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What I Dared Do In These Times: On a Prayer and a Promise

by Guest Blogger Rebekah D. Mason

· Muslim Ban,Refugees,Organizing

As a United States citizen, a woman, a person of faith and an attorney, I have read about and cried about and been paralyzed by the hostilities the administration has carried out over the last few days.

The administration has willfully ignored the intelligence community’s reports of foreign infiltration of our election.

They have cited ‘alternative facts’ as a way to explain away lies.

They have aggressively challenged journalists and attacked them in a manner which goes against the free press we have come to take for granted.

They have’ purportedly’ acknowledged the Holocaust without a mention of the Jewish people.

They have removed high ranking military and government officials from security teams and brought White Supremacists to the White House and placed them in a position of leadership.

They have issued executive orders violating the spirit of and the text of the Constitution.

And when those orders were challenged and stayed in Courts across the Nation, they have ignored the judicial branch of government in a manner which looks startlingly like fascism.

This was all too much for me as I sat paralyzed listening to the news, reading and wondering what next?

I decided that despite my lack of expertise in Constitutional or immigration law, and despite the fact that I was unsure whether I could make a difference, yesterday I joined a group of protestors and activists and lawyers at Dulles International Airport which serves the Washington, DC region.

Once there, I saw attorneys, families, people of color, interpreters of every language, representatives from the NAACP, the ACLU, members of the LBGTQ community, Atheists, Big Law, Catholic monks, government workers and their families, concerned citizens whose flights out of Dulles had been cancelled on other accounts.

All showed up, with make-shift signs and lists and chants and prayers, all to stand up and for the voiceless, the unspoken Promise and the one enshrined in our Constitution—that ours is a Nation of welcome, of love and of acceptance.

We are not a Nation that is perfect or without blemish. But we are one with checks and balances that we have always believed could prevent us from facing unspeakable tyranny.

The problem is that we have promised to ourselves and the world, that we are better than this. We are better than hate and fear mongering; we are better than religious persecution and discrimination.

We claim to and aspire to be leaders in human rights, religious freedoms, the freedom to speak and think and pray and not pray, and thus we have been for some time a beacon of light on a hill—to the world.

And we believe it and our brothers and sisters in the military serve and fight and die for these freedoms. And we sing about them and write about them and march and cry and live and sometimes die for them.

North America is a continent. But the United States of America is a Promise and a covenant enshrined in a Constitution that is the supreme law of the land; a Constitution which represents a country differently founded and differently governed.

Despite our humble and imperfect beginnings, our flawed history and ongoing need to continue working toward progress—despite all of our failings, across this Nation and the globe, this Promise has been one that has continued to benefit each of us and the world.

Because of the Promise, because of our diversity, the motivated and the tired, the downtrodden and the thinkers, the suffering and the vulnerable and the leaders, from all across the world, run towards us, seeking that Promise and longing to work towards a better future for their families and for us.

This administration in less than 10 days has revealed the ways in which they believe the fate of our Nation is sealed. They promised ‘to make America great’, and still many of us believe this Nation to be one of the greatest experiments in democracy and freedoms ever known.

And yet, we see urgently now the devastating effects of nationalism, isolationism, racism and discrimination, not only in our streets, in our families, in our airports, and in our global image.

We are not making America great again by building unaffordable walls and dividing our families and alienating our neighbors and friends. We have seen chaos and we have seen the effects of fearmongering, hate, discrimination and persecution unfold in an alarmingly quick manner which detracts from the good we can and should be doing at home and abroad.

As a Mexican American, my ancestors were native to this land, and immigrants came and conquered and destroyed the culture of native and indigenous peoples across this great continent.

On the backs of my ancestors and of the enslaved peoples brought here, eventually, a great experiment of democracy sprung from these ugly beginnings. Those very people who were set to be extinguished and enslaved collaborated and contributed so much to the fabric of a flawed yet hope-filled experiment in democracy. If we are not careful, it will disappear before our eyes.

While at the airport yesterday, I held a sign: “Do you know anyone who has been detained? Are you waiting for family?”. A group of attorneys who have been leading the charge encouraged us to write this and to engage with folks coming off the planes from their journeys, we asked them, “Was everyone okay back there?” “Anyone in trouble?”

I met one U.S. Citizen who had been detained for hours, you read that correctly. A U.S. citizen.

I saw Muslim passengers reunited with family in tears. So many of them were crying and a few of them approached us thanking us for just being there. They said our presence at the airport reminded them why America is great. I talked with concerned citizens who cheered us all on in solidarity. I witnessed elected officials who were denied access to speak with detainees, folks who may or may not have been constituents they serve.

And before I went home, after about five hours, a mere pittance of a shift, I saw an impromptu prayer with songs for peace led by monks who moments earlier had been passing out chocolate candies to protestors and cheering on people as they came home.

Being honest, it felt good to be there. But I wholeheartedly understand that my presence alone as a citizen or as a lawyer did not work toward or facilitate true resolution.

Instead, it reminded me and so many who were there and so many others who watched or heard of it from home and abroad, of the greatness and the potential that lies within this Nation.

The Promise that people from different backgrounds and beliefs and faiths can come together, can acknowledge wrongs and work towards righting them. We are not done yet.

Rebekah D. Mason lives in Wheaton, MD and practices elder law at a Washington D.C. non-profit which provides free legal services to low-income folks. She is from Texas City, Texas.

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