What Did You Do, Dad?

Twenty years from now, if your children ask: “What did you do during the protests of 2020?” what will you tell them? Reason I ask is that I asked myself a similar question 36 years ago, and it changed my life.

I had taught and coached for 6 years on the Tohono O’odham reservation. I loved the rez and my students and runners. I’d get up early and steal Foley’s newspaper and read it and toss it back on his driveway before he got up. That’s how I learned that the Rev. John Fife in Tucson, 60 miles away, had co-founded the Sanctuary movement for refugees from our wars in Central America.

Being a snoop by nature, I rode my old Honda 360 into Tucson to ask Fife what he was up to. His church was filled with refugees. He spoke frankly and let me wander around and take notes. The school year was almost over, and on the way home to the rez I decided to spend my summer driving all over the United States, talking to refugees.

Understand — for me, this was a lark. I thought. Something to do on my summer vacation.

Well, when I got home to the rez in August, after interviewing about 500 refugees 6,000 miles, I had heard so many horror stories — true stories — that I couldn’t stand it anymore. One night I broke my hand punching a Dumpster because I knew I had to quit the job I loved to go help refugees in U.S. immigration prisons.

I knew this because of what had happened to me years before, in Germany. I was playing bass clarinet in a European tour of “Porgy and Bess,” the first such tour since the original show featured Cab Calloway as Sportin’ Life. “All Neger Ensemble Aus New York,” the sign on our bus said.

I liked Germany. Most of the Germans I met treated me swell, and were patient as I butchered their mother tongue. But as we toured the country, every time I conversed, haltingly, with an elderly German, my brain wondered: What was this guy doing in 1943?

Not me: my brain. I couldn’t turn it off.

That’s what my brain was thinking as I broke my hand on a Dumpster.

I left a job I loved, teaching children on the rez, so I would not feel soiled should a child of mine ask me one day: “Dad, what did you do during the Central American wars?”

This brings us to today. Protests and riots have broken out in more than half of our states because of yet another needless killing of an unarmed black man by a white police officer.

“What did you do then, Dad?”

Well, I still get up at 3 a.m., as I have done for 16 years, to edit this news page. And write a column once a week. That may not be much — I agree it ain’t much — but I’m old now, 68: too old and too tired to motor around town to cover nighttime protests and get up at 3 a.m.

So there’s what I did. I did my job. I helped report the news. And I wrote what I thought about it once a week.

Jesus the Christ said, if we can believe the Bible: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”

Spike Lee this week praised his white “brothers and sisters” for joining the protests.

Can you imagine president Schlumpf calling upon his black brothers and sisters?

That’s beyond the power of his pitiful, cramped, spoiled and twisted mind. He called protesters “thugs,” and threatened to call out the Army to shoot them down in the streets.

Well, what goes around comes around, sooner or later. Maybe on November 3.

Hope it doesn’t get any worse than that.

So, am I asking you to uproot your life?
No.

I’m just asking you to do the least thing you can do.

Register and vote.


Courthouse News editor Robert Kahn is the author of “Other People’s Blood: U.S. Immigration Prisons in the Reagan Decade.” (Westview Press/Harper Collins)

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