The Refugee Experience of the Solar Eclipse of 2017
The total solar eclipse zone of 70 miles width crosses the entire United States, around its middle. 200 million people are said to be within a days drive of this zone. 20 million and up are expected to migrate to see the eclipse, mostly into rural America. This is one of the greatest mass migrations of people in the US, and in just the span of a few days. It pays to explore how this compares and contrasts with the refugee flows that have left war zones, forced by periods of rapid and complete destruction. Maybe the US can learn some lessons from this about the experiences and plight of refugees.
Politically, the main blue state that the path of totality goes through is where it starts, in Oregon. (There is also the Southern tip of Illinois, including Carbondale.) So, people across the path are in states that voted for Donald Trump, with his and Steve Bannon’s doctrines of immigration exclusiveness and deporting illegal immigrants, regardless of status or family connections. People in that path are going to be hosting, interacting with, and being frustrated by the difficulties of handling people of all different races, religions, and even different linguistic modes of speech, languages, vocabulary, and even lacking country twangs. They are probably going to be made more worldly by their experiences, and wondering why they were so exclusive in the first place.
The visitors to the eclipse are going to be experiencing a sort of refugee experience, where they are driven into strange territories, where they don’t know the layout or customs. Given the location of blue states on the coasts, most travelers north and south will still find themselves in Trump territory, though, and can still appreciate the local country music. The total eclipse even goes through Nashville (Music City Solar Eclipse Festival and Viewing Party), y’all. But locals will meet up with people from all states, including blue ones, and also Canada and Mexico.
The visitors to the path will have packed up all their important belongings into their cramped (massive) SUVs, and migrated into territories, and settling for the most basic sustenance and shelter. Many of them will have to live in tents for years (days, actually). They will have to face unpredictable seas in heavily overloaded rafts (overbooked planes, delayed flights, actually). They will have to survive on meager rations (overpriced airport fast food, and pretzels on the flights, with a cup of a soft drink). Those driving will face shortages of essential supplies (gas). Accommodations will be overcrowded and cramped (cheap hotel rooms), often with no hot water left. Delays on entry will be very long (traffic jams). There may be shortages of water, food, and port-a-potties.
Any local crimes will be blamed on the migrants, and, as a whole, they will be called all sorts of derogatory criminal names.
Finally, perhaps after only a few minutes in the promised land (the total eclipse), they will be sent back to whence they came, as when Trump first sprung his immigration ban. Unlike real refugees, they will not have to face year-long screening, correcting their English to the local dialogue, and passing tests of whether their values and religious views match those of the local Americans.
Whereas 20 million Americans may undertake the eclipse migration, the Administration wants to limit refugee admits to only 50,000 a year. At that rate, it would take 400 years to pass all of the people expected to see the total eclipse. Putting it the other way, a very narrow strip of the heartland is about to host over two days as many strangers as 400 times the Trump yearly refugee limit, and nobody is having any conniptions about it.
We hope that the viewers from red states become convinced that science is real and precise, and that the eclipse was not just a Chinese hoax invented to delay us a couple of days in our work.