Dear Mr. Trump: You Do Not Represent Me

IMG_0293Dear Mr. Trump,

At the Republican National Convention last week, you invoked the names of parents whose children had been killed by undocumented immigrants. You indicated your impression that you represent them and their interests.

I want to let you know that my child, too, was killed by an undocumented immigrant. But you do not in any way represent me or my interests.

The picture here was taken of Leigh Anna Jimmerson, my 16 year old daughter, and her 19 year old boyfriend, Tad Joseph Mattle, on the night they died. You may be able to tell from the expressions on their faces that they were happy, beautiful people. I can tell you that to her family, Leigh Anna was Christmas, as they say. She was the Dancing Queen. Mardi Gras all year long.

On the night of April 17, 2009, an undocumented drunk driver slammed into them as they were stopped at a red light at a busy intersection in Huntsville, Alabama. The driver was being pursued, at a high speed, by a police officer. They died immediately. Tad’s car exploded on impact and Leigh Anna’s body burned up.

I am fortunate in that I was able to forgive the undocumented drunk driver. I never felt any anger toward him. I felt no hatred toward him. It just seemed to me that it had been a terribly bad night for everyone involved. I have often been grateful that in addition to the sadness that I carry with me every day of my life, I am not also burdened with bitterness.

imagesFor what it might be worth to you, this picture is one of my favorites of Leigh Anna. It was taken two years before she died. She had elected to go with me to a rally the Ku Klux Klan was having in Athens, Alabama. They were protesting illegal immigrants. We went to a counter protest. She was a little nervous, as you can imagine, but she wanted to go anyway. Once there, she held this sign which, as you can see, was as big as she.

As we were leaving the rally, a Klansman or Klan supporter said something rude to her (she never would tell me what he had said). I heard her say to him, laughing: “Love you back!”

At the trial the driver was convicted on two counts of murder. After the sentencing, he asked to speak to the families. He acknowledged what he had done. He asked for our forgiveness. Later, in a private conversation with him when he was on his way to prison, he told my husband and me that, if he could, he would change places with Tad and Leigh Anna.

The morning after the crash, the police officer who chased him said that he was perplexed that the faster he drove pursuing the driver, the faster the driver went.

The police never came to our house that evening. They never acknowledged their role in the death of my child. In the death of my dreams. The police officer who pursued the undocumented man never asked for my forgiveness. To my knowledge, he never faced any official consequences.

My heart goes out to the other families who have lost their children under similar circumstances. I do not ask them to forgive the one who took their child and their dreams. I understand not being able to forgive. There are those in my family who have not been able to forgive either. There is no shame in not being able to forgive someone who has caused you such grief.

You, however, are neither in a position to forgive or not to forgive. Instead, what you are doing, in my opinion, is encouraging people like you, people who neither are in a position to forgive or not to forgive, to get some sort of mean-spirited pleasure out of condemning people they have never met and who have never harmed them.

10208382_BG4I have a favor to ask of you, Mr. Trump. I want to ask you not to encourage mean-spiritedness towards undocumented immigrants. I want to ask you to speak about them in ways that would honor Leigh Anna and her gentleness of spirit. I would ask you to speak about them in ways that reflect the love she exhibited every day of her life. I would ask you to show the kind of courage she showed in attending a protest of the Ku Klux Klan when she was scared and when they, too, were acting out of mean-spiritedness.

Until you do, Mr. Trump, please know that you do not represent me or my interests.

Are We Native Americans Your Pets?

Photos, Bios, Mike Wilson @ San Xavier, Mission - Dia de los Muertos Pilgrimage, by Hyatt 10-31-09

Photo courtesy of Michael Hyatt

Last week I had the pleasure of having Mike Wilson and his partner, Susan Ruff, in my home for a few days. Mike is a tribal member of the Tohono O’odham Nation in southern Arizona. The reservation on which the nation is situated straddles the United States / Mexico border. I got to know Mike and Susan when I was filming my documentary, The Second Cooler, in which Mike appears.

Mike is an original. He is a Native American who joined the United States Army and trained at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. He became a member of its Special Forces. Sent to El Salvador in the 1980s, his duty was to “win the hearts and minds” of the Salvadorans. That means that he was to encourage Salvadorans to assent to US domination.

While there, he had what in Christian circles is sometimes referred to as a Road to Damascus moment during which he encountered who he was and what he was doing. He concluded he was a “North American imperialist” in El Salvador.

He says that he was “called” out of the Army and into seminary, then called back out of seminary “by faith”. He was prompted by his conclusion that the Church had become an instrument of imperialism. He spent a year as a lay pastor, however, at the Presbyterian church in Sells, the capital of the Tohono O’odham Nation. For those who do not understand the idea of being “called”, it refers to a belief that God has placed a special task on a believer’s shoulders.  Today, Mike says, everything he does is because of his faith in God.

One of the issues which Mike, Susan, and I discussed at length under the cool arbor on my deck was Mike’s frustration with white people who will not confront tribal leadership on life and death issues. In this short clip from The Second Cooler, Mike talks about the running conflict he has had for years with tribal leaders of the nation. The context in the clip is the criticism he was receiving from his Presbyterian Session in Sells.

Mike With water

From The Second Cooler. Adam Valencia, photographer.

The conflict has to do with the fact that Mike puts water on tribal lands for migrants crossing there illegally. The migrants, who come from Mexico, Central America and elsewhere disproportionately are indigenous. Tribal leadership forbids him putting out water because they believe it encourages migrants to cross through their lands.

