As I sit down to write this column, I am filled with a sense of overwhelming responsibility to devote whatever small platform I may have to express my sense of grief and rage at the fact that — right now, as I type this — my country is operating concentration camps.
I realize my terminology may anger some people who wish to believe better of our country – the same country that was instrumental in closing the camps in Nazi Germany – but sadly the term is accurate. Some, like Liz Cheney, may wish to argue with my choice of words, but experts on the subject are coming forward to verify the terrible truth. There can be no rational denial of this fact, in the same way that no credible source today can legitimately deny the reality of climate change. The United States is running concentration camps, and we should all be concerned and outraged.
This isn’t even the first time that our country has resorted to such a racist and fascist tactic. During World War II, people of Japanese descent were forcefully moved from their homes and put in euphemistically named “internment camps”. (Apparently a thesaurus will protect us from the evil we do.) On June 18, 2019, actor and activist George Takei Tweeted: “I know what concentration camps are. I was inside two of them, in America. And yes, we are operating such camps again.”
Takei has been outspoken about his personal childhood experience of his family being moved – at gunpoint – from his home and into a horse shelter before being moved into a newly built camp. His perspective is an important one, as he has firsthand experience as to what it means to have one’s human dignity stripped away in an act that is at once both inhumane and perfectly legal.
What does all this have to do with Paganism, or with queer issues, you might ask? It is relevant because of our history. Queer people were also numbered among those imprisoned and tortured in the nightmarish camps of Nazi Germany. The pink triangle is a dark reminder of that horrific time. We have a tremendous responsibility to never forget as well as to be vigilant, sounding the call when we see the signs of systematic dehumanization rising up in our own institutions and cultures.
In much the same way that queer people, Pagans, and other religious minorities have been “othered” by society in order to keep us disempowered, immigrants coming to this country (many of whom are legally seeking asylum) are falsely being portrayed as a threat. This is a time-honored tactic that seeks to subdue and terrorize minorities, scapegoating them for societal problems in an effort to get the masses on board with their subjugation. In many different points of our history, this has been done to great effect, targeting the poor and most vulnerable in society and then blaming them for the plight of citizens, even when that plight can be directly connected to the actions of corporations and the wealthy.
Immigrants, whether here legally or otherwise, are generally less likely to commit crimes. Those who are here illegally aren’t eligible for most federal assistance programs, despite often paying taxes into the system. Racial minorities and the poor are demonstrably not to blame for our country’s economic and social issues. American billionaire CEOs, however, cannot be exempted quite so easily.
Some will be quick to point out that these camps are different than their Nazi counterparts. This is true, but only to the degree in which they have been implemented. The Nazi camps would be more appropriately called death camps, but it is important to know that they didn’t start that way. They began much as they have here in the US: as a means to detain a segment of the population for political purposes.
Currently the US is detaining thousands of immigrants in inhumane conditions, with inadequate access to proper food, clothing, hygiene, or medical care. At least six children have died in detention camps since December 2018. Regardless of a person’s citizenship status, a civilized society works toward the ease of suffering and the betterment of conditions for everyone. Sadly, the United States – once thought of as the red, white, and blue bastion of global freedom (even if that was largely just propaganda) — is showing its true colors: the filthy green of capitalist greed.
Corporations are currently profiting off of migrant detention, making them complicit in crimes against humanity. My home state of California is second only to Texas in the number of these camps run by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), which, according to reporting from Business Insider, runs camps in every state, collectively totaling nearly 400.
I am fully aware of the fact that the United States has never truly been “the land of the free” for everyone. Our shameful history of genocide, slavery, institutionalized racism, misogyny, homophobia, and religious persecution cannot be ignored if we are to have any success in healing those societal ills. All of these play out, in some form, in our current humanitarian crises.
I’m not here to put all of the blame on Trump; he is merely an opportunist who was able to successfully key-in to the very worst that our collective psyche has to offer, and has thus become the embodiment of our demons. To blame him without looking within allows those demons to grow and fester, and will do nothing to address them. Demons are not banished so much as dismantled and transformed, in my opinion – a process that takes a lot of hard work and not an insignificant amount of magic.
Regardless of our individual political leanings, we should all be able to agree that every human being is entitled to be treated respectfully and humanely by our governments. For those who do not agree, this is not a difference of opinion but one of basic human values. How anyone can look at the current situation and see families and children subjected to overcrowding and squalor and not be moved makes me question the morality of my fellow citizens. If “American lives” are more important than any other lives, that sounds to me suspiciously like every other fascist ideology ever to have stained the face of human history.
Some will dismiss this piece as “virtue signaling,” a term often used as an attempted insult when referencing the expression of one’s personal values. So be it. If this is such a signal, then let it shine far and wide. Let it inspire others to do the same and to stand up and speak out for what is right and good. I believe in respecting human beings simply because they are alive. I believe that every one of us (no matter how we got here!) is entitled to basic respect and care. In one of the wealthiest nations in the world we can certainly find ways to care for everyone. It is not naive to think that this is possible, but it will take a major shift in how we value each other and the world. (What a lucky thing that we have magic on our side.)
Today we are seeing the justification for the systematic dehumanization of a specific group of people. I assert that there is never any reason to do this, and that to do so is an abhorrent and evil act. Once we make that step toward dehumanization – once we say it is okay to treat some people as less than human – that’s where we all lose. All of us: Black. Asian. Latino. Muslim. Jew. Woman. Gay. Trans. Pagan. We’re all next on the list.
History has laid this out for us before. We know where it goes; we don’t need to “wait and see.” We already waited, and we already saw. Some have already died. People are being abused. Children are being neglected. Right now! No more.
These are my values. This is what I will stand for, and I hope to encourage others to stand up for this as well. It is important – now more than ever before in our lifetimes — to stand up and speak out against these grievous offenses to human dignity. Whatever platforms we have, we must use them – blogs, social groups, protests in the street, circles with our covens. Speak out, do magic, write letters, make calls, make signs, go to protests.
Together we will shine a light, even in just some small way, to help transform the darkness. Call me an optimist, but pessimism never got anyone anywhere.
(For ways to help migrant children at the border, the author recommends this article.)