A Year Later: What Therese Okoumou’s Fourth of July Mission Statement Will Always Represent
The Fourth of July is once again upon us, and a year after Therese (not Theresa!) Patricia Okoumou’s momentous quest to stand up for migrant children, that were being ripped away from their hysterical mothers and fathers — the national crisis has grown even more precarious.
The media faithfully depicts the horrific conditions that Brown migrant babies are enduring— under the watchful eye of the GOP, that continues to stroke the ego of a White supremacist dictator.
When Okoumou broke away from the organized protest, staged by activist group, Rise and Resist, and valiantly attempted to scale the top of the Statue of Liberty with the fascinated gaze of an entire nation, there was an immediate sisterhood that linked me with the Congo-born naturalized American citizen.
As I fixated my gaze on her movements, there was a sense of pride and envy that swelled as I contemplated the characteristics that separate the doers from the talkers. As a Black woman living in a country that barely affords her the privileges that her White counterparts are bequeathed, there she was, actively pursuing the fundamental rights of Brown migrants, who were facing the unfair consequences stemming from this administration’s crimes against humanity.
The risky undertaking of a Black woman who has everything to lose when it comes to acting out her grievances against a criminalized society, that’s been curated to defeat the humane existence of Black and Brown, was never going to elicit the level of assigned heroism that would’ve been lavished on a White woman displaying those exact moves.
Okoumou’s widely documented trek up America’s most prized and prolific monument, that also garnered the attention of the world was an entertaining but very expensive production that came to an epic end, as the city of New York bemoaned the time and resources that were spent ensuring that the holiday spectacle would end without issue.
The Staten Island resident and celebrated protestor was arrested on the spot and waited months later, in December 2018, for her conviction, with the charges of “trespassing and interfering with government agency functions, as well as disorderly conduct,” and the likelihood of spending up to at least 18 months in jail.
This past May, Okoumou stood in a New York courtroom where she was handed down her sentence of “five years probation, and 200 hours of community service.”
It’s worth noting that the Black woman who dared to do what many hardly conceive of manifesting due to a lack of conscience or shame for what we’ve become as the former “world police” that is now exacting the torture tactics that we once fought to eliminate — presented herself in front of the judge with “clear tape across her mouth” — as the symbol of silent protest to demonstrate her defiance against the restrictions preventing her from carrying out “direct action-style protest over immigration rights.”
Despite what the law has levied on her, Okoumou refuses to regard herself as a criminal, and rejects the notion that she broke any laws and somehow belongs in prison.
During the waiting period before sentencing, and while under house arrest for unfulfilling her bail conditions, the national heroine was probed by The Guardian about what pushed her intense desire to boldly venture into unlawful territory on Independence Day, for the sake of holding our laws accountable for endorsing the lawlessness of a rogue regime:
“I had thought, ‘It’s the Statue of Liberty, it’s the Fourth of July and there are children in cages, we are doing a protest but I want to send an even stronger message and this is the perfect day for it.’ All of those elements together were necessary to give me the courage.”
Unfortunately, her good intentions have been in vain, as we’re currently bombarded with terrifying images that illustrate the appallingly life-threatening cells, containing the harassed templates of Brown migrants at the border, who are accommodating the very opposite of what the Statue of Liberty promised weary hopefuls, disembarking at Ellis Island, back when America honored the tradition of living up to its illustrious name.
But that’s exactly the problem. The United States of America has never been “united” in Whiteness and history will not dispute those facts.
In many ways, Trump’s menacing presence that was heralded by a disgraceful campaign in 2016, that revealed our ailing state-of-affairs on all fronts, is ironically a mandatory rite of passage for the legions of clueless fans of the Obama administration, who were naively carried away by the epic victory of a two-time Black president, who defied the odds to serve as living proof of our enviable unification as progressives.
I was one of those clueless fans.
If we had paid close attention to the blatant signs of division that were fueled by the nauseating bigotry of House Republicans, and the New York tycoon, Donald Trump, who was being groomed to lead them, by answering the call of White nationalism that initiated the birther controversy a few years before his presidential run — we would’ve been wisely bracing for the fathomable shit storm that has been hovering since the first-ever Black family moved into the White House.