Part of the problem is that the militarization of the US / Mexico border, especially at the Arizona border, has been deliberately designed to push illegal immigrants into the vast, treacherous Sonora Desert which makes up much of the Nation’s land. Figures are difficult to come by, but estimates range from a very conservative 7,000 to approximately 21,000 since 1997 when records began to be kept.

Mike also has had a running conflict with immigrant advocates in Tucson. Advocates there, who are white or Latino, work day in and day out to rescue migrants, call attention to their deaths nationally, and keep records of deaths. Yet, they will not tell tribal leadership that they are wrong to contribute to migrant deaths by refusing to give them water.

Mike wants white and Latino advocates to stand up to tribal leadership arguing that human beings are suffering and their lives are hanging in the balance.

White and Latino advocates will not. They argue that to do so is a form of racism: “White people have told Native Americans what to do for too long.” And so, Mike not only is persona non grata among tribal leadership, he is persona non grata among the non-Native advocates in Tucson.

While we talked, I remembered a remark he made at the screening of The Second Cooler in Tucson at the Arizona International Film Festival in 2013 during the Q&A. A number of those whom he had tried to persuade to support him by standing up to tribal leadership were in the audience that evening. I recalled him having said to no one in particular, “What do you think we Tohono are? Your pets?”

Mike believes, and I agree, that preferring to let migrants die rather than stand up to the people who could help save their lives is, in and of itself, a particularly toxic form of racism. As Mike pointed out while we talked, refusing to stand up to people who hold other people’s lives in their hands because of their racial or ethnic identity is applying a different standard to their actions or lack thereof. I believe that a separate standard is necessarily a lower standard reflecting a lingering belief that Native Americans are too emotionally delicate, too childlike, to take criticism. And, because they are Natives and made fundamentally different from Whites, according to the logic, they are inherently incapable of racism.

Or, as Mike asks in the clip from The Second Cooler, rather than stand up to tribal leadership or wrestle with the nuances of racism, is it just “easier to let the migrants die”?

This is the racism which we can deny by taking the moral high ground of ultra sensitivity to Native Americans’ feelings.  We can deny our and Native racism while colluding in the brutal deaths of thousands of Mexican indigenous. Applying any moral yardstick, how can we justify this? Do migrant deaths really matter? Are Tohono O’odham tribal leaders full grown men and women?

Or are Native Americans our pets?

 

Why Melissa Hillman’s Privilege Argument Was Backwards

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Hillary Clinton

A recent article by Melissa Hillman for Quartz created a stir among loyalists in Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton’s camp. Hillman insisted that “privilege is what allows Sanders supporters to say they’ll ‘never’ vote for Clinton under any circumstance.”

That is inaccurate. There are those who are well outside the ranks of privilege who will not vote for Clinton. Period.

Quartz, a digital global business news publication culls its 150 writers from conservative business journals including Bloomberg, the Wall Street Journal, and The Economist, as well as the New York Times. Its core market is global business people who want international markets. In other words, they are among the market oriented neoliberals where Clinton finds many of her supporters.

The truth is that there are those who will not vote for Clinton precisely because of their lack of privilege or because of their work among those who lack the kind of extraordinary privilege Quartz readers have or aspire to have.

One is Luis Efrain Serrano, an illegal (the term he prefers) Latino and an activist with ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] Out Of LA in Los Angeles. The organization exists to end deportations and the criminalization of illegal immigrants. He believes the privilege argument is backwards.

People are voting for Clinton, Serrano believes, “because of their privilege. Wealthy or middle class white folks would not be as negatively affected by her as those of us who are less privileged.”  The Democrats “give us weird little reforms like DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] which help us out a bit. We are ok with them only because things are so bad.”

Ultimately, Serrano wants systemic change. Although he does not support Donald Trump, the Republican presidential frontrunner, Serrano believes a Trump election could aid in forcing the collapse of the establishment. He believes Trump has shaken “the neoliberal establishment which Clinton represents because he exposes an economic system that they have kept hidden.” Reality is that the Clinton establishment, in Serrano’s opinion, has “perfected keeping people oppressed and distracted.” Trump has brought that into the open.

Serrano concludes, “for those without privilege, there is no strategy in electing Clinton.”

Zac Henson is a self-proclaimed “mad redneck” with a Ph. D. in Environmental Science, Policy, and Management but who makes his living delivering papers and driving for Uber in East Lake, Alabama.

Henson, too, is concerned about the political system. He also wants to challenge individualized ideas of what constitutes oppression or privilege. No one, is all oppressor or all oppressed,” he thinks. Instead, he believes, we need to talk more about “multiple overarching systems of power.” For instance, he says, “I’m white and male, so there are certainly advantages that I have in certain situations. But, I’m also mentally ill, working class, and Southern, so there are disadvantages that I have to deal with too.”

As for the election, Henson’s identities and philosophies slide between Clinton and Trump. Like Clinton, he believes in multiculturalism and diversity. But like Trump, he opposes economic globalization. He believes each has been engaged in an all-out war on the working class from both the left and the right. Partly because of Clinton’s neoliberalism, and the neoliberalism of the Democratic establishment, the white working class “literally has no place else to go but to Trump, which is both worrisome and sad.”

Trump, however, “is a monster arising in a cauldron of white working class rage and a generation of abandonment of the white working class by the left.” Because of the war on the working class, “people are frustrated, mad, and confused. It seems as if the American Dream is a distant memory.”

