#AnonymousSpeaks

Think We're Past Sexism? Try Keeping a Diary

Chavisa Woods documents her personal experience with sexism in this new book from Seven Stories Press . This excerpt involves the police. But what if more os us kept track of small everyday ways of being discounted, harassed, or not counted?

Chavisa Woods documents her personal experience with sexism in this new book from Seven Stories Press . This excerpt involves the police. But what if more os us kept track of small everyday ways of being discounted, harassed, or not counted?

This piece is from Women’s E-News today. Sign up to get their newsletter here.

When she was 5, the little boy Chavisa Woods was playing with pinched her butt. His mother, upon hearing the story, told her she probably liked it. When she was 36, a cab driver locked the doors and wouldn’t let her out until she gave him her phone number. In 100 TIMES: A MEMOIR OF SEXISM (Seven Stories Press; June 25, 2019), Woods lays out one hundred personal vignettes of the sexism, harassment, discrimination, and sexual assault she’s experienced in her life. The incidents, which range from lewd comments to attempted rape, take place when she was growing up in poor rural Southern Illinois, when she was working in St. Louis as a young adult, when she was living with her girlfriend in Brooklyn, and when she was a Shirley Jackson Award-winning author and three-time Lambda Finalist writing this book.

While Chavisa Woods chronicles these 100 stories to show how sexism and misogyny have impacted her life, something else happens simultaneously: she lays bare how these dynamics shape all women’s lives, and how relentlessly common they are. She underscores how thoroughly men feel entitled to women’s spaces and to their bodies, and how conditioned women are to endure it. It’s impossible to read 100 TIMES as a woman without cataloging one’s own “Number of Times.” As Woods writes in the book’s introduction, “It’s not that my life has been exceptionally plagued with sexism. It’s that it hasn’t.”

Excerpt:

#30

When I was twenty, still living in Saint Louis, two of my female lovers and one of my close gay male friends were all raped in the same year, two by strangers, and one by someone we knew. This didn’t happen to me, but going through this repeatedly with three unrelated people I was deeply intimate with in such a short time changed me forever.

One of my lovers was hospitalized and had to have stitches in the places where the man who assaulted her had bitten out chunks of her esh. She was a butch lesbian, and it was strange and painful seeing someone who seemed to be so strong and beautiful become so helpless. To me, she was the strongest, hottest, butchest girl in the Midwest. When she was around, I’d always felt safe. I’d never thought of her as someone who needed protecting. Every dyke wanted to be with her. She was a stud. e idea that a man could have rendered her powerless was surreal.

The man was a stranger who had pushed his way into her house as she was coming home from work. He told the police he was having an a air with her, and that her boyfriend had come home and caught them having sex, and chased him out, and that it must have been her boyfriend who beat her uncon- scious, and that she was claiming it was rape for her boyfriend’s bene t, so that he wouldn’t get mad at her.

She didn’t have a boyfriend. She’d never had a boyfriend. She was a gold-star butch. She was my lover, and probably had another girl on the side, too. But the police still believed him, somehow.

She was hospitalized for days, and the detectives on the case sympathized with her rapist. While she was in the hospital, one detective on the case even referred to him as “that poor man.” Because of this, and after several months of intense emotional discussions with a lawyer and arguments with the detectives, she decided not to go to court and press charges.
When she told me this, I thought, “we’re nothing to them.”

Queer women, that is. We don’t exist. They don’t see us.
They looked at this hot, fierce butch, and I wondered what they saw; a “larger,” plain woman with a short haircut who dressed unassumingly and for some reason needed to pathetically lie about being beaten and raped?

When she got out of the hospital she came and stayed with me, and we didn’t leave my bed for two days. It was a blue cocoon. I did my best to comfort her, but I was also young and emotional, and it was difficult in moments for me to give exactly what she needed. I was also hurting and not coping well. I did my best. I hope it is a good memory for her, because, for me, those days lying together and holding each other for hours on end are sacred.

