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OpenForum Blog:

Communicating Our Common Humanity

Posted on May 11, 2017 in Building the Wall

On Wednesday, May 3rd, Forum partnered with the Center for American Progress Action Fund to host a post-performance discussion of Building the Wall.

The panel featured:

Tom Jawetz, Vice President, Immigration, Center for American Progress Action Fund

Ali Noorani, Executive Director, National Immigration Forum

Jen Smyers, Director of Policy and Advocacy, Immigration and Refugee Program, Church World Service

Michael Feldman, Principal, Transitions International (Moderator)

Asked about their first reactions to Building the Wall, the panelists each noted the importance of the three-dimensional portrayal of Rick, the disgraced private prison supervisor. They said grasping the point of view represented by this character remains central to understanding the current debate over immigration and other divisions in our political scene. The audience liked the way the play portrayed – without excusing - what gets in the way of people who fail to stop even the most horrific abuses.

The panel thought the play provided a creditable depiction of how creating dehumaned classes of people could lead to abhorrent violations of human rights and dignity. Panelists gave specific examples of real world human suffering happening right now because of both rhetoric and actual policies of dehumanizing and targeting immigrants and refugees. Tom cited reduced numbers of Latinx people – both American citizens and immigrants - reporting domestic abuse, as well as drops in the numbers of people accessing health care, education, social services, and seeking assistance from law enforcement.   

Audience members asked: What can we do to avoid falling into the same trap as the main character?  How can we avoid lapsing into fear and paranoia in reaction to the threats to both civil liberties and innocents, as depicted in the play? And specifically, what actions can citizens take to protect the vulnerable and strengthen those civil liberties and the rule of law?

The panelists responded that the scale and tone of the dehumanizing rhetoric around immigration requires us to dig deep and find language that communicates the most basic tenants of our shared values and common humanity. The panel noted that many faith and community leaders are struggling with how to bridge the gap in empathy. Ali and Jen stressed the importance of reaching out to other points of view, and being prepared to call out and counter dehumanizing rhetoric. Ali summarized the call for engagement by citing the National Immigration Forum’s informal motto: "meet people where they are, but don't leave them there."

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