Accepting Our Opportunities

I was brought up to believe that a person must be rescued when drowning, regardless of religion and nationality. ~Irena Sendler

When you know that something is basically at stake, like real life, you do everything to save it. You don’t talk about it and discuss it. You do it. ~ Irena Sendler

Irena Sendler was a 29 year old social worker when Germany invaded Poland and made aiding and hiding Jewish families a capital offense.

At a little over (or under, depending upon your source) five feet tall, she was described as bossy and independent, and possessing a strong will to protect the most vulnerable among us.

And so, notwithstanding the personal risk, she became active in the Polish underground movement Zegota. She used her status as a social worker to gain access to the Warsaw Ghetto, where over 400,000 Jews were forced to live within 16 city blocks.

She described the scenes that she saw there as hell on earth. And, eventually, knowing that many of the families in the ghetto would be sent to their deaths, she began an effort that’s both heroic and heartbreaking.

She started smuggling the children.

She and her network of young women would hide them in gurneys, in carts, in doctor’s bags, in suitcases and caskets – whatever a child could fit within or under without being detected. She even used the floorboards of cars for the smallest of babies, giving them what she called “sleeping powder” to keep them quiet. She trained her dog to bark continuously on her command to drown out the wailing.

But one by one, and door by door, she convinced terrified, anguished parents to hand over their most precious thing – their child – for the chance of survival. She later described the mothers that gave her their children as being far more heroic than she. “You shouldn’t trust me,” she would say. “But what choice do you have?”

She never forgot the look in those mothers’ eyes.

My God.

She promised that she would do everything she could to reunite them with their children after the war, and she had every intention of doing so.

So she wrote the names of the children, their families and their new identities in code on thin paper and buried them under an apple tree in a neighbor’s yard, across the street from the German barracks. 

The identity of those saved souls rested in a secret glass jar, hidden deep underground.

Eventually, the Nazis discovered what she was doing. The Gestapo arrested her, and took her to a jail that is now famous for its brutality. (There, she organized various small protests – including cutting holes in the soldiers’ underwear they were forced to wash.)

They brutally tortured her, trying to get more information about what she had done – with whom, and where, and how?

They broke her arms and her legs and her feet.

But they never broke her spirit.

She never gave up the location of those names.

She was sentenced to death, but her life was spared when a greedy guard took the reward that her Zegota colleagues offered. Her would-be executioner dumped her in the woods to be found and nursed back to health.

After the war was over, she dug up that precious jar and began the work of reuniting the families. Most of her attempts failed because the parents had perished in concentration camps.

But the children – 2500 in all – lived on.

Twenty five hundred children were saved by a social worker and a small group of young women who could not stay silent when confronted with the atrocities they were seeing unfold before their eyes. It’s estimated that she personally rescued 400 children.

She wasn’t a soldier. She wasn’t trained as an organizer. She certainly had no experience smuggling children.

She wasn’t perfect.

But she was passionate, and insistent, and determined.

And she knew that she could make a difference.

At least for this child.

And then that child.

And the next.

Friends, there is no manual for how to be a hero. There is opportunity, and there is acceptance of that opportunity.

Irena accepted that opportunity. She accepted her ability to make a difference, one child at a time.

Most of us won’t have the opportunity to save lives in the actual moment, like Irena did. But that doesn’t mean that we aren’t capable of being heroes. It doesn’t mean that we can’t lead our lives looking out for others, and doing the things that we can do – every day – to accept the opportunities that are given to us.

So, friends.

Let’s get to work.

After World War II, it seemed that humanity understood something, and nothing like that would happen again. Humanity has understood nothing. Religious, tribal, national wars continue. The world continues to be in a sea of blood. … The world can be better if there’s love, tolerance and humility. ~Irena Sendler


**First, a note regarding the Supreme Court’s decision announced this morning to uphold the Trump travel ban. In the 1940s, our own Supreme Court upheld the authority of the US government (the Roosevelt administration) to detain American citizens based solely on their national origin and ethnicity. That case, Korematsu v. U.S., is taught as one of the darkest periods of jurisprudence, on par with the Court’s decision upholding racial segregation through its “separate but equal” standards. This is a loss, there’s no doubt about it. Let it fuel your advocacy. Let it fuel your compassion.

And get out there and register five voters between now and the midterms.

