Today, on Independence Day, we are asked to join in a national celebration of human rights, liberty, and self-determination. But our values are only as real as our actions, and judged by our actions, liberty is in jeopardy every day. The ongoing separation and detention of families at our southern border is a moral crisis that strikes at the root of democracy.
This is an emergency, not only for the most vulnerable, but for any hope for real democracy. While we exist in a state of crisis, we also face a moment of great opportunity. As USDAC Cabinet Minister of Emergency Arts Amelia Brown wrote in the USDAC’s Art Became the Oxygen: An Artistic Response Guide
Within emergencies are opportunities. Emergencies not only create new problems but compound existing issues. They also offer opportunities to create new solutions. We do not welcome disasters, but when disasters strike our communities we can transform chaos into change. Disasters reveal historic and systemic issues in new ways, raising our awareness and urgency to address them.
So in this moment of social emergency, how can Citizen Artists help convert chaos into change?
The USDAC Statement of Values states that we “supports artists who place their gifts at the service of community, equity, and social change.” In this spirit, the USDAC is running a new blog series highlighting artists who challenge the status quo, call for justice and demonstrate deep commitment to creating thoughtful, ethical, and collaborative work with community. (Read the first in this series of "Profiles in Artistic Response" featuring the work of Michelle Angela Ortiz.)
We have a moral obligation to be outraged, yet must recognize that this is now new. Dara Lind, Senior Reporter for Vox, writes, “the best way to describe Donald Trump’s current policy toward families crossing the US-Mexico border is this: He just went from being much harsher than Barack Obama to trying to get the courts to let him be as harsh as Obama was,” by being allowed by the courts to detain families on a large scale.
We are witnessing the convergence of complex social emergencies with long, well-documented histories. A line snakes from the genocide of Indigenous people by European invaders of this continent through the enslavement and ongoing exploitation of brown and black bodies to build this nation, through the exclusion and internment of Asian citizens in concentration camps, through the desertion of American citizens in New Orleans and Puerto Rico following natural disasters, through the ongoing and escalating criminalization of blackness, through the renewed emergence of white nationalism and antisemitism, through systemic suppression of women’s and LGBTQ voices, through the Muslim ban recently upheld by the Supreme Court, to the battle now being fought along the U.S.–Mexico border and across the nation against the violence inflicted on migrant and refugee families.
The USDAC stands with our Muslim brothers and sisters, with migrants and refugees, and with all of those who have suffered unjustly at the hands of the U.S. government and now through the actions of the current administration in manufacturing this humanitarian crisis and seeking to further divide our nation. We oppose the separation of families. We oppose the mass detention of asylum seekers. We oppose the persecution of any group of people based of race, creed, country of origin, skin color, or orientation.
As we have said so many times before, history teaches that authoritarian regimes start their mission of domination with the right to culture: limiting cultural communities’ freedom of movement and practice; condemning or restricting press freedom; condemning or restricting artistic expression; and denying the fullness of belonging to all but a privileged few. Artists and creative activists have key roles to play. We understand that even as our present crises arise from economic and political conditions, these crises are rooted in culture.
- Official violence is a cultural issue.
- The denial of human rights is a cultural issue.
- Racism is a cultural issue.
We stand for a society rooted in justice, love, empathy, equity, and belonging. Stand with us.