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  • Writer's pictureSheri McGuinn

Sometimes You Have to Speak Out

Updated: Dec 14, 2020

Students were gunned down by the National Guard at Kent State the month before I graduated high school. In college, I did not sign petitions or join protests. I have made a habit of keeping my head down. Now politics is so polarized, it is inadvisable for someone trying to launch an editing business or sell books to reveal their position on anything to anyone - you're bound to alienate someone. But before all that, I grew up with kids who had family members who'd been in the Nazi concentration camps, and I grew up with a version of this saying that I think included Catholics and the disabled:

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.

In my email today I found a link to a Washington Post article that was disturbing. Reading online, the article included a Fox video from July that I found chilling. It made me remember that saying and realize I need to speak up. I'll get to the video, but, like the Jews, it did not come first. Here's a new version of the saying:

First they came for the criminals, and I did not speak out—because I was not a criminal.

We have, over the last hundred years, gradually increased our prison population until we not only have over 2,000,000 of our citizens incarcerated, we have the highest rate of incarceration in the world - 737/100,000 people in this country are in jail. Russia's rate comes close, but other countries have less than half that rate - even China. Many of those jailed in the U.S. are there for years for minor non-violent crimes and over 20% have not even been sentenced - they might not even be guilty!

The fact that young males from the wrong part of town and with darker complexions make up a disproportionate number of those jailed might have contributed to our ability to ignore this ugly fact.

Also, there are private corporations running many of our prisons now and the more people incarcerated, the more money they make.

Then they came for the migrants, and I did not speak out— because I was not a migrant.

July 12, I did get out of my comfort zone and participated in a Lights for Liberty demonstration against the separation of migrant families and the incarceration of children. But speaking out once is not enough. Today, a search for current news on the status of these children brought up one recent article, from the New York Times, saying that Dems say there's still a problem. I checked the Texas Tribune, as they had articles in July. I didn't find anything more recent and emailed asking them to give us some hard news. We'll see how that pans out. In any case, our national attention has moved on. We're focused on our own kids getting back to school, worried about a looming recession - everyday life. Odd common point: many of the migrant facilities are ALSO run by private corporations.

Then they came for the homeless, and I did not speak out—because I was not homeless.

This is the article that made me write this blog.

The article was published yesterday, but on the page there is a Fox News video of Trump speaking on the same topic July 1. His complete lack of empathy is chilling. He speaks of the inconvenience and need to get rid of the homeless as if they were rats, not people. The fact the video is from six weeks ago and he's in California this week, dehumanizing the homeless as he did the migrants, makes it clear that this is his new tact to tap the worst in us to create an emotionally charged base. I'm not homeless. Odds are you aren't, either, unless you're reading this at the library. But most Americans live paycheck to paycheck. Many have little or no health insurance. A lot of people on the street are homeless because of addictions, but a lot are there because of one illness or one accident. A company closing or cutting back to avoid closing and those paycheck to paycheck people may very well find themselves on the street as well. Homelessness is a worldwide issue, but we need to remember it is people without homes, not some kind of infestation.

Hitler first went after political dissidents, but the Nuremberg Race Laws made it easy to get people to accept the dehumanization of "other" groups and the need to remove them from society to "work camps." While after the war most Germans claimed to have been unaware of what was going on in the camps, other research indicates that would have required a great deal of denial, as much of what happened in the camps was publicized at the time. According to this description of a book by Robert Gellately, Backing Hitler, Hitler tapped into existing prejudices, much as Trump has while dehumanizing groups of people.


Germany was a democracy. In a few short years, Hitler turned it into a dictatorship. Fear and prejudice were his allies.

It could happen here. We have a history of racial prejudice (Native Americans, African Americans, and Japanese leap to mind). Social media makes it easier to whip up fears and bring out the worst in each of us.

But we're supposed to be getting better, not falling into a more hateful future.

So it's time to speak out.

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