Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

For the Babies

Red-eyed Vireo

I started out yesterday morning listening to my Red-eyed Vireo singing his laid-back song; later in the morning, suddenly I was hearing more than one Red-eyed Vireo making anxious, distressed call notes in my tree. I ran out to see a Blue Jay sneaking about in the upper limbs, being divebombed by three adult vireos. I yelled, but it was the vireos who finally and successfully chased it off.

I’ve focused my entire adult life on the love, understanding, and protection of birds, but also on human children. I was a teacher for four years before having my own children, and loved introducing my students to birds—indeed, the ones I’ve reconnected with over the years have all mentioned my teaching them about birds. I started producing For the Birds when my own youngest nestling was 7 months old, and I was as fiercely protective a mother of small ones as my Red-eyed Vireos are. My love for birds and children are entirely intertwined.

We humans like to think we’re superior to other animals for our ability to feel empathy and for our powerful ability to nurture babies of other species. But the quality of empathy varies greatly within our species. Sociopaths are defined in large part by the absence of empathy.

Many laws and regulations relate directly to the well-being of babies and children, or to the natural environment that human and avian babies and children as well as we adults depend on. I get frustrated and even angry when politicians use weasel words to set policies that put the profits of corporations and the wealth of the 1 percent above the needs of children and the environment, but overall I’ve never thought those politicians were necessarily sociopaths, or that they would do anything egregiously outrageous to score political points, like hold children and babies literally hostage, in literal holding cages or other enclosures, ripped from their parents, in order to force other politicians to bow to them and pass an otherwise unconscionable law.

Yesterday morning I heard vireos in distress, and last night just before bed I learned that the President of the United States had created what are literally called “tender age shelters” to house the babies and toddlers who have been stolen from their helpless parents and are being held hostage until Congress funds an obscene wall along the entire Mexican border—along that sensitive Rio Grande habitat that so many of us birders, and all the wildlife we see down there, depend on. I learned yesterday that there is no prescribed mechanism for getting these children being held in what are surely concentration camps back to their parents, no matter what the outcome, and that at least one Guatemala mother was deported while her child was kept here.

In my lifetime, not one president would ever have considered using babies and children as blatant political bargaining chips, but now the politicians of an entire party are bowing to the current president's desires—even those very Republicans who pooh-poohed the concept of that wall during their own campaigns for president in 2016, talking about how expensive and destructive yet fundamentally ineffective that wall would be. A local Duluth politician running for the District 8 Republican seat in Congress said yesterday that tearing children from their parents is “heartbreaking,” yet he is perfectly willing to allow this to continue until Democrats cave and allow that expensive and destructive yet ineffective wall to be built. He’ll be toadying to a sociopath tonight, when the man responsible for this evil policy comes to Duluth.

I’ll be at the protests today. Babies and children are in distress, and everyone with a conscience must do something.