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"We will protect one another"

February 19, 2017

 

It’s a simple phrase, and a beautiful one. It’s our promise of love, spoken without discrimination, without condition, but with power and determination. It represents the linked arms of the American people, we who cannot fall while we hold each other up. It represents our millions of voices joined in forceful unity, that cannot be ignored so long as we speak together. Our solidarity is the shield upon which hatred breaks.

 

We will protect one another.

 

I saw it written on a sign at the Boston Women’s March, held proudly by a little girl atop her father’s shoulders. Surrounded as I was by tens of thousands of passionate friends and strangers, it was enough to move me to tears, and as I strode forward with them, I was taken by the strongest sense of community and love I have ever experienced.

 

Now, a month later, the power of that moment has stayed with me, and I’m sure it will help sustain me in the years of resistance to come. If every one of us can stay in touch with that sense of community with one another, I sincerely believe that we will come out of this in one piece. Maybe battered, but strong and unbroken. 

 

We will protect one another.

 

But there’s an enemy that we need to contend with, and they are insidious, subtle, and often disguised. That enemy, our enemy, is not any one of our fellow Americans. Nor is it any group or individual beyond our borders. Yes, America as a state has her enemies, and she has done a phenomenal job protecting us from those evils of fascism and terrorism over the past century. But the enemy that we, the people, are facing is entirely different.

 

Franklin D Roosevelt put it best in his first inaugural address in 1933; that immortalized phrase he spoke to the American people at the depth of the Great Depression: “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror.”

 

Eleven years later, FDR signed executive order 9066, which forced all Japanese Americans living on the West Coast into internment camps.

 

That an American president would go against his own words so directly and unapologetically should be a resounding warning to all of us that fear can make a traitor of any one of us, if we let it. 

 

This isn’t a unique realization. Since the election, I’ve seen plenty of articles and heard plenty of friends and media outlets calling out fear in various contexts—islamophobia, homophobia, fear of change, fear of losing your job, fear of being ignored. From our point of view, these all sound reasonable; you can likely think of examples of “other people” doing those things. That’s the troubling thing, though: nearly all of these narratives are directed at “them.” And it’s often said in a condescending or at least pitying way: “X voted for Trump because they are afraid of Y,” “Trump signed the travel ban because Islamophobia,” “Z is just afraid of losing their job.” It’s easy to grab on to one of those narratives for comfort—something I’ve been guilty of several times since November. I don’t think any of them are untrue, and I think they’re valuable things to be aware of as we try to navigate the river of division between us. But it’s going to be just as important to come to terms with the fear that we are hiding from in ourselves.

 

I am not talking about the fear of direct suffering at the hands of the Trump administration, or at the hands of the more extreme of his followers. Those fears are concrete and rational, and their causes are things that we must fight against with all our strength. When it comes to racism and bigotry, make no mistake:  I have and will continue to resist any agenda that challenges the freedom and liberty of any American. 

 

The fear I mean is simply the fear of “other.” Many of us are just as guilty of wrongly fearing Trump’s supporters as many of them are of wrongly fearing muslims and immigrants. Yet there is a tendency for us to hold ourselves above that. “We’re the brave ones,” we might say. “The ones with the courage to face reality.”

 

Here’s the reality: 63 million people in the United States voted for Donald Trump. 

 

1.6 billion people practice Islam worldwide.

 

If we have the wisdom to realize that the majority of those 1.6 billion muslims are kindhearted and wish us no ill will, then we already have what it takes to realize that most of those 63 million Trump supporters are not hateful people. Yes, there is a vocal minority of bigots, but throwing every one of those 63 million Americans into a box of racism isn’t just unfair, it’s counterproductive to our ability to become united again.

 

I’ve heard the excuse “Maybe they aren’t racist, but they were okay with it,” but that’s just what it is—an excuse to hang on to fear, and avoid the hard work of overcoming our biases so that we can start building bridges. It’s easier to deal with the difficulty of our situation when we think we have the moral high ground.

 

The thing is, we need each other right now. All of us. We’re facing the threat of an authoritarian government. Climate change. An aggressive Russia. The consequences of any of these threats are things that no American wants, and the only thing getting in the way of fixing them is each other. If we were all willing to sit down with one another and really listen without judgment, we could have all of our problems solved within a day. We’re not there yet, but even one more heart listening in a crowd of clamoring can have a profound impact.

 

If we want to get through this mess, we need to realize that “protecting one another” cannot stop with just the people we agree with. We must be able to see through the veils of fear that make friends look like enemies. And we must be careful never to hold ourselves above another on any grounds, lest we miss the gifts that they have to offer.

 

We will protect one another.

 

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