Day 40: Your Place in History

I have one of my favorite tweets pinned to the top of my timeline:

“Right now” is tomorrow’s history. You can either be a spectator, or you can help to shape how things will be.

Even if you are a spectator, you are shaping events. Think about all those people living in Germany in the 1930s: of course they didn’t know that Hitler would start the mass murder of Jews in the 1940s, but it wasn’t much of a surprise either. Early in his career he told a journalist “Once I really am in power, my first and foremost task will be the annihilation of the Jews.”

It has been commonly assumed that the average German had no idea what was going on while the Holocaust was being carried out, but that notion has been debunked. It was written about in newspapers, usually in terms that de-humanized the victims. But most people alive then couldn’t be bothered to speak out: maybe they secretly agreed with the Nazis that Jews were subhuman and deserved to die; maybe they were afraid that they would face retaliation if they spoke up. Either way, their decision to do nothing enabled the Holocaust to happen.

A common time-travel fantasy is to send someone back in time to kill Hitler before he rose to power; with hindsight I don’t think any of us would hesitate to pull the trigger if we had such an opportunity. It would have been much more difficult for someone back in the 1930s to do so, however: they may not have liked Hitler, but he hadn’t revealed his true monstrosity yet. He hadn’t yet committed the acts that we now associate with his infamy. The more they did nothing, the stronger he got, and the more difficult it became to oppose him.

And so it is with today: we have monsters in power who say horrible things, like calling white supremacist marchers “very fine people”, or that Mexicans coming to the US are “criminals, drug dealers, and rapists”. These monsters take the refugees coming to our border, and rip children from their parents, isolating them in cages. They’ve shown what they want to do. They’ve shown their true nature. And others have shown their support for these ideas by keeping them in office, free from consequences when they abuse their power.

So here you are, in the middle of this history. Given the parallels to the rise of other fascist, authoritarian leaders, and knowing where this can lead, what will you do? Will you sit this out, saying something like “I’m not into politics”?

By the way, “I’m not into politics” is a subtle way of saying “I don’t care what horrible things are happening to others, because they aren’t affecting me”.

Don’t be like that. Don’t be a passive enabler of our history. Instead, speak out against racism. Speak out against hate. Speak out against exploitation of workers. And not only do you need to vote, you need to get at least 5 other people who would otherwise not bothered to vote into the voting booth. We need overwhelming numbers of people working together in order to reverse the current negative trend, and help to make this time a brighter spot when future generations read about our history.

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