We saw the worst of humanity. We saw the best of humanity.
The 50 migrants and refugees from Venezuela were on Martha’s Vineyard for just about 40 hours, but in that time we saw — once again — that Islanders rise to the occasion when opportunity presents itself.
Helping individuals they met by surprise and comforting them. Reports from volunteers indicate some of the migrants had not eaten or had water for 10 hours. At least one person suffered from having been beaten prior to arriving in the United States and was in need of dental care.
Martha’s Vineyard did not look away. Martha’s Vineyard jumped into action providing both short-term care and looking to our state leaders to assist with longer term solutions. No one was kicked to the curb, which has become the despicable narrative of the spineless, gutless cowards who sent these individuals to the Island.
This opportunity came at the hands of the disgraceful actions of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who used these individuals as political pawns in his efforts to stir up his base.
But a funny thing happened on the way to “owning the libs” and the “elites.”
Martha’s Vineyard didn’t cower to the chaos and confusion that DeSantis and his hired hacks attempted to create. Instead, the people he allegedly coerced onto planes with the promise of jobs and housing, were met with compassion and care.
We’ve been told that their journey started in Texas, continued into Florida, then had stopovers in North Carolina, and continued on to Martha’s Vineyard. The migrants and refugees were picked up in vans and left in the parking lot of Martha’s Vineyard Community Services with simplistic maps that had been handed to them.
There should be an investigation into what the migrants and refugees were promised, who promised it, and there should be repercussions for those involved. No one should be above the law. Along with legal consequences, voters should hold DeSantis, as well as Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, accountable for the inhumanity of their actions.
What was clear from the vitriol written on social media and spoken in some interviews is that nationally there really isn’t an understanding of Martha’s Vineyard. Some of that is the media’s fault for describing the Island as a “moneyed-retreat” and “playground of the rich and famous.” That’s political demagoguery and lazy reporting. The Island’s per capita income is within 8 percent of Palm Beach County’s and the Palm Beach County population and public services are 70 times what Dukes County has to offer. Yes, there are some Hollywood types who vacation here and former President Barack Obama has a summer home, but that ignores the fact that Martha’s Vineyard has a year-round population that is more blue collar with an ongoing housing crisis.
The rabid followers of DeSantis, Abbott, and Sen. Ted Cruz — in the spirit of their party’s disgraced leader former President Donald Trump — never let facts get in the way of their lies and half-truths. We’re not going to convince them that what was done was inhumane and unjust. They’re too blind to see and too deaf to hear. We only hope, as the Boston Globe so eloquently put it, that there is a special place in hell for individuals who would use vulnerable people as political pawns.
Now that we have that out of the way. Let’s take some time to reflect on the good that we saw in that same 40 hours. We know we’re going to miss a lot of people who pitched in and this isn’t meant to be a complete list, but we offer a few shining examples among the many stars. Starting with Sheriff Robert Ogden and the folks at MV Community Services who assessed the situation and began to find a short-term solution to help the migrants and refugees.
Martha’s Vineyard Public Schools quickly answered the call — Superintendent Richie Smith jumping into action and even riding the school bus with these individuals. Opening up the high school, providing water and snacks. Spanish teachers and some of their students aided in being interpreters or just taking a moment to play with the children.
Rev. Chip Seadale wasn’t even on-Island, but he quickly said yes to opening his church and parish hall at St. Andrew’s in Edgartown. The rest of the faith community on the Island also rallied to assist. Police, fire, sheriff’s deputies, EMS, and others provided support. Volunteers emerged out of the woodwork. Donations piled up so much that at one point Edgartown Police had to put out an alert asking people to stop bringing food and clothing to the church. There was no more room.
State Rep. Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, established himself as a true leader — the anti-DeSantis. Speaking out against the inhumanity while rolling up his shirt sleeves to assist at the temporary shelter and to make sure the state’s attention was focused on helping to find a longer-term solution. The same can be said for state Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro.
Meanwhile, folks reached out to us begging for us to find out how they could help and a GoFundMe emerged that quickly gathered thousands of dollars to assist these individuals and families.
What happened to these migrants and refugees at the hands of DeSantis was heartless and despicable. How they were treated when they arrived on the Vineyard showed the very best of humanity.