When It's Personal
The story for this post comes from This American Life, 673 Left Behind. If you have 20 I recommend you click and listen from 16:30 minutes to 36:40. You can read the full transcript here, but the podcast has a greater impact, an illustration of the power of storytelling. Dear Group, People thrive on Us versus Them narratives. Propaganda, often characterized by repetition of a few words or a simple idea, can be used to shape the narrative. Thus it is that anti-immigrant rhetoric "rapists, murderers, MS-13" fires up passion among those disposed to listen. But what happens when the "Them" gets personal? On the morning of April 5, 2018 agents of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers raided a slaughterhouse 15 miles outside of Morristown, Tennessee, a town of about 30,000 in the Appalachian Mountains. (The nearest big city is Knoxville, population 186,000, about an hour away.) Morristown is a bastion of Republicanism and an area containing about 100 churches. News articles of that day focus on the alleged malfeasance of the owners of the slaughterhouse in hiring undocumented immigrants, not on the effects of the raid on the social fabric of the surrounding towns. The podcast I featured today fills in some of the those details. Nearly a hundred people were held for questioning on the day of the raid. Fifty-four of them were sent to a detention center around six hours away in Alabama. They were allowed little or no contact with their families before departure. We don't often think of it this way, but such an event touches many hundreds of lives. It tore at the social fabric of the town...and it provides cause for people to wonder if the point of deportation might be more than "rapists and murderers and drug dealers." Below is a copy of part of the transcript from the podcast. [The bold in the quote is mine.]: Lilly Sullivan [moderator] She [Krista Etter] saw the ICE trailer, officers cordoning off the entrance to the plant. Krista's a Trump supporter. She's not a fan of illegal immigration. Most of the area is that way. The county went 77% to Trump. She didn't know anyone who'd been directly affected. Over the weekend, she went to a vigil for the parents who'd been taken away, not because she wanted to. She didn't. She's the general manager for a local paper. And they asked her to take pictures. She says that when she showed up, she was actually a little angry that all these people were there at all, like what do they expect? These people broke the law. They should have seen it coming. Krista Etter I thought this possibly was a good thing, that ICE was cracking down on immigration. They're here illegally. They need to go home. Lilly Sullivan [moderator] And then she started listening to the kids at the mic. Teenager [SPEAKING SPANISH] Krista Etter There was a young man. He was a teenager, 14, 15 years old, that said, he just wanted his mom to come home. Teenager [SPEAKING SPANISH] Krista Etter He didn't have anybody else. He just wanted his mom to come home. Teenager [SPEAKING SPANISH] Krista Etter It just really, just shook my soul. It was-- it was almost overwhelming, because there were so many children speaking. And-- and, I actually kind of had to get out of there. Because I was like, it's getting hot. And I have health issues. And I was like, I need to-- I have to remove myself, you know, walk out to my car, get a breath. And God's kind of going, see, I wanted you here, because you're not correct in your thinking. You're not correct in thinking that this is so black and white. Because when I heard crack down on illegal immigration, I interpreted it as a crackdown on illegal immigrants that were criminals. If there was a drug situation, you know, violent criminals, pedophile, any kind of situation of that nature. That's what I expected. And I really believe I'm not the only one who did that. I don't think anybody ever really stopped to think that they were going to go after the family man working at the meatpacking plant. That's not what I had in mind. I'm still a President Trump supporter. I guess, I have to hold out hope that maybe he didn't understand he was going after the guy in the meatpacking plant. I mean, I guess he probably does. Lilly Sullivan [moderator] I talked to a lot of people in town, who, after the raid, said they felt stunned. People kept reminding me, this is the Bible Belt. This town's God fearing. There's over 100 churches in the area. Love thy neighbor, people take that seriously. You'd have to listen to the podcast to hear just how seriously the conservative residents of Morristown reacted. The trouble is it will take a lot more writing and storytelling and preaching than this podcast to change the propaganda narrative of "rapists, murderers, and drug dealers" for many of the Republican voters of area. Think of this story the next time you read of the City of Spokane City Council discussing alleged violations of citizens rights by government agents at the Intermodal Center (the old railroad station downtown). Keep to the high ground, Jerry P.S. Researching this story was a lesson for me in the fragmentary nature of our understanding of almost everything. The news articles I was able to google were very dry. They presented little beyond some raw facts, numbers and a few quotes, mostly from government officials. It is something else entirely to listen to the podcast, explore the area on googlemaps, and listen to the voices of the people who were there and the reaction of the community. This is a lesson the talking heads on Fox News and Donald Trump understand all too well: keep beating the drum about "rapists, murderers, and drug dealers" and your listeners will form a mindframe that allows them to condone the most awful things...so long as they don't have to confront the reality of how those actions affect their neighbors, real people.