Even someone like me, he says, “who is a community organizer, an antiracist, a feminist, and a communist can see Trump’s appeal to people who are just desperate. So, I’ll probably just vote for Jill Stein, even though I know that it’s a throw away vote. Not much of a choice, if you ask me.”

Jorge Mújica Murias is the Strategic Campaigns Organizer at Arise Chicago, an organization devoted to combatting worker injustice. A Latino, he ran for Congress as a candidate for Illinois’s 3rd Congressional District in 2009 and for Alderman for the City of Chicago in 2015. A socialist, he supports Jill Stein of the Green Party.

“My reason for not supporting Clinton is simple,” Mújica says. “I want to do away with the two-party system.”

He wants to see the Democratic Party split. “I want to help give a solid third party status to the Green Party. I don’t want people re-electing Hillary in 2020 because Ted Cruz runs against her nor do I want to see Chelsea Clinton running against Trump. Giving a solid third party status to the Green Party might open up the system.” Just as he would like to see the Democratic Party split, Mújica continues, “I would have hoped to see the Republicans splitting and founding a third party, the Tea Party. That is not going to happen apparently. But we can make it happen in the Democratic party if people will not cave in and vote for Clinton.”

Pippa Abston is a pediatrician in Huntsville, Alabama. She counts herself among the privileged in no small measure because she has health insurance. She tends daily to people, however, who do not – and she cares about them.

Based in large part on what she has seen in her practice, she believes that those who already lack political and socioeconomic privilege would be placed at higher risk in a Clinton presidency.

Clinton, she believes, “has ignored the need to insure every single person in the US for healthcare and has accepted President Obama’s incremental approach with the Affordable Care Act [ACA].” The ACA, according to Abston, is unethical because it leaves out some already marginalized groups. Those groups include poor adults in those states like Alabama which does not allow them access to Medicaid, undocumented immigrants, documented immigrants because of a five year waiting period, and those who live just above the poverty line but cannot afford insurance even with the ACA.

An ethical person, Abston says, “would not find it acceptable to leave anyone out.” Clinton, on the other hand, is “a utilitarian who is able to abstract human beings into numbers and treat them interchangeably, trading out some lives for others. This is not ethically acceptable to me.” Because she sees children and their parents every day in her office, she says, “I can’t possibly forget what they need and I can’t possibly vote for Clinton who could put them at risk.”

As are Serrano, Henson, and Mújica, Abston is concerned about the entire political system. Clinton, she says, represents a political philosophy, neoliberalism, which she finds “abhorrent.”

It is an “imposter on the left” but it is not truly leftist, because it “transfers power and representation even further away from the public sphere into the oligarchy, and then tells the powerless that they can lift themselves up if they try harder.”

By occupying the left as an imposter, Abston says, the neoliberal wing prevents the development of a true left, a true democratic movement “by convincing supporters it is the left they are seeking, that it cares about them, but it does not. I find this even more repugnant than the right wing, which is at least moderately honest about its nefarious intentions.”

Like Abston, I, too am a person of multiple privileges. I am white, upper middle class, and enjoy a high social status. I am a Ph. D. historian, liberation theologian, ordained Baptist minister, and film maker. Much of my professional life consists of advocacy for illegal immigrants, domestic labor, and guest workers in the US legally with an H2 visa.

Free trade agreements are closely associated with the displacement of the millions of Latinos who are in the US illegally as well as with the creation of a billionaire class in Mexico and elsewhere. Free trade agreements and neoliberal economic policies generally are a priority issue for me.

Although Clinton has recently distanced herself from the looming Trans Pacific Partnership, in the past she has applauded it as the “gold standard” of trade agreements.

Trade agreements favor the well being of corporations over that of human beings. They are in large part about the creation of “investor states” which legally transfer local, state, and national sovereignty to corporations which may sue governments which act to adversely affect, or threaten to adversely affect, corporations’ profits. This includes such things as labor regulations, environmental efforts, and regulations over pharmaceutical businesses.

Clinton has waffled on free trade agreements. Sen. Bernie Sanders and Dr. Jill Stein, on the other hand, consistently have opposed them.

Each seems to understand that the agreements are not really about trade — they certainly are not about the creation of a multicultural “global village” — they are about the offshoring of national sovereignty and the creation of a new legal framework to create and protect new, sinister investor states. They are about displacing more and more vulnerable peoples around the world and making it next to impossible for the rest of us to do anything about it. I have written more on the sovereignty problems with free trade agreements here.

This article is based on anecdotal evidence, of course, as was Melissa Hillman’s. But it should go some distance in demonstrating that she is wrong about privilege being the reason for people on the left opposing Clinton. Instead, the reasons for many of us include deep concerns about America’s working class, the current failure of the two-party system to address systemic economic problems, and neoliberal economic policies. Many of us have concluded that Clinton is not only a poor choice to lead America, she is downright dangerous for all of us.

How Nuns On The Bus Get It Wrong On Immigration Reform

Serrano, Sin Título, with dog 1

Border Wall, by Guadalupe Serrano. Used with permission.

Like Sr. Simone Campbell I am a clergy woman. I also am a full time advocate for illegal immigrants, guest workers in the US legally with an H2 visa, and domestic labor. She is a lawyer; I am a historian. I am a film maker whose migrant justice documentary, The Second Cooler, narrated by Martin Sheen, has won awards on the festival circuit. I have won awards for humanitarianism. Sr. Campbell has been praised by Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, and Bill Moyers and has become the subject of a documentary in the making, Nuns on the Bus, directed by Sundance Award-winning film maker, Mellisa Regan.

