So, there was this protest in my fair city this weekend. “Against what? What are they so angry about?” asked a doe-eyed college kid on the metro “Everything,” replied my love. “Ask a different one, get a different answer.” “Oh,” said the student, playing with her “peaceful co-existence” button.
At first I was annoyed – I planned to head to the Martin Luther King library book sale, the nearby arts festival and perhaps the last day of Shakespeare free for all that day. Then I decided… nah, I should go. Besides those locations – books, MLK, arts – probably pretty safe.
The Metro (a partially subsidized by the GOVERNMENT) ride was packed. I counted one person of color on the train, up the stairs at metro center, across the click clack of those familiar octagon tiles. There were flags (Nazi, Confederate, U.S., the colors and meanings layered together.) There were pictures of Obama with Hitler’s moustache, with nooses around his neck. There were mis-spelled and innacurate signs about facism and socialism and big government being handed to children with giggles.
Others saw it too and the reports started flowing in…The Smithsonian (also “evil-government” funded)was packed as well said my sister. So were our restaurants, beer halls, souvenir shops. Great, right-wingers, thanks –WMATA and our city can use the money. An African-American poet friend reported discussions he tried to broker with folks who used phrases like “colored people, as in ‘what colored people need to understand is…'” and other words like Bolshevism without understanding it’s meaning. They also held signs of gorillas.
On facebook, associates reported their Rally experiences; they went from all perspectives, for all reasons…to protest, to counter-protest, to observe, to capture for history, personal understanding, journalistic accounting.
The conversations turned heated – jumbled emotions like those bleeding colors of flags. Trigger words — facism, Nazi, racist, evil, hater, crazy — like the arms I was afraid might well be on hand at this protest. [ Side note: I am thankful and surprised frankly, sad though that is, that there were no incidents of violence. not one. quite remarkable actually, so thank you protestors for that and thank you government-funded DC police, fire, fed. park service, etc etc. ]
Some called for ceasefire of such language, of these trigger words and I heard myself say aloud “NO.”
I do NOT think we should ignore or not comment on facism, racism, or hate. We know that story and – it doesn’t end well. Words were echoing in my head, pushing to the front….
“First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out– because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out– because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out– because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out– because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me– and there was no one left to speak out for me.”
–just one of many variations of a poem attributed to Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) about the inactivity of German intellectuals following the Nazi rise to power and the purging of their chosen targets, group after group.
But Washwords, friends cautioned, some use this same exact quote to rail against Obama programs, as if we’re headed toward fascism here.
It was, sadly, a fair point. My first instinct was “but THEY’RE wrong” and to fill with tears and clenched teeth and disappointment. But then I had to admit, it made me think. And, after all, I AM all for people standing up for what they believe, strongly and nonviolently. So why was this peaceful protest, in which, again, no one was harmed to my knowledge, so very alarming?
Because, when I see facism and intolerance and hate, I will call it out. I think we have to. And I saw it Saturday, carrying signs with Nazi teutonic crosses and worse giggling as they handed those signs to their children, called minorites rats, made “jokes” about rape and sodomy, and used the resources of my beloved city and nation to trash those resources.
Does free speech (on any side) mean there’s going to be foolish speech (Winston Churchill)? Absolutely. But ignoring it and mis-truths and hate when you see it just can’t be right. For me, just trying to clearly and calmly state what I know are facts and what i know feels wrong is all I can do to have peace in my heart. Everyone has to make that call for themselves.
But I am glad to see in the midst of the loud ranting, some still, small voices saying, “No.”
So protestors…keep saying no if you like. In fact, say no to Medicare, say no to police and public schools, and trash collection and armies and libraries and sewers and parks and museums and trains and bridges and …. everything else you might have been protesting yesterday. I couldn’t tell, between the hate. Say no to all that. Fine.
Just know I’ll be saying no, too, as calmly and clearly as I can find the strength to do.
And then WW turned to football, wedding prepping, dog playing, niece hugging and oh yeah, saying yes… to life.