“I hold it that a little rebellion now and then is a good thing, and as necessary in the political world as storms in the physical. Unsuccessful rebellions indeed generally establish the encroachments on the rights of the people which have produced them. An observation of this truth should render honest republican governors so mild in their punishment of rebellions, as not to discourage them too much. It is a medicine necessary for the sound health of government.” — Thomas Jefferson, Letters of Thomas Jefferson
“If you don’t stand for anything, what will you fall for?” — Lin-Manuel Miranda, Hamilton
The past couple of days have finally inspired me to return to this dusty, old blog that I have neglected since November 2016.
Yesterday, I was teaching the end of 1984, by George Orwell, to two classes of sophomores. In our class discussion about what Orwell was really trying to say with the novel, since it seemed, at first, that the message was that rising up against a complete government is useless folly, my students did finally come up with a different idea, with next to no prodding or prompting from me: Orwell was not focused on Winston, but the government of Oceania. He was warning us about the power the government has over reality as long as we let it guide us to give it such power.
In other words, if a society allows authority figures to dictate what they should and should not believe without questioning those people, then they wind up with an authority that has absolute power over that society. Several students in each class noted that this was how Hitler and the Nazis took over Germany. They convinced the Germans that they were the best people in the world and all their problems came from outsiders in their society — the Jews — who they promptly disenfranchised and removed from the general population. I did make sure they understood that this “removal” of the Jews was NOT the mass genocide in the 1930s when they were coming to power. That would come later in the 40s. One student in my first period class even mentioned that Hitler made speeches to the German people about how Germany could be great again, like before World War I, and that the German people would rise up and take their country back from the invasive immigrants and minorities.
NOT ONE STUDENT, especially those clothed in Trump-wear, seemed to connect what they just said to what was going on in our country. That Winston’s job of changing what was said or done in the past was exactly the same rhetoric coming from the Trump campaign and then transition team with statements like “I didn’t say that,” or “Donald Trump never made fun of a handicapped journalist” when there are plenty of sources that show otherwise. Last night, I wept a little for our future.
Then, I went with my family to Trenton, NJ, today to join the Women’s March there. We were going to go to DC, but couldn’t make it, and New York would be too much of a mob scene and difficult to get out of, but Trenton was closer, started earlier, and, as New Jerseyans, we felt it important to show our support not just to the country, but also to our local and state governments.
The organizers for Trenton were expecting about 3000 people to show. The crowd was over 6000 people. On the way home, we heard that the marches all over the WORLD were larger than anyone expected. The DC march particularly, dwarfed the so-called crowd that had shown up for the inauguration just 34 hours earlier by hundreds of thousands of people. Being a part of this movement, this “revolution,” I felt rejuvenated. I felt inspired. There is a possibility that the future would not be the dystopian nightmare that I have been dreaming about for weeks now. But, then, it may still. Which is why I am back here.
In my classroom, I try to avoid political discussions, but when one teaches students to think, they start to actually do that, which leads to questions and connections to their lives (despite the above example of the contrary). Still, I try to let all voices be heard. But here, on my blog, and outside my school, in my life, I can speak up and I can fight.
Donald Trump was elected president with promises and proposed policies that will go against women, LGBTQ people, the poor, immigrants, minorities, and Muslims. All of those people are part of my family and my history.
Three out of four of my grandparents were immigrants to the US and the fourth was a first generation American. All but one of those grandparents died American citizens. My father’s father was Muslim. My father was an immigrant who became an American citizen. I was born in the poor maternity ward at Mt. Sinai hospital in NYC and lived in government subsidized housing for the first couple of years of my life. I have relatives all over the world. I have American cousins who are of Asian and African descent. I have gay and lesbian relatives. I have plenty of family members who have mental or physical disabilities, or even both at the same time. I have relatives who are Jewish, Christian, Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist, Humanist, and Athiest. All these people are part of me. I love and care about all of these people and they all care about me. So, when Donald Trump and his supporters spew their hatred to any one or more of these groups of people, they are offending me and my family. They wouldn’t stand for me to do that, and I won’t stand for them to do that.
Distinguishing people from others by any label — whether it be “black” and “white,” “gay” and “straight,” or “man” and “woman” — creates an easy way to make people “other.” There will be no peace until we simply accept that all people are just people, no matter what they believe or look like or act, and every single person deserves the same respect and the same rights as every other person. So, that is my fight now. Anyone who suggests that we just sit quietly back and wait for things to change again or accept things for how they are is just exhibiting their societal “privilege.” Those are the people who have nothing to worry about with the way things are.
No one is going to dictate who my daughter is, how she can live her life, or make her feel bad just for being who she is, myself included. She will define herself as she sees fit. Anyone who tries to tell her what she can and cannot do with her body, her mind, her life, has to go through me and my wife first.