I avoid talking about politics. Politics is a volatile and toxic topic of discussion; this is something I realized when I was 18 and registered to vote. Not liking the rigidity I found on either side, I registered as an Independent. I’ve used that label to duck political discussions in the past, and avoid people canvassing for various parties.
But given everything that’s been happening lately, I can’t keep my mouth shut. Well, perhaps I could if I tried harder, but I don’t want to.
The final straw in all this came this morning, when I read the White House Press Secretary’s response to questions regarding the now-infamous incident in Lafayette Square on Monday night. If you missed it, she denied everything and claimed that the event that we have extensive video and physical evidence of (and which, if you listen, can be heard happening in the background during Trump’s speech in the Rose Garden that same evening) didn’t happen the way it did. It just didn’t. I would call this idiotic and insane, but those don’t seem strong enough descriptors. In putting forth this blatant denial, they expect us to disregard any narrative contradictory to their own, and accept their narrative without question or hesitation.
If you’re having flashbacks to reading Nineteen Eighty-Four in high school, I don’t blame you, because this is a major plot beat of Orwell’s novel. The totalitarian Party controls information, and tells its citizens what to think, and the citizens are meant to ignore any evidence they have that contradicts the Party dogma.
And if that comparison scares you or makes you uncomfortable: good. It should.
What is happening right now is terrifying; I won’t pretend that it’s not. But the protests and the riots and the militarized tactics responding to it are the culmination of decades of systemic oppression so woven into the fabric of the nation that many of us can go through our lives entirely ignorant of their existence. If you are one of those people, take a moment and consider how fortunate you are, and remember that simply because something does not personally impact you doesn’t mean that it does not exist. I won’t go into exhaustive details; better people than myself have documented this extensively.
What I will do, however briefly, is remind everyone reading this of the foundational text of this nation, which reads: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” There is overwhelming evidence that a massive portion of our population is being denied these fundamental rights, and as a result are not being held as equal. Regardless of your party or ideology, that should make you pause. We’re not living up to the basic tenet of our nation. Clearly, something needs to change.
I stand wholeheartedly with the tens of thousands of brave people out there protesting. I am, however, a coward, and given the fact that we’re in the midst of a global pandemic, I’m wary of being around any more than three people at any given moment. Still, I commend those marching, and without hesitation label them far, far more courageous than myself. If you’re like me, and are hesitant to go out and participate physically, good news: there are still things you can do. I’ve donated both to the ACLU and the NAACP (small donations, admittedly, because I’m far from wealthy, but donations nonetheless), and there are dozens of other organizations out there doing good in the midst of all this awfulness. Consider lending them a hand. Even a small one makes a difference.
If you think this whole rant is too political, fine. Be angry with me. Yell at me on Facebook, or in the comments here. Vow to stop reading my posts. I don’t care. There are more important things going on than feelings too fragile to hold up to the barest scrutiny. If you can, with good conscience, sit back and allow these egregious violations of our fundamental liberties to continue, and still call yourself an American, then...well, we strongly disagree on what that term means.
One of my favorite texts to give my students is Frederick Douglass’s speech, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July.” I use it in both my composition course and my public speaking course. You can find the full text here, or a beautifully performed abridged version by James Earl Jones here. One of my favorite moments from the speech is the paragraph below, which I feel applies powerfully to our current situation:
“At a time like this, scorching irony, not convincing argument, is needed. O! had I the ability, and could I reach the nation’s ear, I would, to-day, pour out a fiery stream of biting ridicule, blasting reproach, withering sarcasm, and stern rebuke. For it is not light that is needed, but fire; it is not the gentle shower, but thunder. We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake. The feeling of the nation must be quickened; the conscience of the nation must be roused; the propriety of the nation must be startled; the hypocrisy of the nation must be exposed; and its crimes against God and man must be proclaimed and denounced.”
That speech was given in 1852, as a call for an end to slavery. One hundred and sixty-eight years later, it’s time for another storm, another whirlwind, and another earthquake. That’s what we’re seeing. It’s powerful, and scary, but I firmly believe that good will come of this. If you can’t or won’t stand physically with those on the streets for whatever reason, I encourage you to do something. Donate. Protest. Contact your representatives. Something needs to change, and the more voices in that chorus, the sooner it’ll happen.