Emma Lazarus’ Poem on the Statue of Liberty

As part of National Poetry Month, I decided to post the poem that’s engraved on the Statue of Liberty. Not just because it is poetry, but also because it’s a poem we’re all familiar with but probably have never read in its entirety. Besides the fact that it was written by a woman, it’s notable for its feminine imagery. The so-called Mother of Exiles is the epitome of what we expect from women: that they welcome, comfort and care for those who are in need.

There’s a tie-in here to the post I wrote on Monday. Women have a role to play in our nation’s life that can’t be measured by victories or dollars. The male figure in this poem is the “brazen giant” with the “conquering limbs.” But “the mighty woman with a torch” has an equal, or perhaps even greater, power. Because it’s not our might alone that has made America’s reputation around the world. It’s also our willingness to accept people from all over the world onto our shores. More than anything, Americans are known for having big hearts.

Or we used to be. I have some Libyan friends who have been disillusioned about America since they’ve spent time here. They had always thought of the U.S. as a place where a person would be accepted for who he is and given the same opportunities as every other inhabitant. I’m ashamed when I see it dawning on them that Americans are prejudiced and paranoid about Muslims. In a way they’re not surprised (they haven’t forgotten 9/11 any more than we have), but they expected better from us.

When did we stop being proud of what the Statue of Liberty stands for?

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,

With conquering limbs astride from land to land;

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand

A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame

Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name

Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand

Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command

The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she

With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”



Where’s Our Safety Net?

There’s an article in the latest issue (September 20, 2010) of The Nation titled “It’s Better Over There” that’s about the safety net that exists in Europe (specifically Germany) that doesn’t exist in the U.S. The author, Katha Pollitt, who is a columnist for The Nation (among other things), just came back from spending a year in Berlin and her report about how things are for the poor and the middle class in an economy that is hurting (although in better shape than ours) really made me think.

Here are some of the things Germans have that much of the U.S. doesn’t:

  • Six weeks of vacation and twenty-seven paid holidays.
  • Job security and retirement pensions.
  • Free, or nearly free education, including college.
  • Healthcare including nursing. (The German system requires everyone to buy insurance, but provides subsidies for low earners. Sound familiar?)
  • A government that provides partial compensation for lost wages and encourages companies to shorten hours rather than lay people off.
  • Paid maternity and maternity leave. [For international comparisons of parental leave policies, go here.]

This isn’t to say that social democratic systems like Germany’s are perfect, but they must be doing something right: Germany’s unemployment rate is around 7-7.5 and the United States’ is over 9 and worsening. [Source.]

But just mention social democracy and conservatives go crazy. They assume that social democracy is socialism, pure and simple. It’s not. One definition of social democracy (the one that applies to Germany) is: “a democratic welfare state that incorporates both capitalist and socialist practices.” It’s the “socialist” part that freaks conservatives out. But what social democracy means in practice is that the government is more hands-on in relation to issues that affect the common good. It’s not good for a country to have a high number of poor and unemployed. It costs everyone else a lot of money. It’s much better to spend that money making sure that workers are employed and spending their money. That’s what makes for a healthy economy.

It used to be that democracy meant “the rule of the majority.” But when you look at America today, you have to ask yourself if that’s still true. It seems to me that it is the wealthy and influential who rule America. And in their short-sighted desire to keep as much of their wealth and power as they can to themselves, they’ve robbed the majority of their right to make decisions that affect their very lives.

The term “majority” doesn’t mean the largest racial, religious or socioeconomic group. It means the most people overall. That means that minorities like blacks, Hispanics, immigrants, the handicapped, Muslims, welfare recipients and the poor all have a right to have their voices heard and their concerns addressed. And let’s not forget the largest group in this society: women. If we make up a majority of the population and of the workforce, why aren’t our needs being addressed?

I’ve written before about how vulnerable women are in our society. We have no maternity leave, fewer benefits, less pay and little or no support for the needs of our families. Women are often forced to work part-time because they can’t afford to pay for full-time child care (and women are still thought of as the primary child-care providers. Elder care also falls unfairly on the shoulders of women).

But this isn’t just a women’s issue. All of us are at risk. If our families aren’t protected and provided for, then what good is our government anyway?

We don’t have to identify as a social democracy in order to start caring for all our people. Returning to the original meaning of democracy would be enough.

A Saudi Woman Speaks Out

Non-Muslims see Muslim women as oppressed, especially in countries like Saudi Arabia, where grown women have male guardians, are not allowed to drive and are required to cover themselves totally whenever they leave the house. That’s why it’s particularly surprising to run across a Saudi woman like Buthayna Nasser. She wears the full abaya (although not the niqab, or face veil) in her job as a television newscaster.

It’s a misconception that Saudi women don’t work, let alone have careers. Apparently, they have voices, too, judging by this video:

Tuesday Tirade: Tough Talk About Immigration

Imagine you come from an area in Mexico where hundreds of women have been murdered over the last couple of decades. Or that you live in a neighborhood where you have to worry about gunfire as you take your children to school. You want a better life for yourself and your children. You decide to emigrate to the U.S. But doing it legally could, and often does, take years. Your children are young now.

Personally, I think immigration policy in this country is, and always has been, too restrictive. We are a huge country, with plenty of room and resources to support many more people than now live here. We just don’t want to share. We don’t want to have to make accommodations. And we most certainly don’t want to take on the problems of other countries.

Well, guess what, folks? We’re going to be affected by world-wide events whether we like it or not. Take Arizona for instance. From what I’ve read, Arizona has good reason to fear the violence coming over its borders from the south. But is the answer to stop any suspicious person on the street, demand identification and possibly arrest them? All we can do is deport them. What does that solve?

We need to work harder to forge alliances with the countries we interact with so that we can aid them in their efforts to better their situations. Instead, we stick our noses in their business, stir things up and then refuse their people access to our country when they find life untenable in their own.

Take Iraq for instance. I’m against the war, and always have been. But even if I were behind it, I would still feel that we need to help those whose lives we’ve disrupted. Instead, we make it next to impossible for an Iraqi to emigrate to the U.S. Even those who have served as translators for the U.S., and are at risk from reprisals,  find it difficult to find refuge in America.

There are several issues related to immigration that we need to come to terms with:

Continue reading “Tuesday Tirade: Tough Talk About Immigration”

“The Hijabi Monologues” Are Almost Here!

“The Hijabi Monologues” will be performed at Ohio State University on April 30th and May 1st, 2010.

This really is a unique opportunity. We will have performers coming from New York and Canada!

The Hijabi Monologues have been performed throughout the US (Yale University, all over California, South Florida, DC, New York and even Egypt)! This isn’t only a performance, but a movement.
Also, please reserve through Facebook:

For more information, refer to my earlier post about the tryouts.