I remember her bruises as blue, the room as blue, and the color of the air as blue. I realized, for the first time in our long relationship, that she must see me as powerful, too, if she came to me after that happened to her. I realized we were both powerful together, because we could actually see and value
each other. But that time left a blue mark on my heart also, as I realized, after everything that had happened that year, we were really nothing to the cops, nothing to so many straight men . . . nothing to the powers that order the world. Nothing.

Brooklyn-based writer Chavisa Woods is the author of the short story collection Things to Do When You’re Goth in the Country (Seven Stories Press, 2017), the novel The Albino Album (Seven Stories Press, 2013); and the story collection Love Does Not Make Me Gentle or Kind (Fly by Night Press, 2009). Woods was the recipient of the 2014 Cobalt Prize for fiction and was a finalist in 2009, 2014, and 2018 for the Lambda Literary Award for fiction. In 2018 Woods was the recipient of the Kathy Acker Award for Writing and the Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novelette.

"You Don't Know How Hard the World Can Be."

This 2018 film about young college women in pre-Roe v Wade Chicago makes clear what life was like when abortion was strictly a criminal operation, when everyone but the woman involved made decisions and had opinions about her womb and her sexuality. The Women’s Freedom Center in Brattleboro has an annual Women’s Film Festival each spring, and you can see Ask For Jane on March 30 at 6:00 pm at the New England Youth Theater. Gloria Steinem says every American should see this film—and we think our young people especially should see this.

One woman in the film speaks to her jailed companions about their naiveté, organizing an anonymous referral system for women “in trouble,” as it used to be called. “You don’t know how hard the world can be. But you’re about to find out.”

Jail was only part of it. Shaming continues to be a widespread weapon, but only for wombs, not for the penises involved. And beneath all that shame, violence still stalks us. The Women’s Freedom Center works with women who have been sexually assaulted or are in endangered by partner violence and abuse, which often includes financial abuse. The Women’s Film Festival is an educational fundraiser for the organization. Let’s keep on helping instead of judging. I think I remember hearing that it’s the Christian thing to do.

No Human Being is Illegal: A Letter from the Border

El Paso was in the news this week, with crowds attending Beto O’Rourke’s March for Truth to counter a Trump Rally across the street. .The El Paso Times reported big crowds for both but untruths for Trump and toned down crime talk in light of a new Congressional deal. Annunciation House volunteer Jo Romano’s letter back home  cuts to the heart of matters.

El Paso was in the news this week, with crowds attending Beto O’Rourke’s March for Truth to counter a Trump Rally across the street. .The El Paso Times reported big crowds for both but untruths for Trump and toned down crime talk in light of a new Congressional deal. Annunciation House volunteer Jo Romano’s letter back home cuts to the heart of matters.

On Friday, Sally, Abby and I arrive in El Paso to see the city’s sights, and also to volunteer.  Our goal is to welcome, feed, clothe and help refugees, arriving daily with their next destination somewhere in the United States.  On Sunday we begin orientation with Annunciation House. Because a new site to receive immigrants has just opened at a hotel, Annunciation House asks us to travel Sunday morning to Las Cruces, New Mexico. We three are up for the trip, 45 minutes away from El Paso.

 We arrive shortly before 50 immigrants do, mostly from Guatemala, some from Honduras and El Salvador. There’s no time for our orientation! Fifty people arrived by bus and sit outside on sidewalks and curbs in the hotel parking lot, mostly small, young families, usually pairs, a mother or father with a child.

 We learned about their journey. They cross over the bridge from Mexico to El Paso. They are taken to a detention center to be registered. They are given a thin metallic blanket and must sleep on a cold hard concrete floor, one blanket for two of them. The air conditioning is turned up high, the people kept very cold, not what they’re used to. Adults are given one frozen burrito three times a day.  The children are given a juice box and animal crackers, three times a day. When each adult and child is registered, they are given a date for legal action.

 A thick, heavy, black ankle monitor is put on the adult, programmed with the address of their sponsor, while they wait for the immigration court proceedings to unfold. It is a stark and frightening experience for them, on purpose, we are told.  The officials at the holding center are directed to make the stay very unpleasant in hopes they will decide to ‘self deport’.  A fair number of these people develop sickness, colds, fevers, and upset stomachs during their 2-5 day stays.

