"They're refurbishing the outside of the Statue of Liberty," the Rev. John Fife told the crowd at Constitution Hall Saturday night. "And the Sanctuary Movement is going to put the soul back in this year."
Fife, a minister from Tucson who is currently on trial with a dozen other church workers for assisting undocumented aliens from Central America, was one of a dozen speakers and performers who marshaled their forces to raise funds for the rapidly expanding Sanctuary Movement, which Fife pointed out was "born not out of wisdom or creativity but out of desperation."
The movement already includes about 300 churches and synagogues and 14 cities, ranging from Takoma Park to Los Angeles, that have declared their support and protection for refugees fleeing from persecution and civil conflict in Central America.
The spirit of the evening was sober yet optimistic, with speakers lashing out at the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Department of Justice and the Reagan administration even as they celebrated the spirit, will and determination of both the 800,000 refugees scattered around the globe and an equal number still living displaced from their homes in El Salvador and Guatemala. All of the participants had traveled in Central America, so there was very much of an "eyewitness" spirit to the gathering. Proceeds will go to the movement's legal defense and educational programs.
Dr. Charles Clements, a former Air Force pilot who served in Southeast Asia before becoming a Quaker medical doctor working in the mountains of El Salvador, drew parallels between the mood of America during involvement in Vietnam and the mood of the government now, regarding Nicaragua. He spoke out vehemently against what he saw as interventionism, administration paranoia directed at a red tide emanating from Nicaragua, and "self-proclaimed patriots" like Richard Perle, Newt Gingrich, Patrick Buchanan and Sylvester Stallone, who "call for someone else's son to defend this nation as they try to exorcise the ghosts of Vietnam in the green hills of South America."
The evening featured a showing of "Witness to War," the moving documentary produced by the American Friends Service Committee that deals with Clements' turn from militarist to medical worker. It will be shown on PBS this month, but not in Washington, where WETA has declined to air it because of charges that it is propaganda.
The musicians who performed included the local Andean folk trio Rumisonko, songwriters Jackson Browne, Danny O'Keefe and Holly Near, whose agit-pop cabaret made a number of connections between the underground railroads of slavery days and Jewish pogroms and the flight currently being undertaken by hundreds of thousands of refugees from El Salvador and Guatemala. On "New Underground Railroad," Near sang, "One of the stops is at my house," a sentiment that seemed to be shared, in spirit at least, by the earnest crowd of 3,000.
Jackson, whose recent work has been informed by an ever-growing political involvement, was suffering from a severe cold but managed to deliver several songs from his new album, including the title tune "Lives in the Balance" and "For America," as well as Little Steven Van Zandt's "I Am a Patriot." Like Near, he seemed determined to provoke a community of conscience, "a circle of light in the dark."
Actress Vinnie Burrows presented a pair of dramatic vignettes, and actor Mandy Patinkin offered a cautionary bedtime story and song to an imaginary child, but sincere as these moments were, they paled next to the real-life speeches by two refugees: Sylvia Rosales, director of the Central America Refugee Center here, and America Sosa, U.S. representative of the Committee of the Mothers and Relatives of the Disappeared, Political Prisoners and Assassinated of El Salvador. Both have lost family members -- Rosales her husband, Sosa her husband and two sons -- and they spoke emotionally of the desperation and degradation that exists not only in Central America, but for those 800,000 refugees who face the consequences of deportation from the United States.