Cages

They’re trying to make us fight about the place we keep the children we steal from their parents, the children we lock up:

And it’s too easy to reach for the Ursula K. LeGuin, today:

In a basement under one of the beautiful public buildings of Omelas, or perhaps in the cellar of one of its spacious private homes, there is a room. It has one locked door, and no window. A little light seeps in dustily between cracks in the boards, secondhand from a cobwebbed window somewhere across the cellar. In one corner of the little room a couple of mops, with stiff, clotted, foul-smelling heads stand near a rusty bucket. The floor is dirt, a little damp to the touch, as cellar dirt usually is. The room is about three paces long and two wide: a mere broom closet or disused tool room. In the room a child is sitting.

They’re trying to make the fight about the cages. It isn’t the cages that make a prison.

Anything can be a prison. Anything can be a cage. It doesn’t need concrete and barbed wire, gun towers and checkpoints. Is that what you think a prison is? A quiet street in a city neighborhood can be Pelican Bay. A luxury condo in a skyscraper. A well-kept house in the suburbs.

You don’t need a cage to make a prison.

You just need a guard.

And oh, does this administration have guards. Say what you like about deportations under previous presidents, say that they, too, were callous or cruel types of separation. Fair. They were not capricious, and they were not done to teach someone who isn’t listening a lesson he or she can’t hear. They weren’t done to shove the law in anyone’s face, to score points in Florida or Ohio or some other racism-blasted swing state full of resentful, angry white people; to make the talk radio listeners cheer.

This administration knew its people and their uses. They elected this president. They chanted “lugenpresse” and “fake news” at reporters. They put them in cages, too, and spit at them and yelled and threatened. They beat protesters and chanted “lock her up.” They longed to inflict human misery, gleefully, on anyone they were told had taken from them, on anyone they were told would take from them. And this administration saw that and said that it was good. It said yes. It said more.

These people have made prisons for decades. Prisons of war, drawing borders and bombing inside them, and out, to make a point with their voters. Prisons of poverty, making food and health care conditional on where you lived and worked. Prisons of redlined racist ghettos, where police patrol one side of the street, pull you over if you cross. Sundown towns and poll taxes and schools segregated in all but name, whites-only fountains and colored sections on the bus. These people know how to make prisons. They know how to do it without building walls.

So don’t come at us now and talk about how the cages aren’t cages and cages aren’t a prison. Anything can be a prison if there are people there who keep you in. Who keep you quiet. Who keep you awake or asleep or fed or starved depending on how you behave and how they prefer it. They can bang on the doors every fifteen minutes, and it doesn’t matter if the doors are chain link or solid steel or polished thick American oak.

If they can lock them, and let you out only when they say, you’re in prison.

Call it a partition instead of a cage, if it makes you feel better. It doesn’t matter.

Not to the children inside, or the guard standing at his post, keeping them there.

A.

3 thoughts on “Cages

  1. David B Morris says:

    https://act.moveon.org/event/families-belong-together_attend1/search/
    “Families Belong Together” Rally, Next Saturday, June 30, @ Lafayette Square; 10-12

    Like

  2. joel hanes says:

    Athenae, when you find your voice, you’re the best.

    Like

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