Mayor Betsy Hodges
Special Mayoral Address
“One Minneapolis in the Time of Trump”
April 17, 2017
Shir Tikvah Congregation
Thank you, Luke, and Rabbi Latz, for that introduction, and for your warm hospitality in hosting us here this evening. I am deeply grateful to you both for your friendship and leaderhip, and to you, Rabbi, for your unceasing prophetic witness. And thank you very much to Council Member Linea Palmisano for hosting us in her ward tonight.
We stand at a unique moment in the history of humanity. For the first time ever, a majority of humans live in cities. This fact provides our species with a unique opportunity to come together, understand each other, and connect with one another. It is in the close proximity of our cities where we as humans get to make one another feel welcome, connect on a human level, and come together to advance a common purpose.
We also stand at a unique moment in the history of the United States. Donald Trump has been president for 87 days. We do not know how many more days like the last 87 lie ahead of us.
In this unique moment, in the time of Trump, cities and the people who live in them are on the front lines. In the time of Trump, as the federal government abandons people, we who live in cities are the principal targets of attack.
I am mayor of a city at a time when Donald Trump is the president of the United States. I am also mayor of a city whose people have made the commitment to come together as One Minneapolis, to build a city that now more than ever, will prove a beacon for the rest of the country.
* * *
As a City government, our first order of business in the time of Trump is to stand firm with, defend, and support our people and our communities who are under attack.
This means we stand firm with trans students and the entire GLBTQ community. In February, Donald Trump sent them a clear message: he as our president, and they as our federal government, will no longer protect transgender students.
There are those who seek to reassure us by saying that rolling back protections for transgender students was merely a symbolic act, that some local school districts will continue to protect trans children and GLBTQ children.
That makes the point, however: the federal government is abandoning our most vulnerable young people. We at the local level can make another choice: we get to stand firm on our values.
Here in Minneapolis, we have stood firm and will stand firm with our trans youth, our transgender and gender diverse neighbors, and the GLBTQ community.
Already that has meant working with the City Council to create the brand-new Transgender Equity Council, the successor to the Transgender Issues Work Group. From their recommendations, we have invested in updating City properties so that restrooms are thoughtfully available to everyone. It has also meant pulling people together from across the community at the once-groundbreaking, now-annual Transgender Equity Summit, which is unlike any other in the country so far.
In the time of Trump, that work and more will and must continue. We must be more visible as allies, not less, when our neighbors are being abandoned and jeopardized by national leadership.
As mayor, I say again to the people of our GLBTQ community, especially our transgender and gender diverse neighbors: I see you, you matter to Minneapolis and the world, and we will continue to work to create a world that reflects your value as people and our values as a community.
We have also seen Minneapolis stand firm and come together with our immigrant neighbors. Our cosmopolitan city benefits from our immigrant residents in every aspect of our way of life: our culture, our values, our economy, and our future depend on us continuing to be a welcoming place for all.
City leaders and I, including Chief Harteau, have made it clear, and will continue to make it clear: our police officers do not and will not ask people their immigration status. We stand by our City’s separation ordinance: indeed, Council Member Alondra Cano is leading an effort to strengthen it, which I support. By guaranteeing that anyone who is a witness to or victim of a crime can feel safe interacting with police, the ordinance makes every community in our city safer. We have all been working too hard and too long in Minneapolis to build trust between the police and the rest of the community— and we still have a long way to go — to let President Trump get in the middle of that relationship.
We are also fighting in the courts: in March, Minneapolis joined 33 cities and counties in asking a federal court to find unconstitutional Trump’s executive order that threatens federal funds for cities like ours — cities that value the safety of all our residents.
Another area where we are on the front lines is in providing accurate information to our immigrant and refugee communities. City staff are developing consistent, accessible messaging that includes whom to call in case of an immigration-related emergency and what individuals’ rights are. MPD has released videos in Spanish, Somali, and English that explains the City’s separation ordinance. And Minneapolis 311 has made it easier to access Spanish-language resources, and is developing new tools to help people who are looking for immigration-related resources or assistance.
After the election of Trump, Council Vice President Elizabeth Glidden recognized that the City would soon be called on to meet urgent needs in the immigrant community, so I was pleased to support her amendment to the 2017 budget to add $35,000 for that purpose. She has convened a work group to identify current service or information gaps in the immigrant and refugee communities that this money might quickly and effectively fill, and I look forward to hearing of their proposal soon. Today, in partnership with Council Vice President Glidden and Ways and Means/Budget Committee Chair John Quincy, I am asking the Council to appropriate an additional $15,000 to this effort, to bring the total amount to $50,000.
