If anyone had told me I’d be spending my mid-sixties fighting for the same things I fought for in the mid-60s, I’d have said, “Oh, no. We’re making a difference here. We’re changing the world, and things will get better because of us.”
It’s like that when you’re young. You think you have all the answers, all the power. Your ideas are brilliant, your beliefs impassioned. You know the blind would see if they would just listen to you. You know you’ll succeed, because you’re on the side of progress and all that is right and good.
You’re just so damned sure of everything. And you have hope.
Back in the ‘60s, those who opposed racism and the Vietnam War, those who stood up for women’s liberation—we had that hope. We gathered on campuses and in coffee houses to philosophize; we marched in the streets for racial equality. We demonstrated for peace wearing flowers in our hair. We had music that spoke to us, writers who shaped us, and sages who inspired us.
So connected did we feel to one another, we sought to live together in communes. Or we left home, took to the road, and discovered America. We were “hippies.” Or we weren’t. Some were radicals. But not most. It didn’t really matter anyway. Our overarching goals were largely the same—justice and equality, peace and love.
We had dreams for America, and we believed they could and would come true.
Tuesday night, I mourned the demise of my dreams for this country.
That night, I watched as a sweet-looking young woman—a Dreamer, herself—wept beside an impassioned speaker who was railing at the shamefulness of my country. I didn’t hear the speaker. I was too transfixed on the beautiful girl, the young Latina with blond straight hair who was struggling so wrenchingly to hold back tears. I ached at seeing the pain so palpably ripping her apart.
The speaker had just announced Donald Trump’s death knell for DACA—the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals that protects about 800,000 Dreamers like the young Latina in tears. He gave Congress six months to pass an immigration bill, something legislators have been wrestling with since the Reagan years. Now, the meanest, least trustworthy Congress of all time gets the final say.
The image of the 23-year-old woman, who came to America when she was 7, stuck with me all the next day. For a while, my grief turned to anger as I heard Trump proclaim—in that sickening way he has when he’s lying—”I have a great heart for the folks we are talking about, a great love for them. I have a love for these people.”
Clearly, Trump didn’t learn what I did in my youth. Cruelty is not love.
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made her usual excuses for Trump. She said the DACA action “is not an easy one, and certainly something where he wants to be able to make a decision with compassion. But at the same time, you can’t allow emotion to govern.”
Neither can you let the heartless govern.
For the young woman on the stage and, I’m sure, for all DACA recipients, it almost doesn’t matter what Trump, the attorney general, and Congress do next. The youths’ lives are now scarred forever. They have been traumatized by the threat of losing everything—friends, family, futures, and homeland. Whether they will ever feel safe again remains to be seen. Certainly, they have seen, as I now have, how precariously fragile is the American Dream.
I want to apologize to all the young people Trump’s decree is hurting. I want to say I’m sorry for all I have failed to do to make sure this moment could never happen to them. This is not their burden to bear, but it has been placed squarely on their shoulders.
As for the American Dream—the one based on the Constitution, not capitalism—it is suffering a torturous death at breakneck speed. There are so many fires to put out, and new ones flare up daily.
Millions are racing to stop the madness, but we need tens of millions more. We especially need the passion of youth, the brilliance of young minds, and the certainty that mountains can be moved.
And, we need hope. I have to call mine back up again. It will take a day or two and will likely be shaky at first. But I’ll have a new vision of what I’m fighting for. It’s the image of a stricken, grieving young woman—a fellow dreamer named Monica Perez.