This week, I wrestled with my own powerlessness.
This week, I wrestled with my own privilege: My whiteness, my birthplace, my passport, my education, my freedom, my native English language, my home and, especially, my family, my friends, and my safety.
The sense of powerlessness and guilt of all that privilege formed a sort of paralysis.
How was I to respond to that “Papa, Papa” heartbeat-like cry for help uttered by a child down on the US/Mexican border? Surrender my passport? Give away my home? Skip the daily shower?
I could not get the haunting cries of those children out of my heart. Sleep, come night, was not forthcoming.
Spending the night on a poured concrete floor, next to strangers, surrounded by chicken wire and covered in a blanket of tinfoil, would be unpleasant. But spending endless nights in a cage, as a terrified child, freshly guillotined from the safe cocoon of their mum or dad, is an experience that no language can describe.
This week, a seven-minute recording of wailing children, separated from their parents and detained in a US
immigration centre, made its way around the world, forming a global cry for help.
There was six-year-old Alison Jimena Valencia Madrid, who cried out for her “Mamita”, from whom she had just been separated, after their long journey from El Salvador. She thought she could just call her aunt up and get collected from her “tender age shelter” on the US border.
“Are you going to call my aunt, so that when I’m done eating, she can come pick me up?” she asked of an American border official, adding:
“I have her number memorised”.
Imagine, at just six years of age, having to imprint a relative’s number to memory, should anything ever happen to you? Imagine being that mother, teaching your child that number, having her repeat it back to you ad nauseam, just in case?
Alison’s Mamita had paid $7,000 to get her and her daughter to safety in America. El Salvador has one of the highest murder rates in the world, due to gangland violence, and it also happens to be no country for women, where miscarriages and stillbirths end in lengthy prison sentences.
There was the unrelenting “Papa, Papa”, which cried out with the rhythmic repetition of a beating heart. “Papa, Papa.” We think a four-year-old boy owned that voice.
Images then emerged of these cages on the US/Mexican border, where children were being kept, because their parents had been transferred to prisons. There were photos of children wearing barcoded bracelets that were scanned as they collected their plastic tray of food.
The tray carried one slice of lettuce, one slice of tomato, five chips, and what looked like a burger.
There were also claims that an infant was taken from her mother as she was being breastfed. ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) deny this claim.
All sorts of conversations began to develop. There was the assertion that former US president, Barack Obama’s administration carried out a record number of deportations.
This was countered by the fact that it did not imprison undocumented immigrants who had crossed the border for the first time, nor did it separate parents from their children, as the present administration does.
Border patrol agent 👮♂️— Matthijs Pontier 💜 🏴☠️ (@Matthijs85) June 20, 2018
makes 'fun' 🤨
of crying migrant children 👦👧
in cages in Trumpcamps
“Well, we have an orchestra here
What’s missing is a conductor”
Listen to the full audio here: https://t.co/kk9lhOR9qD pic.twitter.com/zKginwDEFy#TrumpCamps #MigrantChildren
Even the bible got cited, more than once. The US attorney general, Jeff Sessions, quoted “a wise command in Romans 13” to defend the administration’s family-separation policy. White House press secretary, Sarah Sanders, then said: “It is very biblical to enforce the law.”
Then, there was the US president, Donald Trump. He relied on his usual dehumanising language. He said the Democrats wanted “illegal immigrants” to “pour into and infest our country.”
In a book called Less Than Human, by David Smith, this dehumanising tactic is explained. It is very difficult for a human being to harm another human. As a social species, it goes against our wiring to hurt or torture or kill, or even degrade, another human.
We have deep, natural inhibitors that stop us from treating people like animals or game or dangerous predators.
However, using dehumanising language, such as ‘infest’ or ‘animals’ or ‘cockroaches’ or ‘rats’ creates a mental loophole that allows those natural inhibitors to be overridden, so we can indeed cause harm. Trump invokes this tactic. Regularly.
As the adults of this world scrambled to make sense of what was going on down in Texas, at the US/Mexico border, and thought about what actions they could possibly take, the haunting cries continued.
Harrowing audio reveals desperate sobbing of children separated from their parents at US immigration centres pic.twitter.com/hmihSx3M5f— Evening Standard (@EveningStandard) June 19, 2018
We had Pope Francis denounce what was happening. We had all the living former US first ladies unite against the separation of families. And several political leaders did, too. It started to seem that no-one could stop Trump in his zero-tolerance tracks.
Then, he signed an order. The order was to stop family separations. There is a lot it does not do, such as reunite those 2,300 children already separated, but Trump was forced to reverse one, just one, of his policies.
Why? Because in the midst of our apparent powerlessness, a few of us relied on the infinite power of their voice.
Who’d have thought that the primal scream of a four-year-old boy, with no English and no documents, could bring the seemingly all-powerful Trump to his knees?
His insistent and pulsating ‘Papa, Papa’ reverberated around the world and sparked a global outcry. His ‘Papa, Papa’ has now led to change; not seismic, but a crack of change that has let some light in.
Extraordinary stuff. When the news does this to an anchor... pic.twitter.com/YUledbgcYP— Stig Abell (@StigAbell) June 20, 2018
So, if a four-year-old boy, whose name we may never know, can take on a man like Trump and challenge the policies of a global superpower, then what are the rest of us waiting for?
Perhaps, Marianne Williamson was right, when she said:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.”