I have new neighbors.
All I knew about them until a few weeks ago was that they had tiny children, wore hijabs and said hello as we passed one another in the alley. That’s my relationship with most of my neighbors, to be honest, especially in the winter months when we all just want to get inside as quickly as possible.
A few weeks ago, however, we had dinner. They only moved here a few years ago, for work and school. We talked about our kids, about schools, about learning other languages and our first encounters with other cultures. Kick and their daughter chased each other down the hall.
We didn’t talk about Trump directly. I can’t imagine what right now looks like to them. If this was the first thing you saw, was this man on TV saying you were dangerous, should be deported, should be detained, how would you feel about your new home?
I have a work colleague from overseas who was doing some shopping in the far-flung Chicago suburbs. As she was leaving a strip mall (is there anything more American to do in the world?) a man yelled at her to “go back to your fucking country.”
This is a tremendously talented and confident woman, who navigates the world with grace, kindness and unshakeable good humor, but that shook her, and it hurt to see.
I am the whitest white girl in the history of whiteness, and I could probably walk right into a Trump rally, speak with my thickest Wisconsin accent, and fit right in. Nobody would say boo to me if I didn’t say anything to them. I can cover up the tattoos.
I do not have one tenth the courage of these people.
The day after the Trump rally there was the usual bellyaching on the Internet about whether protesting was really a good thing, and lots of butchering of “free speech” and “how would you feel if this was Trump protesters taking over a Hillary rally” and blah blah blah de blah. There was lots of motive-checking of the protesters, lots of “both sides” and “shouldn’t they have worn nicer outfits and not yelled so rudely,” the usual Monday morning quarterbacking from people who won’t miss a meal if Trump is elected. And you know what? Fuck all that shit.
Ignoring ugliness is how we got here. Ignoring those who stood up to ugliness is how we got here. Disavowing those who stood up to ugliness is how we got here. Publicly worrying about how it would look to be such filthy hippies as to be on the side of human dignity is how we got here, after two decades of war and tax cuts and pretending racism was dead. Being nice and being quiet and hoping not to be hit is how we got here.
For years and years Democrats and other liberals played along and compromised and voted for Republican proposals in hopes they wouldn’t call us flag-burning faggot peace-freaks. We kept our powder dry and didn’t fight the tough fights and worried about elections and mouthed pleasantries at war criminals at parties, and voted enthusiastically for endless wars. We did everything they wanted us to do.
Guess what? They called us flag-burning faggot peace-freaks (who hate babies and Christmas and police officers) ANYWAY. We have a nice moderate Republican president at the moment, and the GOP calls him a Kenyan-born gay prostitute who has “destroyed” America’s military and smokes crack in the White House. That it’s now coming from the podium instead of the cheap seats doesn’t really concern me as much as that it’s still coming. We sat down and shut up and minded the optics and how’d it work out?
Shitty, thanks for asking.
So in the face of that, the sight of thousands of people packing an auditorium to say no to hate (even if they said it loudly, even if they hit back when they got hit, even if their signs and T-shirts were rude) was goddamn necessary. It was necessary for the people who were there and it was necessary for the people who couldn’t be there, and I will get to worrying about what was in the heads of every single protester when the election is over and this small, angry, miserable nucleus of what used to be a party is buried at the crossroads where the devil can find it with ease.
There are two reasons you stand up, okay?
The first is a selfish one. At some point in your future life, you are going to have to reckon with your actions. You are going to have to get up each day and either live the life you are able to live, speaking when you had something to say, or you are going to have to construct a cage made of stories and excuses for all the things you didn’t say. You die in pieces that way. You know it. You’ve watched it happen to far too many people you love. So for the sake of unraveling the knot that forms under your breastbone when you stay silent about something that matters, you are going to have to stand up.
The second, though? The second reason you stand up?
Is for anybody who isn’t standing up.
For anybody scared, anybody hurt, anybody who couldn’t leave his or her house.
For anybody who has less power than you. For anybody who can’t take off work, or doesn’t have documents, or has no childcare, or wouldn’t survive a rough night.
For anybody watching at home wondering if anybody out there is on his side at all.
You stand up to say to them, this isn’t everybody. You stand up to say to them, you are safe, or as safe as me and mine can make you. You stand up to say to them, you’re heard, you’re loved, you’re valued. The ugliness is just one set of voices. There is another, and it is loud and clear.
You stand up so they see you standing up, and know they are a little less alone.