Gretchen L. Kelly, Author

It’s Time To Decide Which America We Are

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photo: DHS Office of Inspector General, June 10 2019

Will they hear the fireworks?

The children, shivering under a mylar blanket in a cold cell. Will they hear them?

This is America. We are in a place, right now, where we can’t say that our darkest days are in our past.

And it feels sick. It feels shocking. Unbelievable.

But it’s real. Our country is no stranger to hurting innocent people.

We are a nation of contradictions. We are fighters. A nation of liberators and emancipators. But we are also a nation that is soft-bellied and apathetic, practiced at not seeing the things we don’t want to see. Life can look perfect if we ignore what’s happening just outside of our peripheral vision.

Keep your head down. Sip your cold beer. Check the mail. Nod at your neighbor. Smile. Everything is fiiiiiiine. Indifference is one helluva drug.

We are one part Gilead, one part Stepford. The contrast is startling. The similarities disturbing.

Right now, there are children being ripped from their parents arms. Right now, there are children who have been lost by our government. Who will never see their families again. Our country, the one we celebrate today, isn’t even sure how many children we’ve lost after taking them from their families at the border. Right now, people are being stripped of their life-saving medications by Border Patrol. They are being given frozen, unthawed food to eat. They are being packed into cages and given no basic necessities. No shower. No soap. No toothpaste. It’s a lot easier to dehumanize people who look dirty and smell. Children are being subjected to trauma. Neglect. Separated from their families. Being purposefully tortured. A physician who toured the centers said they “felt worse than jail,” and “the conditions within which they are held could be compared to torture facilities.”

Children are being deliberately punished, traumatized, and tortured. 

By America.

Does that give you pause? Does that make you uncomfortable? Too strong a word? LIFELONG TRAUMA is what we are inflicting upon these children. The kind of trauma that inhibits brain development. That will leave lasting, devastating psychological damage. If trauma that lasts until you die isn’t torture, I don’t know what is.

I believe in calling something what it is. You see, I am tied to words. Words are oxygen. Truth. Record. Words matter. And I have no patience for moderating words to appease the comfortable. Especially when innocent people, innocent parents and children are being tortured and caged and imprisoned.

This is what our country is doing, right now.

Will they hear our celebration?

What kind of nation wraps itself in patriotic merrymaking while simultaneously locking children in cages? What kind of country celebrates it’s freedom while for-profit camps make bank off of the bodies of vulnerable people? What kind of country tears families apart and abuses people for seeking asylum? Seeking asylum is a legal process that is allowed by international and federal law. Crossing the border at unofficial entry points is a misdemeanor. For this we put them in cages and and pay private contractors an estimated $775/day per person. To abuse and neglect them. To house them like animals. To tell them to drink from the toilet if they’re thirsty. To let kids die. To put children in solitary confinement. To physically and sexually abuse them. What kind of country employs guards who laugh at scared and sick immigrants? Who mock distraught parents. Who lie. Are they just following orders? Does it matter when committing human rights abuses? If the walls could talk in Nuremberg…

It’s happening on our watch. With our money.

And outside the gates, patriotic celebration. The pomp and circumstance of a “great” country.

Who are we if we celebrate our greatness while ignoring the horrors we are committing right now? This very minute.

Are we the nation who stormed the beaches and liberated the world from fascism? Or are we the nation that embraces it because automation has taken jobs and we are fearful? Are we the nation that has guided others to democracy or are we the nation that suppresses the vote and removes people from voter rolls?

Are we the country that peddles in performative patriotism? It’s easy to slap on a flag pin and place our hands over our hearts and say GodBlessAmerica. It’s easy to say you love America. It’s the easiest fucking thing you can do in this country.

And when you say it during a time like this it’s pathetic and weak. Do better. Demand better from our country. From our leaders. Stop giving in to the weak impulses of someone who’s lived a soft life. And stop accepting it from the people we’re paying to govern our country.

Are we the country of freedom fighters who sat at lunch counters and marched across bridges and refused to give up bus seats? Are we the country that fought for the right for women to vote and went on hunger strikes and endured forced feedings and demanded equality in the boardroom and the bedroom? Are we the country that stared down water cannons to protect native lands? The country that fought at Stonewall and fought for the right to love and marry and live and dress and be. Are we the country that creates art? That values difference and variety and ingenuity or are we the country that wants to regurgitate and recycle the same content?

Are we the country of Never Again and not on my watch?

Are we the humanitarian who gives water to thirsty refugees?

Or are we the border guard who pours out water left to save lives in the desert?

Which America do you want to be? One of grittiness and determination and boldness? One that stands up to tyranny, whether it’s at home or on foreign shores? Or one that operates on fear? That is so scared and weak that it locks up children and rips families apart? One that clings to the past and only feels comfortable when old white men are pulling the levers of power? One that’s scared of shaking the status quo? Too fearful to even ask who the status quo benefits? Hint: It’s not you. Or you. Or… you.

Will they hear us?

Will they hear the fireworks while they take turns lying down because it’s standing room only in the cage? While they wonder where their parents or children are. While they shiver in the cold. While the coil up in pain from dehydration and starvation and illness. Will they wonder what kind of people hold parades and dance in the streets while other people suffer the unthinkable?

Will they hear our celebration or our fury? 

You tell me.