his revolver.”  (Douglas Wilson on Twitter)

This succinct little nugget speaks volumes about Wilson’s equating of social services to the robbery of the taxpaying masses in order to satiate the poor as they suckle like piglets on the teat of government largesse.  (Search Blog and Mablog for his warning to congregants that they not be found accepting government social services and thus becoming “suckling piglets.”) And while he’s able to pack two graphic images — armed robbery and nursing piglets — into a single sociopolitical position, his observation invites a third image:  the Matthew 25 sheeps and goats confrontation with the Master, wherein he and others who sell indifference to the poor as a Christian virtue are angrily herded off to the left with the rest of the goats. 

It’s not going to be a good place to be, and I doubt that the others in the goatflock will be at all comforted by Wilson’s witticisms. 

The Answer To A 23-Year Prayer

Friday, June 29th, 2012

My last couple of posts have been about immigration, which longtime readers of Prevailing Winds will recognize as one of the things most important to me.  I say “things” because it’s not simply a political issue or point of policy for me, but something of such personal, biographical, emotional significance to me that discussing it here is difficult — just as living through the last couple of decades of its being played out in our country has been wrenching for me.

But why?  I mean, I’m an Anglo woman, born in the United States and secure in her citizenship, personally unthreatened by even the most draconian, restrictive, bigoted immigration laws enacted by Arizona, my home state, or any other state.  I travel freely; I live less in the shadows than virtually anyone I know.  And while I’m not a Libertarian — believing, as I do, that it’s better to hold my own rights with a loose hand so that I can fight more easily for yours — I recognize that my status on this earth, in this country, right here in this state, is forever unquestioned.  The reason for this, of course, is pretty simple, and it still doesn’t explain why the legal and moral issue of immigration is so intensely personal to me.  I hope to make it clear in the paragraphs below, but it’s necessary first that I establish one “why” before I develop the “why” that follows.

The initial “why” — why I’m undeniably, unchangeably secure in my citizenship, and why that’s not the case with so many people I know well and love dearly — is quite simply this:  My mother’s uterus was located an hour north of, not south of, the U.S./Mexico border on November 2, 1960, so when I emerged from it, I emerged with a lifetime full of advantages that began to take effect immediately.  Sixty miles south of St. Mary’s Hospital in Tucson, Arizona, was across the border; the baby girl born there in the early morning hours of that day came into a world entirely different, utterly unlike my own in ways so stark in their differences that the ramifications would continue six decades later, until each of our deaths, and likely for decades beyond.

I was born in the United States, then, to parents who, like their own parents, were also born here.  I’m not “American” because of my Anglo-Irish-Polish whiteness, although it’s sometimes seen that way, but because I came from Americans, and the maternal one stayed on this side of the border to give birth to me.  Other than committing the most egregious act of treason imaginable, nothing I do can threaten what I am by birthright, and the security of being born here and not there was not only the first of innumerable advantages given to me, but the key that unlocked the “birthright treasury” from which these privileges and advantages, all unearned, have been and are applied to me daily.  The girl born to the mother on the Mexican side of the border has her own citizenship, of course, but the treasury from which the blessings and privileges in her life spill out is limited.  She knows it, and she knows how different her life is from mine, and she knows why that is.  If she’s a believer, she worships God anyway.

Like my sister in Mexico, I, too, worship God, although my thanksgiving is more likely to be “because of” and not “in spite of” — I thank God for my being an American with an eye more familiar than most with the differences between the relative riches of my American-ness and the poverty that dogs her Mexican-ness.  But here is where my not being a Calvinist plays out:  I don’t consider the difference in her paucity of fortune and my abundance of fortune as a simple, unremarkable example of God’s providence, a kind of foreordination as sure as his decree of salvation or reprobation.  I don’t consider that my security and prosperity are part of the great script of the Almighty’s decretal mysteries, and I can’t consider that my Mexican sister’s vulnerability and poverty are sovereign sub-plots within those mysteries.  My God is a God of justice; he may set people within geographic or national boundaries (Acts 17) so that they may more easily find him, but I think he decries the unfair re-establishment of those national boundaries and takes offense at the arbitrary, violence-borne, man-made laws that favor some and curse others.  I don’t believe that God soteriologically favors some and curses others; neither do I believe he turns a blind eye toward those who use violence and subterfuge to favor some and curse others by the gobbling up of sovereign nations in the past and encouraging policies in the present that keep wealth in the hands of the few and spread poverty with remarkable generosity to the masses.

To put it simply:  I believe God is grieved by the injustices that result in such tremendous disparities — that clamp down at the border the pipeline of rights and riches enjoyed by some and denied to others — and I think he wants those of us who benefit from injustice to speak and work for the rights of those oppressed by it.  Particularly when they’re children, and when the adults who put them in harm’s way aren’t the parents who brought them along when they immigrated to the U.S. without the proper documentation, but the white, privileged, powerful men and women in politics who use their opposition to the Dream Act and other “breaks for illegals” as candy to woo their most hateful supporters.

