Category Archives: Lights for Liberty

Rich background on Statue of Liberty poet Emma Lazarus

Biographer: Statue of Liberty poem embraces migrants from ‘all places’

By Nomaan Merchant, Vallejo Times-Herald, August 15, 2019
The Associated Press
This undated image shows American poet Emma Lazarus, who wrote the poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty. Lazarus wrote “The New Colossus” in 1883, one year after Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which banned laborers from China.  (AP Photo/File)

Long before a Trump administration official suggested the poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty welcomed only people from Europe, the words captured America’s promise to newcomers at a time when the nation was also seeking to exclude many immigrants from landing on its shores.

A biographer of poet Emma Lazarus on Wednesday challenged the comment by the acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, explaining that Lazarus’ words were her way of urging Americans “to embrace the poor and destitute of all places and origins.”

Lazarus wrote “The New Colossus” in 1883, one year after Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which banned laborers from China. The poem is best known for its line about welcoming “your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Beginning in the 1930s, supporters of immigration began using the poem to bolster their cause. Biographer Esther Schor said Lazarus was “deeply involved” in refugee causes.

Ken Cuccinelli suggested Tuesday in an interview with NPR that the line should be changed to “give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.”

He spoke a day after the administration announced it would move to deny green cards to many migrants who use Medicaid, food stamps, housing vouchers or other forms of public assistance, under existing rules that require people trying to gain legal status to prove they would not be a “public charge,” or burden to the government. Those rules would exempt active duty military members, refugees or asylum seekers.

Cuccinelli, who has said his family is of Irish and Italian origin, told CNN that the poem referred “to people coming from Europe where they had class-based societies.”

Immigrants from around the world rejected that assertion.

“European immigrants are so offended that we would be in a more privileged position or looked upon more favorably because of that,” said Fiona McEntee, a native of Ireland who settled in the U.S. in 2005 and is now an immigration lawyer based in Chicago. “I just think of the Irish immigrants that came over back in the 1800s, early 1900s. That’s really similar to a lot of the immigrants today.”

As tourists sailed and walked around the statue on Wednesday, Primoz Bedenk, an entrepreneur from Slovenia said Lazarus’ poem was “not meant to exclude or select certain people.”

“From the first day, they were words that welcomed everyone, not just those who suit today’s establishment,” Bedenk said.

The administration, which has enacted several measures to restrict immigration, has challenged the poem before. Two years ago, senior Trump adviser Stephen Miller, in defending a proposal to favor English speaking immigrants, argued that the poem is “not actually part of the original statue” because it was not inscribed in the base until 1903, 17 years after the monument was unveiled.

Decades after ships stopped arriving at Ellis Island within sight of the statue, immigrants say it is still a powerful symbol in their countries of origin.

“It tells everyone around the world to come to the United States with the possibility of building a better life,” said Seydi Sarr, a 44-year-old naturalized immigrant from Senegal. “That’s the dream the United States is selling. I didn’t have a dream of being here, but when the opportunity came I said, ‘Yes, that allows me to move up.’”

Benicia Lights for Liberty: “A Long Way From Home” – Poem by Mary Susan Gast


By Mary Susan Gast
(Italics sung to the traditional spiritual tune, “Motherless Child”)
Nikki Basch Davis, Welcome To This World Little One (used with permission)

Sometimes I feel like a motherless child,
Sometimes I feel like a fatherless child,
Sometimes I feel like a tossed-away child,
A long way from home,
A long way from home.

See, here’s the thing,
Mr. Candidate for the U.S. House of
Ms. Fox News Sage,
and other Assorted Apologists
for the detention of children,
The crying and the sobbing and the calling out
For Mami and Papi
That you write off
As nothing more than you’d hear
On a typical morning
At the neighborhood daycare dropoff,
Or that you equate to a summer camp experience,
Really is intrinsically, substantially, irreconcilably

At daycare—at least at the daycares I’ve known—
Nobody wrenches you away from your mother
While she’s nursing you,
Nobody wrestles your father away from you
While he screams your name and you scream in terror,
Nobody loads you on a plane and dumps you
In the middle of the night
In places with names like Grand Rapids or Topeka.
At summer camp nobody keeps you in a cage where you sleep
when you can, scrunched and contorted,
Tormented by lice, covered by the bleak aluminum wisp of a blanket,
Where you wake for weeks on end in the same soiled clothes,
Your cough untreated, your fears untended,
Stalked by nightmares that don’t dissipate with the dawn.
Where there is no play, no food that warms and nourishes,
Where the exuberant unruly energy for which childhood is noted
Withers, wailing and clutching its forsaken heart.

And most of all—
Listen up, here—
Most of all the difference is
That at the end of the day, at the end of camp,
The person who dropped you off
Picks you up, and takes you home, undamaged.
Back to the people who love you.

[I hope] Some day you’ll feel like an eagle in the air,
Some day you’ll fly like an eagle in the air,
Some day you’ll be like an eagle in the air,
A long way from home—no more!
You’ll find your way home.

Mary Susan Gast © 2018

Benicia Lights for Liberty – reflections, references and follow-ups

By Roger Straw, July 14, 2019

Wow, what an amazing show of support – 400 plus in attendance!

Crowd of 400 at Benicia Lights for Liberty Candlelight Vigil, July 12, 2019 [Photo credit: Larnie Fox]
Crowd of 400 at Benicia Lights for Liberty Candlelight Vigil, 7/12/19 [Photo credit: Larnie Fox]
On Friday evening here in Benicia, we showed up in huge numbers to call for an end to our government’s cruelty and mismanagement at the US southern border.

