This past week, news broke that the US government is “now systematically taking children as young as 53 weeks old away from their parents at the border, thanks to new directives issued by the Trump administration” (link).

There’s always bad news in the world, yes. And we can argue all day about what constitutes “uniquely” bad news, or “major” shifts in already-harmful policy. We can (and should) talk about how immigration policy in particular has been a bipartisan travesty, and not solely a result of Trump. We can (and should) talk about how separating children from their families as a matter of law has happened before in this country.

But let’s at least agree that this is bad. This is wrong. This is one of those “if you had been alive when (historical injustice) happened, what role would you have played?” moments. This is connected to larger trends. And we have a responsibility to do something about it. So what do we do?

I want to share a few links and resources here, partly informed by my TEDx Talk (which was about the power of taking big, overwhelming issues and “zooming in” on them to create specific actions), and partly by this quote from Mariame Kaba (@prisonculture on Twitter):

Questions I regularly ask myself when I’m outraged about injustice:
1. What resources exist so I can better educate myself?
2. Who’s already doing work around this injustice?
3. Do I have the capacity to offer concrete support & help to them?
4. How can I be constructive?

I feel like that’s a very elegant, practical way to think about this. Even for people who do organizing work every day, it can be overwhelming. For those us just getting involved, or who have never identified as an activist “or political” in any way, it can be frustrating to figure what you can actually do. I hope the following can be useful.

Links and Resources for More Information
“Raising awareness” on its own may not be enough to disrupt injustice, but that disruption isn’t going to happen without it. Here are a few articles (some news, some analysis) looking at both the United States’ very recent and relatively recent immigration policy; one simple action idea is to share one of these on Facebook and/or Twitter every day for the next week.

Parents, children ensnared in ‘zero-tolerance’ border prosecutions (Arizona Daily Star)

Alma Jacinto covered her eyes with her hands as tears streamed down her cheeks. The 36-year-old from Guatemala was led out of the federal courtroom without an answer to the question that brought her to tears: When would she see her boys again? Jacinto wore a yellow bracelet on her left wrist, which defense lawyers said identifies parents who are arrested with their children and prosecuted in Operation Streamline, a fast-track program for illegal border crossers.

Border Patrol Kicked, Punched Migrant Children, Threatened Some with Sexual Abuse, ACLU Alleges (Newsweek)
Based on 30,000 pages of documents obtained through a records request, the report includes gruesome, detailed accusations of physical and mental abuse at the hands of officers.
Video: Chris Hayes on ‘despicable’ new Trump policy (MSNBC)
The United States government is now systematically taking children as young as 53 weeks old away from their parents at the border, thanks to new directives issued by the Trump administration.

Treatment and rhetoric about undocumented children put the Trump administration in a new category on hard-line immigration policy (Washington Post)
In an NPR interview earlier this month, White House Chief of Staff John F. Kelly was asked if using family separation as a “tough deterrent” to keep families from attempting to illegally immigrate into the United States was “cruel and heartless.” “I wouldn’t put it quite that way. The children will be taken care of — put into foster care or whatever,” he said.
Betsy DeVos Stirs Uproar By Saying Schools Can Call ICE On Undocumented Kids (HuffPo)
“Let’s be clear: Any school that reports a child to ICE would violate the Constitution. The Supreme Court has made clear that every child in America has a right to a basic education, regardless of immigration status. Secretary DeVos is once again wrong,” said Lorella Praeli, director of immigration policy and campaigns for the ACLU, in a statement. 

A BETRAYAL: The teenager told police all about his gang, MS-13. In return, he was slated for deportation and marked for death (ProPublica)
Confused, Henry told the agents he was already working with the police. He asked them to call Tony. Instead, after interrogating him, the ICE agents put him on a bus… He was headed to an ICE detention center full of young men suspected of being MS-13 members — the very same ones he had snitched on.

Who Is Already Doing This Work, and How Can We Support Them?
The answer to this question will be different in different communities, but I will use the Twin Cities as an example. If you’re here too, hopefully you can check these organizations out. If you’re not, a quick online search like “(your city or state) + immigrant rights organization” or something like that may turn up something.

From there, it may be a matter of showing up and getting directly involved, or showing up to an action organized by one of these groups (like this one from just a few days ago), or donating money, or organizing a fundraising event, or something else. But being plugged in, following these organizations on social media (now!), joining their email lists, etc. is an easy step.

The Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee
MIRAC is the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee. It is an all-volunteer grassroots organization that organizes the immigrant community and their allies to struggle for legalization for all and equality in all aspects of life. We struggle for legalization, for a moratorium on raids and deportations, and for drivers licenses for all regardless of immigration status. MIRAC was formed in Spring 2006 out of the huge immigrant rights marches. We’ve organized many protests, marches and other activities for immigrant rights in Minnesota since then. (Twitter | Facebook | IG)

Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota
Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota (ILCM) is a nonprofit agency that provides immigration legal assistance to low-income immigrants and refugees in Minnesota. ILCM also works to educate Minnesota communities and professionals about immigration matters, and advocates for state and federal policies which respect the universal human rights of immigrants. (Twitter | Facebook | IG)

Navigate MN

Mission: NAVIGATE/ Unidos MN  is a millennial driven Latinx based organization that builds power for gender, racial and economic justice. Navigate MN envisions a visible Latinx community with clear vehicles and tools to build intergenerational economic, cultural and political wealth and like this contribute to the wellbeing and the prosperity of all Minnesotans, regardless of socioeconomic status, race, immigration status, dis/ability and gender identity. (Twitter | Facebook)

There are also national organizations like United We Dream, the ACLU, the Immigrant Defense ProjectAmnesty International, RAICES, and others. Please feel free to add others in the comments.

Voting, Contacting Our Reps, and Holding Our Leaders Accountable
The upcoming elections offer opportunities beyond simply casting a ballot. A few thoughts:

1. Contact Your Elected Representatives. Find them here. Demand to know what their specific action plans are to address this. Call, email, Tweet, show up to town halls, and everything else. Make noise, especially if one of your reps is a moderate or on-the-fence. In can be something as simple as:

Dear (your rep): I am gravely concerned about new developments in the Trump administration’s immigration policy, especially the practice of separating children from their families. Please share what your plan is to address this.

Find more tips for contacting your reps here, here, and here.

2. Make Immigration Justice a Core Part of the 2018 Platform. Every politician running for office in the midterms should feel the pressure to come out strongly in favor of addressing this problem, abolishing ICE, and committing to the safety of these children and families. Let candidates know that in order to earn YOUR vote, they must have a clear, specific plan in place to address this injustice.

3. Vote. As I wrote above, the Democrats, and Obama in particular, don’t have a great track record when it comes to immigration policy. That being said, I would also argue that Trump’s normalization of hate, dehumanizing language, and policies designed to let ICE “off the leash” are something uniquely odious, and something very much worth fighting against now. Change is driven by grassroots movements, and my position is that while Democrats aren’t perfect, they can be pressured by those movements in ways that Republicans can’t. Voting for liberals won’t change anything by itself, but it can help clear the way for the movement work that will change things. So mark your calendars for the 2018 midterms, tell everyone you know to do the same, and send a big damn message.

Plug In. Stay Engaged. Commit. 

There’s a lot more to talk about here. We need to talk about direct action, underground railroads, and the disruption of business-as-usual. A sense of urgency is necessary. But this post is only meant to be a starting point– learn more, get connected, and be ready to act. I think one thing that intimidates people about activism is feeling like they have to have all the answers and solve all the problems on their own. But this is going to be a collective effort. It’s going to take ALL of us, plugging in where and when and however we can, combining our efforts to create change.

When you look at the large task before you, it can feel hopeless. So don’t look at that. Look at a small, specific piece of it. Email this post, or one of the links in it, to five of your friends or family members. Go through all the social media links and follow the organizations doing this work. Look into who’s running for what office where you live this fall. There’s no one magic answer to this problem; there’s just the work.

This is an older poem (in my book, it’s called “Cartpushers”), but it’s probably one that not many people have actually heard. I’m happy to finally get quality footage of a decent performance. We ran with a different title for the video, hopefully something a bit more evocative. Two quick notes:

1. This poem is about the first job I ever had, and is dedicated to all the cartpushers, cashiers, drivers, servers, bartenders, and other service workers out there. For me, a fundamental pillar of spoken word is the idea that everyone has a story, and every story matters. So one of the most powerful things we can do is tell the stories that most people never choose to hear.