The parents who brought their kids over, some as infants and toddlers, others as grade-schoolers, wanted nothing but a better life for their children — a life not simply absent the violence and poverty that mark the majority experience in Mexico, but a life with opportunities that would demand commensurate responsibilities if attained.  Most of you know that I worked on my own, with the Lord’s strength and Jeff’s support, with undocumented workers in Monroe, Snohomish, and Duvall, Washington — an area of dairy farms, factories, and agricultural, construction, and landscaping opportunities that saw a huge upturn in the number of immigrants during my work from 1989 ’til 2001.  My motto was SERA’, which is Spanish for “it will be” and stood for Service, Empowerment, Relationship, and Advocacy.  It was the best time of my life, and I met people who are still dear friends of mine today.

In the course of teaching English, distributing Bibles, translating, counseling, and befriending these hardworking immigrants, almost all from Mexico and here without papers, I got to know scores of children who came here with their moms and dads as little kids — children who later became big sisters and big brothers to their American-born siblings and who lived their lives in fear of being deported back to a country they no longer knew.  Their parents took enormous risks in bringing them over; you and I might question the wisdom of making our children “illegals,” but you and I, as Americans, have never and will never face the crushing set of circumstances that gave rise to their decisions.  Further, you and I know that whatever our circumstances, our childrens’ futures are theirs to build or throw away.  They will either come to maturity valuing their citizenship and acting responsibly within their communities, or they’ll treat as insignificant the enormous advantages they’ve been given and become unproductive, unmotivated, and unappreciative.

But if you’re an immigrant parent, you’ll likely have instilled in your children an appreciation of hard work, the inestimable value of education, and the responsibilities expected of you by your community — and you’ll have known, before last week, that the born-in-America advantages their siblings, neighbors, and school friends enjoy are not available to your immigrant child.  You’ll have heard the bigot’s old, reliable creed:  That you came here to take jobs away from Americans, none of whom you’ve ever seen working a 15-hr. split shift at the dairy or living in a filthy travel trailer provided as a “housing allowance” by the guy who owns the farm where you work; that you’re a drain on the social safety net, even though you’ve been afraid to take advantage of programs like WIC for your American-born younger children and, moreover, that you’ll never see in your old age the return on what’s taken out of your paycheck every two weeks; that you’re a lawbreaker and an evildoer, even if your “crime” was to move Heaven and Earth to get your family out of its Hell; and that your people are a threat to the American way of life, which puzzles you because your children consider themselves American and you love this country whose leaders seem so intent on hating you.  You long to become an American; more than that, you ache to see your children have the chance to go to college, or serve in the military, or work in their neighborhoods as cops and firefighters and community leaders, and maybe even run for office themselves.

And you’ll have lived with the guilt of making the best of two difficult choices, knowing that in doing so, you’ve consigned your children to a life that, while ultimately safer, is bereft of the advantages of the native-born and also contains the fear, way back in the furthest part of your mind, that you’ll all be sent back — and that they know nothing of living in Mexico.  You’ll work harder than a human being was ever meant to in the hope that you did the right thing for your children, and when they tell you they can’t go to college, no matter how gifted they are, you’ll have wept tears of impotent frustration.

President Obama’s decree last week will change that, over the hysterical cries and wounded laments of the mouthpieces for bigotry who keep the GOP going.  Young people won’t be forever held hostage by the decisions made for them as infants and children by parents driven by desperation and need.  Without even thinking terribly hard, I can come up with the names of two dozen young people I know who will benefit from this, and if I think, pray, and check my old class notes, that number would likely triple — or quadruple.  And every one of these young people are as loved by their parents as my own children are by me; every one of them deserves the rights from having grown up in the United States as my kids have from having been born here.  Enactment of a program like this has been on my prayer list since I first began teaching English in December 1989.  It’s been a long, grueling, two-decades-plus wrestling match with the Lord in prayer, pleading for justice for my friends and others in their shoes.  People I know and love now have a measure of safety in their lives that gives them some of the privileges easily held and entirely unearned by the American-born young people I know, and I believe that the Lord Jesus, in his own time, is pleased to bless our nation in this.  As for me, I’m rejoicing in the answer to a prayer that pours justice and opportunity out on scores of my young friends, and I look forward to good things from them in response. 

Obama Following Romney On Immigration . . . And Then — Get Out The Tissues . . .

