First They Came for Anyone but Me

It’s been quite some time since something has happened that has compelled me to write.  I’m actually quite relieved that I finally have something to say.  Not because I always have to be talking, but because I began to worry that in this time that I wasn’t writing, I was not learning, I was not growing, I was not experiencing a life that was worth analyzing critically or reacting to emotionally or sharing with you here.  But last night something happened that I must share with you, but before I do so, I warn you that this post is highly political.  If you are in the mood to get offended (and don’t scoff at me- people today prime themselves to be offended), then please do not read on.  I am interested in making you think, not in starting a fight.  If you are not coming to this article with an open heart and an open mind, then you are not ready to come at all, and for that, I am sorry.  If you are coming with an open heart and an open mind, then please, read on.  And should you get to the end and disagree with what I say, please know that I respect your right to a differing opinion and hope you do the same of mine.

Last night my college hosted L.A. Theatre Work’s touring production of Judgment at Nuremberg by Abby Mann, a play about the Nuremberg trials following WWII.  At intermission, I overheard a fellow student say how she was glad that the man on trial was a judge being tried for sending people to terrible fates by way of his rulings in court.  She was glad of this because there is no dramatic tension in the high-ranking Nazi officials being charged for their crimes.  I agreed with her, but I also agreed because this meant that this was a mild WWII production (if you can ever consider a WWII production to be mild).  It was mild because I was confronted with the terrible truths of the human past in a different way than I am used to: without relics taken from concentration camps, without the presence of rotting cable cars that carried many ghosts, without terrible pictures assailing the eyes and with them, the soul.  In short, I managed to walk out of the production with a troubled mind, but without the characteristic (albeit well-earned) inkling of vomit that grabs hold of me whenever I visit a Holocaust museum.

During intermission, I turned on my cell phone and scrolled through my news feed on Facebook, and in my perusal of the social media sphere, I came across something a friend of mine had “liked.”  It said something to the effect of, “When I was in high school and I learned about WWII, I marveled at how people could let Hitler come to power.  Then I realized that that is what is happening in America now.”  There had already been some lines in Act I of Judgment at Nuremberg that struck me because of the truth they bore and how it still rings true today, and not in a land across the sea but on our own soil.  That post I saw on Facebook struck me similarly.  I’d seen it before, but I had not taken it to heart as much as I did last night during the intermission of that show.  And at the end of intermission, I turned off my phone and put it away and heard more lines in Act II that also bore truths that spoke to the condition of our country today.

As I walked out of the performance with my roommate, I told her about what I had read, and as I did so, I cursed myself for not thinking to speak more quietly.  My voice was carrying, and I was acutely aware of what I was saying, of the controversy that I was loudly proclaiming.  I was painfully conscious of how guilty I felt to be saying those words about “the land of the free and the home of the brave”, how afraid I was that I would be verbally beaten for saying them, despite our First Amendment rights.  A couple just older then my parents was walking slightly in front of us.  I heard low voices, and the man began to turn his head.  I thought, “Oh, shit!  I’m about to get yelled at for this.”  But he turned to me, and he said, “You are exactly right.  And your generation needs to speak up about it.  Thank you for saying that.”  I walked away feeling equally confused, surprised, and proud.

A poem came to mind:

This is what is happening in our country right now.  But it looks a little bit more like this:

First they devalued black lives because they were too busy asserting that #AllLivesMatter to acknowledge that right now, the black ones are the ones we need to affirm and I did not speak out- because my life is not black.

Then they discriminated against LGBTQ+ people and continued to withhold from them a safe and equal place in our community and I did not speak out- because I am not LGBTQ+.

Then they called all Muslims terrorists and festered hatred for an entire religion because of the hateful acts of extremists and I did not speak out- because I am not a Muslim.

Then they suggested we build a wall and seal off our borders to keep out immigrants seeking a better life because they refuse to see the difference between a hawk and a handsaw* and I did not speak out- because I am not an immigrant.

Then they allowed the demonization of all police officers because some have abused their power and I did not speak out- because I am not a police officer.

Then they allowed the attack of peaceful protesters at Standing Rock and I did not speak out- because I am not Native American.

First they came for anyone but me.  Soon they will allow others to discriminate against, hate, and threaten me, and who will be there to speak out?

(*shout-out to William Shakespeare, Hamlet II.ii.352)

This is where it starts.  This is how it started in pre-Nazi Germany.  These are what I like to call “gateway” problems.  When we allow these things to happen, we are saying that they are okay.

“Even if you’re little, you can do a lot, you
Mustn’t let a little thing like, ‘little’ stop you
If you sit around and let them get on top,
you might as well be saying
You think that it’s okay
And that’s not right!”

Read more: Matilda London Cast – Naughty Lyrics | MetroLyrics

And if we say that this is okay, what else will we say is okay?  How far will we let this go?  How long will this go on?

Judgment at Nuremberg discussed the idea of “fault,” addressing the difficult question “Whose fault is it that Hitler came to power?”  Is it the government leaders who willingly followed his command and example?  Is it those government workers who hated what they were doing but still went along with all of the injustice out of love of country or fear?  Is it those who supplied Hitler’s regime with the tools and weapons it used to systematically kill millions?  Is it the average German for not protesting when their neighbors were taken from their homes and forced into fates much worse than they ever could have dreamed of?  Whose fault is it?  At what level can you say that there is no blame shared, that you truly couldn’t have done anything to stop it, that there was no responsibility to take a stand or do your part?  The play implicitly says that by allowing these things to happen, by neutrality and by omission, everyone was complicit on some level.  It says that this is a societal issue and as members that make up that society, it is our duty to one another to defend justice, equality, and human rights.  This still holds true in the world we live in today.  It is true in the America we live in today.

I firmly believe that theater pieces are chosen for a reason and that the reason is rarely just “it’ll be fun.”  Theater is a highly political medium.  Judgment at Nuremberg is playing today because its truths are ringing in our ears, and they are ringing especially loudly as we decide as a country who is going to be governing us for the next four years.  Similarly, as Hamilton has taken storm across the country, it has become clear to me that it too is coming into being now because of what it says about our country today:

“Immigrants, we get the job done.” -Yorktown (The World Turned Upside Down)
I’ve been reading Common Sense by Thomas Paine
So men say that I’m intense or I’m insane
You want a revolution? I want a revelation
So listen to my declaration:
“We hold these truths to be self-evident
That all men are created equal”
And when I meet Thomas Jefferson,
I’m ‘a compel him to include women in the sequel!

-The Schuyler Sisters

Tuesday, October 8th is a turning point for our country, and each and every person here has to decide what kind of person he wants to be and what kind of nation he wants to build.  I leave you with this:

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