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Solidarity in this Age of Hate

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Mollie Tibbetts was a student at the school where I now teach. For those who don’t recall the story, Tibbetts was a 20-year-old student at the University of Iowa who went missing while out for a jog this July. Her body was recovered a month later and an undocumented worker living in Iowa was charged with her murder. Her killing, predictably, was used by reactionaries at both the state and federal level to fan the nation’s roiling anti-immigrant flames.

I never met Tibbetts, but her disappearance this summer and the recovery of her body the week that classes started intimately shaped the atmosphere on campus this semester, particularly at its beginning. Like with Iowa as a whole, like with America as a whole, some of what unfolded was animated by deep and ugly racism. Like with Iowa as a whole, like with America as a whole, a lot of it also took the shape of a deep and powerful solidarity with immigrants and Iowa’s Latinx community.

Tibbetts’s parents have routinely chosen the path of solidarity in the four months since their daughter’s alleged murderer was arrested, even if that solidarity is sometimes performed quietly. The Post has an article up about the latest such example. 

The article is unwieldy to block quote effectively, but the lede the headline buries is this: Tibbetts’s mother, Laura Calderwood, has now taken in a local Latino teenager whose parents fled Iowa amidst the vitriolic anti-immigrant blowback that her murder provoked (he stayed behind to finish high school), and that the kid she’s effectively fostering knows Tibbetts’s alleged killer with some degree of intimacy. The story the article tells is largely about these two people and what their different but intersecting lives–intersections now taking shape under the same roof–have looked like in the months since Tibbetts’s killing. For her, doing so accords with her own beliefs of what’s right, and it’s also what she thinks her daughter would’ve wanted.

I am stunned to see that Erik and I both woke up this morning searching for some optimism (even if in muted form). But I do think that as we close out a truly awful 2018 as a nation, it’s important to reflect not just upon the gleeful cruelty, unbridled racism, and intense xenophobia that is the ruling party’s calling card, but also upon the fact that there are solidarities like Laura Calderwood’s that show a different narrative and embody a different path.

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