You may know me as someone who’s angry, a loudmouth New Yorker who howls about equality and civil rights and whines about writing. You may know me as someone who’s kind of hippie dippie, wanting peace on earth and goodwill towards all, wanting the homeless to be housed and fed, someone found at Grateful Dead concerts back in the day who still wears the occasional piece of tie-dyed clothing while doing yoga. These are both me, and this post is an expansion of thoughts over the past several days and a couple of discussions I’ve had.
Everyone is angry right now. The Neo-nazis are angry because they’re nazis, that’s their whole ugly shtick. Those of us on the left are angry because we see a rise in injustice, clear threats to democracy and freedoms, and we see the progress of the last fifty years–spotty and slow though it may have been–at risk. Those who are silent are angry because they don’t see why they should have to get involved or choose a side, all these protests are a nuisance mucking up their daily commute.
It’s okay to be angry. At this moment, I think it’s a moral obligation. I also think it’s an obligation to speak up and exercise our freedom of speech. Always true, but now more than ever, as we are watching it be threatened by our current government here in America. That said, there are limits to freedom of speech as there have to be, because we live in a society, amongst others, ruled by laws and mores. For example, “threats of intimidation” are not protected Free Speech under law. I got into a discussion about this with someone on Facebook this morning, who declared he believed in absolute? absolutist? freedoms of speech. (I’d like to look back and use the correct word, but after an hour long discussion that remained calm and civil, he deleted the thread in a muddied display of passive-aggression by not mentioning that he had done this, just reposting his original thought and another stating that political arguments are a waste of time. He needn’t worry, I won’t waste any more of his time or mine.) He argued following the rule of law when it comes to free speech. We differed on interpretation of the law within the framework of this past weekend in VA. I agreed and agree the law is important, but I also believe we as individuals have to speak up so the courts can take the will of the people into account when making decisions. Our country, our world, has changed and evolved and continues to do so. Once upon a time segregation was legal, that didn’t make it right, just, moral, or something to support. He argued censorship, slippery slope, etc. Censorship is an ugly word, with many frightening connotations, no doubt. In my mind, most ideas/positions/arguments are shades of gray, we are messy, complex human beings living in a messy, complex world. But some things are black and white. Threatening the safety and lives of others because of political or religious ideology, because of a false sense of white makes right, a false sense of penises are more important than vaginas; this is unacceptable.
This leads me to whataboutism. What about those who are violent on the left, those who identify as Antifa? This of course is the question that has been asked of me and every other left-leaning person who has stated a “protest” that begins with angry, armed, torch bearing white supremacists is not and should not be protected free speech. I’ll suggest right along with my other liberal friends that those who ask the question should first do a bit of research into American history over the past fifty years, and look at how many murders and acts of domestic terrorism have been carried out in the name of Neo-nazis and white supremacists vs how many have been carried out by Antifa. But here’s where I splinter off. I’ve seen a lot of jokes and memes about it being right, maybe even a moral obligation, to punch Nazis. I don’t believe anyone has the right or is in the right to initiate violence. You can go ahead and call me an apologist, a feminazi, a hippie, a cunt–whatever. I may tell you to fuck off, but I’m not going to hit you. I’m not truly a pacifist, either. Because if you punch me, while the odds are I’m going to go down, I’m going to come up swinging. I believe everyone has the right to defend themselves if attacked, and to defend those who can not defend themselves.
I believe in gun control, I believe there shouldn’t be open carry laws, and I believe it should be illegal to bring weapons to a protest even if that protest occurs in a state that has open carry laws. It is irresponsible and in my opinion immoral to bring weapons into these situations. Think about how horrible the loss of three lives was this weekend. How awful every single loss of life due to imagined threats has been, whether that loss was within the framework of political protest, white supremacy, or even worse, police brutality. I have spent a lot of time thinking about how easily the situation could have been much worse. If the police had been more forceful–and I wish they would have been earlier than they were–but how easily it could have been a complete disaster, with the loss of dozens, perhaps hundreds of lives if just one Nazi nut job felt threatened while holding a gun so it shifted from the “joys” of beating on counter protesters to firing on them; if just one police officer became too forceful too quickly, feared for their life and fired a shot, and so many of those protesters were armed and armored with weapons of equal force. Are my beliefs censorship under our current laws? I’m not sure, maybe they are. Maybe I’m naive and in a time where violence and extremist rhetoric is growing and finding legitimacy in our government, maybe this isn’t the time to hang onto hippie principles of peace, love, and inclusion. Maybe I’m sticking my head in the sand believing that I can be angry without wanting to physically harm others. Maybe. But while I do find the current political climate alarming enough to believe we all need to be aware, vocal, and on high alert, I just don’t believe might makes right.
(I’m sure I’ve posted this one before, but it seems the only appropriate video)
Still in agreement with you on that topic too, Mrs. Fringe.
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What’s the answer, Mrs. Fringe? Where do we go from here?
You raise some salient points about rights and freedoms in this particular, unsettling climate. I lean left, that much I know. I believe firmly in the freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom to believe what we want to believe . . . .
But freedom comes with caveats.
Freedom without fear. Without intimidation.
Freedom against discrimination.
Freedom with honor. Tolerance. Morality. Accountability. Integrity. Wisdom. Charity. Grace.
Above all, freedom coupled with responsibility.
Without those caveats in place–especially the latter–freedom morphs into something ugly. We saw that in Charlottesville. We’ve seen it in Trump’s rallies and in his tweets. We hear it in the hateful rhetoric of the alt-right. We recognize it in faces twisted in hate, in eyes blinded by fear and ignorance.
Responsible freedom is more than an ideology, more than a goal toward which we ought to strive. It’s the fiber that holds the country together. Right now, that singular strand is tenuous at best.
I know we can’t continue on this path. I know we need to accept responsibility for where we are and where we’re headed. I know we must redefine our priorities, find common ground, do a better job of exercising and protect our rights, liberties, and freedoms. I know this country is at a crossroads.
But I don’t know what the answer is.
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I don’t know the answer either, but I do know we seem to be getting further from resolution by the day. My favorite quote about freedom is one I heard a zillion years ago, don’t know its origin–The freedom to fuck up. We, as a nation, have fucked up.
I think you are pretty spot on here
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Thanks, Joanne. This is a never-ending nightmare, I’m desperate for damage control.