Wednesday, November 18, 2015

So, there's a new colossus in town

Margaret Atwood shares, "I think hope is among a number of things that are part of the human tool kit" (Finn, "An Interview with Margaret Atwood, Slate, 2015). I would like us to unpack some recent US political moves in response to the attacks in Paris and Beirut  with hope--hope that we talk to each other, not at; hope that we listen, not craft our next argument; and hope that we can live up to the United States we once were. We used to be a place where the weary found rest and the searching found home. 

Emblazoned on a bronze plaque, Emma Lazarus' The New Colossus introduces tourists to the Statue of Liberty and the United States, herself. Just, check it out, and we'll take a look at it together (less in depth than the close-reading I did of it in junior year university, but worthwhile nonetheless). 

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame, 
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame. 
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "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-tost to me, 
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Now, I am not so naive to think that everyone just read all that poetry mumbo jumbo, so here are the parts I want to talk about. 

Lazarus refers to the Statue of Liberty as the "Mother of Exiles" (6). We've all been exiled from somewhere, whether it was the lunch table of cool kids or, you know, a war torn country. The United States, all fifty of them, were meant to be the mother of these people. We are meant to hold them when they're sick, comfort them when they wake from night mares, and love them. (For the record, fathers should do all of these things, too. Side tangent.) 

In the next six lines, Lady Liberty directly addresses the world. I would urge these 28 governors, my very favourite Scott Walker among them, to listen up. The New Colossus cries, "Give me your tired, your poor, / your huddled masses yearning to breathe free" (10-11). She urges world leaders to send her the people their country has neglected. She does not want those of "storied pomp[;]" (9) she wants those who struggle towards freedom with everything they have left. American civilians, we don't get it. We haven't lived through war. We haven't had fighting on US soil since the Civil War, since the time when flying machines were held together with Scotch tape and a prayer and aeroplanes with bombs were absurd. We have no idea what it is like to live in a place with black out curtains or constant every day shelling. Lady Liberty had it right. The inscription ends with a notion of home--something the refugees desperately need. She commands the world to "send...the homeless, tempest-tost to me, / I lift my lamp beside the golden door." This is the 1800s version of leaving the light on for someone. We used to be a safe house, a refuge.

Today, today, some states are, *illegally* mind you, saying, "Nah, brah. Not into it." Someone earlier this morning so eloquently stated, "There are only two reasons for Walker to respond like this. One, he is ignorant and racist. Or, two, he has to recognise that his plan to create more jobs failed, and he doesn't want these refugees taking our jobs." And, I get it. America is hurting for jobs, but we must provide asylum for these people. I am so disheartened that the governor of Wisconsin has tried to close its doors to people in need. It is a really backwards move for a state whose motto is "Forward." He says in a press release on 16 November 2015, "There may be those who will try to take advantage of the generosity of our country and the ability to move freely within our borders." And, while he may not be wrong, is that really the most prevalent end to our means? I think the good we can do far out weighs his fear. And, I do agree that we must "safeguard the security of Americans," but I think that we need to do this all the time, not just as a knee-jerk reactionary statement based in fear. The refugees are not the enemy. 

So, what, Wisconsin, what are you afraid of? Please tell me. I need an answer, because this this is not the Badger State in which I grew up. This is not a place of Midwest Nice. This is not my home. Get it together, Wisconsin. You're embarrassing yourself. 


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