I no longer have the right to remain silent.
In the last several months, I had lost confidence in my own voice as a writer and essayist. Our world is awash in the noise of countless opinions and “hot-takes.” I couldn’t help but ask, “What is the point of throwing my own voice into the cacophony?” After all, is it not akin to screaming into a hurricane? Not to mention, our civil discourse does not suffer for a lack of young, White men spouting out their opinions.
Writing this today though, there is a specter lurking behind my introspection – the violence in Charlottesville. As the conflict built and erupted over the weekend, I had been preoccupied with family matters and work. Truth be told, I had recently chose to lessen my engagement with the news overall following my move back to the States this last month. Between the stress of relocation and my own personal struggles, I felt the need to allow myself a period of passivity to focus on recuperation and readjustment. The nonstop avalanche of treason, hate, and absurdity on display in the politics of the world right now had taken their toll on me and I worried I would slip once more into a depressive episode. While there is a time and a place for that, much in the way one is instructed to first afix their own breathing mask on an airplane before helping others to ensure you are able to actually help, there is a danger to such passivity. Simon Critchley warns us, in “Infinitely Demanding,” that passivity to the world represents a species of passive nihilism – a capitulation to the notion that these things do not matter and focusing purely on the pleasure of private projects rather than engaging in endeavors of meaning. For me, the death of Heather Heyer has undermined the edifice that permitted my own passivity.
Part of what has rattled me is the reality that Heyer could have easily been my friends or myself. Roughly the same age, she had been trying to live her life, but knew that one cannot stand by during times like these. She was not a political agitator or a person who was at every protest, but an ordinary person that said, “No more.” How many people do you know who, in the last year, have come to the same conclusion and decided to engage actively in the citizenship that makes a democratic society work? This was an attack upon ordinary citizens. This was an attack upon freedom of speech and equality. This was an attack upon all of us.
It is, of course, important to recognize that she was not the only one who suffered in Charlottesville. Many others were injured by the man who attacked the counterprotest with his vehicle. Many others were injured in the violence that erupted as white supremacists attacked peaceful demonstrators. Many others have been injured or given their lives in the activism and advocacy that has characterized the politics of the last two years. And we should search out and remember their names as well. Because they are the true heroes of our republic, the people who give their lives in the name of our values while exercising their citizenship.
While much breath has been wasted on trying to extract crocodile tears from the President, it seems to me that we should be raising our voices to honor Heyer’s sacrifice. We often mythologize the “great men” of history as heroes, but Heyer is the kind of real, everyday hero that our age demands. She gave her life in the name of citizenship, equality, and nonviolence. White supremacist militias showed up that day bearing guns and weapons as a statement of their capacity for violence in the name of their ideology. Heyer walked in defiance of this in a display of nonviolent resistance, and they took her life for it. In her place, we must raise another ten, hundred, or a thousand everyday heroes that will take a similar stand against violence and hate if we wish democracy and liberty to survive the moment of history we have been thrust into.
This is why I can no longer remain silent – because none of us should remain silent any longer. Not because I think I will necessarily have something truly unique or special to say. Not because I think my voice deserves attention more than any other. But because we all must speak up now in the name of those voices that have been silenced forever by hate and violence. It is our voice and our action that they fear and that they aim to terrorize into submission. Instead, let us persist, resist, and act in the name of the world the people like Heather Heyer have laid down their lives for.