Our community, too, has rallied to support our immigrant communities. Advocates like the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota and volunteer lawyers have been working hard to meet the urgent legal needs of families with loved ones facing deportation. Congregations, many of them trained and organized by the faith-based coalition Isaiah, are publicly declaring that they are prepared to offer sanctuary to immigrant families throughout our city and state. Shir Tikvah is one of these congregations. Thank you.
I have said repeatedly that if Donald Trump is coming after our immigrant community, he’ll have to get through me first, through all the rest of Minneapolis first.
We also stand shoulder to shoulder with a segment of our community that is under particular attack: our Muslim community. Our Muslim brothers and sisters now live in every neighborhood and have become an increasingly large part of the very fabric of our city. They have transformed it for the better, and we are blessed for it.
Well before Donald Trump, we have known in Minneapolis that we all do better when we all do better: for a number of years, we as a city have invested in the health, safety, and prosperity of our Muslim community. This intentional work has included new investments in large-family affordable housing to better accommodate East African families; the recent opening of the Cedar Riverside Opportunity Center, of which Council Member Abdi Warsame has been the champion; and close collaboration between the Police Department and the community to build trust in our police officers — including by hiring and promoting 10 Somali officers, an accomplishment no other city can boast of and a foundation on which we must build.
The City of Minneapolis is also defending our Muslim community in the courts: we have filed an amicus brief with the lawsuit brought by the states of Minnesota and Washington against Trump’s shameful, discriminatory, illegal, and unconstitutional travel ban.
And let me say this loud and clear: if Trump somehow starts a registry of Muslims, I will be the first to sign up and I ask all of you to join me.
Also unlike Donald Trump — whose limits, if there are any, to his capacity for belittling entire communities have yet to be found — we as a city get to stand firmly with people with disabilities. Indeed, in the past three years, we’ve made more progress on ADA compliance and accessibility than in the previous two decades. In 2015, the City decided proactively to evaluate our own buildings and services to ensure that we are ADA-compliant and accessible to all residents. Our 2017–19 ADA Action Plan calls us to hire ADA Title II certified coordinators, fully caption meeting broadcasts and informational videos, and upgrade City web content to be accessible for everyone, among other goals that I am committed to reaching. We have also enhanced Minneapolis 311 to help log and respond to ADA issues that our residents may have. And our next-generation complete streets policy, which Council Members Lisa Bender, Cam Gordon, Kevin Reich and I worked on, prioritizes pedestrians and people with disabilities first.
While the video clip of Trump choosing to mock a reporter with a disability is seared forever in our brains, we in Minneapolis have made different choices, and put the resources behind them, to ensure that people living with disabilities can fully participate in our shared life. This is the kind of nation-leading work that is making Minneapolis a beacon of unity in a time of deliberate division.
We are just as firmly united as a city in defense of, and love for, our Jewish community.
Let’s be perfectly clear: first candidate Trump, then President Trump, has shamelessly used the language and imagery of anti-Semitism. He has given open license to anti-Semitic individuals and groups across the country and across the world. There is a direct line between Trump’s words and images and the more than 100 disgraceful threats toward and attacks on Jewish targets, including bomb threats at Jewish community centers and the desecration of Jewish cemeteries, that have taken place just since January. They have even happened in our region.
Tonight, here, in this sanctuary, tonight, I say to our Jewish brothers and sisters, your city and your mayor stand with you. We love you. I love you.
I am not happy to report that the City Council and I anticipated that this awful trend would continue. But we did, which is why we added a position in the Department of Civil Rights to investigate complaints of discrimination and hate crimes, and why Civil Rights staff have increased outreach throughout the City. In addition, Minneapolis 311 has developed new codes to better track reports of hate crimes.
I say to our Jewish, Muslim, immigrant, and LGBTQ, and disability communities — as well as to our Native community, our refugee communities, and communities of color, and women — that if you experience any form of discrimination, including and especially crimes motivated by hate, we will investigate and we will act. Particularly at this moment in the life of our country, your city is by your side.
Because, yes, women too are under attack during this time of a President who throughout his life has degraded, objectified — and, it would seem, assaulted — women in his professional and personal life. Just weeks ago, Trump actually revoked a President Obama executive order that protected women from discrimination, harassment, and pay inequity in federal contracts.
