Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Welcoming Refugees and the American Revolution

Across Montana today there were rallies held to counter the far-right voices against the settling of refugees in our state. 

We had 75 people turn up in Kalispell, the largest town in Northwest Montana, armed with banners and signs, to hear three brief speakers, and to line the main street of Kalispell voicing our belief that Montana could- and should- welcome the victims of oppression and war. 

The far right were out as well- on the other side of the street- but we outnumbered them by 10 to 1.

The three speakers were Francine, our local rabbi, who spoke movingly about the Jewish experience of a history of marginalization and genocide, and the need to stand for justice and hospitality for all in need; 

Mason, a high school student, who spoke of America as a haven for immigrants and refugees in the past; 

and myself. 

This was my contribution: 

Ladies and gentleman, good afternoon; my name is Dr Jon Hatch, and I work as a theologian, educator, and post-conflict reconciliation expert. I work with Love Lives Here in the Flathead Valley, an affiliate of the Montana Human Rights Network. 

I’m also an Irish and American dual citizen, and lived a good portion of my life in Ireland, and I wanted to give some brief thoughts from my perspective about what I think this demonstration means.

First and foremost, this demonstration is about countering the notions that have been put forward by others that hospitality to refugees of war and oppression is too expensive, too risky, too dangerous, too damaging, and even too un-American. 

We are gathered here today to counter those declarations.

But, at the risk of grandiosity, I think that this rally- and the issues surrounding it- is about America. Both those for the welcoming of refugees and those against it are, in one way, asking the same question: 

‘What is America?’

It’s a very good question, and it needs to be asked and re-asked. 

From the beginning of this nation right up to today, all of the rights and freedoms that Americans enjoy all begin with the question, 

‘What is America?’ 

We’ve been asking it since the beginning: 

Can a Cherokee or a Sioux be an American? 

Can you own people? 

Can women vote? 

Is a woman capable of holding public office? 

Should a Catholic be President? 

Can a Jew be an American? 

Can a Muslim? 

Can you vote if you don’t own a house or have a drivers licence?

None of the answers to those questions was obvious or preordained, and the questions we ask now about America still aren’t. 

We have to decide. We have to choose. America has not always chosen wisely or correctly, but the fundamental nature of this nation is that the people must decide.

‘What is America?’ 

My answer is that America is an idea. 

Globally and internationally, America is a revolution.

The American Revolution did not end in 1783 with the Treaty of Paris that saw British troops leave the American states- no longer colonies; states. That was the end of the War of Independence. 

The American Revolution was about to begin, and it remains ongoing.

The rest of the world isn’t particularly interested in America’s War of Independence, but they are very interested in our Revolution:

liberty for the individual as opposed to liberties only for the group; 

separation of powers; 

the independence of religious expression from interference from the state; 

an independent judiciary; 

and yes, our ability to take people from all over the world- from all different backgrounds, cultures, religions, and ethnicities- issues that have completely destroyed other nations- and create a new nationality that we call ‘Americans’.

We are a diverse and disparate nation; the American experiment is not inevitable; it really shouldn’t work, and in the 1700’s very few people in Europe thought it would.

But it did work. It does work; not always well and sometimes not at all- in 1941, we decided that Japanese people could not be Americans and we loaded them into concentration camps. The American Revolution tottered. It took 40 years to make it right. 

But the Revolution always allows us the freedom to make it right.

The world watches our Revolution. Good people watch; very bad people watch, as do the people who have to live under the rule of those very bad people.

They are watching this battle of the American Revolution.

If we want the world to be free, then we must be free;

If we want the world to be just, then we must be just;

If we want the world to be open, then we must be open;

America can do that. That is its gift and its responsibility. We take up that responsibility today and we say,

We are- right now- big enough, strong enough, generous enough, and welcoming enough, to do this.

Thank you, and Long Live the American Revolution. 

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