Lest We Forget
My writing is, typically, nothing if not verbose. A friend once remarked that if you ask me what time it was I would try to explain how they made the watch. He was not completely unwarranted in that observation. However, on this occasion I believe that what I have to share can be stated more briefly than you may have come to expect from me.
This week most Americans paused to remember the legacy of the man considered to be perhaps the greatest crusader for civil rights that this nation has yet produced. It is not uncommon for lesser , and baser men to presume to pretend to his legacy. Across the political spectrum, from those truly laboring in the fields, to political operatives resting on his laurels, to crass politicians and activists who would have been in the forefront of attacking him had they lived 50 years earlier, they all trot out the quotes, references, anecdotes and bromides to try and co-opt a portion of his legacy for themselves.
It goes without me saying that it is a disgusting display of hubris for those who, in this day, fight tooth and nail against civil rights which are not yet fully one to pretend to this position. “It’s different this time!” they protest. “We are not like our grandfathers at all!” they insist, while walking in Granddad’s footsteps singing “Faith of Our Fathers” and pretending they would not have been segregationists back in the day.
It bears little mention that politicians who will not even risk their job, let alone their life, to make a difference are hardly worthy to pretend to the same ideals which cost the man his life.
But what does bear discussion is this:
We who advocate for trans equality (and for the remaining areas in which all LGB/T people lack full legal equality) have been referred to, and like to think of ourselves as embodying, the “civil rights battle of this generation” and indeed, we are. No one out there, save perhaps the Black Lives Matter movement and they are advocating for the living out of legal rights already won, is more obviously following his path of trying to balance the scales so that all Americans stand officially equal before the law.
But are we, as a group, conducting ourselves in a manner worthy of his legacy? Certainly, in the halls of power I would say we are. Name virtually any high-profile activist or spokesperson and you will find that they approach the issues with thoughtfulness, not volume, reason, not vitriol, love, not hate. But step out of those spotlights and take a walk through the wilds of the internet, in those often murky and lawless regions known as comment threads, social media, and even the antiquated message board, and all too often you find those who are on the right side of history behaving in a harsh, crass, bitter, mean-spirited and aggressive fashion towards those who disagree with them. Do our opponents “have it coming”? Very often they DO! But the question is whether we wish to prioritizes the small emotional victory of “telling off” our opposition, or whether we want to actually walk in the ultimately successful footsteps of the one who said “Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” It costs him his life, and he was not alone in that, but he changed the world.
It seems to me that this is an ultimately much more satisfying objective than the momentary victory of having chastened some ignorant stranger on Facebvook.
Image by: Jose Carlos Casimiro