 You may have read about this in the news. Currently there are 30 people in one detention center in El Paso that are on hunger strike because of the conditions.  They are force-fed by a tube that is put through the nose and down their throats. The government officials at the detention centers refer to the immigrants as “bodies,” and when it is time for them to eat, they say, “It is feeding time,” as if they were animals on farms, not human.

 I am furious and very disturbed, hearing the experiences confirmed. Often a new site needs to be opened at a hotel to meet the need, as happened in Las Cruces when we arrived. There are 300-400 people arriving daily in El Paso seeking asylum from poverty and violence in their home countries.  The Detention Centers call Annunciation House Director Ruben Garcia daily to say how many they are releasing from detention. There is a tremendous amount of coordination going on to make this system flow daily. Thus the need for local and faraway volunteers like us.

Nearly all the refugees have someone in the US who will sponsor them.  The destinations of those I’ve worked with so far included Chicago, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Mississippi, Missouri, Atlanta, Washington D.C., upstate New York and New York City, Philadelphia, North and South Carolina, Florida, California, Oregon, Washington, Texas, Colorado, Arizona, and even Vermont.  The receiving family member, friend or sponsor pays for a plane or bus ticket, trips that take one to three more days of travel.

 What do we do as volunteers? Each mother and child, or father and child (sometimes there are 2 or 3 children per adult) is welcomed by the site coordinator, and told they are safe, there will be food to eat, and enough water to drink, and medicine for those that need it. They will be warm here, respected and supported to complete their journey to their sponsor. 

 Volunteers are introduced, so families know who can help or answer questions. They then are escorted, family by family, into “the central office,” really two hotel rooms, where four Spanish-speaking volunteers complete intakes. One volunteer writes down the full name of the mom or dad, the name and age of the child(ren), where they are from, and where they need to get to next.

 Then the family moves to another table where another Spanish-speaking volunteer begins to make transportation plans.  They call the receiving sponsor in the US, and the sponsor and volunteer arrange for plane or bus tickets. Usually the parent and sponsor talk on the phone to ensure both parties understand the plan. Forms are filled out and pinned to complex whiteboards, delineating next steps by date—today, tomorrow, or the next day, by bus, plane, or pickup, if very local. 

 On those occasions when the destination address changes from the one programmed into the government’s ankle bracelet, it’s a real problem. Then arrangements have to be made to take the adult back to the detention center to get permission, and to reprogram the ankle monitor!  

 (Editor’s note: The Associated Press reports that early in 2018, immigrant families were separated as part of a “zero tolerance” program. But after a presidential executive order reversed that, families are often detained, then issued ankle monitors and released while they go through sometimes lengthy court proceedings. Inquiries into costs and suppliers and whether these monitors are effective remain unanswered by ICE—but that they associate immigration with criminality is clear.)

 After intake, the family goes to Annunciation’s next station, where I am serving as a volunteer who coordinates and assigns a hotel room number. That sounds simple, but keeping track of the rooms, and where everyone is assigned, is a feat.  There’s a large matrix on the wall, filling in who is where, with colored sticky notes, color depending on the day they arrived, and making sure that parent roommates are matched by gender, and by children with a matching age and gender. Yes, it is complicated!

 I give families their room number and escort them to the next station where Sally is volunteering, and they get a small packet of toiletries (soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, comb). Sally takes them to meet a “runner.” Abby is serving as a “runner,” taking the adult and child(ren) to their assigned room, and speaking enough Spanish to help them get settled in their room.

 She tells them how to open and close the door, how to work the shower, makes sure they know to flush toilet paper inside the toilet, rather than put it in the trash can, as they did back home. She explains they cannot use the hotel phone and only have one key for two families, shares the schedule for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and explains that while they are free to come down to the lobby, they must not leave the building, and can come to the office any time with any questions or medical needs.

 Families then can relax—or sometimes not!  Rooms are limited.  I often have to reassign a family to another room at a moment’s notice.  Abby then goes to them, and asks them to relocate to the room I reassign.  Abby says they are all so accommodating— “Sure no problem, and thank you.”

