What Do We Do? / by Karie Luidens

Keenan Constance Unsplash.jpg

It’s been a while since I’ve added to this notebook.

I confess it’s because I’ve felt paralyzed. Concentration camps. So we’re finally at that point—the point in the national conversation where whistle-blowing lawyers and indignant lawmakers and an outraged public are rallying against the human rights atrocities our government is committing against people seeking asylum at our southern border.

Now what?

What do we do?

Once the whistles are blown, the detention facilities’ conditions are exposed, and the protests are held?

I wish I knew.

Six months ago, when I first started taking notes on this subject… did I hope to accomplish something tangible for the people caught in the border’s growing humanitarian crisis, or just to learn about and shine a light on what was happening out here in the Southwest? Did I really believe that sending letters to the editor and attending legislative sessions and hauling water out onto migrant trails would “make a difference” in some way? Maybe; maybe not. These activities at least felt like a way for one individual to do her part.

But what if every individual does her part and it still only amounts to a lot of words and empty gestures? Clamoring at the gates of power but never breaking in, or breaking prisoners out?

What do we do?

Six months. I’ve gone from “What Do You Have to Say?” to “What Do We Do?”

Meanwhile, in those six months thousands more people have fled their homes and arrived at the U.S.-Mexico border, desperate for refuge. Thousands have passed through the horrors of our detention systems, some separated from their family members, some held for weeks on end in filthy clothes, crowded on cold floors. Some contracting diseases from the exhaustion and malnutrition and tight quarters and toilet water. Some getting lice or scabies. Some getting violently ill. Some dying in U.S. custody.

What do we do?

And, sitting here paralyzed and hurting to the point of numbness, I interrogate myself: how much grief am I allowed as a safe white witness once removed, someone who reads firsthand descriptions and hears firsthand accounts from workers and fellow volunteers, but has never experienced all this suffering myself and likely never will? How traumatized, or paralyzed, can I permit myself to feel?

This sentiment rang true in a tragically beautiful essay I read this morning: “Holding the Pain” by Amye Archer on Longreads.

I’m two, three times removed. This is something I still wrestle with. Something that has taken up countless billable hours at my therapist’s office. How much pain am I allowed? Who decides? I didn’t know these children, didn’t experience this tragedy, but I ache for them. How sad am I allowed to feel?

Maybe that’s why my words went dry here. In the absence of meaningful action this whole notebook began to feel like an endless litany of complaints, cycling ever back to my own emotions rather than expanding outward into the world, reaching those who need to be reached.

I don’t know what’s next. If you have any ideas, by all means, share.

For now I guess I’ll conclude with a couple links that I hope are useful for those looking to overcome their own horrified paralysis and step up on behalf of those who need our action.

Here’s How You Can Help Fight Family Separation at the Border

Lawyers, translators, donations, protest.

JUNE 15, 2018

Here’s a list of organizations that are mobilizing to help the influx of immigrants crossing the Texas-Mexico border

Government agencies are grappling to respond to the number of immigrants coming into the country. Many tax-funded shelters housing immigrants are overcrowded, and there are reports some have substandard living conditions. We’ve compiled a list of organizations that are mobilizing to help.

JUNE 18, 2018 UPDATED: JUNE 25, 2019
The Texas Tribune