Our Moral Responsibility

We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop. ~Mother Teresa

The images we’re seeing from Afghanistan are gutting. There’s just no other way to describe them.

I stayed up late last night, unable to sleep as I thought of all of the people – especially women and girls – who were at that very moment calculating how to escape. Or how to survive.

These are dark times, friend.

Climate catastrophes, COVID resurgences, democratic setbacks, human rights atrocities – it’s all so much.

Sometimes I feel like an over-soaked sponge. I just can’t absorb any more.

It can be hard, during times like these, not to see everything we do as insignificant. Worthless. A waste.

“None of it mattered,” I saw repeated again and again over the weekend as Kabul fell. “What a waste.”

When I spoke to a friend the other night, he, too, bemoaned the loss of 20 years, saying something to the effect that it was all for nothing.

It was not nothing, I replied.

How so? he asked (because he’s always curious, and always gives space for different views).

I had to give a lot of thought to how I could give the proper words to what I was feeling.

Giving 20 years of a better life to millions of people is not nothing. For twenty years, hopes were created. Dreams were made. Women learned to read, went to college, started businesses. For 20 years, there was change. Now people who are 25-40 have come of age in a time when the Taliban did not dictate their lives. They know what life can be. That’s an inspiration that will be harder for any regime to snuff out.

How can you ever say that improving someone’s life – even if not permanently – is a waste?

I have not served in the military, so I tread softly here. I recognize that my role has been as an American, watching from abroad while the tangible work – the dangerous, shifting, boots-on-the-ground work is undertaken by those far braver than I. They sacrificed dearly for this cause, and I cannot fathom what it is like to see it fall apart in mere days. They – you, if you have served – have earned the right to call all of this an abject failure for which they should not have risked their lives.

But for armchair warriors to say it was all a waste goes, I think, too far.

I’m not sure if it’s a uniquely American sentiment that if you can’t fix everything, undertaking the effort is a waste of your time, but I see it often.

“It’s just a drop in the bucket,” “It’s like throwing a deck chair off of the Titanic,” “Don’t bother…what’s the point?” You’ve heard it, too, I’m sure. Whether with climate, or COVID, or common sense gun reform, or police reform. The question seems to be, if however we define success isn’t possible, then why try at all?

It’s hard for me to even answer that question because I believe, so fervently, that we are obligated to try. I believe you are put here on earth to do something – to make a difference – to make lives better. Person by person, family by family, or society by society. Not doing what you are capable of doing is robbing the world of your potential.

Your efforts are worth something, even if what you are able to achieve is impermanent and imperfect.

Our government’s hubris brought us to Afghanistan. The intention was grand. The plan’s execution was not.

That is the duality of the United States. We are simultaneously great, and lacking.

Our role over the coming days is to open our doors – wide – to the Afghan people, especially those who assisted our efforts directly or indirectly, and those who advocated for human rights.

Not doing so will be a moral injury that will cut deeply.

But that is where you and I come in – those of us who have comfortably sat in air-conditioned homes and listened to news reports of the fighting a world away. We can show the world that the American people demand that we evacuate the people who stood with us, and who fought for freedom. We can demand that our government show the people who remain and the world that fighting for a better life is never a waste, that their efforts will not be forgotten, and that we do not abandon our allies.

So many of the people who are, at this moment, clamoring for a flight out of Kabul, or awaiting their fate in their homes, or shaking with fear on flights across the ocean to unknown lands, fought for a better life for themselves and their children and their country(wo)men. So many of them fought alongside our country(wo)men – regardless of our country’s motivation.

We can all fight for these people, now.

We must fight for these people, now.

There is much to do, friends.

So let’s get to work.

Actions for the Week of August 17, 2021

This week’s actions are devoted to the Afghan people, who are suffering so greatly right now. I’ve seen a lot of folks looking for ways to help, and wanted to devote my time this week to finding impactful ways to contribute.

Press government to speed the process and accept more refugees (Women Leaders):

There are lots of moving parts here, but we need to press local, state, and federal governments to actively ease the path for Afghan refugees to come here. This is needed immediately.

From the federal side, call your Congressperson and your Senators (both) today. Again, lots of movement right now, and I’m sure by the time I hit “publish” on this post, more will have happened. But I was shocked to see that in a bipartisan letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas advocating for the “Biden administration to take swift, robust action to protect and support Afghan women leaders facing unparalleled danger following the Taliban’s violent sweep across Afghanistan and seizure of Kabul,” only 44 Senators signed – and of that, only two Republicans.

Here are the Senators who signed: Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Jack Reed (D-R.I.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Tom Carper (D-Del.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Tina Smith (D-Minn.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Bill Cassidy (R-La.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Bob Casey (D-Pa.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii), John Hickenlooper (D-Colo.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Jon Ossoff (D-Ga.), Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), and Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.).  

The senators called on the Administration to create a humanitarian parole category specifically for women leaders, activists, human rights defenders, parliamentarians, journalists, and members of the Female Tactical Platoon of the Afghan Special Security Forces, and to streamline the paperwork process to facilitate referrals to allow for fast, humane, and efficient relocation to the United States.