We in Minneapolis have made, and get to continue making, different, better choices to improve the lives of women. As an employer, we in the City have set the ambitious goal of a 45 percent female workforce by 2020, from the 29 percent where we stand now. We are intentionally recruiting women in our most traditionally male-dominated departments: Police, Fire, and Public Works. Our employees also started an employee-resource group called the “29 Percent Club” that is focused on networking, retention, and promotion for women.
In the community, some of the work we are doing that I am most proud of is in combatting sexual assault. Just last week, during Sexual Violence Awareness Month, the Hennepin County SMARTeam unveiled a new cross-disciplinary protocol that the City, and I personally, have supported to strengthen the ways that we respond to and support survivors of sexual assault.
In Minneapolis, we not only work to improve the lives of women in the workplace and in our community, we choose women for leadership roles. From our Council President and Vice President, School Board President, Park Board President, and Park Board Superintendent, to our Police Chief, City Attorney, Civil Rights Director, Public Works Director, Health Commissioner, Chief Human Resources Officer and, yes, to our Mayor, Minneapolis is led by progressive women executives and legislators who every day get to call out the sexist assumptions and outright misogyny that come with this time of Trump and Trump himself, and to lead us through it all to a better, more connected, more unified One Minneapolis.
* * *
These attacks on our people and our values in the time of Trump are appalling. We in Minneapolis not only get to fight back against them: we get to create, with our words and our deeds, real, lived alternatives to them that lift people up, break down barriers, and bind us more closely to one another.
Yet while these attacks are appalling — and, in the time of Trump, alarming as well — they are in many ways a logical extension of part — not all, but part — of the standard conservative agenda of the last three and a half decades. That agenda includes tax reform, repealing a woman’s right to choose an abortion, the repeal of near-universal healthcare coverage, and repealing court decisions that affirm the freedom to marry for everyone. Donald Trump, Mike Pence, and Steve Bannon have indeed been pursuing those strategies, and others like them.
In this sense, then, they are peddling a particular brand of conservatism, one well known to us as the right-wing agenda of the last three and a half decades. It is pernicious, yes, but not uniquely pernicious.
This particular brand of conservatism, however, is not the sole thrust of the Trump/Pence/Bannon White House. Rather, I posit that what we are seeing now is an agenda distinct and removed from what Americans have previously considered our conservatism. What we are seeing now is, indeed, uniquely pernicious.
What most distinguishes this president from the 44 who preceded him, including other conservative presidents, is his agenda of suppression. It is an agenda designed to centralize power in the White House by manipulating some of the levers of the federal government, and disrupting others, to create the confusion and chaos that would undermine our democracy and thereby justify limiting our freedom.
When you have decided to use the levers of our democracy to undermine our democracy and centralize your personal authority, you must also work hard to suppress dissent. That is a lesson the world knows well from the playbook used by Nazi, Communist, and fascist dictatorships in Europe in the early- to mid-20th century, and in Russia in late 20th and early 21st century.
As a result, President Trump is trying to quash dissent where he can.
One of the things he did immediately upon his inauguration was to scrub the White House website clean of any mention of climate change, any mention of GLBTQ people, any mention of Latino people or Native people. He has muzzled scientists who work for the Federal government, and soon any who are funded by the government.
He wants to suppress the voices of artists and scholars: his budget takes out all funding for the NEA, the NEH, and PBS. He has repeatedly asserted the utter, demonstrable falsehood that there is widespread voter fraud in our country. He gets his information from 24-hour cable TV news, eschewing the advice of the experts at his disposal, while also casting aspersions on reliable news sources and freezing them out of official briefings. He encourages punishment and retribution for people who peaceably demonstrate as an expression of their First Amendment rights. And he has silenced scientists, unconscionably prohibiting them from even speaking about an imminent danger to millions of people on our planet, and the greatest threat to humanity: climate change.
Trump is on to something. Again, I say that if you want to limit democracy and centralize your power by suppressing the voices of dissent, then do your best to silence artists, voters, the media, and those who actively protest in the streets.
Today, I also say: not in my country, and not in Minneapolis.
In Minneapolis, we lift up our neighbors. We actively encourage everyone who can vote to vote. We support the First Amendment, a thriving media, and healthy protest. And we value our artists as creators of beauty, uniters of humanity, and the voice of our conscience.
So today, I propose first steps that we as a city can take to lift up and support these important voices in our democracy.
