As I do each summer, I spent the last week on the Cheyenne River Sioux Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Although you may not be familiar with the Reservation, there is a good chance that you have heard of the Sioux Native Americans or, for that matter, one of their famous chiefs, Sitting Bull. This year, in addition to helping residents in a variety of ways, I was honored to be asked to conduct a few STEM oriented classes for the local children.
What you may not know about this remote Reservation, a place six hours from the nearest good size city (Rapid City), is that its residents are some of the most impoverished people in North America. Jobs are scarce, health hazards are high, and the suicide rate for adults and children is alarming. Many of the ancestors of these good people were murdered by settlers intent on stealing their land and those that survived were forced from their homes, places that they owned and farmed and fished and hunted for generations, into the Reservations where they now reside. America has a long, indecent and savage, history of stealing their property, their primary food source (bison), their hope for the future and so much more.
The Cheyenne River Sioux’s poverty and desperation reminds me all too much of what we are watching in Washington today. The indecent manner in which our government is treating immigrants, our environment and all-to-often our own citizens is appalling and must stop.
One of the highlights of my trip to South Dakota each year has been spending time with a little boy that I will call “Liam” to protect his true identity. A couple of years ago when I first met him, the time that we spent together was a highlight of my trip. When I returned the following year, I was eager to see “Liam” although I could not possibly imagine he would remember me. Much to my surprise he totally remembered me, my name and even the things we did together the summer before. Our friendship picked up right where it left off a year earlier and so you can imagine my disappointment this summer, on my recent trip, when “Liam” was nowhere to be found.
Day after day passed and I neither saw nor heard about “Liam”. That is until my last night, during dinner when one of the town’s elders, his grandfather, explained that “Liam” had just returned home and was recovering from a suicide attempt. Mind you, my friend “Liam” is no older than nine.
The source of the desperation that “Liam” and the Lakota and other Native American tribes like theirs face can, of course, be traced to the indecent manner in which our forefathers treated our country’s native people. Sadly, that indecent behavior towards those who are less fortunate, who think differently and who look or speak differently is alive and well in our country today including in places such as The White House.
Which brings me to my beloved Aunt Marcie and Uncle Steve. While I was out of town this past week, my aunt and uncle had dinner with my father and later that night Dad explained how distraught Aunt Marcie was, repeatedly in tears during dinner, over what President Trump and our government are doing to immigrant families, including separating children from their parents as they try to enter the United States in search of a better life.
Now, I understand that not every single person on planet earth that wants to come to the United States can do that, for a variety of often complex reasons, but I also understand that we are a nation of immigrants; ultimately, each of us or our families came from somewhere else perhaps with the exception of my Lakota friends and other Native Americans like them. But I also understand, and would like to believe that this is the case to our core, that America is a place where our citizens treat one another with decency, respect and civility.
To separate desperate families in search of a better life is about as indecent and shameful a thing as I could possibly imagine. And to cover it up with politics, with the President beating his chest about strong borders and walls or, for that matter, his wife disrespecting pretty much everyone in our country by wearing a billboard of a jacket that shouts “I really don’t care, do u?”, is disgraceful.
The question that Mrs. Trump’s jacket asked brings me back to Aunt Marcie and Uncle Steve. As distraught as she and any decent person was over what the President did, I’m proud to tell you that she took action and while I was traveling back to Miami last night, she was marching in Homestead with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other people to answer that question with a resoundingly loud “YES, we care”.
My aunt and the people who marched in Homestead sent a loud message that, in a week filled with desperation and many stories about indecent behavior from our President, gives me hope. And most importantly, those that rode those buses and stood up for those less fortunate – the children separated from their families who are forced to live in a ‘camp’ that reminds too many of Nazi Germany – are ‘just’ normal every day American citizens. They are your friends and neighbors, not politicians in search of the limelight or trying to stroke their ego, but everyday people simply trying to do the right thing by helping others.
Those who marched made it clear that Americans care about family, including immigrant families.
They made it clear that treating others with decency, kindness and respect is important to our country despite the appalling behavior some are displaying for political gain or simply because they are evil.
Our country has many serious, and often complex and costly, challenges: immigration, race relations and our climate crisis to name just a few. But I believe those who marched made it clear that only by working together, by embracing and celebrating our differences, can we address these important issues.
And to solve such issues the politics of fear that some seem to so enjoy touting or tweeting must come to an end. I believe that those who marched thankfully represent the vast majority of Americans, people who intend to right what is wrong and I do hope that you will join us over the next few months by helping revise and embrace decency in our country.
Fixing what is broken begins with your vote.
If restoring decency to our democracy is important then we must focus on America’s primary elections this summer and the critically important midterm election in November.
You and everyone you know must vote. Please.
These are our chances to send a message across our country, and to the world, that America is a decent place filled with good, caring people. People who care about the “Liams” of the world, who respect even those with whom we might have a difference of opinion and, of course, that want to be good stewards of our environment in our short time living here.
It’s time to step up America and put an end to this dictatorial madness and the politics of hate. Let us all come together this year and save America from the death of decency. Before it’s too late.