ethics,  film,  politics,  racism

Voting is Harm Reduction

Lately, my Beloved and I have been binge watching Call the Midwife, which he is enjoying because of a personal connection to his family history and culture.  I’m enjoying it because I love stories about women interacting with women.  The midwives live in a convent, along with a small order of nuns, who organize the medical practice, and create a loving family of women.  I desperately want to join the sisterhood.  But it is the compassion of the nurses, who are young women that get involved in the lives of their patients, that carry the show along. 

And it’s amazing how a story set so far away can resonate with us so closely.  One night, the episode was about an elderly woman who had been separated from her five children when she entered a workhouse after she was widowed.  She was never given the fate of her children, who all died of illnesses in the unsanitary conditions of the workhouse.  She is tormented by this all of her life, until the midwife nurse charged with her care follows the parish records and finds the burial place of her youngest child.

“The Boys’ Workhouse”, Albert Edelfelt (1885)

In the final scene, the woman bends down and plants her body over the resting place of her child, at peace at last.

My Beloved turned to me to talk to me about the work houses, public houses that were established for the destitute of the parish to have a place to go.  Families were separated from each other upon entry, kept in separate wings of the work houses with no contact.  Conditions were poor and disease was rampant because of the crowding, although the workers were given a safe place to sleep at night.

And then we were silent, because the similarity to the news was obvious and painful.  Here we are, nearly a century after the work houses were shut down in the U.K. for their inhumane conditions, living in a country that is currently taking children from their parents in order to disincentivize refugees from central and southern America.

An inside view of one of the tents we are using to house detained migrant children, 2018

One father, not understanding what had happened, killed himself.  Other children have been lost, separated from their families and moved into an overwhelmed bureaucracy that is losing records and losing people.  Guards have raped the children, who have been housed in chain cages, on floors without blankets.

Here, in America, in one of the wealthiest countries in the world.  Here, we take refugee children and do the same thing that the Victorians did for their poor.  Like in the workhouses, the children are not receiving an education.  They have little in the way of legal representation.  Their environment has been designed to demoralize them.

They have been taken from their families.

They have been taken from their families, to punish their parents for seeking our help. 

The episode was a haunting episode, that has lingered with me since we watched it.  And all I can think, as the midterms approach and I feel so helpless to create actual change, is that voting is harm reduction.

Voting is harm reduction.

Voting is harm reduction.

Voting is harm reduction.

This administration has actively sought — and continues to seek — to do harm, to the environment, to people fleeing violence and wars that we have instigated, to LGBTQ civil rights, to healthcare, to the rights of women.  And all we seem to be able to do is to try to reduce the onslaught, to speak up and say, no, this is so very wrong.  I have to place my desperate hope on the thought that there are enough people out there that we can make enough of a difference to slow down the harm.

I have been wrong too many times before.  I envy the faith of the sisters in Call the Midwife, who reach for the humanity in every soul of the parish that they tend.

But how I want to believe.

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