* * *
First, in the time of Trump, we get to lift up and support voters. In no other way has Donald Trump made his contempt for democracy more clear than in his attacks on voters. His reckless, fact-free claims that millions of votes were cast illegally last year are designed not only to bolster the legitimacy of his presidency after losing the national popular vote by more than 3 million votes, they are designed to undermine our democracy by sowing fear and distrust in it. The less trust Americans have in our democracy, the more it falters; and the more it falters, the more vulnerable we become to authoritarian manipulation.
More specifically, Trump’s attacks on voters are explicitly attacks on immigrants and people of color. They are also attacks on people who live in cities. In addition to losing the popular vote nationwide by nearly 3 million votes, Trump lost resoundingly in most of the large cities in America. No wonder that cities and the people who live in them are on the front lines of his attacks.
In Minneapolis, we are having none of it. We are exceedingly proud — I dare say boastful — of the fact that we have one of the highest voter-turnout rates of any big city in America.
It is no accident. We have worked hard and intentionally in Minneapolis to ensure that everyone with a right to cast a vote does cast one. Among the steps we have taken in recent years to make that a reality are:
- Establishing four early-vote centers around the city. Minneapolis provided more early-vote centers, and more hours for in-person service, than any jurisdiction in Minnesota.
- Using community specialists to promote the early-vote centers to residents.
- The Tenant Notification of Voter Registration program that Council Member Jacob Frey has championed, which helped increase the number of pre-registered voters. Among the benefits of more pre-registered voters are fewer voters needing to register on Election Day, which means shorter lines that make voting more accessible to everyone.
Our work was aided by bills that the DFL-controlled Legislature passed and Governor Dayton signed in 2013 and 2014 to allow online voter registration and no-excuse absentee voting.
All of this work has led to terrific results:
- In 2016, voter turnout in Minneapolis was 79 percent, the second-highest rate in recent history.
- The total number of votes cast in Minneapolis — more than 217,000 — was the highest ever.
- Absentee ballots cast increased 400 percent.
- The number of pre-registered voters is now the highest in 48 years.
Please join me in thanking City Clerk Casey Carl and Elections and Voter Services Director Grace Wachlarowicz for their vision, leadership, and hard work in making Minneapolis a shining example of voter enfranchisement for cities around the country.
Continuing and expanding on this good work to lift up and enfranchise every legal voter is essential to fighting Donald Trump’s suppression agenda. It is work that is being supported at the grassroots in Minneapolis this year, when so many groups and individuals are engaging and organizing people in this year’s municipal elections. In the time of Trump, Minneapolis gets to, and will continue to, lead the way in defending and expanding our democratic right to vote.
Second, in the time of Trump, we get to lift up and support the essential work of journalism and journalists who do it. Donald Trump’s contempt for voters seems to be matched by his contempt for journalists. His relationship with journalists goes far beyond the usual tension between the press and the White House. He has excluded entire major news organizations from covering his campaign and the White House. His administration has given privileged access to previously fringe right-wing websites. Trump himself has publicly mocked reporters, and has encouraged crowds to attack them physically.
This is another threat to our democracy. If the federal government under Trump is going to silence experts, erase facts, and intimidate journalists, Minneapolis can and must set a counter-example: we get to be more transparent.
To this end, I am convening key city leadership, including City Coordinator Spencer Cronk, City Attorney Susan Segal, City Clerk Casey Carl, and Communications Director Greta Bergstrom to review how Minneapolis can be more responsive to requests for information from journalists, media, and the public. Council Member Andrew Johnson and Council Vice President Elizabeth Glidden have agreed to join me in this work.
As this work gets underway, I do want to is acknowledge reporter Peter Callahan of MinnPost. For some of the data requests he has made of the City of Minneapolis he has had to endure wait times that have been excessive, frankly, even for large requests like the ones he has made. He has rightly called out these delays in his publication and on social media. I am sorry, Peter, and I am taking this step so that we can do better.
Third, in the time of Trump, we get to lift up and support demonstrators and all people exercising their First Amendment right to peaceful protest. Trump personally attacked the massive Women’s Marches held the day after the inauguration — one that included 90,000 people in Saint Paul, Minnesota’s largest protest march ever — denigrated people who have been flooding congressional town halls across the country to defend the Affordable Care Act, and belittled demonstrators at last Saturday’s Tax Marches, including one that I was proud to attend.
Trump’s tantrums about demonstrations and lack of respect for constitutional rights would be bad enough. However, in this time of Trump, bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the country to cripple or charge for protest, including one in our own Legislature. Make no mistake: these bills are part of a concerted effort to suppress peaceful protest, stifle dissent, and sow the fear that fertilizes authoritarianism.
