Saturday, June 16, 2007

The seeds of freedom

This coming Tuesday is June 19...otherwise known as Juneteenth.

Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration of of the emancipation of the slaves in the United States. The significance of June 19 is that day in 1865, Major General Gordon Granger landed at Galveston, Texas and announced the order that the slaves had been freed. This was two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation, and the reasons for this could be one of many, including the desire to not let them know so owners could reap another harvest, to the fact that there weren't enough Union soldiers to enforce it until Granger arrived. Nevertheless, they were finally freed from their enslavement, and Juneteenth is the celebration of that day.

Slavery was both an economic issue, and a moral issue in America, and slaves, alongside free men and indentured servants, were the people that built America.

I love the poem by Langston Hughes about the people that built America, called Freedom's Plow, and in it he states,

With billowing sails the galleons came
Bringing men and dreams, women and dreams.
In little bands together,
Heart reaching out to heart,
Hand reaching out to hand,
They began to build our land.
Some were free hands
Seeking a greater freedom,
Some were indentured hands
Hoping to find their freedom,
Some were slave hands
Guarding in their hearts the seed of freedom,
But the word was there always:

Today, many people still come to America to build their lives here, with the seed of freedom in their hearts, and America all too often treats these people harshly. Today they may not be enslaved, but they still live in the hidden corners of society. They build our homes and businesses, and contribute to our world in silence. They are often largely shut out of both the economic and democratic processes, but nevertheless, immigrants have long been silent partners in the building of America.

Before the Civil War, days were dark,
And nobody knew for sure
When freedom would triumph
"Or if it would," thought some.
But others knew it had to triumph.
In those dark days of slavery,
Guarding in their hearts the seed of freedom,
The slaves made up a song:
Keep Your Hand on the Plow! Hold On!
That song meant just what it said: Hold On!
Freedom will come!

Labor and industry are the economic plows of our nation. With work and patience, the promise of freedom will be fulfilled. That is the silent thought that many people hold in their hearts, and the promise of America. Immigrants come to America to work and to create a better life for their families. We so often hear about the "costs" of immigration to our society, but these same people never speak of the benefits. Any true and rational economic analysis or policy decisions must include both the costs and the benefits of immigration.

According to the Dreams Across America website:

  • As of May 2006, 33,449 non-citizens served in the armed forces.

  • Undocumented workers pay nearly $7 billion into Social Security and $1.5 billion into Medicare every year, despite being ineligible to collect either of those benefits.

  • Undocumented immigrants are not eligible for any federal programs or services, including food stamps.

  • Immigrants are overwhelmingly willing to assimilate into American society and learn the English language, and the vast majority are completely bilingual by the second generation.

  • In 2005, companies founded by first-generation immigrants employed 450,000 workers and generated $52 billion in sales. 80% of these companies provide jobs in software and innovation/manufacturing-related services.

Immigrants are holding tight to the handle of America's plow. These are the people who seek to come to America legally and to fully integrate themselves into the American dream, but are all too often met by walls of hostility and a cumbersome bureaucratic process that needs reform and humanity. These working immigrants are the people that end up here "illegally" because the process fails them. These are the people who are separated from their children in an immigration process that values punishment over stable families. In fact, immigration violations are not legally a criminal offense. It's a civil violation. Immigrants are not criminals in our legal system, but they're often treated as such.

Immigrants provide value to our economy and to the American way of life. The vast majority of immigrants do not "sneak" across our borders, but come with the open intent to build their lives as Americans, and want to do the "right thing" but our system needs reform.

The plan and the pattern is here,
Woven from the beginning
Into the warp and woof of America:

Those words are at the very foundation of the concept of America. All men are created equal. All. We never said that all Americans are created equal. All.

So here we are today hearing hateful, angry and sometimes violent words about those who've come to America with freedom in their hearts. It's still an economic issue, whether it be enslaved men and women hidden in the dark, ugly corners of American society, or immigrants hiding themselves by remaining just outside the mainstream of America.

Many people that come to America today are economic refugees of globalization, but we talk about commerce and capitalism and globalization out of one side of our mouths and about the immigration "problem" out of the other. We talk about the American way and our values and morals, then we seek to hoard our freedom for ourselves.

It seems that so many want open borders for money and for trade, but certainly not open borders for people. They want the benefits without responsibility for the consequences. Few are asking for an "open border", but many believe we must extend a humanitarian hand to those who have been economically displaced from their homes by the ill effects of globalization, as globalization has most assuredly come on America's terms. People that come here from other nations are often economic refugees from their homeland. It's not up to America to fix the problems of the world, but it is up to us to do our part and accept our responsibility.

Economic disparity in the world creates vast movements of people. It always has. What are we going to do about that? We certainly contribute to the problem, and we need to be responsible for some mitigation of the effects.

It is not a zero sum game, my friends. There is no Us vs Them. America isn't just a place...a continent...a slab of land to be hoarded and coveted like gold. America is a dream and an idea. It holds the secret of freedom that all people hold in their hearts.

A long time ago, but not too long ago, a man said:
His name was Jefferson. There were slaves then,
But in their hearts the slaves believed him, too.
And silently took for granted
That what he said was also meant for them.

People all over the world still believe that what Jefferson said was also meant for them. Who are we to tell them it wasn't?



Blogger Todd said...

glad you got some nice recognition for this great post!

6/19/2007 02:13:00 PM  
Blogger Terry said...

thanks, Todd. I appreciate it!

6/20/2007 12:56:00 PM  

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