Call your Senators, and if they did not sign the letter, ask their staff pointedly why not. BONUS POINTS: Tweet to your Senators, linking the statement and letter (which are here: https://www.foreign.senate.gov/press/chair/release/menendez-shaheen-lead-senate-colleagues-in-bipartisan-letter-urging-biden-admin-to-protect-afghan-women-leaders-in-wake-of-taliban-takeover-in-afghanistan) and tagging reporters that cover your state – so you can make sure your local reporters are aware they’re refusing to even sign on to a letter calling for faster relocation.

Here’s a script, using a good chunk of a great one created by Chop Wood Carry Water (Hat tip!). Note there are two options at the end, one for senators who did not sign the letter, and another for senators who did: SCRIPT: Hi, my name is ___ and I’m calling from ____. I want Congress to take tangible, immediate steps to evacuate Afghans who worked with the military during the war and women leaders, activists, human rights defenders, parliamentarians and journalists. I understand that the withdrawal was going to be awful no matter when we did it, but we CANNOT abandon these folks. They should be given humanitarian parole and brought directly to the USA.

The Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, and the Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee sent a letter signed by 44 Senators urging the administration to speed up the refugee process, especially for women.

[If Senator did not sign the letter:] Why didn’t the Senator sign that letter? Does the Senator not believe protecting allies and human rights advocates is in our national interest?

[If Senator did sign the letter:] Thank the Senator for signing that letter – it’s a good first step. Now, what can I, and other residents of [state] do to help speed the process?

Press government to speed the process and accept more refugees (Allies):

Again, let’s call our Congresspeople – Senators and Reps – and demand that they help speed the process and increase resources to get our allies out of Afghanistan. HIAS has a GREAT advocacy site (https://www.hias.org/crisis-afghanistan-how-you-can-help) with talking points. https://www.hias.org/sites/default/files/august_recess_phone_banking_script.pdf

Register for HIAS Webinar on August 23:

The situation in Afghanistan will be fast-moving. Register now for a webinar that will happen on August 23, with HIAS. This is something to bookmark – they’ll give us all a run-down on the status of the situation at that point, how we can help, and advocacy options: https://www.hias.org/events/public-briefing-afghanistan-crisis

Become a Refugee community sponsor:

As a community sponsor, you can partner with your local resettlement agency to greet a refugee family at their airport, assist them in securing and furnishing initial housing, connect them with local services, and show them all of the things that make your community so special. This is perhaps the most hands-on of the actions, but I dare you to get through this video without tearing up: https://youtu.be/G2koRpPkJMY

You can find opportunities to be a community sponsor across the country. See the map of opportunities here (there are many!): https://rcusa.org/get-involved/volunteer/#map

Volunteer with your local resettlement agency:

Even if you are not able to be a community sponsor, you can still volunteer in other capacities with the resettlement agency that’s closest to you. There are resettlement agencies throughout the country. Again, this is a great map that will help you find the agencies closest to you. https://rcusa.org/get-involved/volunteer/#map

No resettlement agencies nearby? That’s okay. Type in your zip code and the search engine will direct you to remote opportunities.

Also check HIAS, which has specific resettlement partners (https://www.hias.org/what/resettlement-partners) and a great page with other opportunities to help: https://www.hias.org/crisis-afghanistan-how-you-can-help

Sign up to help with airport pick-up, apartment set-up, and meal delivery:

LIRS (Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service) is calling for volunteers to support incoming Afghan Allies, Special Immigrant Visa holders, who are being evacuated to the United States. Afghan Allies are currently arriving in specific regions (MA/VA/DC, Seattle/Tacoma, Fort Worth, and Dallas) but want to be ready to welcome these families wherever they go.

If you are able to volunteer your time to help with services like airport pick-ups, apartment set-ups, or bringing a meal, sign up here: https://lirsconnect.org/get_involved/action_center/siv

Note they are looking specifically for people in MA/VA/DC, Seattle/Tacoma, Fort Worth, and Dallas – but are requesting that you sign up even if you don’t live in those areas so they are ready to call upon volunteers no matter where refugees are sent.

AirBnB offers stays to refugees:

If you are a host with Airbnb, you can be part of their Airbnb.org program that provides free stays to people. HIAS is partnering with Airbnb to connect displaced people in need of temporary housing – including refugees from Afghanistan – to community members who have available space to share. It’s an interesting program. Check it out here: https://www.airbnb.org

Share information about potential evacuation/immigration pathways:

Sometimes just sharing information can help get it into the hands of folks that need it. The available paths are limited. If you are a journalist and have ever worked with Afghans, here is a thread that helps you understand how you can help sponsor them. https://twitter.com/AzmatZahra/status/1426257274767650820?s=20

WHEW! GO TEAM!

P.S.: Why don’t you make someone’s day and send this pep talk to a friend or two? I bet they need it.

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!

P.P.S.: If you want to help support this work you can do so via Patreon at
https://www.patreon.com/smalldeedsdone or via paypal at https://www.paypal.me/smalldeeds
My deepest gratitude in advance.

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. Don’t you forget it.

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