Not in Minneapolis. What we get to do in Minneapolis instead is to welcome peaceful demonstrations as an important indicator of the health of our democracy, and to manage it well. Since the election, we have seen a number of large demonstrations in our city that police and organizers worked together to ensure were peaceful and powerful. I am grateful that Chief Janeé Harteau and her leadership team recognize the increased importance of peaceful deomonstration in the time of Trump and are committed to facilitating it in close communication and cooperation with organizers, for the safety of everyone.
Fourth, we get to lift up and support our artists. No one can be surprised by Trump’s disregard for art and artists: after all, he has proposed cutting all funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and public broadcasting.
Now more than ever, we need our artists: poets, actors, dancers, writers, singers, directors, choreographers, filmmakers, photographers, painters, sculptors, every one of them. Artists remind us who we are at our best, they reveal who we are at our worst, and they invite us to come together and connect with each other through our differences on the common ground of our humanity.
We are blessed in Minneapolis to be the home of the most vibrant arts community anywhere — and I mean anywhere. Our artists sustain our minds and our souls, especially in this challenging time — and we get to lift them up and support them, especially at a time when Trump wants to silence them.
To that end, I’m extremely happy to be the first to announce that the Kresge Foundation has awarded Minneapolis $1,125,000 to continue our groundbreaking Creative CityMaking initiative that is transforming the way that the City of Minneapolis connects and engages with our residents and communities. I am grateful to all the City departments that have taken advantage of this amazing resource, and to Arts, Culture, and Creative Economy Director Gülgün Kayim for relentlessly advocating for this initiative.
I will also meet soon with the heads of major, mid-size, and small arts organizations and festivals in Minneapolis to hear their concerns about and hopes for artistic expression in the time of Trump, and to ask them what the City can do to help it flourish in the face of forces who would prefer artistic expression to wither.
And finally, this is National Poetry month. In the spirit of elevating arts and artists, I asked Camille Gage to help uplift local poets. Every day at the Facebook page “MPLS Write Now,” you can read a selection from a local poet. Today, it is Bao Phi. And this Thursday at 7:00 p.m. at MCTC, there will be a poetry reading in honor of the memory of Kirk Washington, he of beloved memory, a local poet and advocate whom we lost too soon last year. His voice lives on in our community and we will honor his life and work on Thursday. Please join us.
We have committed, together as a people and a city, to the goal of One Minneapolis. We cannot get there without artists. Artists relentlessly reflect truth, especially uncomfortable truth, back to us, and hold us accountable for acknowledging and acting on it to improve people’s lives. Our artists will hold us accountable for fully realizing One Minneapolis. Now more than ever in the time of Trump, we need them, and now more than ever, we get to support them.
* * *
So, Minneapolis, we — and cities like us, and the people who live in our city and cities like us — are at the forefront of attacks in the time of Trump. In response, we get to lift up and support all our communities that are under attack. We get to lead the country in resisting. In this perilous time, resistance to Trump’s policies is necessary. It may not, however, be sufficient.
What really must underlie our work at this time is not just resistance, it is compassion, love, and kindness.
Democracy done right is an organized way to care about all people and to care about all voices, and government is how we have decided to give form to our democracy. Government is one of the places where we come together as people and decide who we are as a people. It is an expression of our values. We love government in Minneapolis — we have so damn much of it — and now, especially now, we use it to express the value of connection, not disaffection.
This is why Trump’s agenda of suppression and undermining democracy is so pernicious: while we have and are the tools to fight his attacks on people, his suppression agenda and his attacks on our very democracy are actively designed to disassemble the tools we have for respecting, engaging, and connecting to one another.
So: when you undermine the arts, you undermine our mechanism for bypassing the meanness of the day-to-day and connecting us to something bigger than ourselves; you sever the bonds of empathy and compassion between people. When you seek to criminalize peaceful protest, you submerge uncomfortable truths. When you cut off the free flow of information and dismiss true facts as fake news, you destroy a common base of knowledge and understanding, and thereby sow distrust. And when you call into question the legitimacy of voting and let our enemies interfere with our elections, that’s a knife in the heart of our democracy.