Sunday, June 24th, 2012

I’ve already discussed Mitt Romney’s appearance a few days ago before the National Association of Latino Elected Officials, which was notably lacking in coherence, much less warmth, connection, and empathy.  Mitt shifted unceasingly, stammered uncomfortably, and smiled unconvincingly as he tried to win over a group of people who’ve heard him make unequivocal statements that could reasonably be construed as opposed to their political and personal interests, and I got the sense that if his next scheduled appearance had been to an assembly of fifth-graders to discuss Our Changing Bodies, he would’ve been relieved.

It was that bad, and Romney surely realizes that Latino voters — none of whom will benefit personally from Obama’s executive order to halt deportations of those brought here as children without papers by their parents — nonetheless will expect him to respond to simple, direct questions about whether or not he would cancel or continue the President’s order if he’s elected.  He has stated that he would “veto” the Dream Act, the goals and intentions of which are expressed by Obama’s order, and he ought to presume that mass amnesia is not likely to descend on Latino voters between now and Election Day.  He may be safe in presuming that not every Latino voter agrees with Obama’s policy, but he puts that part of his campaign that seeks support among Latinos at risk if he doesn’t respond.

Failure to answer the question with a plain, clear “yes, I would continue it” or “no, I wouldn’t” also puts that part of his campaign hoping to demonstrate simple decency, integrity, and honesty at great risk, although that’s a part of his candidacy that’s been on life support since Day One, desiccated and shrunken by each passing day.

But it wasn’t simply by comparison that Barack Obama’s passionate and purposeful speech to NALEO the day after Romney’s was one of the most emotional political speeches I’ve heard in a decade, and while I don’t think his Order will help him politically — in fact, I think it might even hurt him — Obama demonstrated that immigration, and his version of the Dream Act in particular, is personally important to him.  This son of an immigrant Kenyan, an American citizen whose life has been lived at a blessed, flourishing Ground Zero multiculturally, poured out his heart to an audience full of people who’ve been personally touched by the immigration debate, and he did so with a familiarity and brotherhood borne of obvious respect and shared struggle.  While most Latino voters identify as Democrats, there’s been a significant groundswell in the number of Latino officials in the GOP, and Obama’s audience was not necessarily geared toward his reelection.  But they were, and will continue to be, oriented toward having their political muscle recognized, and one of the two candidates seemed unable to do that.  His subsequent remark that he was “humbled” to receive the support of Latino voters was surprising — and not because Romney doesn’t “do” humility well, but because polls show he has, actually, very little support from Latinos.   Romney’s position with Latinos is, indeed, humbling, but continued acknowledgement of such a paltry whimper of support might devolve into something more humiliating than humbling.

This Just In: Romney On "Free Stuff"

Thursday, June 21st, 2012

I’m watching the cringeworthy sight of Mitt Romney speaking live to the National Association of Latino Elected Officials, and a couple of things so far have me not only grimacing, but darned-near gobsmacked in headspinning disbelief.

(I don’t know . . . there’s something about the exceptional blandness of Mitt Romney that  just provokes hyperbole and exaggeration in me, and it’s not simply my intense dismay over his every utterance.  It’s sort of like developing a craving for Thai basil and chilis after a big bowl of oatmeal . . . or maybe just recognizing that bland affect and plain words nonetheless convey hypocrisy and contempt with astonishing efficacy).

So the presumptive GOP nominee finds himself with An Opportunity.  The embodiment of white, male privilege and living example of capitalism gleefully run amok was discussing his vision for America to a group of Latino public servants just a week after the President announced an end to the deportation of, and the establishment of “a pathway to citizenship” for, the children of undocumented immigrants — kids who came here with their families and are Americans now in every way but the one over which they had neither input then or power to influence now.  Romney, in staking out an immigration position even more heartless and less reasonable than Rick Perry’s and Newt Gingrich’s, has been clear in his opposition to any such “amnesty for illegals,” and he surely basks in the disapproval even those two, hardly known for their courageous standing with the poor and oppressed, got over their tepid-but-humane support for some sort of “amnesty for illegals.”  By contrast, Romney’s views on immigration have been almost peevish and fully unrealistic, with the dubious advantage of appearing even more stone-cold than ever on the heels of the Obama announcement. 

So, an understatement:  Politically, Mitt Romney doesn’t have a lot of appeal to a Latino audience. I imagine he felt today like an Omaha Steak rep at a vegan lifestyle convention.

If I had Romney’s best political interests in mind, I might have suggested that today’s audience probably wasn’t where he should have continued to bang the “politics of envy, everyone expects entitlements” drum that’s dictated the GOP’s march from mere indifference to outright contempt for the poor.  But  Romney suffers from an almost preternatural inability to grasp the plight of anyone other than the filthy rich, much less understand the perspective of even neutral audiences.

And so he dove right in.

