Thanksgiving 2019

Scott Warren – Alli Jarrar/ Amnesty International

With all the bad news in recent weeks—the impeachment hearings exposing such high-level graft throughout this administration, Hong Kong and Iran protests, and more—there have also been more glimmers of hope. Here are some of the people I am thankful for.

Scott Warren, the humanitarian who faced 20 years in prison for offering food, water, and brief shelter to migrants crossing the arid desert, where thousands have died.

Working with No More Deaths, Warren provided aid consistent with his firmly held religious beliefs,1 to prevent needless suffering and death. The government has harassed eight other volunteers with misdemeanor charges, and has tracked, searched and detained lawyers and journalists covering the border crisis.

Warren’s arrest appeared to be retaliation for the group having released damning video of the Customs and Border Patrol kicking over and emptying water bottles that the group had left for migrants crossing the desert.

Remarkably, his first trial ended in a hung jury. The government, with misplaced zeal, pursued a retrial. Within two hours, this jury returned a “Not Guilty” verdict. Hopefully that clear message, that most people still care about basic decency, got through.

The next hopeful notes come from Hong Kong, with their brave protests for independence and reforms and the victory for pro-democracy forces in this week’s elections.

The impeachment investigation gave me encouragement.

Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, showed tremendous composure. She spoke of having been abruptly recalled from her post. This happened just as she was honoring Kateryna Handziuk, an anti-corruption activist who had sulfuric acid thrown on her July 31. She sustained extensive burns and died Nov. 4 of her injuries. Yet even from her hospital bed, she made a brave and defiant video slamming the many murders of activists and lack of justice in Ukraine.

Trump trashed our Ambassador in a call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky, describing her as ‘bad news’ and then ominously saying she was “going to go through some things.” How could that not be viewed as a threat and his tweets about her, during her testimony during the impeachment trial, not be witness intimidation and obstruction of justice?

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, “a top specialist on Ukraine on the National Security Council,” also testified compellingly, despite the online threats he received. Sadly, but not surprisingly, Vindman’s appearance renewed antisemitic attacks and tropes about dual loyalty, as  his family were Russian Jewish immigrants, coming to the USA when he was three.

Vindman’s father worried about his son’s testimony; in Russia, “offering public testimony involving the President would surely cost me my life,” Vindman explained. Here, he added, “Do not worry, I will be fine for telling the truth…because this is America…here right matters.” I wish I felt that confident.

Jennifer Williams, a Russia expert and advisor to Vice President Pence’s listened in on the July 25 call between Trump and Zelensky and felt it was “inappropriate” and politically motivated. She, too, is a career foreign service officer, working under both parties. Like the other witnesses, Trump attacked her on Twitter as well.

The last of the “stars” of the hearings, at least for me, was Fiona Hill, “a former NSC senior director for Europe and Russia.” She was scathing in her analysis of the differences between her and Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland’s goals.

She added, “Please not promote politically driven falsehoods that so clearly advance Russian interests.” Of course, she pointedly spoke out about how women are dismissed.

Rachel Sklar summed  up this hearing nicely:

“Hill is due process and righteous anger, brains and brilliance and fire and loyalty ready to be deployed for her country, now and forever.

It is not just that we are hungry for norms and qualifications. We are desperate for someone competent and principled to be in charge. We want someone smart to tell us it will be okay and that they care.

It was nice, however briefly, to find her.”

Three of these four witnesses were immigrants, now naturalized citizens, and their testimonies, in my opinion, blew all the partisan criticism out of the water.

So while there continues to be a steady beat of bad news and awful deeds from this administration, the competence, obvious patriotism, and courage of these witnesses cheered me immensely. This Thanksgiving, I am grateful for each of these decent, righteous people.


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One Comment

  • Richard Lawrence

    It is good to recognize these true patriots and to increase awareness of how they made a difference. This is a scary time for USA and we can only hope that congress will do a thorough investigation and act approptiately.