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Look Up!


 Look Up!

a meditation on Trump’s immigration police

by Rev Billy Talen

My city has the looking-down disease. Standing at the corner of a street, I watch whole crowds looking down into squares of light in their hands. Then there is the horrified scream of a child, the kind of scream that has tragedy in it, and it is nearby, in broad daylight.  The looking down people can't see this, because the nightmare-makers, the immigration cops who are pulling loved ones away from these children in the new American abduction, those "police" know the precise behavior of the looking-down people. 

They have studied us and they know what we notice.  And they are pretty sure that if we do not see them pulling our fellow New Yorkers into the white vans of Immigrant Customs Enforcement (ICE), then we probably regard what is online as real; that is, reality is far away, coming from mysterious, anonymous algorithmically-sophisticated computers.  Our shoulders are stuck in a shrug.

How do we stop this violence or even slow it down?  What must take place for my city to look up again, where we would straighten our spines and lift up our chins and raise our arms, and take our frightened neighbors into our embrace.  Immigrant rights activists say that citizens who stay close to the targeted families do help.  Citizens who accompany the undocumented to the grocery store, to church, walking alongside the families in the courts, can cause the agents of ICE to back off.  With our hands free of the squares of light, the practitioners of fear are forced to hesitate…

This is part of a larger civil rights movement.  The shooting of another unarmed black man, in his own back yard in Sacramento, the shooting of children in Parkland, at Pulse, Newtown, and on and on… and the shootings of children in Afghanistan, by drones, or getting caught in cross-fires between gangs, between governments…   and the flood and wind and fire from western over-consumption, again, reduced for us to squares of quivering light in our hands.  We are looking down, so that the moment of our witnessing is one of non-response.  We are inside a directed, profit-taking dream.


The revolution won’t be iPhoned.  The change must take place in our senses, in our ordinary looking-and-seeing, and then in our physical commitment.  We must look up and see our neighbors. The power for the messy eco-system called Democracy is found in the body. I offer two quotes, from Emma Goldman and from Duke Ellington.  “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be a part of your revolution.”  And, “If it aint got that swing, it don’t mean a thing.” 

The pollsters tell us that citizens of the USA are evenly divided on Trump’s family-breaking deportations.  This is only because we haven’t looked up.  Pixelated media scandalizes the abductions, while at the same time distancing us from the violence.  Anyone who has experienced the agony of these families, especially in the children, would never admit these arrests into the traditions of our country.


When we look up, then the politics of the body are possible.  We can put our hands on the cruelty and stop it.  We can laugh at the tortured reversing of the idea of the United States.  We can witness first hand that the violent are claiming to find violence in the innocent, that our state-sanctioned crime is to find crime where there is innocent love. 

When we look up from our corporate pixels, we can receive the smile of a million women, hear the praying of the water protectors, the retaking of public space by black lives that matter, the passionate shouting of the children freeing us all from guns. We can feel mighty fine swept up into this looking-up rising-up taking-it-back revolution.

My city has the looking down disease.  We have to be a people that looks up, and sees out, and commits our bodies to change.  We can’t change online. 



Rev Billy Talen tours with the 35-voice Stop Shopping Choir, a group of singing activists from New York City.  He hosts with partner Savitri D, the radio-podcast “The Earth Wants YOU”.