It would appear we have much in common. In fact, we are miles apart when it comes to both a starting point for and an analysis of immigration reform. Sr. Simone promotes S. 744, the so-called Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill which passed in the Senate but failed in the House last year [2013]. I vehemently oppose it.

The Wall, Sasabe, fence and barrier

Photo by Bill Schweikert for the Huntsville Immigration Initiative, LLC. As seen in The Second Cooler.

Her vocational starting point appears to be that clergy people must negotiate with power and accept the parameters established by military contractors, corporate employers, the for-profit prison industry, big, well-funded activist groups, and confused politicians. My starting point is that clergy must tell truth to power. We must say “No!” to Caesar and the national security state, not become apologists for them.

More importantly, Sr. Simone does not appear to understand the content of the bill. It is in no way a good bill stymied by Republicans on the wrong side of history. It is far from being a bill which would offer immigrants a reasonable “path to citizenship” or stop deportations. This is, however, precisely the message she conveys. As the subtitle of her article which appeared in faithstreet.com on May 9 puts it, “Because Congress has failed to pass immigration reform, mothers will be separated from their children throughout America this Mother’s Day.”

Aizeki, Prohibido cruzar la linea

Photo by Mizue Aizeki. Used with permission.

Reality is that the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act would, if passed, make a bad situation much worse. It calls for further militarization of the US / MEX border which inevitably will put more pressure on border communities, environmental systems, and migrants. Deaths will increase. It will expand the consignment of poor foreign workers to indentured servitude by expanding the inherently abusive and highly exploitive Guest Worker program, a program which has been condemned by the Southern Poverty Law Center as being “Close to Slavery.” The program inevitably will work to the advantage of employers and to the disadvantage of domestic and foreign laborers.

Militarization and guest worker visas are not incidentals hovering around the edges of a “pathway to citizenship” bill. They are the keystones of the bill. Deportation? Not even addressed in the bill which should surprise no one since the GEO Group and Corrections Corporation of America, the two powerful for-profit prison corporations which have contracts with the Federal government to fill their beds with immigration detainees are helping pay for the bill. And that “path to citizenship?” To the degree that it exists at all, it is a punitive, 13 year long path which cannot be begun until after the border is fully militarized and it is so filled with fees and exceptions that those who live long enough to start out on the path will never make it to the end. Surely, even those inured to the rough and tumble of politics should agree that it is a poor exchange for other people’s lives and other people’s servitude.

The Wall, Crosses 30

Border Wall art installation, by No More Deaths.

When I wrote Sr. Simone a letter last July [2013] encouraging her to reconsider her position on S. 744 she replied, “if you have a magic wand, please use it.” I have no magic wand.

What I do have is an ability to speak truth to power and propose justice alternatives. Instead of expanding militarization and increasing migrant deaths, we should de-militarize the border. We should create a visa allowing poor people without significant amounts of money and title to land to come to the US legally. We should abolish the Guest Worker visa. We should immediately confer a legal status on those without it. We should halt deportations altogether until they can be detached from the Department of Homeland Security and the for-profit prison system. We can support a good alternative to S. 744 which already exists, the American Families United Act, HR 3431.

In other words, we clergy can insist on justice not deals.

This article originally appeared in The God Article, with Mark Sandlin on Patheos.com on May 19, 2014.

Why “Don’t Say ‘Illegal Immigrant'” Is a Problem

thLast month [June, 2014], as Americans focused attention on Central American child refugees, Benjamin L. Corey’s June, 2013 article, “Why We Need To Stop Using The Term ‘Illegal Immigrant’”, appeared on my Facebook feed. In it, Corey said using the term “illegal immigrant” was to bear false witness against our neighbor.

I am a Baptist minister and film maker who advocates for illegal immigrants, guest workers in the US legally with a visa, and domestic labor. With enormous respect for those concerned about the term, I want to suggest there are bigger issues which are obscured, keeping us from bearing witness on our neighbor’s behalf, when we hesitate to use it.

First, crossing US borders without permission is a crime — a legal wrong doing. There are two classes of crimes–misdemeanors and felonies. Crossing “without inspection”, to use the legal term, is a misdemeanor the first time. But it is a felony when one returns, voluntarily or involuntarily, to his home country and re-enters illegally. Whether a misdemeanor or felony, because of Federal agreements with the for-profit prison industry, the crime of crossing illegally is costing 400,000 people a year their property and their families. The punishment is far out of proportion to the crime. Christians must bear witness to this.

Second, under current law, crossing our southern border illegally, whether as a misdemeanor or a felony, is a crime sometimes leading to loss of life without due process–without arrest, charge, representation, judge, or jury. Since the signing of the North American Free Trade Agreement [NAFTA] in 1992, in an effort to control the movements of laborers it knew it was displacing, the Federal government began knowingly sending illegal immigrants to their deaths via border militarization.

The Department of Homeland Security’s Southwestern Border Strategy, devised after the passing of NAFTA, included closing off the relatively safe, urban crossing areas, such as that at Nogales, Arizona, to force migrants into the vast Sonora Desert. A limited number of migrants would die, according to the Strategy, and word would to get back to Mexican communities where those deaths would become “a deterrent” to others contemplating coming. To date, at least 5,000 migrants have been sent to their deaths in the Pacific Ocean and the Rio Grande, as well as the Sonora Desert. Using death as a deterrent to crime rather than as a punishment for crime is a significant moral problem and a significant international law problem. Christians need to bear witness to this.