On entitlements, Romney noted that “everyone likes free stuff,” but “no one wants to pay for it” with taxes.  I think that the recipients of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps, and other knots in the social safety net probably would remind Romney that the “entitlement” nature of these programs comes not from the voters’ peevish, impudent insistence on “free stuff,” but on a return, when needed, on the taxes they pay toward the social contract we’ve developed — and that the GOP appears intent on destroying.  And while Romney’s sage observation reveals him to be a prescient observer of the winds of political dialogue — free stuff good, tax stuff bad — I think he might reconsider unleashing that gem of perspicuity on this particular audience.

Why?  Because it’s an ignorant and tragically ironic point to make to Latino officeholders who represent districts with large numbers of undocumented residents, workers, and families who pay sales taxes and quite often payroll taxes with no access at all to the “free stuff” Romney mentions. Admonishing one’s audience to not feel “entitled” to the benefits they’ve paid for through their taxes is particularly churlish when that audience consists of people who represent hundreds of thousands of poor and disenfranchised people who pay those taxes with no hope at all of ever claiming any of the “entitlement” benefits they’ve paid for.  But I wouldn’t expect Mitt Romney to know that.  Except, you know, for the running for President thing and all.

Then, in reference to last week’s announcement by President Obama of a moratorium on the deportations of young people brought to the country as children by their parents, Romney snipes that Obama, on the eve of the presidential election, just did “what he could’ve done on Day One, but didn’t.”  Which is a good point — that is, Obama could’ve done what he did at any point during his first term, and I wish he had done it earlier.  Romney, however, doesn’t, and didn’t, want to do it at all.

A note to the Romney campaign:  Probably not a criticism that a guy on record for OPPOSING the Dream Act and advocating the self-deportation of undocumented workers ought to make.  Like our conventioneering vegan complaining that the steak he would never, ever eat nonetheless arrived late to his table, Romney slams the President for not doing quickly enough what he himself has said he would never do at all.

So when Mitt assures his audience that he can both oppose the Dream Act, “amnesty,” and a porous U.S./Mexican border, and then promises them that if elected, he’ll gladly give a “green card to someone who gets an advanced diploma in America” — which is the primary tenet of the Dream Act — I assume that someone in his campaign will get out the feltboard and people cut-outs and show him how you can’t simultaneously support AND oppose something.  Because in real life, plenty of dark-skinned and light-skinned, Spanish- and English-speaking, documented and undocumented, GOP and Democratic constituents will treat him with appropriate contempt for trying to convince Latino voters that he can — while showing their appreciation for the guy who just went out and, God be praised, did the right thing after all.

Romney’s point appears to be that Latino voters aren’t easily fooled.  My guess is that every utterance he offers on the subject of immigration will make that point resoundingly clear to all of us on Election Day.  I’ll have more — much more — to say about Obama’s announcement on the moratorium, but for now I just wish that Romney knew his audience.  More than that, I just wish Romney knew himself — because it’s become clear that his moral compass is held in a distressingly loose hand.

Peripatetic World Traveler and Ecclesiastical Agitator Returns Home

Thursday, June 21st, 2012

We’re back from Europe — Paris, Versigny, Geneva, Lausanne, Nion and 24 hours in London — and I’d like to say that the bags are all unpacked, souvenirs nicely wrapped and distributed, mail sorted, bills paid, phone calls returned, and the house in its usual fine (nay, impeccable) order after only three days on the Palouse.

Really.  I mean, I really would like to say all of that.  But I can’t.  And you wouldn’t believe me even if I did.

What I will say, though, is that one of the things I came to realize during our two weeks in Europe is that the most rigorously responsible thing, the most demonstrably disciplined thing, is not always the best thing.  Sometimes the best thing to do is to set order aside and simply rest, reconnect with people you’ve missed, and, in my case, get fingers to flyin’ after a month or so of not writing.  There’s lots to talk about, campers, and it’s time to get going.  The suitcases will find their way — empty, even — back to the attic within the week, but the topics of the day just can’t wait.

First among them:  My thanks to the Lord Jesus for his faithfulness on our trip.  People with fibromyalgia, immunopolyarthritis, and a long list of spinal problems — that is, people like me — generally don’t fare well on long trips that involve lots of walking, stairclimbing, and carrying bags through airports.  But a wonderful God — that is, the Lord of all comfort and mercies, who loves me — gave me the measure of strength and stamina I needed not only to get through it, but to enjoy every single minute.  God is good, and Jeff and I will never forget this time together or the manifold blessings the Spirit poured out on us as we made our way through teeming cities and pastoral villages and museums and plates of escargot, glasses of wine, and roughly 417  more croissants than a body has a right to.

Given my inexperience as a traveler and inability to speak French, I’m pretty sure a few people won’t forget us, either.  But thanks be to God for it all anyway, and I’m glad you’ve stuck around to see where the Winds are blowing . . .