Who will continue to be the ones who speak up for so many who have suffered and continue to suffer, until the resonance becomes impossible to ignore?
Normally, any space reserved below my name is devoted to my random minutiae and some kind of repartee for which I have become known. This time, this space will be solely devoted to my disbelief at the time and place in which we all live.
A few months ago, I would have told anyone who would listen that notions of pandemics and quarantines evoke images of the plague that haunted much of Middle Ages Europe, let alone the Spanish Flu that afflicted the world a century ago. To speak to how unfortunate the news cycle is these days, we have moved from one seemingly anachronistic scourge to one that, despite all odds, seems even more out-of-date and no less insidious: inequality among humanity.
I grew up in front of the television with the world unfolding, the seeming old-world sentimentality of physical and spiritual barriers between nations and people being toppled during the 1980s and 1990s; but also of disenchantment over inequality bubbling over into the streets not far from where I lived in 1992.
Los Angeles was seemingly the beacon for a lot of world news throughout my nascent existence: there was a war on drugs, a spotlight thrust on police brutality, inequality, division of wealth and an area rocked by natural disaster.
Even before the advent of social media, the proliferation of the internet and the 24-hour news cycle, these were teachable moments. My generation watched this unfold through the lens of history we were learning in our grade school classes: the Civil Rights movement, protests of the ‘60s and ‘70s against an increasingly centralized government that at times fell on deaf ears to the sensibilities of its populace and the disproportionate incarceration of minorities, specifically people of color happening at that very time.
I have been fortunate to be able to travel the world to appreciate how much freedoms we are afforded here versus elsewhere, but that still comes with the sobering reality that we are far from perfect. The counterculture and protest generations of a half-century ago showed the power that civics and grassroots action can have on our democratic infrastructure. The baton was passed to us but along the way, I dare say, we didn’t embrace it to its fullest extent.
When you look at the numbers compiled from Pew Research looking at the 2016 election, the power of inaction is starkly apparent. More than 4 in 10 people didn’t vote. Taken to inter-year political elections, the numbers are even worse. The apathy grows when you break those statistics down to younger generations and minorities. Voting is one of the very powerful instruments given to us in a democratic society.
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What happened to my and the subsequent generations to create such a disconnect? We have at our disposal unprecedented tools of communication to get the message out, to voice our displeasure with the status quo. Have we merely taken this for granted? Or, does civics these days stop at hashtags and memes?
When I saw what unfolded in Minneapolis, along with Brunswick, Georgia and Louisville, Kentucky, along with so many other places which have sadly joined the fraternity of locales baring witness to acts of racial injustice, I thought the same thing you did: Are we living in 2020 or 1920 or 1820?
How have we come so far, yet fallen so short? Yes, there are countless acts of kindness and too many numerous changes to recount in a humble column like this normally devoted to silliness and trite humor, but when you watch the heinous ones unfold, one is left to wonder how eight minutes, forty-six seconds of what we all saw still happens in the world today.
I grew up in a modest, mostly white Los Angeles suburb. I cannot even begin to say that I understand the struggle of others who must live under the constant threat of mistreatment daily, based on something beyond their control. I will only say here that I lament that we still have to remind the world about the dangers of inequality. You’d think this would be obvious to everyone. Sadly, it is not.
The very bedrock of the principles on which this nation was built is imbued in the Declaration of Independence. We hold these TRUTHS to be SELF-EVIDENT (emphasis added).
These are not theories or hypotheses, these are truths, incontrovertible truths. Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness should be afforded every person, notwithstanding any background, race, creed or gender. This is not debatable. Yet, we are still having to remind this to people because of the heinous acts committed in the aforementioned cities plus countless more that don’t make it on the byline of your preferred newscast.
I had hoped ours would be the generation of continued change. Or, maybe the generation that followed, one which better embraced a medium that could disseminate a message instantly. Sadly, though, 2020 has served as a reminder that we have fallen woefully short.
I am disappointed by our inaction up to this point but am emboldened that people across the planet are now shining a light on something that won’t simply go away by a prosecution or four. It will only take the collective, the will of everyone regardless of background, to change it. It will take more than a flood. It demands a sea change.
I have an 11-month-old who never ceases to pan my attempts at humor when I’m on daddy daycare duty (much like the adult world). I wonder, while watching this, what I can do to affect the change that I had hoped would be brought about from the lessons of the past.
I look at her and understand that I can instill those principles that we have learned and continue to learn from those who have suffered at the hands of injustice to treat each others fairly and with the idea that we all deserve the same rights and protections; that we are all on this earth together, living in a society and we can be our best selves together by lifting each other up, raising our voices and not standing by in silence and inactivity while the iniquities of racism and discrimination continue unabated.
I look to her and her generation which will provide the leaders of tomorrow to carry on that torch, to make sure it stays lit in the unison of displeasure at the current social order currently be voiced. And, as the third generation of a family who survived the horror of the Holocaust, she will be pressed to carry on the all-too-familiar message of “Never again.”
It was the parable from the survivors of Nazism and the antipathy it wrought, written by Martin Niemöller, that rings true to this day. The appellations and the groups in the prose may change over time, but the message that all of us must pass along today into the next generation must be written in the same stone as is Niemöller’s prose. NEVER AGAIN:
“They came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up.”
The open-ended question we are left with today is who will continue to be the ones who speak up for so many who have suffered and continue to suffer, until the resonance becomes impossible to ignore?