Conscience In Action

Nationalism is an infantile disease.  It is the measles of mankind.” Albert Einstein

From a very young age, I was taught to be accepting of those different from me.  At five my mother and I moved to New Mexico and I encountered many cultures and points of view.  I attended colorful parades and fiestas, admired the pretty turquoise, coral, malachite and silver jewelry splayed out on blankets by native artists, watched Zozobra, “Old Man Gloom” burn away the year’s sorrows and disappointments.  I sat in a smoke filled tepee and was asked if I could see the “beaver “in the fire, and learned Spanish slang that was not to be repeated in polite company.  No one was an “other” to me.

My mom, a Viking in miniature, made sure that I did not see myself as any better or any worse than anyone else.  She fed me books to expand my imagination and knowledge and to expose me to ideas and people that I might not otherwise encounter outside of a book cover.  Books that would entertain, make me think, make me feel and most importantly make me question the world around me.

Common themes of humanity and resistance, of groups and individuals who walked thru fire and learned to not lose their humanity or conscience, but to put conscience into action, were peppered throughout the novels I read. The novelist Leon Uris was first introduced to me around 13 or 14.  My mother wanted me to have a full understanding of what hatred, prejudice, and intolerance can do, and what it was to stand up to such evil, so I read Exodus and Mila 18.  In school, Night, by Elie Wiesel and The Diary of Anne Frank supplemented my mother’s efforts to educate my mind and heart.  In high school, I also read Farewell to Manzanar by Jeanne Houston and James D. Houston, and Hiroshima by John Hersey.  One of my teachers, Mrs. Argersinger, had my class keep a Holocaust Journal in which we wrote about the atrocities and the injustices of World War ll, including that of the United States.  I have kept this journal to this day. On January 20th, 1985, I wrote in this journal “People should never have to live with this again but I know that it will more than likely because history has a habit of repeating itself and if you listen to the news you know it is so.”  Mrs. Argersinger replied in writing “Unfortunate but apparently so.”

Today we are seeing a resurgence of nationalist ideologies and beliefs that made the world dark and confusing during the first half of the 20th Century.  We now need our collective conscience’s manifested into action, into resistance to prevent another Warsaw Ghetto, another Manzanar (Japanese Internment Camp) another Auschwitz or Trail of Tears.  We are in grave danger of losing our Republic to those who would turn this country into an isolationist, ethnocentric, bigoted bastion of nationalism, with a “me first” mentality that in the long run, will lead, as it has countless times in history, to destruction.

Muslims, Jews, the LGBTQ community, Hispanics, Blacks and other people of color, as well as women, have seen a frightening uptick in violence and venomous hate speech since the presidential campaign and eventual election of Donald J. Trump to the presidency. This is happening in a country that once prided itself on its multi-hued tapestry of diversity.  Now, it seems, that much of this was superficial as many people have dropped any facade of civility and decency and engage increasingly in open attacks on those they perceive as different or foreign.

Swastikas have materialized on trains, spray painted on walls and defacing other public spaces. Vandalism of Jewish cemeteries and bomb threats have assailed many Jewish institutions.  The Hispanic community is being terrorized by deportations of undocumented migrants, many of whom have lived here most of their lives, their only crime trying to take care of their families.  Sexism, xenophobia, homophobia seem to be everywhere.  But so is the resistance.

“There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest.” Elie Wiesel  

Some may not learn or want to learn the lessons of history but there are many who have and are willing to walk the walk, to stand and ally themselves with the oppressed.  They are the candles lighting the path during this nighttime of social instability. We must not lose sight that the issues we face are not that of a political nature but that of a moral nature.  We must call and write our representatives and senators, we must have peaceful rallies and marches.  We must record what we see and hear and share it so that we can encourage and strengthen one another.  WE MUST NOT BE SILENT.

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