Caring individuals from Benicia, Vallejo, Martinez and beyond sang, listened, carried protest signs, mingled and lit candles to show solidarity with immigrant families who seek asylum here in our nation that has historically welcomed the world with open arms:

Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
– Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus

Benicia joined over 800 cities worldwide in Lights for Liberty events, calling for an end to human detention camps.

More than one of our guest speakers whose everyday work is helping immigrants showed surprise and deep appreciation at the size of the gathering.  The support we showed paid off in immediate terms for caregivers and organizers – they learned they are NOT alone in our communities, that they have support in their outreach and solidarity and in their shock and disapproval over the callous policies of the Trump administration.

I will list here a number of resources coming out of our candlelight vigil.  Enjoy – and take note where you can contribute going forward…

Two videos of the Benicia Lights for Liberty candlelight vigil

Produced by Benicia’s activist videographer, Constance Beutel, the first is a 22 minute HIGHLIGHTS version.  The second is a FULL version of the evening’s program, running for just over an hour.

For great photos taken at the vigil, see:

Listing of vigil expert speakers and their organizational contacts:

  • Cecilia Flores & Miriam Sammartino – Catholic Charities of Yolo & Solano Counties, offering a full range of immigration services to residents of Solano, Yolo and surrounding counties, including informational sessions, and individual and group processing of citizenship/naturalization applications., (707) 644-8909.
  • Bonnie Hamilton, M.D. – Retired pediatrician, advocate for children, educator on environment.
  • Mina Diaz – Diaz & Loera Centro Latino, a bilingual, multi-service volunteer organization designed to meet the needs of Latino families and individuals in Vallejo., (707) 319-0319.
  • Maria Ordonez – Vital Immigrant Defense Advocacy and Services (VIDAS), Santa Rosa based, expanding access to immigration legal resources and information through collaboration and technology., 707-654-8405.
  • Will Baker & Nick Gates – Solano County Rapid Response Network (SCRRN). Call SCRRN when you hear about ICE in neighborhood or work places. They will send immigration-trained lawyers & observers. They will determine if ICE is actually in the area or if it’s a false alarm., (707) 800-4544.

Here is the printed program for the vigil.

Benicia Lights for Liberty – a perspective, by Jean Walker

Lights for Liberty, a candlelight vigil to end human detention camps – a particpant’s thoughts

By Jean Walker, July 12, 2019

The early evening summer sun simmered in the western sky, shining like a beacon upon the group gathered within and around the gazebo at Benicia City Park Friday evening. I later overheard the crowd estimate was at least 400 hundred people.

My husband and I each had a black canvas camp chair slung across a shoulder. We carefully stepped across the grass, avoiding parents, toddlers, pre-teens, high school students, college kids, and oldsters like us. We found an empty spot, planted our chairs, and, as if on cue, Benicia City Councilmember Steve Young stepped up to the podium with the microphone near his face, speaking a welcoming message to all: “There are people, even in my own family, who tell me, ‘You’re so into politics .. I’m sick of politics .. I don’t pay any attention to politics.’ And all I can say to that is, you may not pay any attention to politics, but politics pays attention to you.”

Young then introduced Benicia City Mayor Elizabeth Patterson who shared that the Benicia City Council adopted the Inclusive Tolerant Safe Community for Everyone resolution in late January 2017 by a vote of 3-2 ( ). She stated this resolution was passed to show “unity and solidarity” against the “illegal and unconstitutional actions by the current administration.”

Representatives from the offices of U.S. Representative Mike Thompson, State Senator Bill Dodd, and State Assembly Member Tim Grayson also spoke. Monica Brown, Benicia’s representative on the Solano County Board of Supervisors, urged everyone to vote “for compassionate caring leaders in all 50 states.”

Dr. Bonnie Hamilton, pediatrician, read a first-person account written by Dr. Dolly Lucio Sevier (published in The Atlantic: ). “Dr. Sevier went to a Border Patrol warehouse in McAllen, Texas, where more than a thousand migrant children were being detained. She saw: a baby being fed from the same unwashed bottle for days; children with clear evidence of an infection; children with signs of malnutrition, dehydration, and sleep deprivation, and several children were exhibiting clear evidence of psychological trauma.”

I learned a lot about local organizations that are helping immigrants:

  • Catholic Charities of Yolo & Solano Counties ( )
  • Diaz & Loera Centro Latino (a bilingual, multi-service volunteer organization designed to meet the needs of Latino families and individuals in Vallejo). Find them on Facebook:
  • VIDAS 501(c)(3) (Vital Immigrant Defense Advocacy and Services), 707-654-8405
  • SCRRN (Solano County Rapid Response Network 707-800-4544). Call SCRRN when you hear about ICE in neighborhood or workplaces. They will send immigration-trained lawyers & observers. They will determine if ICE is actually in the area or if it’s a false alarm. On Facebook:

It was 9pm, the sun was just a soft peach glow below the horizon, and a cool breeze had begun to raise goosebumps on my arms. I pulled on a jacket and stood up with everyone, my little battery-lit candle high above my head, and sang with my heart, “This little light of mine, I’m gonna let it shine, Everywhere we go, I’m gonna let it shine, We got the light of freedom, we’re gonna let it shine, All around the world, we’re gonna let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.”

Thank you to Lights for Liberty (, specifically Sherry Vinson, and to the Progressive Democrats of Benicia (, for sponsoring Friday evening’s vigil at Benicia City Park.