The world has changed a lot in the past few weeks.
I guess that’s the understatement of the century. A couple of months ago, we had a president who was empathetic, articulate, thoughtful, dignified and even-tempered. Now, the man sitting in the most powerful seat in the entire world is the absolute opposite of all of those things. This man is a cruel, rambling, incoherent, mean-spirited, bullying megalomaniac. He has a 70-year history of bigotry, misogyny, sexual assault, cheating, lying, scapegoating, gas lighting and xenophobia, as well as a profoundly narcissistic personality, one that makes him unpredictable and dangerous. The inauguration has come and gone, and every day I wake up still in disbelief that America could have turned around so radically, that we have allowed this man to take office and entrusted him with our safety, our health, our everything. It’s the scariest thing that has happened in my lifetime.
Granted, that’s due in large part to the fact that I’m the textbook definition of a privileged, straight, cis-gendered white woman. Yes, being a woman, I’m painfully aware of all the myriad ways I’m silenced and mistreated in this world, but it’s still true that my color, sexual preference and gender identity have shielded me from the danger many of my friends have faced since birth. Never have I been more aware of what I stand to lose than I am right now. Suddenly, I’m staring down the reality of living in a world where it’s not just my female body that’s at risk on a daily basis, but now it’ll be my entire life and well-being, as well as the lives and safety of people I love. If there has been any good that has come out of this horror, it’s been my awakening to the magnitude of the privilege I’ve enjoyed until now.
And it wasn’t like I didn’t know what was going on around me. I did. Yes, I live in Seattle, a liberal bubble if ever there was one. But I’ve got people all over the country, from all different walks of life, and they’re all having opposing and conflicting reactions to this new leadership. Some of them are delighted. Some of them are currently fearing for their safety. Trump’s win wasn’t a wake-up call for me. I knew what marginalized and impoverished folks in this country stood to lose. What came as a shock to me was the magnitude of dissent out there in the nation, the sheer number of people who either don’t understand or don’t care. It was like the volume got cranked up as loud as it could possibly go and now I can’t hear anything else.
Like many of us, I find myself at a crossroads, trying to decide what the next years of my life are going to look like. Will I shield myself from the evils that are already at work in the highest office in the land? And make no mistake, evil is most certainly at work. From immigration bans targeting Muslims to threats to women’s reproductive rights to the stripping down of organizations and systems like the Environmental Protection Agency and public education that have been created to protect us all, not to mention the bill dropped yesterday that would gut the ACA and defund Planned Parenthood...it's clear in just these first few weeks of the new administration that these people are interested only in the fortunes of the one percent. Will I bury my head, like so many others, and say nothing? It’s already clear to me that silence is not an option. In addition to taking a job with Planned Parenthood last year, my world is overflowing with people who are my friends, my colleagues, and my neighbors who stand to lose the most under this new regime. I cannot sit by as they suffer. I will not.
And yet, every time I go online, I notice who’s ignoring all of this. And you know what they say about silence and how deafening it can be.
Many, many people are speaking up and taking action in whatever ways are available to them. From New York to LA, and even overseas, friends and family are shouting at the top of their lungs that this is not normal. They’re marching, they’re making phone calls, they’re writing emails, they’re having tough conversations and even ending relationships over the injustices that are being thrust on us and on marginalized people in this country. They’re frightened and they’re furious, even when their privilege protects them, because they know that while they may be safe today, tomorrow could be another story. They know that though today’s targets are Muslims, tomorrow it could be any other group. They’re fighting for all of us, and I have seen so many people stepping up and speaking up and it has given me a glimmer of hope.
But there are too many of you who are saying nothing. Too many people are still posting endlessly to social media about everything that is not the terrible reality of the America we woke up to on January 21st. And your silence is deafening.
Maybe you’re silent because it’s too scary or depressing, and you’re trying to maintain your sanity and keep some distance from the shit that’s going on in Washington. Maybe you’re silent because you don’t think it’s so bad – you’re not feeling any direct threat to yourself or your loved ones. Maybe you’re silent because you quietly agree with what’s happening, even partially, and you’re nervous about the rest of us finding out what your true feelings are. Maybe you've given up hope. Maybe thinking about it for even a second sends you spiraling into a panic. Here’s the thing, though. It doesn’t matter why you’re silent. If you’re silent, you are part of the problem.
Does that sound too harsh? Then I’d urge you to look up the definition of privilege. And then I’d urge you to look up the definition of complicity. And then I’d urge you to take a long, hard look at yourself and your inaction, and ask yourself how someone like me could possibly know if you’re on my side or not? And if you are, then you should fucking say so.
When I was in college, I took a course on the Holocaust that was probably the most eye-opening semester of education I ever had. Not because I had no idea what happened during those horrific years, but because I spent all semester reading about the people who carried out the horrors, the people who allowed so many millions to die. And for months I asked myself over and over, “How could the German people allow this to happen? Why didn’t they do something?” That question has haunted me for years, and it haunts me every time a black person is senselessly shot by police or civilians, every time a shooter enters an elementary school and murders children, every time a law is passed that further damages the planet, every time we carry out operations that result in the death of innocent people in other countries. WHY DO WE LET THIS HAPPEN?
And now I ask myself that question every time I sit in a room with someone who is silent during the news, or when I log in to Facebook and see posts from a person who has never, ever referenced a single thing that’s going on in the world politically, and is still posting pictures of their kids, their hobbies, their vacations, their meals or their shopping trips as though everything is normal. Because nothing is normal right now. And before you write me off for being too much of a hard-ass about this, let me be clear: escapism is absolutely essential to surviving stress. I’m not saying that we should be talking about this shit all the time. I realize and agree that self care is vital, and that self care comes in a million different forms, and it’s not my place to judge what someone else needs. I get that. I don’t expect people to talk about this all the time. I’m saying it’s strange, it’s very, very strange if you don’t ever talk about it. That’s all. Many people can’t handle thinking about what’s going on, let alone talking about it, and it can be triggering, horribly upsetting stuff to think and engage about. I understand that. Talk doesn’t even have to be your contribution – you can donate, volunteer, and lead by example.
But as we cope, as we try to focus on other things, good things like our friends and family and favorite pastimes, and just SURVIVE all the abnormal and scary shit that’s happening, here’s what we must remember:
If you pretend that what’s happening is normal, if you justify it, if you compromise about it, if you refuse to use your voice and tell Aunt Myrtle that her comment at dinner was racist, even if that means an awkward conversation or even an argument when you’d much rather just be playing Scrabble, if you focus solely on yourself and your family and your cute kids or your cool job or who should win the Super Bowl or the World Series or the trip you’re taking or what the Kardashians are doing or who wore what to the Oscars, if you bury your head in the sand while this administration seats a Supreme Court judge who will rule for decades in opposition to the poor and the marginalized, while this administration endangers and ultimately takes the lives of women, queer folks, and people of color, while this administration lies to us and wages wars with innocent nations, if you don’t fucking speak up? You are complicit.
You don’t want that. Because if that happens, then one day, someone is going to sit in a classroom reading a book about the collapse of the America we were born into and ask themselves, “Why didn’t they do anything when they could?”
Your silence is deafening. Bodies are on the line. You are accountable. So fight. Or at the very least, resist. Resist in small ways or large, but resist. Hold on to what's good and right. Don't give up.