2. This poem also, for me, illustrates something I really appreciate about slam poetry as a style (which is, of course, a generalization, since a slam poem can be whatever you want it to be… I’m thinking more about tropes/formulas/common approaches): this isn’t a poem that really “works” until you hear the last line. Everything else builds up to that. There aren’t a ton of IG-ready quotes to share; it’s really about the whole being more than the sum of its parts. I think spoken word is uniquely situated to build these little three-minute “experiences,” and this poem falls into that tradition.

As always, I appreciate when people buy my book, but I also like to make the text available:


It’s not rocket science. It’s a ten-foot piece of rope with a hook at the end; we got three of ‘em hanging in the equipment shed—one of ‘em is thicker, but a little shorter; one of them looks thin as shoelaces but it’s a half-foot longer. If you got first pick, take that one—looks flimsy, but trust me: you’ll break before it does. Try to keep up.

See, these are the days before robots, and this is a city where people leave their empty apartments, leave their empty SUVs and finally, leave their empty shopping carts. Here. For us. You can hook seven together with that rope and push ‘em back in. When it’s busy, grab ten. When it’s hell, stack thirty up and we’ll push ‘em in together.

Just be careful. Because these people: they’ll look right through you when they back out of those spots. When they take that corner at thirty miles per hour. When they forget that they forgot to use a blinker and cuss you out for walking through a crosswalk.

See, to that guy, we’re just background noise, uncredited extras in the eighty-year long made-for-TV romantic comedy that he calls life. We are neurons flickering stupidly, infantry stomping through the dreams he won’t remember upon awakening.

So make sure you wear comfortable shoes. Boots in the winter. Sneakers in the summer. Add pads as you grow older. Grow older. Learn to control a convoy of carts without that rope; just balance, coordination and will. Learn to control the fist that lives in your neck.

When these people just leave their carts sitting in the middle of a parking space, swallow. When they look right through you, swallow. When it’s fifteen below and a straightjacket would be warmer than these flimsy company coats and you’re working a double shift because you’ve heard rumors of layoffs, and the dapper manager saunters up and says how’s it goin’ chief? …swallow.

Understand: they will never understand this. The beauty of a parking lot at twilight, how the sky burns blue. The sweetness of every second when the big hand is on the eleven. The smile of the person who actually looks at you. We betray ourselves for seven dollars an hour. Our native language is white noise.

Cartpushers, cashiers, janitors, servers, bartenders: we are an army fighting a war we don’t believe in, in a country whose name we can’t pronounce, but we’re fighting. And we’re tired. But we’re fighting.

And we’re losing. But we’re fighting.

You get two fifteens and a half hour for lunch. Those breaks aren’t for your body, though. They’re for your spirit. See, with an eight-hour shift broken up into quarters, that’s just four two-hour shifts.

After punching in, chatting with the MOD and putting your gloves on, you can glance at your watch and say Wow. I’m almost halfway to being halfway done with half of half of half my shift. It makes the time fly right by.

You’ll be fine, kid. Just remember: smile. You’re representing the company. Remember: say hello to people when they come in.

And remember: when they look right through you, you’re still there.

My name wasn’t given to me/ it was given to the rest of the country…

I’ve been doing weekly write-ups of certain poems on Button Poetry’s channel, but I also wanted to highlight some older poems that are personal favorites of mine, which I’ll be doing once per month here. It’s a way to shout out some good work, and also to highlight some tools and tactics that poets use that might be useful to aspiring writers.

I remember my first time seeing this poem, and really being struck by G.’s line: “In Japan, your last name comes first; there is an emphasis on family. But in America, your nickname comes first, ’cause there is an emphasis on accessibility.” For me, that’s one of the most important functions of poetry: to call out what’s hiding in plain sight, to encourage all of us to think more critically, and more intentionally, about topics we’re not always encouraged to think deeply about. Everyone has a name; how much do you think about where yours came from? What does it mean to you? What does it express, and what does it not express? How do our names move with us as we move through the world? These are big questions.

The whole poem is a great example of using something “small” and personal (names) as an entry point to explore an issue that is much bigger. While all three poets approach that issue from different angles, with different experiences, the overall “thesis statement” of the poem is laser-focused. This is a useful thing for aspiring poets to remember: there’s a difference between a poem about a topic and a poem that has a specific thing to say about that topic. This is a poem that knows what it is, so to speak, and communicates its message all the more powerfully because of that.

Feel free to share any of your own thoughts or observations about the poem (or its topic) in the comments.

Further Reading: