I was asked to speak in support of the Santa Clara County Supervisor’s resolution condemning President Trump’s Executive Order entitled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorists Entry into the United States”. On February 7, I read a portion of the statement below before the Board of Supervisors.
It was an interesting day. I understood that the resolution would be presented at around 10:00 so I planned to arrived at the county building by 9:30. Anyone can speak before the board but there is a form that needs to be filled out. On the form you give basic information that will be used to call you up when the time comes. On the form you also need to indicate the number of the agenda item you intend to speak to. I didn’t know the agenda number of the resolution was so I needed to find an agenda.
When I found the agenda, it was a 21 page document. There were 96 items on the agenda. The resolution was the last item, number 96. Sometimes there are changes in the order of the agenda. Since others in support of the resolution had gather I thought maybe the item would be moved up in the schedule. Some of us waited around until 11:30 when we were told that the agenda would not change, that the resolution would be heard probably around 4:00. When I came back at 3:45 the resolution had already been presented and the speakers were already coming to the podium. I was unsettled. I had hurried from the parking garage to the boardroom. I was the next speaker to address the board.
Every speaker is given the same, set amount of time: two minutes. Listening to the morning speakers two minutes seemed like a lot of time. Some speakers finished before their two minutes were up. When I came to the podium I greeted the Supervisors. Then I noticed the clock, fifteen seconds had already passed, I had a minute and forty five seconds left. As I thought about this another ten seconds went by. I panicked and started reading. I didn’t get through what I had prepared and sorted of made some concluding remarks as the buzzer went off at two minutes. I don’t think there is any way that what I had prepared could have been read in two minutes. I thought I had more time.
Fortunately the passage of the resolution did not rest on my presentation. The resolution passed unanimously. There were kind words expressed by the supervisors. Supervisor Chavez noted that after 9/11 the Japanese American community was the first to come forward and extend support to the Muslim community.
We are fortunate to live in a diverse community. We get to enjoy everyday the opportunities that diversity cultivates. We are able to learn from one another and to share in the richness that humanity has to offer. We can recognize in each other our shared humanity.
Here’s what I had prepared:
Thank you Supervisor Cortese and Supervisor Chavez for bringing this resolution forward.
I speak in favor of the resolution.
I am a priest of the San Jose Buddhist Church. I do not however represent that Sangha. Our Sangha is made up of individuals with different views. To say that I speak for everyone would be inconsistent with valuing each individual. We encourage and welcome different voices. It helps to clarify and questions our understanding and assumptions. When we shut off differing views we deny the humanity of the other. We change the other into a non-human who we can easily dismiss.
We have instead tried to value others.
I am a priest of a minority religious tradition who is a member of a minority ethnic group. It is not always possible to be heard. The assumptions and values that surround me can sometimes distort how my words are heard. But here is this hall, in this county, in this country I have the opportunity to speak, to make a life, to succeed or fail.
These are the opportunities and the values the Executive Order would abuse.
Whether Somali or Japanese or Ojibwa we are all people who hope and dream of a better life.
We are not a nation without fault. We have broken, tortured and incarcerated large groups of people from people of color in our prison system to the reservations of First People to relocations camps of Japanese Americans there are many who have been lost because of our actions.
But as a Nation we have also accomplished great things. From suffrage to civil rights to redress. But it has been only through the work of people recognizing and acknowledging the importance of an open society in which each member is valued and protected equally.
If our government fails to recognize this our democracy and its people suffer.
For that reason I thank you for your efforts to resist the closing of our society, of our nation.