In this moment of heightened political tension, fear, uncertainty, and mass protest, it is important to get our bearings through the work of leaders and organizations who have been in the struggle to end poverty, militarism, racism, and ecological devastation for many years, and will still be in the struggle long after the Trump administration has ended (though, for the good of our communities and the world, we do hope that point in time will be considerably sooner rather than later).
Here are some statements put out by leaders in our network about the recent spate of Executive Orders coming from the Trump White House, especially the immigration ban that is directed at seven predominantly Muslim countries. Other statements included here concern this political moment more generally, or links to further resources for considering the historical context of the period of time we are living through. We already knew that we were living in a kairos moment—a time that calls for opportune and decisive action and a biblical term for a moment when the eternal breaks into history—but the events of the past two weeks underscore just how significant this moment is for the breakthrough of new movements and awakenings that point in a radical new direction for our society and our world.
The Rev. William J. Barber, II, of Repairers of the Breach and the Moral Mondays movement, made this statement concerning the recent Executive Orders, viewing them in the context of the high ideals enshrined in the Constitution and the symbol of the Statue of Liberty:
‘The United States Constitution expressly establishes freedom of religion as a core American value. Furthermore, our deepest religious values call us to welcome and not to refuse our brothers and sisters. When these words:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
were placed on lady liberty, it did not mean only some, or only white, or only non-Muslims. This ban on travelers, even children, from Muslim-majority and Middle Eastern nations, these threats against Mexicans and others who try to enter our country at our southern border, are the first steps in a Trump-era agenda that criminalizes faith, nationality, and people of color, and it flies in the face of the American and moral values we hold dear. These acts smell of racism and reek of xenophobia. These acts are an antithesis to moral values which declare,
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
They will make us less safe, and weaken our democracy. We do not—we will not—ban, register, or deport people based on their religion, their country of origin, or their skin color—not Muslims, not Mexicans, not Syrians—not anyone.’
Rev. Barber expanded on his statement in his call for a political Pentecost for today in Houston, Texas.
In the wake of the immigration order, many have invoked the symbol of the Statue of Liberty as a counterweight to the vision of America espoused by the Trump administration. The Kairos Center’s John Wessel-McCoy previously wrote about this symbol and the lines from Emma Lazarus’ poem in the context of Wall Street in his open letter of thanks to fasting OUR Walmart workers:
‘Yesterday we stood in Battery Park and gazed out into the New York harbor at the Statue of Liberty. We read Emma Lazarus’ poem, “The New Colossus.” … I’ve been thinking about giants ever since. A Colossus, after all, is a kind of giant. Some giants are good and others are evil. The Statue of Liberty was conceived as a good giant — a grand, beautiful Colossus raising her torch high and welcoming the tired, poor, and homeless immigrant to the United States—to the land of freedom and plenty. Imagine that—America welcoming immigrants! (And you taught me that the artist originally envisioned her as a Black woman!)
Then again, there’s other kinds of giants stalking the land. Wall Street is a giant. Walmart is a giant. And that got me thinking about the saying, “Every Colossus has feet of clay.”’
Leaders from directly affected communities, like the New York Taxi Workers’ Alliance—which organizes among a predominantly Muslim and immigrant community of cab drivers—were quick to condemn the immigration order. Courageously, the Taxi Workers went on strike for several hours during the protests at John F. Kennedy airport, refusing to pick up passengers going to and from JFK:
‘Our 19,000-member- strong union stands firmly opposed to Donald Trump’s Muslim ban. As an organization whose membership is largely Muslim, a workforce that’s almost universally immigrant, and a working-class movement that is rooted in the defense of the oppressed, we say no to this inhumane and unconstitutional ban … Today, drivers are joining the protest at JFK Airport in support of all those who are currently being detained at the airport because of Trump’s unconstitutional executive order. Drivers stand in solidarity with refugees coming to America in search of peace and safety and with those who are simply trying to return to their homes here in America after traveling abroad. We stand in solidarity with all of our peace-loving neighbors against this inhumane, cruel, and unconstitutional act of pure bigotry.’
The Taxi Workers Alliance of Pennsylvania also stopped all service at the Philadelphia International Airport during the protests.
The New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, an immigrant-led movement that struggles to “give voice to immigration injustices and enact policies that reflect values of hospitality, justice, and dignity,” has spoken up against the executive order through a series of statements made by its leaders:
After the election, the NSM also provided a resource on how to respond to Trump’s anti-immigration agenda, which called for a “massive escalation of our faith rooted work.” You can read this resource here.
Other organizations and movements likewise provided resources for responding to Trump’s agenda following his inauguration or the November election. Iraq Veterans Against the War sent a contingent of veterans and faith leaders to Senator John McCain’s Congressional office with the request to meet him and demand that he vote NO on the confirmation of Rex Tillerson for Trump’s Secretary of State. After hours of waiting and testifying, most of the IVAW members were arrested by DC police (they have since been released).
