When did we get so angry?
The local reaction—and angry overreaction—to the news that unaccompanied children detained by the federal government may be housed temporarily on Joint Base Cape Cod, paints a sad and sorry picture of the dismal state of the public discourse in our community, in our commonwealth, and in our nation—and is a stark reminder of the regretful lack of compassion and understanding by many in our midst who oppose the idea of providing refuge for children without even knowing the details of their proposed brief visit.
There is an angst and a discontent that pervades our global society today, from continent to continent, from community to community. International discourse has turned into international disarray. Our incessant bombardment from the 24-hour news cycle provides constant reminders of the unrest and upheaval in the name of hatred, anger and disagreement, from Damascus to Donetsk.
Here at home, many have joined that chorus of negativity, using the potential of briefly housing immigrant children as a club to pound home their partisan message, and ignoring the simple facts that to date, no children have come to our peninsula in search of kindness, and that said request for kindness, even if fulfilled, is temporary. A collection of naysayers has turned a humanitarian issue of compassion into a political issue of opposition.
I have always seen our community and the larger Cape community as an antidote to the madness over the bridges and across the oceans. That is, until this inimical display of fear and anger in response to the news that our local military installation may be a temporary site to provide food, shelter, and medical care to abandoned children demonstrated the ugly underbelly of rigidity and intolerance here on our peninsula. A demonstration at the Otis Rotary this week sent a clear and unwelcoming message that when it comes to compassion, the Cape is a closed campus.
I am sad. I am disappointed. Yet, I am resolute in my optimism and hope that the dark forces that have polarized our community on this issue can be neutralized by hope and compassion. The demonstration of kindness and faith by many Falmouthites who held a rally of their own this week, buttressed by the simple theme that “Compassion is a Cape Cod value,” reignited a sense of community in many that had been dampened by the week’s events.
Yes, compassion is a Cape Cod—and a Falmouth—value. That simply, but powerfully, says it all. We can debate immigration policy and point fuming fingers of blame to a wide variety of politicians and policy makers on this issue, but the counter-protesters got it right. This isn’t about whether George or Barack shoulder the blame. This isn’t about masking political opposition as political activism, as the protesters from the Otis Rotary attempted to do. It’s about children having fled oppression, violence, and despair for hope, the simple hope of a better day in the greatest nation on Earth. They will not linger here in the United States and here on Cape Cod, but the way they were treated before they even arrived will.
While these kids will likely not get the opportunity to immigrate here like many of our ancestors, they deserve to be treated humanely while they are here on our soil. Many preceeded these youngsters in their quest for a better tomorrow. Their journey was memorialized in a poem:
“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-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Sound familiar? That excerpt from “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus is inscribed on a plaque at the foot of the Statue of Liberty. There are no disclaimers of a minimum age, length of stay, or nation of origin. Maybe we should have a copy engraved on the Bourne Bridge to remind the kindness opponents of those simple concepts, and of the fact that compassion is indeed a Cape Cod value.