November 11, 2016

HAGOPIAN | What to Do When You Know the Worst Is Coming

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Sanders/Castro 2020

Now that that’s out of the way, I want to make a few points about what just happened.

I grew up in a rural small town. My family was working class, as was everyone else. I stuck out a little because of my Middle-Eastern heritage, but for the most part life was great. I had friends. My best friends were three brothers who lived on a local dairy farm. We were schoolmates, we went to camp together and we spent time at each other’s houses. In the summer I worked with them as a farmhand, which was my first ever job.

One of the brothers rallied to Trump’s cause very early on. This didn’t bother me too much, at least not in itself. What did bother me were the things he began to post on social media. “Nuke the Middle East” is one example. “Deport all goatfuckers” is another. This is someone I grew up with, someone I respect. Someone who is currently in basic training, preparing to serve his country in the armed forces. In other words, not a bad person. When I first saw these words, I was confused. Didn’t he know that I was Middle-Eastern? When I mentioned the subject to my mom, she chalked his behavior up to “cognitive dissonance.” “He’s just a little off,” she said. “He’s not talking about you.

I never took the initiative to confront my childhood friend, even through a Facebook message. After a while, his comments upset me less and less. They even seemed rather harmless. Aren’t I lucky, I thought to myself, that I live in a society where his bigotry hurts him more than it hurts me.

I regret that line of thinking, especially in the context of what has happened over the past few days.

Small acts are always important, but they are especially important in times like this. The Republican party has made a number of disturbing promises to their base, and they have the means to fulfill those promises. A good deal of progress stands to be unmade. We have to be ready to make it all again.

The branches of government are closed to us. Activism and organization are our only recourse, and this mode of action is as potent as it is dangerous. It rises or falls on the basis of small acts, as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther and Colin Kaepernick clearly show. Small acts make movements, but they can also unmake them. Perceived hypocrisies or character flaws have undermined many a progressive’s attempts to do good work.

Speech is not merely a precursor to action, it is an action in itself. I urge people to be extremely careful about what they say over the next few months. Consider what Dr. King said in response to riots that had broken out among some of his supporters during the civil right movement:

“It is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society… I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard.”

This particular quote has been widely circulated in recent years. “A riot is the language of the unheard” is the popular tagline, but I believe that the real intellectual meat of the passage lies elsewhere. “It would be morally irresponsible [to condemn riots],” he says, “without, at the same time, condemning… the conditions that exist in our society.” This is an important point for people who hope to make a difference with their speech, their actions, and their efforts. Expressing an idea, even a true idea, can sometimes be morally irresponsible.

I contend that it is irresponsible, for example, to make too much of the backlash against third party voters. It is true that people have the right to vote for the candidate they want, but the fact of the matter is that multiple groups of people stand to be victimized in much more real and profound ways. It’s like seeing a drowning man and complaining about the weather.

I contend that it is irresponsible, for much the same reason, to preach patience and togetherness when hate crimes against Muslim-Americans are up almost 90 percent. It is irresponsible to focus on the out-datedness of the electoral college when much more harmful policies are about to be implemented. It is irresponsible to throw up your hands and denounce the entire system while the system still has the power to do harm.

What is done and said over these next few weeks will shape the anti-Trumpism movement for years to come. Let’s start off on the right foot.

Ara Hagopian is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected]Whiny Liberal will appear alternating Fridays this semester.