Viewpoints: On the ‘spirit of sacrifice’ for social change

  • Mohammad Saleh speaks at the Lights for Liberty protest in Peterborough July 12, 2019. Staff photo by Ben Conant—

  • The Lights for Liberty protest in Peterborough July 12. Right: Mohammad Saleh speaks at the rally Staff photoS by Ben Conant—

Published: 8/23/2019 3:16:56 PM
Modified: 8/23/2019 3:16:40 PM

As we find ourselves dismayed and outraged by the recent push for deportation of immigrants by the administration, we cannot help but wonder about indifference by a significant segment of the population. Much of this can be attributed to the racism and the hyper-partisan politics of our time. Despite all our protests, it is shocking to see a significant section of the population is skeptical about a more humane and welcoming immigration policy. It is not easy to erase racism from individual’s mind, but we must find a way to reach the heart of indifferent moderates if we are to have any chance of saving the families who are being torn apart. I wondered whether our protests and the partisan nature of it is only making it more difficult for a common man to fully empathize with those who are suffering.

These were my frantic thoughts, during and the days and weeks after hearing about Eliazar Ayala. Eliazar, a NH resident, father of 4 minors, was locked in ICE jail, facing imminent deportation. He was an undocumented immigrant from Honduras, who came to the United States as a minor, fleeing poverty and violence. He has been in the country for more than 20 years. He has lived a productive life and has never committed any crime. A flat tire and a call from the police to ICE put him on the path of being separated from his family and children.

As I found myself restless hearing Eliazar’s story, feeling outraged by the shear cruelty and imbalance between the crime and punishment, I questioned my own conviction. I realized that despite my dedication to the cause, my protests have not amounted to any real sacrifice. I felt that for a long time our society has promoted the idea of individualism to a point where we may have forgotten the virtue of sacrifice. If we are to change the heart of those who are indifferent we must have the courage of our convictions and show that in our spirit of sacrifice.

In that spirit we organized an event titled ‘faith in humanity’ on Thanksgiving Day, asking people to interrupt their own Thanksgiving celebration and show solidarity with the Ayala family on the verge of losing the father. The response was overwhelmingly positive, as attendants overfilled the Keene library auditorium. Even the librarian and her associates had to make personal sacrifices to open the facility on a holiday.

On that day, we reaffirmed that sacrifice is more powerful than protest. As the community gathered together we made a solemn pledge that we will do everything in our power to save this family from being separated. During the weeks and months that followed we raised money from the community and continued to provide logistic and legal resources. It took many months before all our effort resulted in the freedom of the man from ICE jail, but during these months this story of our effort reverberated in the community. Not surprisingly, we observed that the fiercest anti-immigrant individuals found it difficult to ignore and argue against this mass act of love.

I believe cooperation, empathy, love and a spirit of sacrifice is within all of us. That is what binds humanity. It is time we reflect this spirit in our action more often.

Mohammad Saleh is an immigration activist in Keene. He is a member of the of Keene Immigration and Refugee Partnership (KIRP) and serves on the Keene Human Rights Committee. Mohammad received the Micah award in 2019 from Granite State Organizing (http://granitestateorganizing.org) for the selfless advocacy on the behalf of Eliazar Ayala.

This column was brought to the Ledger-Transcript by Lights for Liberty Activist Julie Zimmer, writer of the Viewpoints “Under the same stars.” You can find the group on Facebook at Peterborough Lights for Liberty Coalition.




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