When the revolution comes for us

When I was 16, I pulled on a peasant’s costume of dirty black rags and stepped on to my high school’s creaky auditorium stage to perform a play about the Romanian revolution — the popular uprising that overturned the dictator Ceausescu’s terror-filled rule. It was a spellbinding story of a populace coming together, taking to the streets, staring down muskets and tanks and machine guns. A story of millions of ordinary people, risking their lives and livelihoods, in a perilous act of insurgency against evil. It was a momentous real-life example of courage overcoming fear at the grassroots level, inspiring actions that freed an entire nation from the toxic binds of oppression for generations to come.

It dawned on me then, in those rags, on that stage: revolting against evil is the ultimate act of courage. Being one of the first to take a stand requires putting others above self, morality and justice above safety and stability.

Revolutions are not common, but they are far from impossible. Revolutions are the simple result of the collective decision to act rather than accept, defend rather than demure, fight rather than falter.

  • It happened in India in over centuries, when a popular movement led by Mahatma Gandhi finally overcame British colonial rule.
  • It happened in South Africans in the 1980s and 1990s, when a popular movement took decades to overcome the inhumanity of Apartheid.
  • It happened in Romania in 1989, when a popular movement said “no more” to the stifling regime of Nicolai Cescauseu.

And now the people must create a revolution in America, when a tyrant without a moral compass is trading in racism, misogyny, and bigotry, all while holding access to the most powerful weapons and military the world has ever known, and promising to overturn the ecological and environmental advances of the last decade.

Now more than ever, the values and progress of our great nation are under threat. Based on the vote of just 20% of the citizenship, many of whom get their news from profit-hungry media, we are staring down the reality of leaping backward in the fight for good against evil.

Do you know what history tells us about when societies slide backward?

People die. Families are separated. Traumas occur that last generations. Policies are enacted that take lifetimes to undo. Economic uncertainty turns into economic collapse, potentially reversing the gains to standards of living that were made over decades. Tyrants are bred. Fear rules the land.

This is NOT a fire drill, folks. This is happening in our country, right now.

Unless we stop it.

The crazy thing is, stopping it is ENTIRELY possible. The power of the people is ALWAYS stronger than the power of the few. That has never been more true than in today’s America. We have freedom of the press, open access to the internet, and laws protecting our rights to speak, demonstrate, and vote with our wallets.

So it’s not that revolution is hard. It’s that it’s Tragic. In the hierarchy of Tragedies of the Commons – problems in which each individual is incentivized to freeload off of the work of everyone else, and thus no one takes individual action – revolution is the pinnacle.

Revolting, even in its most peaceful, minute, and everyday forms, is risky and costly to those who take it on.

Revolting takes time, and who has extra time?

Revolting makes enemies, and who needs more hate?

Revolting can expose you and your family to blowback and even danger, and who wants more risk?

In short, revolting requires sacrifice.

And yet, in my book, a commitment to revolution is the only courageous reaction to evil. We empower evil by turning the other cheek. We let it digs its claws into our country and our democracy when we chose to ignore it. This is nothing short of cowardly.

The coward’s call is a persuasive one. I should know, I’ve listened to it many a time. As I write this, it’s purring at me. It’s whispering in my ear that I will be fine. That the work should be done by others. That I have a family to provide for, a career to protect, a social life to preserve. That I am an adult, and a fucking busy one. That activism is for college students and the oppressed. It’s telling me to wait and see, that things might not be that bad. That maybe he didn’t mean the unconscionable things he said or will only go through with a fraction of the deplorable policies that he championed.

The cowards call also tries to lullaby me to sleep at night, shushing me, cooing that I don’t need to worry because my light skin, blue eyes, and fancy degrees will protect me. That I am somehow better than, and separate from, my countrymen and fellow humans.

But I’ve seen and felt too much to believe that bullshit. I know that even my privilege can’t protect me from the burden of cowardice. I know that nothing can protect our souls from the crushing knowledge that we turned a blind eye as the world started to crumble around us. It happens first for those who are already most marginalized, then for those who were already most economically insecure. But I kid myself to believe that what happens to them, doesn’t also happen to me.

In the words of Martin Luther King, “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be.” I’ve tried to live my life by this principle, and I won’t stop now that the stakes are higher.

I don’t know exactly what peaceful revolution looks like in a democratic republic. I love my job, my family, my friends, and my life. I love that I get to live each day in the absence of fear for my security, that I can be anonymously accepted into a crowd. That I don’t fear for my basic freedom. I don’t want to give up any of those comforts, and I hope not to.

But I can’t pretend that the events of November 8, 2016 did not fundamentally change my responsibilities as a citizen. I will need to sacrifice, to fight, to REVOLT. If I don’t, I will be responsible – just as you will be – for the backward trajectory of our moral universe.

We, the people, are the only line of defense against injustice, immortality, and evil.

We always have been.

We must come together, use our voices, find every peaceful avenue we can to stand up for the country we insist on living in.

  • We must organize.
  • We must lobby our representatives.
  • We must take to the streets.
  • We must boycott companies that don’t ascribe to the values we want multiplied in the world.
  • We must donate to causes that are most at risk.
  • We must support our journalistic institutions to do the investigative reporting that we need.
  • We must speak up when we see small acts of violence in our day to day lives.
  • We must refuse to normalize hate and intolerance.

This list is just the beginning. None of us yet know exactly what this extraordinary moment in history will ask of us.

What we do know is the same as what Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and the countless citizens that followed in the their footsteps knew:

That a society is judged on the way it treats its most vulnerable.

That individual actions can add up to extraordinary results.

That the people hold the power.

That the time is now.