George Orwell said that “If large numbers of people are interested in freedom of speech there will be freedom of speech even if the law forbids it. If public opinion is sluggish, inconvenient minorities will be persecuted even if laws exist to protect them.”
Since I read this a few days ago it has been swirling around and around in my mind. The events that followed the recent election (to use the term loosely) in Iran is evidence of the first part; even with arrests and punishment people found a way to exercise freedom of speech. In the face of torture. In the face of death. As President Obama said “…Their [Iranian protesters] bravery in the face of brutality is a testament to their enduring pursuit of justice,…The violence perpetrated against them [Iranian protesters] is outrageous. In spite of the government’s efforts to keep the world from bearing witness to that violence, we see it and we condemn it.”
And then there’s the second part of what Orwell said. How is it possible that within a democracy so little is being said about the rights of all to have access to health care? How is it that there isn’t a larger outcry from the very same people who rallied to elect Obama to start with? Why is there so little public campaigning for universal health care? Where is the concerted, organized, rational response to the lies (thank you again to Sarah Palin for introducing death panels as a real entity) and deception that’s being perpetrated by what I will call “the right” for lack of a better way of describing this out-of-control mob? Just a few weeks ago we witnessed what I’ve heard referred to as the Million Moron March on Washington; as these photos (as police records suggest) it wasn’t a million morons after all, perhaps fewer than 70,000. That’s comforting to me because at least it suggests that there are fewer people being duped and misled into hatemongering than I worry about.
So, what are we all doing about this?
Maybe, just maybe, this is one of the gifts that retirement gives us. I don’t have to worry about how what I say will affect my employer any more. I don’t have to worry about whether or not being outspoken will mean no more advancement in my career. Because I’m not spending long hours in my office (at least the one that provided a regular paycheck) anymore isn’t this the best opportunity I’ve ever had to protest? Protest. There’s something that’s been a part of my life for a very long time.
I grew into adulthood in the late 60s and early 70s. I was too young to play a part in civil rights demonstrations, but I followed them and wished I was old enough to be there. How many of us remember SDS (Students for a Democratic Society) or SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee)? I remember attending a rally at Cornell University (we had a friend who was a student there). I’ll admit that some of this was mismanaged and poorly thought through … but at least we were raising our voices and saying “enough”. Where is that happening today? I’ve been part of any number of marches seeking more justice, more equity, more tolerance, more understanding, more peace. I’ve even tried to start a chapter of Grandmothers for Peace in Toronto but so far haven’t had much “traction”. I haven’t given up though. I can’t.
Until now I’ve had to spread my energies around and that’s meant not having quite enough time to do anything the way or to the extent that I’d like to. It’s different now though. I do have more time. I can focus my energy where I want. Is the era of protest over for me? I don’t think so. My sister Fran recently told me about her own protest against bigotry and hatefulness outside of a market in California. She was scared for sure; it is frightening to stand nose-to-nose with ignorance. How proud I am of her for not just walking away though. What a good role model she is.
It’s time for me to put more thought to this. I’m trying to do as much speaking as I can about social justice and the need for education to address real issues of how we live together. I’m trying to think through the ways in which the gift of retirement can be invested in a more peaceful, kinder, more loving future for all. I’ve started contacting both Muslim and Jewish elementary schools in Toronto, offering to organize and conduct a children’s choir that would sing in English, French, Arabic and Hebrew. I’m preparing to speak at a Peace Education conference at McMaster University in November. I’m speaking at a Canadian Red Cross youth conference called “Our World, Youth Move: Youth Taking Action” in October. But this just isn’t enough.
How do I rally more of us to speak out? How can we come together and turn our individual voices into a sound that’s truly loud enough to be heard? The hatemongers get heard; we see them and hear them every day on the newscasts that give them lots of airtime for their hatefulness and stupidity.
Why aren’t we being heard?
What can I do?
What can you do?