I have often wondered how far I’d be willing to go to stand up for what I believe in. Would I risk physical harm, even death? Would I risk those I love who might be impacted by my actions?
Would I have the courage to honor my convictions regardless of the consequences? We owe a great debt to military personnel who protect our rights, no matter the cost. This country would not exist without them. And to those who stand up for their beliefs, regardless of the consequences, to expose inequities, like the protesters who peacefully walked across the Edmund Pettus bridge knowing the danger it would bring to all who participated. Sadly, as expected, it was a bloodbath.
That nationally televised brutal display of law enforcement attacking American citizens who were just exercising their Constitutional right to assemble, finally pushed through the monumental Voters Right Act of 1965. According to the History Channel -the act banned the use of literacy tests, provided for Federal oversight of voter registration in areas where less than 50 percent of the non-white population had not registered to vote, and authorized the U.S. attorney general to investigate the use of poll taxes in state and local elections.
How many of us are willing to take that risk? Older classic movies portray the protagonist like Jimmy Stuart, Spenser Tracy, Carey Grant, and Henry Fonda as men of character and honor when they display their integrity regularly by words and deeds. Bringing home the point that refusing to encourage and disseminate hatred, bigotry or disparities starts with each of us.
In one particular favorite of mine, Gentleman’s Agreement, Gregory Peck decides to write an article in the 1950’s on anti-semitism with a new perspective- by pretending to be Jewish. The title represented the way discrimination was quietly perpetuated, meaning there were no official bans, just a nod and a wink and a “gentleman’s agreement” between conservative-minded WASPs (White Anglo Saxon Protestants) that they would keep the riffraff out of their associations. At one point his son came home with a black eye. Too young to understand why being called a Jew could incite violence, he had been in a fight because of his father’s lie.
When the girlfriend rushed to his side and told the boy it wasn’t true, he wasn’t really Jewish so the beating wasn’t really meant for him, Gregory Peck was furious. He hugged his son close and told him that no one is safe if we all turn a blind eye to hatred and ignorance. Just because he wasn’t really Jewish didn’t mean he could scream that truth to his schoolmates so they’d accept him. It wasn’t what he looked like or what faith he followed, but the man he grew up to be that mattered. Sometimes just speaking up can make all the difference.
It’s silent acquiescence that is virulent. John Lewis chose to march and speak out for Black lives, voting rights and injustices in this country even though he was beaten severely and almost died. His journey took him to Congress where his willingness to sacrifice everything he held dear moved us forward.
Thankfully, most of us will never have to find out if we would do the same.
We live in the shadows of magnificent men and women who have given their all to honor the cherished rights and privileges we far too often take for granted.
To those brave souls,
Now we have the chance to raise our own voices.
To stand up and say what course we want our future to take.
As a Jew, I grew up hearing the cry of anti-semitism that justified the destruction of my ancestors. As an American I have seen the seedlings of progress bloom for civil rights, women’s rights, gender rights, children’s rights, voting rights, and workers rights, to sadly see them slowly eroded and dismantled.
The battle is far from over, turning back is not an option.
Fear is never a reason to put our heads in the sand and hope it passes us by. Now is the time to look it in the eye and steadfastly say in unison,
Stand back, stand by?
This year, casting our vote may expose us to violence from those who’d try to intimidate and stop us. This year, casting our vote may expose us to a lethal virus that can kill us or those we love. This year, machinations to suppress our right to vote may mean standing in long lines. But the alternative is more frightening. The alternative threatens our very democracy. This year, whoever you vote for, make it clear we will never again tolerate such tactics. Today, tomorrow and through Election Day let’s ensure:
All votes are counted.
All Americans are heard.
All citizens can peacefully exercise their right to vote.
I grew up with the battle cry – never again- and these words reverberating in my head from the Holocaust:
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Stay safe, take every precaution, and vote.