This is who we are.

Today, instead of church, I took the kids to a rally at the Shenandoah Valley Juvenile Detention Center. Immigrant teens housed there allege that they have been tortured and abused–tied to chairs with bags over their heads and left there for days, given inadequate and cold meals, put in solitary for things like dropping a pencil. These teens, to be clear, are actual unaccompanied minors–it’s a coincidence that they are in the news at the same time as the children who have been torn from their families at the border. But both of those cases ask the question, “Who are we going to be? How are we going to treat our neighbors?” They both rest on the deepest instincts we have as humans, to protect the vulnerable.

All week, I’ve been waking up in panicked tears imagining the pain of those mothers whose children–some of them preverbal–were taken from them. I am dizzy with disgust when I realize that this whole atrocity was carried out so carelessly that there is no plan at all for helping to unite these children with their parents. No wonder some of these parents have killed themselves. I would have a hard time not doing the same, honestly, in that situation.

And then to hear it brushed off by administration spokespeople, saying it’s like boarding school or summer camp–I don’t care if it’s a palace (which it’s clearly not), taking children from their parents is child abuse, no matter where you house them. These are dark times. When my grandchildren learn about this moment in history, I know they will feel the same distress and confusion that I felt when I learned about Japanese internment camps and the Trail of Tears.

So we marched.

I often wonder how much good rallies and marches do, honestly. Protesting in the streets is a form of expression that goes back to the earliest civilizations, and in some cases, it does in fact provoke change. But I wonder if those instances are anomalies. I still show up, because it can’t hurt, but today, as I was shooting pictures of this rally, I kept seeing echoes of the photos my mom took at a rally to support the Equal Rights Amendment, back in the late 1970s. Fun fact: It still hasn’t passed (although maybe there’s hope?). I can’t imagine how those hippies must feel, looking around at the world as it is and thinking of the chants of “What do we want? Peace! And when do we want it? NOW!” that were ignored.

This rally, though, I felt would do some good. I knew that those children inside the detention center might hear us hollering and raising hell. It might give them a little moment of hope. It might get the attention of the local governments that run the place–a more responsive group, in my experience, than our state legislature or the federal government.

So we marched.

When we were getting in the car, I explained the situation to the kids and told them that today, we were going to go to the rally instead of church. “Why?” Petra asked.

“Jesus always went to be with people who were suffering, even if it was the Sabbath. So that’s what we’re doing,” I said.

“And he got in trouble for it, but he did it anyway,” Silas added. I guess he pays attention in Sunday school after all.

I saw several local political movers and shakers there, including Brent Finnegan and Kai Degner.

A number of people spoke. I wished that they were more adept with the microphone, because some of them said some very interesting things, but it was hard to hear (hint: don’t hold it against your chest. Hold it in front of your mouth, pointing toward your facehole. Trust me.). One woman was a developmental psychologist. Another was a historian. They spoke from their own experience and it was incredibly interesting…and depressing.

Every person of color who spoke while I was there said specifically that they wanted to thank the white folks who had come out to show their support. I just wanted to tell every one of them, “Don’t thank us. It is the least we could do. I am so sorry that any of us have to be here.”

Lots of folks from our church also felt that this was a better place to be.

Some folks were clearly old hands at protests.

Others were a bit newer to the whole deal.

I had to explain a lot of the signs to my kids. It was all a quick civics lesson out in the bright sunshine.

Some statements made me wish I hadn’t worked so hard to teach them to read. But there is something to be said for being direct.

Silas and Petra luckily spotted their friend Nina before they got too hot and whiny.

The three of them played variations on Rock, Paper, Scissors, and occasionally joined in the chants.

They were also pleased to see a few dogs at the protest. Dogs are good at being on the side of justice.

These events are so good and so hard. The repetition of them makes me feel hopeless. We sang, “We Shall Overcome,” and I felt myself choking back tears because that song comes from a movement that was a huge deal more than fifty years ago. I’ve sung it at events since I was in preschool. And the “someday” just keeps not feeling any closer.

Luckily for my heart, one protester, in lieu of a sign, brought the flag of the only kingdom I’ve ever been willing to pledge my allegiance to, and she held it high, between the stars and stripes and “Sic semper tyrannis.” Watching it flutter against the blue sky, I felt grounded in hope all over again.

Consider the lilies of the field, indeed.




Aili Written by:


  1. Kelly
    June 24, 2018

    You are an AMAZING mother, and indeed, human being!

    • Aili
      June 24, 2018

      That’s very sweet of you. Right now, I’m a desperately sad mother.

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