Viewpoint: Ignoring suffering is a privilege

We are proud of our community and we are proud to welcome visitors to it. But we will not hide our work because some people are on vacation.

by Bo Greene

It is embarrassing to admit that it took a Donald Trump presidency to shake us from the comfort of being moderately politically aware people and turn us into politically active ones. We were always voters and did the work of learning about issues and what and whom we should vote for, and we thought that was enough.

We knew that racism had never really been eradicated from our country, but we did not see any role for us in helping further the cause other than calling out any blatant bigotry we saw.

In the last year and a half, however, all of us have become increasingly uncomfortable in our seats on the relative sidelines. We have seen and become aware of things we had been convinced were not really part of American culture. With that awakening we have realized how much bigotry we actually did experience growing up and we have come to accept that we cannot sit this fight out any longer.

Working with Indivisible MDI has given us the outlet to use our voice and our energy to fight the injustices that are so blatantly visible in the Trump era. The phrase “Once you knew, what did you do?” is what motivates us each and every day to speak out and fight for a better, kinder world.

In the past two weeks Indivisible MDI has had a big presence in Bar Harbor fighting against family separation and detention. On June 30, we joined nearly 800 cities and towns across the country that held rallies as part of a national Families Belong Together campaign. In the July Fourth parade, we had a powerful float that brought attention to immigrant children being held in cages as part of Trump’s “zero tolerance” policy.

Both were incredibly well-received and gave us hope that this particular issue bothers enough Americans that we may be able to help turn around this cruel and inhumane practice of using children as political pawns.

At the rally in the Village Green, between 500 and 600 people crowded the common space in the brutal summer heat for one hour to show their disgust for family separation and detention and the general way that the current administration is treating immigrants. Locals and tourists joined in the protest and it was a stunning show of compassion and commitment.

Total strangers came up to me and other members of the Indivisible MDI steering committee afterward and thanked us for holding such a well organized and important event. We all ended that day with more energy to work on behalf of immigrants and against the racism that clearly fuels Trump’s policies.

The next morning our steering committee was made aware of an email that a tourist had sent to Bar Harbor’s town manager complaining about the protest and rally that had happened at the Village Green. Although that was the only negative reaction any of us had heard from the event, reading the words of that email left us stunned and angry.

The author of the email spoke of her frequent trips to Bar Harbor where she comes to “unplug” and escape from the daily chaos and responsibilities.” She wrote that she had a “Stop Trump” sign shoved in her face as she exited a store and heard a “young man yelling about immigrant rights on a mic from the park.”

I cannot speak about a sign the woman may have seen on Main Street, but during the hour of our event, hundreds of people peacefully gathered in the park and listened to the eloquent, passionate words of three women—a social worker, a teacher and a lawyer—and a Catholic priest. There were no young men yelling.

The visitor who wrote the letter commented that she comes to Bar Harbor “to escape this, escape the news, politics, work etc. We drive 11 hours and spend $500.00 a night to ensure I do not have to deal with this nonsense on vacation. Bar Harbor is a summer tourist location that caters to people from all around the world, of all nationalities and backgrounds,” she wrote. “So why would this be acceptable to do in the center of town where people are trying to enjoy quiet? If citizens of Bar Harbor need to hold these rallies (which they have every right to) can’t they be held at a location away from the vacationers?”

Reading her words literally made me cringe. This, I realize, is what is tearing America apart: This privilege, this lack of empathy and awareness, this elitism.

America is suffering from a crisis of morality and whether on vacation or not, none of us should have the luxury of ignoring it. The particular policy we were protesting the day that the apparently disgruntled, well-to-do woman was in town is so abhorrent that a huge majority of Americans from varying political persuasions, in addition to leaders and citizens from all around the world, are rallying together to protest the practice and denounce it as a human rights violation.

That a person mentions how much money they spend to come to Bar Harbor and suggests that they should be able to buy themselves exclusion from this reality reeks of such privilege it is sickening.

Bar Harbor is a vibrant community that certainly benefits from the millions of visitors who come here to experience the uniqueness of Acadia National Park. We are not, however, a community willing to abandon our own values to silently “cater” to tourists. Mount Desert Island is very politically and socially aware and we recognize the importance of protecting the culture of this unique place.

We know we are here on precious Native land where indigenous people lived for thousands of years. We know that in order to maintain a vibrant tourist industry, we must preserve the land and sea that makes this place a destination for so many. We know that in order to run the many restaurants, hotels, shops and services here, we rely heavily on foreign workers, including new citizens, green card holders, and temporary workers. We know that preserving the uniqueness of MDI and Bar Harbor must be paramount to any long term sustainability plan. And yes, we know that it is a fine line between benefiting from and exploiting the place we get to call home.

Rest assured that Indivisible MDI will continue to fight for a more just and humane America. We will continue to use our freedom of speech and we will continue to organize and gather in public spaces to share information and encourage others to speak out about racism and injustice wherever they see it. We are proud of our community and we are proud to welcome visitors to it. But we will not hide our work because some people are on vacation. There is no vacation for the many people suffering at the hands of injustice. We will continue to treat both residents and guests with respect and welcome all to join us in this important work.

Bo Greene is a member of the Indivisible MDI Steering Committee, which also includes Gail Leiser, Jill Weber, Amy Roebuck, Jennifer Steen-Booher, Anna Durand, Heather Peterson, Jayne Ashworth and Linda Homer.

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