Sunday, August 20, 2017

The Measure of Silence

“The job of the citizen is to keep his mouth open.”  -Gunter Grass

It’s happening. As 45 continues to take moral decency and intelligent discourse to new lows, people are finally starting to speak up. Not enough—and certainly not enough Republican congress-people—and not loud enough and not quickly enough and not often enough, but slowly but surely, they are beginning to speak where they once were silent. Civic organizations are cancelling events in Trump buildings, the Presidential Arts Council resigned, as did a group of science advisors earlier, the founder of SF Jazz recently posted an eloquent critique and even John McCain spoke up. It’s happening.

In my experience, people pretty much agree on what constitutes evil. Where they differ is in how much they are willing to excuse. And as the politics of ignorance, exclusion and hate edges closer to everyone’s doorstep, those who had the privilege and luxury to choose “not to get involved” find themselves having to choose between the dangerous compliance of silence and the dangerous decision to dissent. White privilege is about as real as it gets and has let millions of the hook of speaking up and speaking out. But so is male privilege and straight sexual preference privilege and abled-body privilege and economic privilege and Christian privilege. But as the rhetoric continues to insult people of color, women, gays, disabled folks, poor people, Muslims and Jews and then threaten their rights and even their life, suddenly the “alt-left” is simply the person next door or even you. So if you’re Jewish and you were relaxed about the Klan, suddenly they’re marching with Neo-Nazis. Now do you know who your friends are? If you’re poor and one of the 23 million the Republicans you voted for wanted to cut off from health care, are you starting to get the picture? If you’re raising young girls and the boys are having fun grabbing whatever they want and insulting your daughter, is this still okay with you?

What is most broken about our country and our culture and our politics was revealed by the events of November and a shock and surprise to many of us. What is durable and worthy and hopeful has been equally revealed, first in the January Women’s March and now in the millions working tirelessly to get involved, turn this around and save some shred of decency that we’ve taken almost 250 years to build and preserve. Each person that habitually speaks out in all the ways that we still can without fear of imprisonment or murder—letters, blogs, articles, comments at business meetings or school staff meetings, songs, signs, T-shirts, difficult conversations with family members—is casting a vote for Hope. Those who continue to hide and stay quiet will have much to answer for in the face of the explosion lit and fanned by the Commander-in-Chief himself post-Charlottesville and popping up in Hate Marches nationwide.

In response to a friend’s Facebook post about the necessity to speak up, I responded spontaneously with a sentence that felt worthy of putting in italics. As follows:

If silence were measurable and we could see precisely the number of injustices fueled by its permission, that might make us think twice before shutting up.

You may quote me. With due credit, of course.

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