Lisa Kalvelage haunts me.
Growing up in Germany under Nazi rule, she and her parents did nothing to resist. Later, she married a GI and came to the United States, where she grappled with what it meant to share in mass guilt for doing nothing in Germany. She became a lifelong peace activist. Today, seeing immigrant children and adults suffering in detention camps, seeing desperate families turned away at our border, I believe we are guilty as a nation for the suffering inflicted in our names and paid for by our tax dollars.
Yes, I also remember Vietnam. Yes, I also know that right now we are supporting a terrible war in Yemen. Yes, I also realize the racist and genocidal past of our country. Mass guilt seems inescapable.
In a 1988 interview, Lisa Kalvelage told the Mercury News, “If you live in a democratic country where the government is you, you cannot say, ‘I followed orders.’ If you recognize that something is wrong, you have to speak out to set it straight.”
Right now, our government is committing crimes against humanity: locking up immigrants in utterly inhumane conditions and sending terrified asylum seekers to remain in Mexico, where many are in danger from criminals, homeless, without access to attorneys, and without means to provide for themselves and their children.
What am I doing to stop this?
I write, which is a way of speaking out. I post on social media.
I try to talk to people calmly enough so that they can hear me, when all I really want to do is scream.
I call my Senators and Representative.
I send money to organizations like the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesotaand I join organizations like the ACLU.
I march—sometimes, not always, probably not often enough.
Does marching help? I don’t know. I don’t honestly know if any of this makes a difference, but I have to try.
In the words of Pete Seeger’s song, My Name is Lisa Kalvelage:
“Hopefully, some day my contribution to peace
will help just a bit to turn the tide.
And perhaps I can tell my children six,
and later on their own children.
At least in the future, they need not be silent
when they are asked, where was your mother when.”
Years ago, during the days of the civil rights movement or one of the anti-war movements, I unloaded my discouragement and frustration on a priest friend. His answer remains with me. “Mary,” he said, “we are called to be faithful, not successful.”
So I will march again tomorrow. (Join me on June 30 at Nicollet and Lake in Minneapolis.) And I will keep writing and speaking out and doing what I can, and hoping that it helps to turn the tide.