I remember in 8th grade, riding home on the school bus and hearing the other kids gloat over Nixon’s victory. We were anti-war Democrats in my house though politics usually took a back seat to music and literature. Before I was born, before the Kennedy era, my parents were northerners who voted socialist when they had the opportunity.
But in Jacksonville Florida in the late 1960s, I was a stranger in a strange land. I didn’t know exactly why but I was sad that Nixon had won, and I was ready for the war that occupied our television sets to just be over. The whole time that I was growing up, I languished in a political minority. You could berate the racism and homophobia and war mongering and poor-demonizing all you wanted and it would be to no avail.
It wasn’t until 2008 and the election of Barack Obama that I felt truly in sync with my country. I was a professor by then and I was surrounded by young people and African-Americans. When Obama won, I’ll admit I felt a little smug because I’d pegged him as my president the first time I heard him open his mouth four years earlier to speak of hope and unity. On the other hand, I have never been able to wrap my mind around the idea of Donald Trump (?!?) as president of anything, much less the United States of America. I’d sooner have voted for Attila the Hun.
This probably stems from my political roots. When I was 15 years old, I moved in with my brother and his family in Webster Groves, Missouri. The first thing you noticed when you walked into their living room was that old iconic poster of two beautiful babies, one black and one white, beaming happily at each other. That’s when my brother began my education: the Bay of Tonkin, the illegal overthrow of Ho Chi Minh, the ruthlessness of a capitalist system. My sister-in-law had her own lessons to impart: women’s rights, unfettered learning for children, and breast is best. And I have followed that path they set before me ever since. Against wars, for peace, for equality, and always, “breast is best.”
But for all my avowed beliefs, politics has, for the most part, been on the back burner of my proverbial stove. Now, however, everything has changed. And now all those years of familial voices have blended into one voice that rises in my throat. A declaration if you will: I stand with the poor, the persecuted, and the oppressed. I will not give into the hate-mongering of sociopaths. I will put my energy into keeping alive the conscience within us. I will not be silent. I will honor my ancestors who fought for the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and wherever possible I will see those rights extended to one and all no matter the religion they practice, where they are born, the language they speak, or whom they choose to love. Amen.