First, a disclaimer: This particular post is a personal commentary rather than a news or political commentary. I hesitated to write it, but then realized that this venue (blogging) was created for precisely this sort of sharing of personal feelings and thoughts. So, readers, however limited in number you may be at this point, bear with me for today as I ask myself a personal question, one that caused me to reconsider my own intentions in writing these posts in the first place, and one that might possibly inspire you to do a bit of reflection yourself.
I began this blog with multiple intentions. I sought to inform people of news stories that they may have missed, or that had been overlooked by the mainstream media. I also wanted to add my perspective and opinions on those stories, perhaps presenting things in a way that made them more accessible to people who don’t normally read about politics. I was hoping to inform people, to present reasons that I think the way I do, and convince others to share my beliefs. But, my greatest intention was to inspire people to act, to take the progressive ideals that they found here (and elsewhere), and to turn them into actions, to participate in the process of taking this country back from the corporations and the political parties and the media and the religious zealots and the lobbyists, and to deliver it back into the hands of the people, where it belongs.
These intentions perhaps overestimate the power of a simple blog, and I recognize that. But, it is better to aim high and to fall short than to aim low and accomplish nothing. So, I aimed high, seeking to be a rallying cry, a voice leading the charge. But, something that happened recently led me to question my own worthiness to take such a bold position.
I was at a family gathering over the weekend. The reason for the gathering is not really relevant, but it is important to note that this was the first time I had seen most of my relatives in quite some time. In fact, there were some people there I hadn’t seen in over two decades. Also important to note is the fact that I come from a family of staunch Republicans. Most of my relatives are the stereotypical Texas-bred Christian Conservatives. This has branded me as the black sheep of the family, a position that I have alternately resented and relished. I am the only one in my family to vote Democrat, the only one to swear off going to church, the only one without a gun collection, the only one with a hybrid car, and the only one with a non-white spouse. All of these things have been points of pride for me, but have also led to numerous debates with family members who try to sell me on the traditional virtues of Christianity and the Republican Party.
It is one of these debates that is the inspiration for this post. I was with a number of my uncles and cousins, a single Progressive among a dozen or more Conservatives. As they took turns sharing what they thought was wrong with the world today, and who among the crowd of Perry, Romney, Bachmann, or
Gingrich was best suited to fix it, I bit my tongue. My father, knowing my personal politics, tried to goad me into joining the conversation, spouting various Republican talking points in my direction, likely hoping that the combined forces of the assembled Conservatives would bring me back into the fold and cure me of my folly, but I would not take the bait. There are times when I embrace the chance to debate, and to impart some knowledge on people who I believe to be misinformed. But, there is some part of me that still feels the need to defer to my elders, especially in an occasion such as this, in what was supposed to be a friendly reunion of relatives. And, even when one of my uncles shocked me with a blatant racial slur against the current president (the actual quote was something like, “I don’t care who it is, but the Republicans had better get their shit together, or else that n***** is going to get voted back into office”), I still bit my tongue. Now, there is no part of me that finds such talk acceptable, regardless of the venue, but I said nothing. I suppose I didn’t want to start an argument, especially not with a 75 year-old Texas-bred uncle, who was likely not used to having his opinions or language questioned. It seemed too big a breach of etiquette (though it was certainly no more a breach than his despicable epithets). My blood boiled, but my voice remained silent. His words sat there, like an elephant in the room that I refused to address.
Later, I related this story to my wife (who, for the record is wonderful, and also fairly progressive in her politics), and she asked me why I didn’t say anything. She said (and I paraphrase), “If you’re going to write a political blog, and call yourself a Progressive, that’s exactly the sort of thing you should say something about.” And, she’s right. I made excuses to myself, but that’s all they were–excuses. Truthfully, there is no reason that I should have kept my mouth shut. It’s one thing to not want to start a political argument during a family reunion, but no sense of decorum should allow me to permit someone to use such hateful language. I felt guilty that I didn’t respond, seeing my silence as condoning that kind of talk. She made me realize that if I’m going to talk the Progressive talk, I need to walk the Progressive walk. That is, if I’m going to stake my claim to this position as a spokesperson for Progressive politics (and the respect for all humanity that implies), I can’t bite my tongue. I can’t be silent. As the Texans would say, I’ve been “all hat and no cattle.” I’ve been dressing the part, but not doing the dirty work that goes along with it. I cannot lead a charge that I am not a part of.
So, I say, no more. I resolve to no longer bite my tongue. I resolve to speak when it is called for. And, I resolve to act when action is needed. It is one thing for me to say that hateful language is inexcusable, but if I excuse it, then my words mean nothing and I am part of the problem. My words and my voice are my weapons, and I cannot let them be weakened by refusing to use them. I must stand tall in the face of contrary opinion, and I must strive to change the minds of those that are ignorant or hateful. I must address the elephant in the room, especially when it is an elephant of discrimination, be it racial or otherwise. I have long called myself a Progressive, but I must actually be Progressive. So, that is my new resolution, and I challenge all of you to do the same. Be proud that you care about others, that you strive for equality and peace and compassion. Embrace that, because it is a virtue. But, also share it. Let your voice be heard. Let your words be your weapons. And, do not let them be silenced.