The following essay is a transcript of my opening remarks for the “Lights for Liberty” vigil at the Texas State Capitol in Austin, Texas. It has not been edited.
May 24, 1947, a ship left port in Normandy, France. The name of the ship was the S.S. Marine Flasher, which made transatlantic journeys between 1946–1948, carrying Holocaust survivors out of Europe, as it did again on that day. 20 of them.
On June 2, that ship arrived at Ellis Island, New York, carrying 26 passengers, 22 of them immigrants. One of those passengers was an 18 year-old mechanic born in Marseille, France — the youngest solo traveler on the voyage.
After arriving, he journeyed to Buffalo, New York. On November 13, 1950, his family joined him … and they never left. We never left.
The 18 year-old mechanic from Marseille had my mom, and my mom gave birth to me. This is the story of how my family came to America.
Not everyone’s story’s the same. My family was greeted by Lady Liberty — her bright light shining in the darkness. Today’s families are being greeted by darkness itself.
Friends, Texans, Americans — these are indeed dark times. The thing about darkness is it stops us from seeing: the skeletons in our closet, the ghosts from our past, the demons inside us, and the monsters among us.
Families, journeying hundreds of miles, some from as far away as Brazil, seeking safety and asylum and a chance to start over, often with just the clothes on their back, are being systematically and inhumanely quarantined. Right now. As we speak.
Tens of thousands of people. Stacked like sardines in a semi-secretive network of camps and prisons. Some so close to us right now that you could get in your car when you leave here tonight, and arrive at several such camps before sunrise.
Detainment. Heartbreak. Cruelty. Neglect. Malnutrition. Dehumanization. Even Death … Mere steps away from these steps that we stand upon.
Children ripped from their mothers’ arms. Held in cages in the unforgiving summer heat. Lady Liberty’s torch burning those she once welcomed.
The Statue of Liberty’s light shines and the inscription says: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Today, it shines to say, “Look at our tired, our poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
Let us not mince words: What is happening on our border, in our country, in our state, is more than inhumane and unjust, more than tragic and myopic. It is fascism. And it is genocide.
That last one is not my word for it … it’s the UN’s … as outlined in 1948 by part E of Article 2 in Resolution 260, defining genocide as: “forcibly transferring children of one ethnic group to another group.”
That’s what we’re doing. Our officials admitted as much. Who knows what they’re not admitting to.
A former White House occupant once famously described American Democracy as “a shining city on a hill.” Less than four decades later, our current White House occupant believes concentration camps ought to be the hill that shining city dies upon.
But this is not the root of our demise. No — each camp a wilted leaf; a product of the stem-rot of human decency itself.
Our current administration promised to address the humanitarian crisis at our border. As well it should. For it’s created a humanitarian crisis at our border.
I know our current administration made immigrants a focus of their platform. As well they have. But in this case … the words focus … and concentrate … are not synonyms.
We hear all the time that we’re a divided nation. Well, we’ve been divided before. On slavery. On Native American removal. On North vs South. On segregation. On women’s suffrage. On interracial marriage. On marriage equality. On the 46% of Americans who voted for our current President … and the 47% who voted for the woman who lost.
Yet if we can’t join united against babies in cages, fascism, concentration camps, and genocide … then, you tell me: what’s left to unite for?
As a nation we’ve proven time and time again that we’ll do the right thing when it’s in our self-interest to do so. Yet by doing what we’re doing as a nation now, we’re sending a loud and clear message to the world: that all comers are not welcome here, that all humans don’t have the same rights, and that the camps along our borders is in our self-interest.
And so I call upon all of us … all those in elected office, and all those who wish to seek it — whether in Austin, at this Capitol, or in Washington, at our nation’s capitol: Prove that genocide is not our self-interest.
Close down these camps.
Drive out this darkness.
And let the lights of liberty shine for all.
And to all of you here tonight: You are here because, somewhere, you yet have light within you.
As I said earlier, these are dark times. In dark times, be a light. And if you can’t be a light, be a mirror, so that others can see the light in themselves.
And when you leave here tonight … don’t let it go out. Darkness shall not prevail, for as long as there’s a light.