Stand Up, Speak Out

I went for a walk Saturday.

I was joined by more than 300 people, all sorts of people: babies in backpacks, old folks with canes, veterans, pacifists, high school kids, moms, dads, grandparents, business owners, employees, you name it.

We walked through my town, Camden, Maine, past old mill buildings converted into apartments, along shop-lined Main Street, past our library to Harbor Park, one of the most beautiful places on the planet.

We stuck to the sidewalks as requested by the police. Our line was so long, at two or three abreast, that no one could see both ends. Many shopkeepers opened their doors and greeted us as we walked by. It was cheerful and neighborly.

People carried all manner of homemade signs with positive messages: leave the prejudice in the past; not all muslims are terrorists; we shall overcome; black lives matter; be kind, be fair, be inclusive; we are a nation of immigrants; hate won’t make us great; with liberty and justice for all; if I were to remain silent, would I be complicit?; our diversity, our compassion, our country; human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people; a nation does not have to be cruel to be tough; injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere; unity = diversity; protect our future; love trumps hate; xenophobia and bigotry are the real enemies; don’t hate, collaborate; ❤>Fear. There were partisan signs, but they were few.

Not a harsh word was heard. This was a relief.

The walk, titled Stand Up, Speak Out, was organized by a couple of young women as a peaceful protest in “support to the women, LGBT people, minorities, and others who Trump threatens with his presidency” and as a “positive event in response to the horrific incidents Trump’s election has incited.” In the days prior to the event, one of the young women was threatened by a person who claimed to have studied her Facebook profile and who said they would hurt her and would drown out the walk with motorcycles (see Penobscot Bay Pilot article.)

This gave everyone something to think about. But none of the threats were acted upon. There was only one counter-protester that I saw. He was very respectful, standing at the side of the walk with his sign which read, “The Silent Majority Stands With Trump.” True to his sign, he was silent. So, I could not ascertain if he just wanted to support his candidate or if he supported discriminatory policies.

The guy on the left is a fellow walker who posed with the counter-protester.

I returned home filled with happiness and pride that so many people in my community wanted to stand up for equal rights and tolerance …

Only to have my bubble burst by a man I consider a friend.

He is an incredible human being, a policeman and firefighter, a fellow cancer survivor, a dad. He is a man who puts himself in harm’s way to protect others, who regularly sees some of the worst sides of life. I know he supports gay rights. I know he views himself as having no issues with black people. When the safety pin thing came out, on his Facebook page he put up a picture of the pin side of a police badge with the message, “So you’re wearing a safety pin so others know you’ll keep them safe? I’ve been doing that for years.” He is a loving guy whose mission is to help others.

But I also know that he has been outraged, fearful, and stressed by the uptick in politically motivated acts of violence against the police. He risks his life daily, but formerly he knew when he was stepping into trouble. He now feels he in danger of being randomly executed (his word) because of his uniform. He feels unfairly targeted.

It is valid to say this is exactly how many black people feel every time they leave the house, so welcome to the club, Mr. Policeman. But this is a new experience for him, and he is stressed. The validity of one does not negate the validity of the other.

I opened up Facebook to post some of my photos from the walk. What I saw at the top of my feed was this message from him:

I hope that planned peaceful protest goes well today in Camden. I also hope there’s a full size mirror for everyone to take a good look in. Maybe they can ask themselves a question. Who actually is dividing this country and doing all of the hating? Is it one person? Or is it a group of people? Cause I’ve never seen so many of my friends who claim to be all about peace, love and acceptance, hate so much. I’m not talking about the Red Sox versus the Yankees hate. I’m talking systemic absolute intolerable poison that is not only hypocritical but offensive and disappointing. So I guess while you’re claiming to be standing up for groups of people that we’ve moved mountains to protect and make equal while you’re hating. Check yourself and stop being a hypocrite. [The emphasis is mine.]

And he is not wrong.

I understand the argument that Trump voters thought their issues, whatever they are, were more important than the potential danger in which their votes put others, that they were okay with making others collateral damage in the pursuit of their goals. I understand that, for some, this makes any Trump voter a bad person worthy of their hatred.

I am not there.

I observe most people are blinded by self-interest. People find it very easy to justify their self-interested actions and minimise or dismiss the repercussions. I am certainly guilty. I am constantly having to take a hard look at my motives to be sure I am on the right path.

So here we are. What’s done is done. I can shake my angry fist at my neighbor, or I can seek a way to bend the arc of the future toward justice. (Thank you Dr. King.)

I stand against bigotry and sexism. I stand for a tolerant, just society. I stand for the separation of church and state. I stand for human dignity and civil discourse.
I stand for these things because I feel these, not wealth or might, are what make America great. And I do want to make America great. I want to see her fulfill the promise of her ideals.

So to any Trump voter I would say:

If you agree with me on these principles, I will not shun or disparage you. I will work with you on issues where we have common ground. Where we disagree, we can try to sway each other’s opinion or duke it out in the voting booth.

If you feel unfairly attacked as a racist, misogynist, homophobe, anti-semite, Islamophobe, or xenophobe, please prove to me that you are not. Now is the time for you to speak up for equality and tolerance and to protect people who may not think, act or look like you.

If you remain silent, I will have to believe you agree with the hateful speech, vandalism and violence this election spawned. If you do not object, how can you claim to be unjustly labeled?

You own this election. I can do my part, but what happens next is on you.

Please keep America great.
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