 Other Spanish-speaking volunteers work on transportation plans, time and flight, and find and assign a volunteer “transporter” to take the family to the airport or the bus station. I took one family to the local bus station in Las Cruces and made sure they got on the bus, but people are being transported to buses or planes throughout the day, morning or night, every day. I am amazed at the coordination it takes for all these volunteers and all this responsibility—and then there are the missed buses or connecting flights that have to be solved.

 There is a room assigned for medical help and supplies.  Today, there was a mom and three-year-old daughter, who had a rash. The nurse practitioner was called in to look at it and he determined it was scabies. So a prescription was called in, and a volunteer had to go to pharmacy in El Paso to pick it up, etc.

 At any time during their short stay, families may choose to go to the “clothing room” where Sally, Abby and I also volunteer, organizing and sorting donated clothing.  Each person is provided one new pair of socks, one new pair of underpants, a pair of pants, a blouse or shirt, and a winter coat if needed for a cold destination. 

 Local churches volunteer to provide lunches and dinners for our hundred people, which consists of rice, pinto beans, corn tortillas, sometimes shredded chicken, and when there is a lack of volunteering, pizza is brought in. When the moms and dads and children leave, they are provided with a bag filled with food.  If leaving on a bus, a family of two traveling on a three-day bus trip requires 18 sandwiches. 

Sally, Abby and I are pretty busy from 7:00 AM into the evening, making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and packing destination bags with fruit and snacks. We smile and comfort these folks, many of whom are frightened. It is our honor to greet our neighbors from abroad with empathy, compassion and a smile.  As the mission of my home Unitarian Church says, we welcome all, as we build a loving community, to honor each person’s spiritual journey, to serve human need and protect the earth, our home.

Love, Jo Romano

Interested in helping? Find more about Annunciation House and volunteering here: https://annunciationhouse.org/volunteer/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 On Friday, Sally, Abby and I arrive in El Paso to see the city’s sights, and also to volunteer.  Our goal is to welcome, feed, clothe and help refugees, arriving daily with their next destination somewhere in the United States.  On Sunday we begin orientation with Annunciation House. Because a new site to receive immigrants has just opened at a hotel, Annunciation House asks us to travel Sunday morning to Las Cruces, New Mexico. We three are up for the trip, 45 minutes away from El Paso.

 

We arrive shortly before 50 immigrants do, mostly from Guatemala, some from Honduras and El Salvador. There’s no time for our orientation! Fifty people arrived by bus and sit outside on sidewalks and curbs in the hotel parking lot, mostly small, young families, usually pairs, a mother or father with a child.

 

We learned about their journey. They cross over the bridge from Mexico to El Paso. They are taken to a detention center to be registered. They are given a thin metallic blanket and must sleep on a cold hard concrete floor, one blanket for two of them. The air conditioning is turned up high, the people kept very cold, not what they’re used to. Adults are given one frozen burrito three times a day.  The children are given a juice box and animal crackers, three times a day. When each adult and child is registered, they are given a date for legal action.

 

A thick, heavy, black ankle monitor is put on the adult, programmed with the address of their sponsor, while they wait for the immigration court proceedings to unfold. It is a stark and frightening experience for them, on purpose, we are told.  The officials at the holding center are directed to make the stay very unpleasant in hopes they will decide to ‘self deport’.  A fair number of these people develop sickness, colds, fevers, and upset stomachs during their 2-5 day stays.

 

You may have read about this in the news. Currently there are 30 people in one detention center in El Paso that are on hunger strike because of the conditions.  They are force-fed by a tube that is put through the nose and down their throats.

The government officials at the detention centers refer to the immigrants as “bodies,” and when it is time for them to eat, they say, “It is feeding time,” as if they were animals on farms, not fellow humans.

 

I am furious and very disturbed, hearing the experiences confirmed. Often a new site needs to be opened at a hotel to meet the need, as happened in Las Cruces when we arrived. There are 300-400 people arriving daily in El Paso seeking asylum from poverty and violence in their home countries.  The Detention Centers call Annunciation House Director Ruben Garcia daily to say how many they are releasing from detention. There is a tremendous amount of coordination going on to make this system flow daily. Thus the need for local and faraway volunteers like us.

