We need Upstanders, not Bystanders

Our office recently received an email offer from a company touting itself as having “Trump-friendly editorial cartoons.” Inside was their most recent, depicting a family arriving at the Mexico-United States border and stopping a few feet away with the words: “How to Avoid Being Separated From Your Children at the U.S. Border … Step 1: Stay Away. The End.”

For so many people who have turned our nation’s politics into some sort of “our side, your side” football game and “picked” the extreme right-wing side, that probably makes sense. Don’t want to be separated? Don’t try to cross the border.

They go about their daily lives, thinking they are justified in not caring that our nation, in our names, is literally caging children and ripping babies from their mothers’ breasts. They think they’ve got it all figured out. It’s the parents’ fault, right? So, not their problem.

If you’ve ever had even a basic history lesson about the Holocaust, you may recognize the terms “Bystanders” and “Upstanders.”

Bystanders were the people who saw the injustices being carried out by the Nazis — who maybe witnessed Jewish families being shoved into ghettos “for their own good” — and did nothing, said nothing. They didn’t actively partake in the violence, but they didn’t try to stop it, either.

On the other side are the Upstanders. These were the people who saw their government abusing and dehumanizing minorities and resisted.

The Holocaust Museum in Houston, Texas, teaches people how to be an Upstander: “Holocaust Museum Houston’s lesson … illustrates the actions people took when confronted with the evils of Nazi Germany. Only a small percentage of the population was comprised of perpetrators; but an even smaller portion, less than 1 percent, made a decision to become rescuers or upstanders. Most people settled on the role of bystander. The result was catastrophic.”

Millions of Americans this week heard audio — courtesy of the nonpartisan, investigative group ProPublica — of caged children crying for their parents. Federal employees mock the children on the tape, saying they have an orchestra, but no conductor.

Bystanders justified their ability to ignore this audio and continue with their lives, unaffected by the children’s suffering. Some of them believe Trump when he says asylum seekers are “infesting” our country. They start to think of these children not like the young people we celebrate here in Camas and Washougal every day, but as something else — something less than.

If they bothered to turn off the Fox News or do any research, they might easily shift from Bystander to Upstander. They might understand that 1.) the family separations are the result of Trump’s zero-tolerance immigration policy crafted by Stephen Miller, a far right-wing darling of white nationalist groups; 2.) it is legal for these families to seek asylum at U.S. border checkpoints, but U.S. border agents are physically stopping them from crossing into the country. By law, they need to be on U.S. soil to claim asylum, so many of these families have crossed in between checkpoints; and 3.) we are ripping children from people charged with a misdemeanor. Would Bystanders think it was OK for police to rip their children from their arms for a shoplifting charge? How about disorderly conduct? Both are misdemeanors in Washington.

On the bright side, there are many Upstanders.

Today, in Southwest Portland, a group of Upstanders is holding vigil outside a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detention facility to protest our government’s inhumane separation of families. And a group of more than 600 United Methodist Church (UMC) leaders this week brought church law charges against U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a member of the UMC, stating that his family separation policy is immoral and committing child abuse.

Pastor Don Shipley, of the Camas UMC, said the letter was crafted quickly, so his name does not appear on the original draft. However, he said he hopes the letter helps “shape national policy to ensure that vulnerable children aren’t harmed through no fault of their own by their parents who were trying to escape brutal regimes, drug violence and grinding poverty.”

“Ironically, I imagine they did not expect to face a new terror: separation from their beloved in a country that once welcomed the tired, poor and huddled masses yearning to be free,” Shipley said. “All people must be treated with care and dignity, because Jesus made no distinction between the rich and poor — all are precious in God’s sight.”

We urge all Bystanders to reflect on this, and ask themselves if they are ready to become Upstanders. If so, this list of resources is a great start: slate.com/news-and-politics/2018/06/how-you-can-fight-family-separation-at-the-border.html.