By Michael Feinstein. Inside/Outside. December 13, 2016
In the 1960s, I was raised on stories of the Holocaust. Every day after grade school (in St. Louis Park, MN), I would take a bus to Hebrew school – Talmud Torah – for another two hours of classes and study. Part of my education there was about what happened in 1930s and 40s Nazi Germany – how a society can go deeply wrong and fast; and how the dominos then lead to Hell.
Today there is real and justified fear in many communities about what might happen to their basic rights under the incoming presidential administration. In response, over 50 Santa Monicans – mostly Latinos/Chicanos – filled the Thelma Terry Center in Virginia Ave. Park on December 1, to attend a ‘Know Your Rights’ forum about immigration rights and status.
The forum was organized and led by Cynthia Santiago and Jaime Cruz – both born and raised in the Pico Neighborhood and both Samohi graduates. Now in their 30s and 40s, Santiago and Cruz are giving back to the community by playing local leadership roles at this critical juncture in our country’s history.
An immigration attorney who has been giving similar talks across Southern California since the November election, Santiago tried to give people a sense of what could happen legally under the new administration — from the best base to worst case scenarios — and how to be prepared for it.
Cruz — who today teaches Chicana/o Studies courses at Santa Monica College and Cal-Stage Northridge — added important context about the historic role and contributions of Mexican-Americans in Santa Monica and Southern California overall.
The presentations by Santiago and Cruz were both loving and sober. I’ve been to many community meetings in Santa Monica on many important topics — but this one had a different feel and sense of urgency — because it was addressing the real threat of deportation and the breaking up of families in our community; and as part of the breakup of the social fabric of our country.
With unsere neu führer promising to deport millions of people after taking office, Santiago stressed the importance of people getting their immigration status papers in order now, should things rapidly change – and for some, to take care of all necessary international travel (and return to the U.S.) before January 20, 2017, when the new president is sworn in.
As I was listening to this, images of knocking at the door and people being taken away unexpectedly, filled me with a deep sense of foreboding. Could it really happen here? Sitting next to me was Dolores Sloan, who was having similar thoughts.
A Landmarks Commissioner in Santa Monica with two grandchildren in Franklin Elementary School — and author of The Sephardic Jews of Spain and Portugal — Sloan was a young girl in Bronx during World War II, acutely aware of the persecution in Germany of Jews, gypsies, disabled people and others, as she heard family discussions on the subject and listened to radio newscasts with her parents.
Now today, feeling the apprehension in that room in Virginia Ave. Park, she leaned over to me and said she never believed we would be worrying about this again.
Party like its 1933
As we learn the president-elect’s nominees and appointments to key leadership positions — individuals who in many cases oppose the missions of the very agencies and departments they would lead — its becoming increasingly clear how rapidly the basic fibers of our society can be unraveled. Very soon many of our core institutions, mores and practices that have historically respected and protected us could be erased.
No one knows how far this will lead, but many are rightly concerned whether this is 1933 Germany all over again — and if so, what can we do about it? And, if we don’t do something today, will we deeply regret it tomorrow?
To her credit, Santa Monica Police Chief Jacqueline Seabrooks came out soon after Trump’s November Electoral College putsch to reaffirm SMPD’s decades old policy of leaving immigration enforcement to federal agencies, to foster cooperation and trust among all residents. “SMPD does not, nor will it, independently conduct sweeps or other concentrated efforts to detain those suspected of being undocumented.”
Many county and state political leaders have made important statements about protecting basic values and basic humanity within the county and state. But we live in the Santa Monica and California bubble, and the change we need to bring about has to be national.
Blackout of protest and resistance
In the 1960s, millions of young people marched across the country against the Vietnam war. Combined with millions of their parents watching body bags on TV coming home from Vietnam – full of the corpses of young Americans who died there, millions of us acting individually and collectively were able to ultimately stop the war.
But when the U.S. Invaded Iraq in 2003, President George W. Bush ordered all bodies be brought back in the middle of the night – and no TV allowed. At the same time his administration intimidated the press into compliantly supporting the war. The anti-war movement was never close to the size nor effectiveness with Iraq, as it was with Vietnam.
On media censorship Herrn Trump is like Bush on steroids, stating that he wants to weaken laws that protect press freedom, while giving strong indications he will greatly limit press access to his administration, and seek to criminalize various forms of protest.
If the checks and balances from within and without our government are erased, where do we go from here?
Tonight at the Thelma Terry Center in Virginia Ave. Park., a follow up forum (from the aforementioned December 1 event) will be held on knowing your immigrant rights and status, led again by Cynthia Santiago and Jaime Cruz; 6-8 pm.
Michael Feinstein is a former Santa Monica Mayor (2000-2002) and City Councilmember (1996-2004) . He can be reached via Twitter @mikefeinstein
‘Inside/Outside‘ is a periodic column about civic affairs Feinstein writes for the Daily Press, that takes advantage of his experience inside and outside of government.