The Word-a-Day email that I get recently featured a couple of lines from the poet and novelist Langston Hughes (1902-1967). Curious, I went to the source of the stanza, a poem entitled, “Democracy.”
Democracy will not come
Today, this year
Through compromise and fear.
I have as much right
As the other fellow has
On my two feet
And own the land.
I tire so of hearing people say,
Let things take their course.
Tomorrow is another day.
I do not need my freedom when I’m dead.
I cannot live on tomorrow’s bread.
Is a strong seed
In a great need.
I live here, too.
I want freedom
Just as you.
The lines that had initially drawn my interest are in the third stanza, ending, “I cannot live on tomorrow’s bread.” But I’m also struck by his identifying the strong seed of freedom–there’s such a great rhythm to those lines–they feel like they really want to be a song.
Finally, the last stanza seems more relevant in the current political situation in the US than ever before. To hear someone declare, “I live here, too. I want freedom just as you,” raises all kinds of issues, from the state and direction of the American civil rights movement to the global refugee crisis to the present resurgence of nationalism and the future of the balance of power around the world.
I can hear President Trump answering an “I live here, too” statement with, “Not if I can help it, and I can help it.” But what if by “here” the speaker means, “here, on this planet”?
In today’s Interpreter, a newsletter from the New York Times, I read an opinion from former Canadian politician Michael Ignatieff that “who belongs?” will be the 21st century’s key question.
Data from a recent Pew research poll indicates that supporters of far-right parties in Europe and the Republican party in the US feel that shared culture and identity are more important than simple citizenship in determining who belongs. From the Pew report:
From the Interpreter:
“This divide helps to explain the West’s turmoil over immigration. For those who embrace a national identity based on shared culture, an influx of immigrants who do not share it can seem like an existential threat — a dilution or change to what the nation is, not merely the presence of people who are different.” The article also suggests that the fear that many have of a spread of Sharia law can be interpreted as a way of expressing a deeper worry, that accepting immigrants from different cultures will erode national identity.
I can’t help thinking that this issue is going to get more complicated before it gets simpler. And as I hear Langston Hughes’ powerful refrain, “Freedom is a strong seed planted in a great need,” I pray that we will consider what we can do to water that seed and nurture its growth. For on its growth and flourishing depends the future wellbeing of all of us.
[Images: raresoul.com, pewglobal.org]