In addition, following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, a particular class of human beings–in this case unauthorized laborers–became branded as a threat to national security. They themselves, not simply their actions in crossing our border without inspection, have been identified as a threat to national security. Despite the famous saying that “no human being is illegal,” identifying any class of persons, whether Jews in Germany or homosexuals in Uganda or illegal immigrants in the US, as a threat to national security so severe that it warrants taking their life from them is the essence of making human beings illegal. Christians need to bear witness to this.

Third, the word “undocumented” falsely implies there are documents to be had. It indicates that for some reason migrants chose not to come “the right way”. In fact, there is no way for people without title to land or large amounts of money to cross our borders legally if they are from Latin America, Africa, or most parts of Asia. The word “undocumented” functions to obscure the fact that the US has two racially, socially, and ethnically encoded legal entry systems. The system for these areas blocks, before the process begins, all indigenous people and all poor people from entering legally. Christians need to bear witness to this.

Fourth, sensitivity over the term did not originate with migrants. It originated with immigration advocacy insiders. Illegal immigrants often refer to themselves as “illegals”. So do their loved ones. In the days following the passage of HB 56, Alabama’s notorious anti-immigrant law, I listened to a woman in Alabama who had driven 3 hours to address a gathering at the Capitol building in Montgomery. She said, “My name is Rebecca. I’m married to an illegal. I worry every day that he won’t come home.” The translator corrected her. “My name is Rebecca,” he said, “and I’m married to an undocumented man.” It is a problem betraying a lack of respect for illegal immigrants when advocates talk down to, and become suspicious of, the very people they say they are advocating for.

By the same token, I have been in situations where I was afraid for my safety because volatile militiamen were present. I have heard them spewing venom against the “undocumented immigrants” they wanted to drive out of Alabama. As a shibboleth separating good guys from bad guys, “undocumented” simply doesn’t work.

Fifth, as renewed calls for “comprehensive immigration reform” gin up in light of the child refugee crisis, advocate generated suspicion of the term has helped grant moral high ground, and undeserved reliability, to those same advocacy groups which are relentlessly promoting a particular piece of legislation–S. 744. The Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act is a sinister bill moving the entire system to the far political right. Instead of focusing on the defeat of a term, Christians must begin, and quickly, to rally defeat of this bill which would send proportionately thousands more to their deaths by completing the militarization of our southern border, ear mark Hispanics in particular for servitude by drastically expanding the guest worker program, and funnel everyone in the US illegally into the deportation machine. Christians need to bear witness to this.

Surely, in our desire to do right by those in the US illegally, we can do better than focusing on these two words while obscuring real life and death issues. Christian witness insists on it. Justice depends on it.

This article originally appeared in Patheos on August 25, 2014.

Comparing Politicians to Christ: Facts, Please

 

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Dr. Russell Moore

It is not often that Russell Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention [SBC], and I agree. He opposes same sex marriage and abortion, for example. I support same sex marriage and a woman’s right to choose. When I officiated at Madison County, Alabama’s first same sex wedding, that started a chain of events that led to the church with which I am associated to be “disfellowshipped” by the SBC. Typically, Moore and I do not agree on much.

However, prominent Christian pastors on both the left and right have publicly supported their favorite politicians – comparing them to Christ. Here is where Moore and I agree – if you are going to compare a politician to Christ, you need to back up your comparison with facts.

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Rev. Jerry Falwell, Jr.

Several days ago, Rev. Jerry Falwell, Jr., president of Liberty University endorsed Donald Trump. He gushed, “In my opinion, Donald Trump lives a life of loving and helping others as Jesus taught in the great commandment”.

In an op-ed for the New York Times, Moore demonstrated that Falwell’s praise is at odds with the facts of Trump’s life. He wrote,

[Trump] revels in the fact that he gets to sleep with some of the ‘top women in the world’ [and that Trump] is a casino and real estate mogul who has built his careers off gambling, a moral vice and an economic swindle that oppresses the poorest and most desperate. When Mr. Trump’s casinos fail, he can simply file bankruptcy and move on. The lives and families destroyed by the casino industry cannot move on so easily.

Similarly, Michael Brown, a Messianic Jew and conservative host of the popular radio show, The Line Of Fire, wrote this op-ed for the Christian Post. In it he quoted a colleague:

I just don’t understand how a true Christian can so easily dismiss all this … wife posed nude, married three times, nasty, crude, cruel, proud, dishonest, manipulative, casino owner and promoter, bankrupted several companies, ‘hates’ abortion but agrees to make it legal, gutter mouth … and on and on and on.

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Donald Trump

Citing Trump’s attacks on those he happens to dislike at the moment, Brown asks,

be it Megyn Kelly or Ted Cruz or Jeb Bush or Rosie O’Donnell – attacks in which he behaves more like a spoiled, petulant child than a presidential candidate, how [can Falwell] point to his Christ-like character?

In other words, Moore and Brown are addressing the facts of Trump’s life and career. These facts fly in the face of claims that Trump is the embodiment of Christ from a conservative Christian, personal morality point of view.

There are equally extravagant claims being made by progressive Christians. John Pavlovitz, a pastor and blogger with millions of followers, recently said in the Huffington Post that President Obama has “in effect out-Jesused many of his Conservative Christian critics”. Obama, he wrote, has “championed justice, equality, and the inherent dignity of all people in a way that closely resembles the stated mission of Christ”.