IVAW released this statement about the action:
‘Our action on Thursday was an opportunity to draw a line in the sand and let Congress members know we won’t sit by idly as decisions are made that will devastate our country and our planet for generations to come. We are ready to take the fight to their doors, offices, and the halls of power. IVAW is stepping into this year with a renewed commitment to push back on decision makers in and outside of Congress and to provide the training to our veteran community to be able to take the risks that are needed to raise awareness and dial up pressure, that are aligned with our experiences and moral code.’
In the past week, IVAW has expressed its anger and horror at the Muslim ban, which, according to veterans, will hurt the United States’ standing in Muslim nations and hurt, rather than improve, our national security. The ban includes—and indeed, has already detained—numerous citizens of Iraq who assisted US military during the Iraq War.
Put People First! PA explained that the election put two visions of the United States before voters—the Trump vision of fear of the other and the desire to roll back the civil rights advancements of recent years, and the Clinton vision of an inclusive United States that provides for everyone as long as they work hard enough—but that neither of these visions “fits the reality that we, as everyday people, know: People are struggling with poverty and economic decline, from every racial and ethnic background, every gender, every ability and every religion, from rural and urban areas.”
Instead, Put People First is “creating new choices”:
‘Put People First believes that Pennsylvania can have a future in which poor and working-class people come together across all lines of division. If we unite, share our stories, and commit to our struggles and each other, we can take powerful action to change things. We, the everyday people of Pennsylvania, can shift what is politically possible.
Our formula is simple. We unite around our basic needs and see them as human rights. We bring together people who’ve never been brought together before. We wrestle with our assumptions. We build community. We love each other.
We are the ones that we’ve been waiting for. When we’re united, nothing can stop us.’
Chris Grove, director of the International Network for Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ESCR-Net), writes about the political context of the rise of Donald Trump, and about the potential of human rights as a grassroots, transformative response to Trump’s America:
‘The election of Donald Trump is the most recent manifestation of a politics of fear and exclusion that is affecting every region of the world. This politics taps into serious concerns that arise from a faltering economic model and growing inequality, corporate capture of state institutions, and uncertainty in the face of rapid and precarious change. However, Trump and others address these legitimate anxieties and grievances with a deliberately misplaced analysis of both the root causes and the solutions, which promise to further entrench the socioeconomic and political insecurity that threaten so many communities within and beyond the United States. … [E]merging human rights movements in the US and their connections to similar movements in all regions of the world have perhaps never been more important … I am convinced that human rights—as a movement emerging from those affected by injustice, actively critiquing systemic inequalities, and affirming of our common and interdependent humanity—offers a transformative alternative to a politics of fear and exclusion.’
Grove references the Common Charter for Collective Struggle in his statement, which was affirmed by 150 representatives of ESCR-Net members from over 40 countries (including the Kairos Center).
Finally, in strategizing a way forward on the struggle against the immigration order and other recent events, it is useful to revisit the words of the Kairos Center’s Willie Baptist following November’s election, on the dangers and opportunities of the present movement—specifically, the opportunity to reveal the contradictions of our unjust economic system and to unite the poor and dispossessed across lines of division to build a New Poor People’s Campaign for today:
‘So I think that beneath the dangers we should see the opportunity. Historically dangers have always come with opportunities. Because of the opportunities, that’s why there’s dangers. The powers that be, the only way that they can respond—because they can’t guarantee the homeless a house, or people health care, and they can’t guarantee an education to our kids—the only thing they have is this racial politics. And the way that they play this racial politics is to attack and isolate one section and then turn sections against each other. That’s how they play it. But they can’t eliminate the crisis, that’s their problem, and the crisis is what we have in common. …
And so I think that the Poor People’s Campaign and the efforts along those lines of uniting the poor and dispossessed around the issues they have in common is what we ought to do. It’s the only real defense of any sector of the population: The struggle for our unity and our organization. In difficult times we’ve got to close ranks. Closing ranks means organizing, organizing, organizing, and building community, and building support for each other. …
I think the more we put at the forefront the development of leaders and uniting leaders around the poor and dispossessed—that is, the people who are most hurting from the crisis—the more the crisis can be used as a basis of really striking a blow at the arguments of the forces that we’re up against. They’d like to make it a racial thing, and an anti-immigrant thing, and an anti-Muslim thing, to evade that common hurt and pain that we all feel. And I think the opportunities lie in us uncovering that and bringing it out into the open, so that everyone that’s hurting can come together and not be thrown into a fight against each other.
The danger is that we fight each other, the opportunity is that we have a basis to unite, on the basis of health care and all the things that are hurting every one of us, I don’t care what color we are. …
Trump can’t deliver. He ain’t going to be able to deliver. And that’s when he’s going to get raggedy and these people that voted for him, they’re going to be looking for answers. If we have leaders that can provide those answers, we’re going to build the kind of movement that we need to build.’