Despite the busloads of tourists, it appears to be a quiet morning as I cross United Nations Plaza and head for my thirty-third stand for peace this morning.
The quiet is momentary.
Undocumented, Unafraid and Unashamed
Soon, between the sentinel-like groves of plane trees, gathers a small group of young people wearing identical t-shirts emblazoned in block letters: “Undocumented, Unafraid and Unashamed.”*
The driver of a party equipment truck jumps from his cab and greets them. For the next hour, the party truck crew and the young people hustle to set up a sound stage and row after row of white chairs, bright in the summer sunlight, on the sandy commons.
Some activists appear as ordinary as your next door neighbor, some sport low-hung pants and backward caps, one boasts a Mohawk.
I smile, remembering so many, many Mohawk-adorned youth over the years, dating back to my own high school days. I once asked a friend why she chose the style. She said she needed to stand out. Not to feel invisible. To be noticed.
I definitely notice this tall, young man, with his wallet chain looping from back pocket to front, and smile again. But I sober instantly at the reason for today’s rally.
Young people brought to this country as infants and toddlers know the United States as their only home. They’ve grown up in our schools, speak English as their first language, and often learn they are not American citizens only when they head to college.
This rally is about their quest for status and the right to further their education. They want to live and work without fear of deporation in this, the United States of America, their home country.
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your hungry masses yearning to be free
Immigration is our problem, not theirs
As I stand for peace this morning, I can’t help thinking that it is you and I, the so-called bona fide citizens of this country–most of us descendants of land- and resource-stealing immigrants ourselves–who fostered this threat to these young people’s happiness and future.
We didn’t do it alone of course. The corporations–and their uber wealthy owners–who profit from our choices do everything in their considerable power to encourage us to buy, buy, buy.
Our corporations routinely push indigenous people aside. They grab their land, steal their water, denude their forests and make it impossible to earn even a subsistence living in their native lands.
Sure, some of our corporations offer a few of the displaced population jobs at meager, sometimes near slave wages in deplorable working conditions. The rest, deprived of their land and traditional livelihood, are forced into hideous shanty town ghettos, frequently erected on garbage dumps outside the major cities of their countries.
No one calls this progress.
So as I stand this morning, at first basking in the glow of the visit from a long-time friend, giving gratitude for the bounty of her friendship and for her life-long commitment to peacemaking, then riveted by the courage and passion of these young people seeking a piece of the American pie they only recently discovered wasn’t theirs all along, I am stunned. Nearly breathless.
Breathless at the number of people like my friend, like you perhaps, who have lent thousands of hours of time and energy throughout their lifetimes to making peace in the world, redressing wrongs, creating space for dialogue to heal just such breaches of integrity and justice as are represented by the need for this rally today. Breathless at the decades, centuries, and yes, millennia that we humans have been working for peace.
It is enough, nearly, to make me turn and walk away in despair. But I refuse despair.
Rather, I give gratitude for the fortitude and courage of every individual who has ever taken a stand to right a wrong. I give gratitude for these youth, proudly proclaiming their undocumented status on their t-shirts. I give gratitude, whoever you may be, for reading these words. For if you are here, you too are working for peace in some way. Keep it up!
The world will not change, the corporations will not stop what they are doing, politicians will continue to lie while shaking our hands and smiling, unless we continue to expose corruption, greed and wrongdoing, unless we continue to be and seek the change we desire.
So I say again: Do not despair. Keep it up! Keep going. Be peace. Work for peace. Live peace. Expect peace.
Text and image © L Kathryn Grace – All rights reserved
*Though they were working in a public arena, and proudly wearing their t-shirts, I chose not to photograph the set-up crew for this post, in case any individual might prefer not to broadcast their participation.