And now the entire nation is in captivity, as we exhaustively watch the makings of a Doomsday massacre playing out in full view of those who are armed, but absolutely not willing to showcase any sense of urgency or patriotic response, by intervening on behalf of vulnerable citizens, who are suffering the sting of gross negligence and acute systemic failure based on their targeted stations.
News organizations and their ambitious reporters are only interested in 24/7 coverage of Trump and his demonic cabinet of co-conspirators with recycled packages of roundtable discussions that provide dizzying content that leaves viewers stumbling for the nearest mental exit.
Nobody in influential positions of power with authoritative leverage wants to be tasked with the courageous fibers that are required to cause a major rumble, that makes enough noise to awaken a much-needed rebellion, that will give a stunned nation a glimpse of the light at the end of a very long and dusty tunnel.
Our vision is unbearably skewered by the thuggish antics of the Trump Family Business, with the bullish patriarch sloppily seated at the seat of absolute power, where he boorishly yells out unreasonable requests, while hurtling insults at detractors on Twitter as payback for how they publicly deride his daily updates, that are basically a wealth of false information that he embarrassingly validates as facts.
Ethnic cleansing is in full swing, as the Trump administration is adamant about drastically limiting the entry of immigrants from “shithole” countries, who are seeking refuge. And under the tutelage of Trump’s hate-filled rhetoric, White supremacists are taking extreme measures to prevent the dangerous mixing that’s already tainting the sanctity of Whiteness — America’s most valued currency.
As the 2020 elections fast approaches, the re-election of Donald Trump, the nationalized mobster who has secured his position as the mastermind of the alt-right, will rest heavily on the divisive narrative of vilifying Brown migrants, and working overtime to draft proposals that will ensure that visa applicants from “third world” nations like Nigeria, my homeland, will have a considerably harder time getting approved. And this will extend to visa holders, who will run into major hurdles when it comes to defending their reasons for scheduled visits. And heaven help those who overstay their welcome.
Interestingly enough, Jared Kushner, the president’s unqualified son-in-law, who breached security protocols in order to attain his unearned role as “senior adviser” and global policy maker, is heavily involved in curating the immigration plan that is being prepared for delivery to Congress. It contains familiar buzzwords like “pro-American” and “pro-worker,” that typically excite Trump’s ignorant based of deplorables, who cheer the demonization of aliens because of their goal to poach the American Dream from its rightful White owners.
And maybe that’s what Therese Okoumou’s Fourth of July mission statement for the sake of the migrant kids, who are tragically still in bondage, will always represent, when we recall that memorable sacrifice by a Black woman with ties to a foreign land, who wanted to produce a legacy of activism that refreshingly goes beyond the comfortability of non-sacrifice.
The shallowness of Trump, as the cowardly Liar-in-Chief, who callously curses out war heroes who heroically signed up to serve their country; a feat that he evidently dodged with a fake doctor’s note that confirmed an imaginary ailment that prevented his deployment — is paraded before our eyes every second of every day, but on Independence Day, 2019 — the dramatics will be even more heightened.
The military extravaganza and high-tempo political rally, that will include a speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial is the prime example of why President Trump is a pampered weakling, who constantly needs to boast about his accomplishments at the expense of taxpaying Americans, who aren’t benefitting from the phantom economic boost that Republicans keep echoing.
As a Nigerian-American, the Fourth of July is a somber celebration that carries the weight of how much has transpired during the Trump years, as well as the sobering realization that tangible change can’t ever be a reality until a lot more of us are able to match or exceed the selfless efforts of Therese Okoumou, Colin Kaepernick, and other notables, who possess the characteristics that verify their innate Americanness.
White America relies on their gentile assignment, and deadly adherence to “White power” as the ammunition that defends their citizenship to the land they stole.
But, for this American, who was born in a country that curses out the country that White supremacy invaded and destroyed, the only thing worth fighting for is the right to fight for what’s right in the face of great adversity, brought on by the disease of inequality and the ongoing distortion of what makes a decent and true American.
The Fourth of July will always represent how a Black woman re-defined the Day of Independence in order to regain the independence of the dream that was once American — and desperately has to be so again.
We all need our mission statements, and today is a great day to start making those promises to God and country.
And most importantly — you.