Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Bring me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses...EXCEPT...

I'm getting a little sick by the treatment of not just our own children, but children around the world.  Here in the US, our inner cities are inundated with gun violence.  Death by gun has simply become a part of life for kids who live in places like Newark, East St. Louis, and Chicago.  In addition, guns in our schools have become common place.  Going into June, we were averaging over one school shooting a week (1.37 according to data from Everytown for Gun Safety).  Summer came just in time to see images of angry people at our southern border chasing traumatized children from Honduras and El Salvador away (my personal favorites were the woman who held a placard reading "Not My Kid, Not My Problem", and a man with one simply stating "Who Cares?").

When the Puritans set sail for the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630, John Winthrop gave one of the most famous sermons in American history: "A Model of Christian Charity".  Many believe this sermon is the crux of what would become American Exceptionalism - an ideal where many Americans believe we are the example for the world.  It's no coincidence that the Puritans themselves were trying to escape a corrupt Church of England, and sought religious and moral freedom in the New World.  Basically, they were looking for a place where they could be themselves.  An image from Winthrop's sermon has become iconic in our national rhetoric: "For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill.  The eyes of all people are upon us."  That image of a shining city has been invoked by many politicians; most famously Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan.  It presents us as a beacon of hope for the rest of the world to see.  Perhaps this is what served to inspire poet Emma Lazarus when she wrote:
Bring me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door

That poem would be placed at the base of the Statue of Liberty.  When you see what's going on with the children of Central America, and you see how we have been treating them...those words hurt.  When did we go from a nation of "Send them to us!" to a nation of "They're not our problem!"  In addition, I'm appalled by the treatment of our own children.  I was with friends recently, and the subject of my former student, who was shot and killed in June, came up.  Someone asked about the city of Newark and why it's so bad.  I answered with one single word: Poverty.  Before I could say something else, a woman (who claims to be a devout Christian) snarled "Well there shouldn't be any poverty!  God knows I'm paying enough of my damn money to those kids!"

I look at Newark and Honduras and I see the same thing: two places ravaged by corruption, drugs, gang violence and poverty.  That's pretty sad.  I also see two governments who have turned their backs on their children.  No decisions or policies are put in place anymore with children in mind - and that's not just here in the US.  It's gone global.  The personhood of corporations has taken precedent over that of our own kids.  The welfare of corporations, and their shareholders, takes priority over the welfare of our children.  Think about that for a minute.

In September of 1924 the Geneva Convention produced what it called "The Geneva Declaration of the Rights of the Child".  This was issued in the wake of World War I when the world, collectively, demonstrated what horrific destruction we were capable of.  In lieu of what was called The Great War, we all stepped back and realized our youngest and most vulnerable were truly our most important.  So much so, they deserved their own rights - separate from those of nations themselves.  Take a second to read them and ask yourself if our children are being afforded these rights.  You may be afraid to answer.

1.) The child must be given the means requisite for its normal development, both materially and spiritually.
2.) The child that is hungry must be fed; the child that is sick must be nursed; the child that is backward must be helped; the delinquent child must be reclaimed; and the orphan and the waif must be sheltered and secured.
3.) The child must be the first to receive relief in times of stress.
4.) The child must be put in position to earn a livelihood, and must be protected against every form of exploitation.
5.) The child must be brought up in the consciousness that its talents must be devoted to the service of fellow men.