Friday, November 11, 2016

Courage

Looking into the face of bigotry and misogyny


Day three in a somber world.  Protesters fill the streets every evening now.  Mostly, the crowds chant and rage and cry in fear and trepidation, but in Portland, Oregon, the police are calling the situation “a riot,” which probably allows them to bring in more hardware of war to force citizens to accept the unacceptable.  The evening newscasters keep apologizing for the signs:  “Fuck Trump!” and “Trump’s Got a Little Dick.”  They warn parents to send their children into another room.  I don’t think the vulgar signs are the problem; it is the fear of “Trump = Hitler,” as another sign put it, that should worry us all and scare our children.

Senator Harry Reid (D-Nevada),as reported in Mother Jones, said that Trump is “a sexual predator who lost the popular vote.”  According to David Leonhardt of The New York Times, Clinton won the popular vote by a greater margin than Gore, Nixon and Kennedy in their respective elections.  Gore launched a legal inquiry that he ultimately lost; Nixon and Kennedy won both the popular vote and the Electoral College vote.  Clinton lost the Electoral College vote and will not challenge the outcome.

On Wednesday, as the world woke up to this disconcerting news, the stunned devastation was visible on many faces:  the journalists who covered the race, the news anchors, and most importantly, the people on the street.  At my wife’s Catholic school, the mostly Latino students were extremely fearful.  Many could not understand how Trump could win an election when the majority of Americans did not vote for him.  Many were worried that they were in danger of being “rounded up” and deported, or that they would come home from school to find their parents missing, sent back to Mexico or Central America.  They wondered aloud how someone could hate them for their skin color and ethnicity.  Their parents are hardworking, middle and lower middle class citizens who strive to achieve the American Dream and give their children an education to make them contributing members of what President Lyndon B. Johnson called the “Great Society.”  They have studied Martin Luther King’s speech; they thought the days when they would be judged by the color of their skin and not the content of their hearts were over.

My niece who works for a non-profit that serves adults and children with special needs also had an interesting Wednesday morning.  Several of her clients were quite distraught.  Some worried that a President Trump would imprison or kill them because he made fun of a disabled reporter during the campaign.  They did not understand why he would single them out.  Others talked of escaping to somewhere that might be safer.  One, a Latino, feeling that he would be attacked for being both mentally disabled and of Mexican descent, said he would take his family and go hide at the North Pole where they could be safe.

But here’s the deal.  Democracy and its preservation are not easy accomplishments.  They involve standing up and pushing back and fighting for the cause of freedom.  Protesting in the streets certainly sends a message.  The media reports that vandalism is often what is left behind when the people march, and that should not be part of the message.  Even a crowd of 5000 people, standing in somber silence, sends a message to Trump:  we are here and we are not going away.

It may sound weak.  It may not be the violent upheaval many now advocate.  But I think it is time to revitalize our artistic endeavors.  It is time to go beyond 140 characters.  Writers need to write—essays, articles, plays, novels, short stories, poetry.  Artists need to create.  Turn the cell phone camera away from our own faces and the snapping of yet another selfie and photograph this world, this life, this struggle.  It is time for Americans to swear off narcissism and look at the big world and our place in it.  In the face of ridicule and violence, we should be proud to be journalists, artists, and humanists.  Journalism, especially, is important now, even as its practitioners come under attack from Trump, the Right and the Left.  We need voices, and we need those voices to shout down the ignorant cacophony of racism, bigotry and misogyny.

Great art connects us to each other and to the world.  We must be courageous and bear witness to what is happening.  For far too long, we have witnessed the upheaval in other countries.  We consoled ourselves that such oppression would never happen in America.  We are like the people interviewed by journalists when a tragedy strikes in an affluent neighborhood:  “these things aren’t supposed to happen in a neighborhood like this.”  Trust me, they happen, and this “neighborhood” is long overdue for an earthquake.  We are asleep here in America.  How else to explain the rise of someone like Donald Trump?

After Saddam Hussein’s regime came to an end in Iraq, “hundreds of new publications and new television and radio channels emerged,” according to Brian Katulis of freedomhouse.org, a website that for 75 years has been “championing Democracy.”  In America, no one reads newspapers anymore.  Magazines and papers go belly up for lack of support.  Reporters are asked to do more with less, and corporate barbarians have pillaged media companies and crushed them as independent voices for truth.  Then there is Trump and his outright war on journalism and free speech.  Now, right now, we need more newspapers and magazines, as well as photographers, writers, essayists, and artists to fill their pages with the stories.  We need our voices to rise up and speak truth to power without fear while ignoring intimidation.  I personally believe the pen is powerful.  I feel the same way I did on September 11th, 2001:  it is time to get to work and tell the story.  We have the power to take back our country from the forces that insist on dividing us.  Communication is a powerful tool to fight back, and we should use every bit of leverage that we can.  Remember the words of Ecclesiastes 3:

“There is an appointed time for everything.  And there is a time for every event under heaven—
A time to give birth and a time to die;
A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted.
A time to kill and a time to heal;
A time to tear down and a time to build up.
A time to weep and a time to laugh;
A time to mourn and a time to dance.
A time to throw stones and a time to gather stones;
A time to embrace and a time to shun embracing.
A time to search and a time to give up as lost;
A time to keep and a time to throw away.
A time to tear apart and a time to sew together;
A time to be silent and a time to speak.
A time to love and a time to hate;
A time for war and a time for peace.”

At least two of those lines apply to us today:  it is indeed a time to love in the face of hate, and it is now a time to speak and not keep silent.

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