 

Nearly all the refugees have someone in the US who will sponsor them.  The destinations of those I’ve worked with so far included Chicago, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Mississippi, Missouri, Atlanta, Washington D.C., upstate New York and New York City, Philadelphia, North and South Carolina, Florida, California, Oregon, Washington, Texas, Colorado, Arizona, and even Vermont.  The receiving family member, friend or sponsor pays for a plane or bus ticket, trips that take one to three more days of travel.

 

What do we do as volunteers? Each mother and child, or father and child (sometimes there are 2 or 3 children per adult) is welcomed by the site coordinator, and told they are safe, there will be food to eat, and enough water to drink, and medicine for those that need it. They will be warm here, respected and supported to complete their journey to their sponsor. 

 

Volunteers are introduced, so families know who can help or answer questions. They then are escorted, family by family, into “the central office,” really two hotel rooms, where four Spanish-speaking volunteers complete intakes. One volunteer writes down the full name of the mom or dad, the name and age of the child(ren), where they are from, and where they need to get to next.

 

Then the family moves to another table where another Spanish-speaking volunteer begins to make transportation plans.  They call the receiving sponsor in the US, and the sponsor and volunteer arrange for plane or bus tickets. Usually the parent and sponsor talk on the phone to ensure both parties understand the plan. Forms are filled out and pinned to complex whiteboards, delineating next steps by date—today, tomorrow, or the next day, by bus, plane, or pickup, if very local. 

 

On those occasions when the destination address changes from the one programmed into the government’s ankle bracelet, it’s a real problem. Then arrangements have to be made to take the adult back to the detention center to get permission, and to reprogram the ankle monitor!  

 

(Editor’s note: The Associated Press reports that early in 2018, immigrant families were separated as part of a “zero tolerance” program. But after a presidential executive order reversed that, families are often detained, then issued ankle monitors and released while they go through sometimes lengthy court proceedings. Inquiries into costs and suppliers and whether these monitors are effective remain unanswered by ICE—but that they associate immigration with criminality is clear.)

 

After intake, the family goes to Annunciation’s next station, where I am serving as a volunteer who coordinates and assigns a hotel room number. That sounds simple, but keeping track of the rooms, and where everyone is assigned, is a feat.  There’s a large matrix on the wall, filling in who is where, with colored sticky notes, color depending on the day they arrived, and making sure that parent roommates are matched by gender, and by children with a matching age and gender. Yes, it is complicated!

 

I give families their room number and escort them to the next station where Sally is volunteering, and they get a small packet of toiletries (soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, comb). Sally takes them to meet a “runner.” Abby is serving as a “runner,” taking the adult and child(ren) to their assigned room, and speaking enough Spanish to help them get settled in their room.

 

 She tells them how to open and close the door, how to work the shower, makes sure they know to flush toilet paper inside the toilet, rather than put it in the trash can, as they did back home. She explains they cannot use the hotel phone and only have one key for two families, shares the schedule for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and explains that while they are free to come down to the lobby, they must not leave the building, and can come to the office any time with any questions or medical needs.

 

Families then can relax—or sometimes not!  Rooms are limited.  I often have to reassign a family to another room at a moment’s notice.  Abby then goes to them, and asks them to relocate to the room I reassign.  Abby says they are all so accommodating— “Sure no problem, and thank you.”  

 

Other Spanish-speaking volunteers work on transportation plans, time and flight, and find and assign a volunteer “transporter” to take the family to the airport or the bus station. I took one family to the local bus station in Las Cruces and made sure they got on the bus, but people are being transported to buses or planes throughout the day, morning or night, every day. I am amazed at the coordination it takes for all these volunteers and all this responsibility—and then there are the missed buses or connecting flights that have to be solved.

 

There is a room assigned for medical help and supplies.  Today, there was a mom and three-year-old daughter, who had a rash. The nurse practitioner was called in to look at it and he determined it was scabies. So a prescription was called in, and a volunteer had to go to pharmacy in El Paso to pick it up, etc.