Fundamentally, Trump’s attempts at suppression are attempts to disconnect us further from each other. His plans depend on it. His authority will be centralized only when we are disconnected from each other. When we are disconnected from each other, we forget our own humanity and the humanity of our neighbor. When we are disconnected from each other, we forget that the trans student is vulnerable and needs us to stand with her. When we are disconnected from each other, we forget that the undocumented worker has a family and a life and needs our respect. When we are disconnected from each other, we forget that a person isn’t disabled, but is a person who needs accommodations because we haven’t yet set the world up well for him to thrive. And when we are disconnected from each other, we forget that our brothers and sisters who voted for Trump feel vulnerable, too — that while we may disagree with them about policy, they too need and deserve our respect as a human beings.
This speech is about opposing Trump’s policies. We must not, however, use our opposition to his policies as a platform for opposing his supporters. If our attempts at human connection cannot extend to them, even in our thoughts, then we ourselves are reaping the disconnection that Trump is sowing. When we cannot accommodate Trump’s supporters in our landscape, we are fueling, not resisting, his agenda.
This is not an invitation to naivete – there are people who have harming others, physically and otherwise, as part of their agenda. We must all protect ourselves and our beloveds from imminent danger and from harm and from the policies that would allow harm. It is not necessary to forget people’s humanity while we do so, however.
So, Minneapolis, in the time of Trump, this is our call as a community and as people: we get to do what more of what we already do well, we get to come together even more. We get to be compassionate, loving, and kind to everyone: to immigrants, to Muslims, to single mothers, to trans kids, to Trump supporters. When we build our resistance with the power of love and compassion, on an agenda of connection and simple kindness, we will build a city and a country that naturally and organically rejects fear and mistrust, where attacks on the vulnerable and the suppression of democracy will simply wither on the vine.
In times of turmoil, oppression, and suppression, our call is to greatness. We cannot rise to the greatness that is required of us at this time, however, if we allow ourselves to remain alienated or disconnected from each other: rather, to rise to greatness, we must open ourselves to true connection. And the most basic way that humans connect with each other is by showing true, genuine kindness to each other.
Thus, our fundamental call in the time of Trump is to kindness, kindness to ourselves and to each other, even — or especially — to those whom we believe we have reason to fear or distrust. It is on the ground of kindness that we will build the One Minneapolis to which we have committed ourselves, the One Minneapolis that will lead America out of this darkness and into the light.
* * *
The last time I was at Shir Tikvah was for Shabbat service on the evening of Friday, January 20 — Inauguration Day. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, the Torah reading for that night was the first chapter of the book of Exodus. As Exodus begins, the Jews of Egypt had prospered and multiplied; then, a new pharaoh arose to whom the Jews meant nothing. The new pharaoh ordered the Jews enslaved, and terrifyingly, ordered that all newborn Hebrew boys be murdered.
In his d’var Torah that evening, Rabbi Latz celebrated the first great act of resistance of that terrible time. It was when the midwives Shifrah and Puah quietly defied Pharaoh’s order to kill the newborn boys. This brave act allowed the Jews to multiply even further.
Tonight, as we commemorate Moses finally freeing the Jews from the grip of Pharaoh after the terrible 10th plague that left the firstborn of every Egyptian dead, I cannot help but notice that the story of the plagues and the Passover is a story about objecting to the oppression of Pharaoh, not objecting to all the people of Egypt.
In this story that is about the enslavement and freeing of the Jews, I wonder about the Egyptians who saw what Pharaoh was doing and thought it was wrong. After all, when the plagues started rolling in one by one, no one paid a higher price for Pharaoh’s perfidy than the people of Egypt. I wonder if the Egyptian farmers who lost their livelihoods, because Pharaoh let their lands be overrun with locusts rather than keep his promise to the Israelites, thought continuing to enslave the Jews was worth it. I wonder if Egyptian wage workers, as they sat scratching and miserable during the plague of lice, thought that they might have more in common with the Israelites than they did with Pharaoh, and that common cause might be made with them. I wonder if the women of Egypt who lost their firstborn children questioned whether there could be a new system in which the greed and fear of pharaohs no longer led to the greatest grief of their lives. I wonder if, as the darkness descended upon them, the Egyptians reached for one another’s hands in fear and in love and began to ask if there were a better way.
I believe some of them did. I believe they saw the plight of their Hebrew brothers and sisters and sought a better, more just, and more compassionate way.
The greatest tragedy is that as a result of Pharaoh’s persistent injustice and lies, the world has been robbed to this day of the miracles of the lives of those firstborn and those who would have been their descendants. The world is blessed that the homes of the Israelites were passed over, that the descendants of those children not sacrificed are still with us, perhaps even with us tonight. As we conclude the annual celebration of that miracle, we also mourn what the world lost that day, when Pharaoh forgot that children, that people are more important than pride or power.