There is a debate raging about whether or not the detention centers on our nation’s southern border have been erroneously labeled as concentration camps by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. In an essay from 2018, Holocaust historian Dr. Edna Friedberg warns us to use Holocaust analogies and terminology cautiously as they distract us from the “real issues challenging our society, because they shut down productive, thoughtful discourse.” The fracas that arose after Ocasio-Cortez’s comments illustrates this exactly. But as vitriolic Twitter debates ensue, thousands of refugees at our border are still being housed in inhumane and hazardous conditions--”accurate” definitions notwithstanding.
Concentration camp, detention center, internment camp. How about the “dog pound?” That’s what witnesses are calling the cages where refugees, including women and children, are being imprisoned along the border without protection from the elements, running water or lavatories.
“We need all hands on deck now,” implored Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg, in a tweet on June 14. “There is a lot of deck. Figure out where you can be most useful given your capacity (time, money, ability, etc) talents and skills, and make a plan to be more useful to this world that needs you.”
Rabbi Ruttenberg is asking us how we can mobilize to tangible action. Reading news of the border, I am overwhelmed, horrified, and filled with fury to the point of paralysis. Generally, my career at a social justice focused nonprofit and local community activism sustains me with a sense of ongoing contribution. Today it is not enough. Today is an emergency situation. Today we are careening towards the “again” that we promised we would never return to when we chant “Never Again” in reference to atrocities of the Holocaust.
I believe that inaction is beyond complacency, it is complicity. This situation will only change through force of communal will.
First and foremost, we can donate in any amount. Everything helps. The Quaker Circle in Houston has put together a comprehensive list of organizations who are doing critical work at the border. RAICES has emerged as a direct service and policy leader. You can take their #BuildABridge pledge today. Additionally, Save the Children is working to protect children at the border through their US Programs Support. Locally, we can get involved with and financially support the group Your Allied Rapid Response which trains volunteers in direct action and bystander intervention, particularly around ICE raids. Santa Cruz Indivisible is a hub of action and community, providing regular information and ways to get involved.
We must stay informed and read the news even if it is painful. We must continue to be in conversation with our friends, neighbors, co-workers, and families to generate ideas for action. We must understand that this is our business and our problem. We must raise our voices--calling our politicians, writing letters, and taking to the streets.
I have an old family photo on my grandfather’s side. It was taken in Poland right before the rise of the Nazis. My Papa Sam is young and strapping in his late teens surrounded by his many older siblings and their spouses and multiple children. You can literally rip the picture in half to show which of the Kurzweils made it to America and which perished in the death camps. As a Jewish woman and as a member of a post-Holocaust family, I give Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and any other politician empowered to make lasting legislative change, permission to call the horror that is happening at the border what it is--dangerous. And for the rest of us, now is the time for action.
Jenny Kurzweil works in nonprofit communications for a national organization headquartered in Santa Cruz. She is also co-founder of Pie for the People-Santa Cruz, a community pie potluck that raises money for local grassroots nonprofits.