‘I am only well if you are well’

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Undocumented activist and Syracuse, NY resident Aly Wane addresses the Poor People’s Campaign rally in Albany, NY
on May 21.

by Aly Wane

Despite the fact that we are living in the age of Trump, I am still undocumented and unafraid. I was born in Senegal, originally brought here legally when I was 9, am now 41 years old and am still trying to become a citizen, which should give you a sense of how broken our immigration system is. But I’m not simply here to share my story with you.

What I want to share with you instead is what I have learned in my organizing journey, namely the power of intersectional solidarity and intersectional struggle. This is what I have learned in a nutshell.  This is a proverb from the Kikuyu tribe in Kenya, and I want you to repeat after me: “I am only well if you are well.”

You see, when I first started organizing for undocumented immigrants like myself, folks facing the cruel deportation machinery that is the result of bipartisan efforts that go back to at least the 1996 laws passed by none other than liberal icon Bill Clinton, I thought that I was only fighting for my rights and the rights of other immigrants.

But then I realized that though I didn’t have health care, many of my US citizen friends didn’t have access to health care either.  And then I realized that though I could scarcely find legal work, the working class in this country had been abandoned by both parties, and that we are in the midst of dealing with the results of 30 to 40 years of neoliberal politics which only benefit the 1 percent.  And then I realized that though I was heartbroken by the number of my immigrant friends wallowing in detention centers due to a so-called “War on Terror” which has turned migrants into “potential terrorists,” many of my mostly Black and brown U.S. citizen friends were the victims of a prison industrial complex that has been thriving thanks to the so-called “War on Drugs” which has de facto criminalized a whole section of the population.

What I realized was the wisdom of that old proverb: “I am only well if you are well.” I am only whole and healthy if you are healthy. I am only uncaged if you are uncaged. I will have access to the rights I’m owed, the rights to work and love in a country I’ve lived in for 25 years, when you have full access to your rights because you are my neighbor and I am my brother’s and sister’s keeper.  This is how we win.

Not by division and demonization, but by solidarity, empathy, and a deep commitment to dismantling systems of oppression. There are no easy solutions ahead. No magic solution to dig us out of this moment of history. My hope today rests in you. And me. And our capacity to remain human, loving and connected in this era of demonization and oppression. We shall overcome.

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