 

At any time during their short stay, families may choose to go to the “clothing room” where Sally, Abby and I also volunteer, organizing and sorting donated clothing.  Each person is provided one new pair of socks, one new pair of underpants, a pair of pants, a blouse or shirt, and a winter coat if needed for a cold destination. 

 

Local churches volunteer to provide lunches and dinners for our hundred people, which consists of rice, pinto beans, corn tortillas, sometimes shredded chicken, and when there is a lack of volunteering, pizza is brought in. When the moms and dads and children leave, they are provided with a bag filled with food.  If leaving on a bus, a family of two travelling on a three-day bus trip requires 18 sandwiches. 

 

Sally, Abby and I are pretty busy from 7:00 AM into the evening, making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and packing destination bags with fruit and snacks. We smile and comfort these folks, many of whom are frightened. It is our honor to greet our neighbors from abroad with empathy, compassion and a smile.  As the mission of my home Unitarian Church says, we welcome all, as we build a loving community, to honor each person’s spiritual journey, to serve human need and protect the earth, our home.

 

Love, Jo Romano

 

Interested in helping? Find more about Annunciation House and volunteering here:

https://annunciationhouse.org/volunteer/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Trouble with THE Truth

National Intelligence 2019.jpeg

Dan Coats, the director of national intelligence, gathered by 17 federal agencies, reported to Congress on Jan. 22, about our national security in 2019.  He said our American goal must be seeking the truth and speaking the truth, which was embraced by newscasters as a hopeful development, given Trump’s flip relationship with facts. Yet I couldn’t help but notice the security team was mostly male, as were the intelligence system’s creators. All seem resigned to a world under threat and guarding against inevitable war with more and bigger guns.

The inclusion of Gina Haspel, the first woman to ever head the CIA, hardly put me at ease. She’s the one who destroyed tapes of waterboarding that would hold the CIA responsible for using terror—a cherry on top of a banana-split history of political disruption and foreign violence. It was close enough to Martin Luther King Day that you’d think they might be mulling over why he said America had three big problems: race, poverty, and militarism. He left out gender, but back in his day, most everyone did.  Did I mention our top intelligence team is as white as I am?

 So why give us old news from the same old crew who says their mission is THE truth, the seeker and speaker of a single truth? Who exactly runs the distillery of their truthiness, and what rum-recipe are they using?

In our post-colonial time, we have learned there are many truths, and different ways to see matters. History is a war tale written by “victors,” and most updates of our time have come from the victims, not so much from the perps. When entrenched power speaks of change or apologies, it’s most often unconvincing—as with Guliani’s spins, the Virginia governor’s recent black-face moonwalk, or those priestly and corporate settlements out of court to avoid public exposure.

 While the public is pretty accepting of lies and half-truths after a century of advertising—the traditional funder of our journalism—lately the lies slip closer to ceaseless nuttiness. A masculine market logic of bloodless numbers, and impersonal facts of profitable threats undermine trust and solutions. A more genuine security report would surly include more girls, more color and difference, and more freedom to feel more than fear. Check out the link above.!

 The mid-term election of more diverse voices showed us a majority of Americans already know this. Unless we cherish all the life on our one green earth and begin to plot collaboration and peace, we may not survive, much less prosper. That requires a truth spoken by diverse bodies using all five senses: a shared feeling and hearing and touching of genuine thoughts, experiences, and emotions to discover what we hold in common.

 Then we might speak a more unified and inclusive truth—not THE truth, which can only be imposed by those with the biggest guns.  

—Rickey Gard Diamond

Rounding Up Children, Then and Now

Marian Pritchard with Erica Polak, a Jewish baby she was hiding in 1944. Part of the Dutch resistance under Nazi occupation, Pritchard later told an audience at a 1996 lecture at University of Michigan: “By 1945, I had lied, stolen, cheated, deceived and even killed.".” (photo from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum)

Marian Pritchard with Erica Polak, a Jewish baby she was hiding in 1944. Part of the Dutch resistance under Nazi occupation, Pritchard later told an audience at a 1996 lecture at University of Michigan: “By 1945, I had lied, stolen, cheated, deceived and even killed.".” (photo from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum)

During my 13 years researching and writing An Address in Amsterdam, I often tried to imagine how I would have felt as a Gentile as the Nazis rounded up my Jewish neighbors— especially the children.

