Don't Be Silent - Reflections on Martin Luther King Jr Day
|in the end we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends|
Thoughts on Activism and Contemporary Social Justice Issues on Rev Dr Martin Luther King, Jr Day
(Well, a few days after MLK Day)
I saw this quote on a display and it stopped me in my tracks. In college, I read a fair amount of essays by Rev Dr Martin Luther King Jr, and I believe they have shaped a lot of my actions as an adult. Encountering his writings in those formative years had a lasting effect.
For this year's MLK Day, this particular quote struck me, because I *lived* it in 2018. As I wrote extensively in a blog post on Vintage Bridge, I came forward, with my name on the record, to speak up and speak out about a person in the poetry community who has serially commited various acts of sexual misconduct.
As I mentioned in that post, doing so was very difficult, for many reasons. One reason I didn't go into much, though, was the silence from so-called friends. I am very grateful for everyone who WAS vocally supportive of those of us who felt it was imperative to make our community aware of the actions of the person discussed in the Outline piece. Months later, though, I am still resentful about the silence of "friends."
Don't Be Silent
If you are witness to a person standing up for what is right, make sure they know they have your support. As I have stated before, putting oneself "out there" for a cause takes a great deal of emotional labor. The strength and courage and endurance doing something like that takes is incalculable. The cost of relationships, of time, of energy, of mental will, of vulnerability do not have a price tag. How can you put a price on losing friendships that you thought were stronger than they turned out to be? How can you put a price on learning who has your back, and who doesn't care enough to support you when you stand up for what is right? You can't.
The quote on the silence of friends is in the same spirit of another quote of King's, from "Letter from a Birmingham Jail," which I usually reflect on during the national holiday in his honor:
|Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere|
To me it means, not only do you have empathy for the struggle of others, even if you don't suffer as they do, but you also speak up; you also act. What does that mean in practical terms? Believing and stating and amplifying the fact that Black Lives Matter. Listening to and aiding the needs of transfolk. Supporting and respecting the marginalized and stigmatized sex workers as they assert their rights and subvert the partriarchy that continually infringes on their liberty. Fighting for the rights of immigrants. Working hard for equality and justice for all, even if the issues don't directly affect you.
That's what I try to do. Whether it's something small, like a social media post. Or more substantial, like petitions to the government. Or fiscal, like donations. Or actionable, like political organizing around issues I know will help further the causes I hold dear.
It Is Not Easy, But It May Just Be the Most Important Thing
As I said in my post on coming forward, speaking up and putting yourself "out there" is a scary place. You are so vulnerable. But I also know that no amount of fear feels as bad as remaining silent and letting others continue to suffer without at least trying to end injustices. To quote myself from the end of that long post:
Be brave. It's the only way things will change. It's the only way we're going to make things better.