Tuesday: Contact Your Congress(wo)man re: Paul Ryan’s Immigration Bill

Sometimes, I can’t improve upon someone’s else’s analysis and advice, and this is one of those situations. There are a number of immigration proposals that have come and gone and been considered over the past few weeks. Even this morning there have been some changes and amendments and there’s stuff flying all over in Washington, so this is a fast-moving story in an already over-stressed media environment. Fun!

Bottom line, tomorrow there is supposed to be a vote on an immigration bill. So, in advance, please read this Twitter thread by Tom Jawetz, the VP of Immigration Policy for the Center for American Progress. Honestly, it’s one of the best clause-by-clause analyses I’ve seen of a bill, and it’s under 20 tweets!

Then call your Congresscritter and tell them to oppose it. Check out Indivisible’s great primer, and script here (pasted below as well).

Script: Hi! My name is [name] and I’m calling from [part of state]. I’m calling today to tell [Representative] to vote NO on the Paul Ryan proposal. These bills are taking Dreamers and child migrants hostage in exchange for dramatic spending on the wall and racist changes to our immigration system that prevent people from reuniting with their family members. If [Representative] supports immigrants, they will vote no.

Staffer:  Thanks for calling. [Representative] is currently evaluating all proposals and is hoping to make a decision soon. [Representative] hopes Congress comes to a solution that provides Dreamers a pathway to citizenship and ends the current family separation crisis.

Caller: There has been a lot of misinformation about the Paul Ryan proposal and what exactly it does regarding the family separation crisis. It would allow for the indefinite detention of immigrant families in DHS custody while they go through criminal proceedings, which is unacceptable. Republicans are holding these children and Dreamers hostage to enable Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda. [Representative] must vote no.

Wednesday: Welcome to ACA Repeal 2.0!

Yet again, we’re dealing with an effort to repeal the ACA. Does it feel like groundhog day? Yeah, I think so too.

So, if you haven’t been really focusing on health care, it would be easy to miss this story with all of the other terrible horribles that are going on. Topher Spiro has authored an excellent analysis of a new proposal that will essentially gut the ACA. So, first things first – if you can take five minutes today, just read his analysis so you know you know what’s up.

Here’s the bottom line (the following quoted from Topher’s article):

Graham-Cassidy 2.0 would repeal ACA protections that:

  • Require insurance companies to cover essential benefits, such as maternity care, prescription drugs, mental health care, and treatment for opioid addiction
  • Prohibit insurance companies from charging higher premiums based on pre-existing conditions
  • Limit how much insurance companies can charge older individuals compared with younger individuals
  • Prohibit insurance companies from imposing lifetime and annual limits on all essential benefits

As a result, insurance companies could:

  • Eliminate coverage of maternity care, prescription drugs, mental health care, and treatment for opioid addiction
  • Charge people with pre-existing conditions much higher premiums
  • Charge older individuals much higher premiums
  • Impose lifetime and annual limits on essential benefits that are no longer required

What to do? Check out this social toolkit that you can use to spread the message.

Then call your Senators and tell them that you see what’s going on and you expect them to protect your healthcare. It’s never too early to let them know that you’re watching.

Thursday: Check out What’s Up in Your State With OFA:

You guys know how I love resources – and here’s a great one! Organizing for Action has created Organizing for 18 – which includes targeted House races, of course – but also state ballot measures, and state-level races that they’ve chosen because of their impact on redistricting. There’s maps and analysis and all that jazz. Check it out!

You can also sign up to be an ’18 team leader. As they say: “You don’t have to be a political expert. You just have to be passionate about making a difference in your community, your state, and your country.” 

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

Friday: RSVP for a Families Belong Together March

As you know, our work is not nearly over with regard to the family separation crisis. Children are still going to bed not knowing where their family is. Mothers can’t find their babies.

We are the richest country in the richest time in our history and we cannot reunite children that we separated from their families. Unacceptable.

So besides calling your Congress(wo)man and Senators, get your shoes on and attend a march this weekend. It’s important to show – visibly – that we will not stand for this.

Head over here to find a march in your area. Can’t attend? Post to social media. Be loud, in your own way.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. I read and respond to every e-mail. (Really! I really do!) We’re in this together.

If you want one more quick action, make someone’s day and send this pep talk to a friend or two.

If you’d like to sign up to get this pep talk and action list in your in-box each week, you can do that here. Welcome, friend!

Lastly, if you’d like to support this work (thanks to those who have done so!), you can become a supporter here.



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