We know of at least one young woman, Marian Pritchard, who just couldn’t bear it when she saw Nazis storming a home for Jewish children and tossing them into trucks.  Although she was only 19, Pritchard became a staunch resistance worker who kidnapped, stole, lied, deceived and even killed by the end of the war, protecting 150 Jewish lives in the process. 

Far more people looked away from the roundups, or walked past the groups being marched through the city, or wished the war was over already.  Their indifference and collusion were a factor in the mass murder of 80% of Amsterdam’s Jewish population of 75,000.

Now, when I see stories about the children we are incarcerating at the border, I understand the position of the Dutch in 1940-45 so much better.  Something terrible is happening in my country, and I have a share of responsibility for it – more than the Dutch did, because they were occupied by a foreign power.  In this case, my money is paying for it.  My elected officials are allowing inhumane policies unless they are out front and center opposing and organizing against it.  How should I respond when I see photographs of young kids sleeping under mylar blankets and nothing else?  “Basic child welfare standards do not apply,” according to the Huffington Post.

I have read that no one is allowed to touch or comfort them.  Hundreds have been separated from everyone they love, and many have little hope of reunification.  Toddlers are taken into court hearings with representation that is a complete charade. In fact, 12,800 children were in custody in September 2018.  Two have actually died under our roof, 8-year-old Felipe Gómez Alonzo and 7-year-old Jakelin Caal Maquin.

The prison (called a “tent city”) in Tornillo, Texas has been releasing some children for the last few weeks, and is slated to close— but this is no guarantee that the situation is better.  According to WLRN in Miami, “With the recent releases of children, migrant advocates are cautiously hopeful. But they question why more of the 12,400 children who remain in the HHS shelter system have not been released. And they wonder why the government is closing Tornillo, but expanding another unlicensed emergency shelter in South Florida?”

Immigrant children now housed in a tent encampment under the new “zero tolerance” policy by the Trump administration are shown walking in single file at the facility near the Mexican border in Tornillo, Texas, U.S. June 19, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake

Immigrant children now housed in a tent encampment under the new “zero tolerance” policy by the Trump administration are shown walking in single file at the facility near the Mexican border in Tornillo, Texas, U.S. June 19, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Blake

It’s so easy to feel sickened by all this and turn away, to agree with those who say “It’s just too depressing” or “I can’t stand it, so I try not to think about it.”  Those are understandable reactions.  But they don’t help the kids.  How can we take personal responsibility to stop the cruelty we are engaging in as a nation?

Maintain the pressure on our Senators and Representatives.  Praise those who are taking action, such as California Rep. Ted Lieu (D), and those who are starting investigations in the House of Representatives.  If your Congresspeople are not among those who are leading the charge, goad them until they do, or ensure that they are hearing the full range of their constituents’ views.

Write or speak directly to those who perpetrate these crimes against humanity – the President, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, and Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection Kevin K. McAleenan.  Write them, but also call their staffs.  These people are paid to listen to you – except right now they aren’t, because of the government shut down.  They’ll be back one day.

Get together with others to take creative action to protest and resist.  Link up with the peace and justice organizations in your community to see what’s possible as a group.  Depending on where you are, children and adults are being held in multiple locations.  Just as in Amsterdam under the Nazis, the invisibility of these prisons makes it possible for the outrages to continue.

People protest against U.S. immigration policies on the American side, right, of the Mexico-America border near Tijuana on Dec. 10, 2018. RNS photo by Jair Cabrera Torres

Support the organizations which are providing humanitarian and legal aid to these persecuted people, both adults and children.  No one will help them but you and me.  Many groups are worthy, but for whatever it’s worth these are my choices:

Keep the stories alive.  Pass them along.  Don’t let these children be forgotten – or their parents.   Talk about them at home and in your places of worship, write and post about them on your social media.  Tell your kids and grandkids what is going on.  Get them involved in trying to communicate why their country shouldn’t treat anybody this way, much less another child.  If we involve children now, maybe we can face them when they grow up.

—Mary Dingee Fillmore, author of An Address in Amsterdam