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Rev. John Pavlovitz

Among other claims, Pavlovitz said that Obama

has vigorously defended the civil rights of all human beings, has challenged us to be hospitable to refugees and immigrants, and has called out corporate lobbyists and big business special interests that have crippled the middle class and widened the income gap between the richest and poorest.

These claims are factually inaccurate if not downright preposterous. The most cursory glance at his policies should make that clear.

Despite his campaign promise, for example, Obama did not close the US military prison at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base where some prisoners have been held for decades without being charged. Among the detainees’ basic rights, which Obama has failed to champion in any meaningful way, are the rights of habeus corpus, a US and international principle providing the right to challenge the legality of one’s arrest, and the Sixth Amendment to the Constitution which provides the right to a “speedy and public trial”.

Then there is the matter of Obama’s foreign policy. Jeremy Scahill, a national security correspondent for The Nation and for Democracy Now!, traces the expansion of covert wars in countries ranging from Somalia to Pakistan. He says that

particularly in the Obama administration . . . . we’ve returned to the kind of 1980s way of waging war, where the US was involved in all these dirty wars in Central and Latin America, in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, and beyond.

For example, he says, the US and Obama are “using proxies, that effectively are death squads, in Somalia to hunt down people the US has determined are enemies . . . . [and] mercenary forces in various wars, declared and undeclared, around the world.”

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King Hamad bin Isa Al Kahlifa

Similarly, Fred Hiatt, the editorial page editor of the Washington Post, wrote “Obama’s Troubling Counterterrorism Allies: Dictators”. Hiatt detailed Obama’s alarming embrace of Syria’s Bashar-Al-Assad, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Kahlifa, and Uzbekistan’s Islam Karimov. Hiatt calls Al-Assad the “bloodiest butcher of this young century”.

He goes on to say that Al-Sisi has “killed and imprisoned opponents with a brazenness Hosni Mubarak never dreamed of,” that when Al Kahlifa “cracks down on peaceful dissidents, the United States barely notices”, and that Karimov “presides over a closed society of prison camps and forced labor.”

As for being “hospitable to refugees and immigrants”, as Pavlovitz asserts, that has been anything but true of Obama with the exception of his recent welcome of Syrian refugees. Obama supports further militarizing the United States / Mexico border which was militarized to prohibit Mexicans and others displaced by the North American Free Trade Agreement [NAFTA] from coming to the US. Militarization has taken a minimum of 6,000 migrants’ lives.

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President Barack Obama

Obama has earned the derogatory nickname “Deporter in Chief” among Latinos because under him deportations sky-rocketed, ripping some 2.5 million people from their families. Deportations have left over 5,000 children stranded in foster care and forced other US citizens into exile to be with their deported husband or father. He has deported asylum-seeking Central Americans which has cost 83 their lives, according to London’s newspaper, The Guardian. And, according to the Washington Post, his administration failed to protect thousands of other Central American children, placing them in the hands of human traffickers or abusive caretakers in the U. S.

As for Pavlovitz’s claim that Obama has “called out corporate lobbyists and big business special interests” one needs only to look at his support for free trade agreements [FTAs] to know that is inaccurate. He signed FTAs with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea and has been negotiating vigorously for the Trans-Pacific Partnership [TPP]. As I demonstrated in my film, The Second Cooler, NAFTA not only pushed some 2 million Mexican peasants off their lands and into migration, it allowed good-paying jobs in the United States to be sent overseas. Displacement of peoples is inherent to FTAs which push people off their lands and out of their jobs in order to fulfill the goal of “opening up markets.”

Economic researchers with Tufts University’s Global Development and Environment Institute have projected that the TPP would likely lead to the loss of 448,000 US jobs and cause labor’s share of income to decline by 1.3%. This necessarily would increase the gap between rich and poor and widen inequality. The researchers found that while the US job market will suffer the most, the TPP would lead to 771,000 job losses over the next 10 years in the member nations.

FTAs, however, are about more than opening up markets, displacement of peoples, and the offshoring of good paying jobs. Lori Wallach, Director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, has called trade deals “backdoor financial deregulation,” a “power tool to demolish financial stability policies,” and part of the establishment of an “investor-state” system. She concludes that the TPP and other FTAs are mainly about “new rights for corporations and new constraints on governments’ non-trade regulatory policy space”.

Gretchen Morgenson, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist who writes about markets for the New York Times, voiced similar concerns. She wrote that “trade agreements might well be read as an invitation to fight financial regulation”. She points out that Ecuador in 2011 asked that World Trade Organization to allow it to preserve its ability to create regulations to ensure “the integrity and stability of the financial system”. But the proposal was rejected by trade representatives in the U. S., the European Union, and Canada.

You don’t have to have a Ph.D. in economics to surmise that it is the middle class that suffers the most from these deals.

Christian pastors and bloggers have the right to endorse or support any candidate and any president they wish, but Russell Moore and I agree on this: when Christian leaders compare the president or a presidential hopeful to Christ, they must backup their claims with facts. We may disagree on which facts are or are not critical, but they must be backed up. Other people’s lives are hanging in the balance.

Illegal Immigration — Op-Ed for Mobile Press Register, 2008

I wrote this article in 2008. It was about this time that I began to get the idea of making a documentary about immigration.


