“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
I’ve wondered what my ancestors did when the Japanese were interned during World War II?
I’ve wondered what my ancestors did when a ship with Jewish refugees was turned away and refused entry into the United States (as well as every other country they tried), and eventually forced to return to Germany where they were all exterminated?
I’ve wondered what my ancestors did when women were trying to get the right to vote?
I’ve wondered what my ancestors did when Americans were being enslaved by other Americans?
The answer is, I don’t know.
I have no family legacy in terms of these particular issues.
Two things I do know about my ancestors is that one of my great Grandfathers immigrated from Ireland to Canada, and later snuck into the USA. Snuck in, because in those days the Irish were on the “banned from entry group”, because they were Catholic and poor and were “bad, very bad” people.
My other three grandfathers were here before the Revolutionary War.
I recently found this poem by Drew Dellinger
“It’s 3:23 in the morning and I’m awake
because my great-great grandchildren
won’t let me sleep
My great-great grandchildren
ask me in dreams,
what did you do while the planet was plundered?
what did you do when the earth was unraveling? surely you did something when the seasons started failing?
as the mammals, reptiles, birds were all dying?
did you fill the streets with protest when democracy was stolen?
what did you do, once you knew?…”
My great-great grand-children, my descendants, have the right to ask me the same questions. And they have the right to ask you too. I wonder what we will be able to tell them?
I can imagine my granddaughters asking even more questions.
Grandfather, what did you do after you began to understand that the Vietnam War was a mistake?
What did you do when some Americans were fighting for their civil rights?
What did you do when children were dying from gunshot wounds they received in school?
What did you do when women, like your mother were being mocked for being women, by a person who eventually became the leader of our country, while thousands of bystanders cheered?
What did you do when your president bragged about sexually assaulting women like us?
What did you do when men decided what us women could and couldn’t do with our own bodies?
What did you do when physically disabled people were made fun of, while thousands cheered?
What did you do when health care insurance was taken away?
What did you do when a person who hates public education was selected to create the direction of our education?
What did you do when poor and marginalized people lost their right to vote?
What did you do when people who were legally allowed to be in our country, one day, suddenly, were not allowed to be here the next?
What did you do when the boatloads of people seeking refuge during your lifetime were turned away?
What did you do when the governmental agency designed to make sure we had safe air, water, and food went away?
You did something?
I realize that my answers to those questions, until a few months ago, would have been, “I did nothing of consequence, really.” “I left those kinds of things up to other people to worry about.
Not a very honorable legacy. Nothing to be proud of there I would argue. Over the last few months, I’ve realized that I have abdicated far too much of my responsibility.
It is crystal clear now that I cannot count on who I thought I could count on to take care of those issues and protect those people.
Those who have been given responsibility for taking care of those things are now the perpetrators of those very acts.
I want my grandkids to know that I did something. I don’t want them to have to look back in shame at our collective inaction
One of my guiding principles is to die with as few regrets as possible. When I ask myself “What did you do?” I want to be able to have no more profound regrets in my response.
I’m doing things I have never done before. I am not sure exactly what to do, but I am learning. I am showing up. I am reading about how others before me, who faced similar circumstances responded. I’m showing up in places and in situations as I have never done before.
I am speaking up.
I am listening.
How about you?
I’m wondering how you might answer questions like this from your descendants? I’m wondering if it even matters to you.
What did you do?