“Illegal Immigration” (unedited version)

Mobile Press Register

March 3, 2008

300px-Wallace_at_University_of_Alabama_edit2The borderline has come to the colorline in Alabama and we are off to a bad start. There should be no people in the country better prepared to step up with empathy, courage and humility to the issue of illegal immigration. Our history of slavery, segregation and debt peonage should have brought us the insight that what is legal is not always right. Rosa Parks’ momentous decision should have etched on our collective psyche the profound understanding that what is illegal is not always wrong. Strong histories of the notorious Tuskegee syphilis experiments and Birmingham in 1963 should have taught us to respect the complicatedness of race and class. The struggle to reverse our well-deserved reputation as a safe haven for demagogues should have made us leery of the politics of race, fear and confusion.

The borderline has come to the colorline in Alabama and we are off to a bad start. There is not a dime’s worth of difference between George Wallace vowing he would never be “out-niggraed” and Gardendale Rep. Scott Beason’s aggressive decision not to be “out-illegalled.” There is not a dime’s worth of difference between Wallace’s “segregation yesterday! segregation today! segregation tomorrow!” and local city councils proposing ordinances referring to a group of human beings as a “public nuisance.” There is not a dime’s worth of difference between the arrogance of “whites only” and “English only” nor between the current crop of vehicle impoundment ordinances and the old voter literacy laws designed to harass and humiliate.

The borderline has come to the colorline in Alabama and we are off to a bad start. The racial cast of characters has changed but the old, ugly vilifications have made a comeback. At a public meeting a black man rants he cannot rent his property because of Hispanics “running around half-naked.” A white, professional Hispanic with papers lords his supposedly Spanish descent over the poor, indigenous, undocumented Latinos in his church. A white woman with refined speech mannerisms dresses up her racist anti-Catholicism as concern for women. At the Joint Interim Patriotic Immigration Commission’s (JIPIC) lynch mob-like Huntsville meeting, black and white police officers step into the crowd to protect a Latina attempting to speak up for illegal immigrants. At the JIPIC’s Hoover meeting, in words chillingly reminiscent of “Crucify him!” the mostly white crowd chants “deport them!” when a white minister attempts a “what would Jesus do?” mini-sermon.

We are at it again. We need to remember our history. We need to develop a working knowledge that U. S. history includes installing, supporting or colluding with Latin American dictators and their Mafia-like national guards and promoting economic “developmentalism” plans both of which, many historians conclude, have concentrated more and more wealth, land and power in the hands of fewer and fewer. We have been instrumental in creating the poverty pushing Latin Americans across our borders.

We need to develop a working knowledge of current “trickle down” developmentalist subsidies, tariffs and U. S. free trade agreements with Latin America. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a phased-in agreement signed by Canada, the U. S. and Mexico in 1992, was designed to make the countries safe for investors. That it may have done. Experts who look at economic policy from the perspective of workers and peasant farmers, however, conclude NAFTA has brought catastrophic suffering to already impoverished Mexico. For example, NAFTA’s lifting of export tariffs the big, subsidized U. S. producers of corn and beans had to pay allowed them to dump their products in Mexico well below the cost of production. The result has been, according to conservative estimates, the bankrupting of 1 ½ million small corn and bean farmers pushing them off their lands and into migration. Many of them are Native Americans pushed onto the latest leg of a hemispheric “Trail of Tears.”

Experts who look at economic policy from the perspective of small and medium Alabama farmers and ranchers conclude free trade agreements are also bringing economic suffering to Alabamians. Our once strong peanut producers are being hard-hit. Small and medium-sized Alabama beef ranchers, flower growers, tomato farmers and lumber mills are struggling to compete with cheap corporate-produced Argentine beef, Ecuadorian flowers, Mexican tomatoes and Canadian softwood.

And jobs? Fort Payne’s sock factories are in the Dominican Republic. In Huntsville, a Canadian-owned maquiladora, as low-end, foreign-owned assembly plants in Mexico are called, says it simply cannot operate without importing and abusing 900 human beings duplicitously referred to as “guest workers.” At the Joint Interim Patriotic Immigration Commission’s “fact-finding” meeting in Mobile, shipyard, oyster company, and seafood company owners politely testify they simply cannot operate without that most vulnerable of all worker—the guest worker far from home, legally bound to the employer who imports them, who speaks little English and who has incurred thousands of dollars in debts to get here. Meanwhile, predominantly black Perry County languishes in eternal underemployment, poverty and neglect. And the Poarch Creek Indian reservation in Escambia County languishes in eternal underemployment, poverty and neglect.

The borderline has come to the colorline has come to the picket line in Alabama and those of us who advocate for legal and illegal migrants are also off to a shaky start. We have been quick to assume that if migrants are right, farm and trade unionists concerned about the adverse affect of “guestworkers” on U. S. workers’ wages and working conditions must be wrong. We are quick to assume that because blatantly racist Minutemen are wrong, polite corporate owners insisting they need more “guests” must be right. This despite the fact Montgomery’s Southern Poverty Law Center has called the H-2 guestworker program an “inherently abusive modern day system of indentured servitude.” We have been quick to lament the failure of the U. S. Congress’s proposed Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill oblivious to its effort to extend this cruel system of “disposable workers” and to its proposed extension of the militarized border which since 2000 has sent 1,000 migrants to their deaths in Pima Co., AZ alone, including at least four little girls. We have been slow to be horrified by this new federal experiment which exchanges real peoples’ lives for hypothetical safety from hypothetical terrorists. The new noose.

The borderline has come to the colorline has come to the picket line in Alabama. This phase of our on-going civil rights struggle, as before, is about race, class, fear, small jobs and big money. It will be won when we insist on human dignity. We are in a struggle for our soul. It is going to be a long haul. It is not too late to get it right. Somewhere encoded deep in our DNA is the intuitive conviction that the politics of division is feeding a sinful socio-economic structure that is benefiting the few at the expense of the many. Somewhere deep in our DNA is the intuitive conviction that cruel, oppressive systems are bigger than the people, like slaves, segregated blacks, poor whites and illegal immigrants, caught up in them. We need to bring that deeply buried but nonetheless real intuition to the surface and allow it to work for us. Sí, se puede, Alabama. Eyes on the prize!

Ellin Sterne Jimmerson

Giving Tuesday: Charity or Justice?

The Second Cooler Main Graphic, KilpatrickToday is Giving Tuesday. I don’t know who started this but I’m willing to jump on board.

Each of us who give portions of our discretionary money has to make a decision. Do I give in ways that help change unjust systems?  Or do I give in ways that meet immediate needs? Justice or charity?

There is a story that illustrates the problem. There once were some people standing at the edge of a river. One of them noticed a baby floating down the river. She scooped the baby out of the water. She and her friends located a warm blanket, warm milk, and a warm home for the baby to live in. Meanwhile, another baby floated down the river. And another. The friends formed a committee to find warm blankets, warm milk, and warm homes for the many babies who were floating down the river.

Finally, someone asked, “Who is putting all these babies in the river? Why are they doing it? How can we stop the putting of babies in the river?”

Charity or justice? Meet immediate needs or change the system? How do we choose?

This is a fundamental problem artists, including filmmakers, face every day. How do we convince people who have limited amounts of discretionary income that justice is worth investing in?

The Second Cooler, my immigrant advocacy documentary narrated by Martin Sheen, helps pull back the curtain on reality. It helps give people interested in justice for unauthorized migrants as well as domestic laborers targets: the ending of free trade agreements, the need for a visa which would allow people without title to land and / or  large sums of money to come to the U. S. legally, the abolition of the guest worker program to name a few.

I made the film because I believed that if enough people bought the film, watched it, and absorbed the message, it would help bring about changes to an unjust system.

But what about the immediate life and death needs of displaced human beings — the illegal immigrant in the Sonora Desert right now, the child in foster care now because his parents were deported, the guest worker being robbed of wages as I write this post? Who helps them while the wheels of justice grind slowly?

I would like to suggest that this does not have to be an either / or decision. I would like to suggest that you buy a copy of The Second Cooler, watch it, and carefully think about the ways in which the system needs to change. And, just as importantly, that you think about what Comprehensive Immigration Reform as it was spelled out in S. 744, really is.

You can buy The Second Cooler and The Second Cooler Soundtrack, either in the DVD/CD format or as a digital download here: www.thesecondcooler.com.
I also would like to suggest that you make a contribution to one of these organizations which helps meet immediate needs. I don’t have a good opinion of many of the advocacy groups which are asking for a portion of your discretionary income, but I have a very good opinion of these. Those marked with an asterisk are also The Second Cooler partners.

Border Angels

Coalición de derechos humanos *

Detention Watch Network

Farmworker Association of Florida

Florida Legal Services

Humane Borders

New Mexico Faith Coalition for Immigrant Justice *

No More Deaths / No Más Muertes

North Carolina Justice Center *

Student Action With Farmworkers *

Toxic Free North Carolina *

 

In Memory of Leigh Anna Jimmerson: The Second Cooler

Anyone who has seen The Second Cooler knows that on the night of April 17, 2009, my daughter and her boyfriend were killed by a drunk driver in Huntsville, Alabama. Leigh Anna was 16 years old. Her boyfriend, Tad Joseph Mattle, was 19. The driver was an undocumented man from Mexico. I want to explain here why I included a “postscript” in the film about what happened that terrible night.

1913710_1173850593255_5670788_nBecause the film advocates for undocumented immigrants, there were people who felt the film would have more impact on audiences and help me achieve my purpose with the film if I made her death a bigger part of of it. Or, rather, making more of the fact that I forgave the man who killed her would help my purpose in making the film.

Others, after seeing an early version of the film wondered if it was a good idea to include any acknowledgement at all. They wondered whether it might appear self-serving or, worse, negatively affect the ability of the audience to reflect upon the content of the film itself. I, too, worried about both these things.

Yet, I felt I had no real choice but to acknowledge what happened. There were two reasons. The most important reason was that as an advocate, my mission is to pull back the curtain on reality, to expose reality as fully as I can. I concluded that I could not, in good conscience, suppress this piece of reality.

Taken April 17, 2009

Taken April 17, 2009

The second reason was that I believed that if I did not acknowledge her death in a way I thought might be helpful, that others would in ways that would not be helpful. Not 48 hours had passed after their deaths before some people were calling me “the worst mother ever” for forgiving the driver and Tad and Leigh Anna a couple of “stupid kids”.

Needless to say, her father, sister, and I grieve every day of our lives. And we miss, Tad, too, whom we absolutely adored, every single day. We miss the married couple they might have become. The children they might have had. But we cope and try to honor them in ways we feel they would have found meaningful.

Why am I telling you this now? Because on this coming April 17, the sixth anniversary of her death, I will be putting The Second Cooler into distribution. I do it in memory of LAJ and Tad.