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Pick a Side... Or Pay.

"‘A republic, if you can keep it.’ Our responsibility is to keep it.”

-Benjamin Franklin

When questioned by the soon-to-be American people as to what kind of government our founding fathers had created, Franklin’s answer was twofold. What they had, and more importantly the obligation it now demanded of us.

Well here I am again.

Making as impassioned a plea that I can for the sake of us all. Sadly, the onus of saving us all falls most heavily on one group of us. White people. And within that, White men.

Let me be clear, no one is exempt regardless of color, age, or station. From the smallest child who stands up because they feel something isn’t right, to the most senior of us who still believe they have something to bring to the table of change. Just like our founding fathers, our political divisions were significant, but they all left something on the table for the sake of there being a table. We are all in this. And in this moment, that’s hopefully clearer to some than it has ever been. It is time to pick a side. There are people who are ready to pick one for you with blood. My blood. Your blood. The blood of your children.

Please make this your moment to shine.

Let the lighthouse of your belief shine most bright through this darkness. I am not just talking about getting out to vote, though this is easily the most important election in our lifetimes. Arguably, the most important election since Abraham Lincoln’s 1864 reelection. This is not just about a one-time event. It is about a moment that can inspire us to go deeper into the grand challenge that Franklin spoke to. I am advocating for a moment of national unity based in literacy for the sake of waking up the most essential element of keeping our young republic. What I am speaking to is combating a culture of national apathy and ignorance that has eventually taken down most every empire (excluding wars).

“It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have."

-James Baldwin

The dark partisan ignorance that has led us to this place can no longer be treated like political sport. It never should have been, but I will save that indictment for another day. We are now in the midst of a blood sport that has never ended well for any nation that has passively or aggressively taken that field.

For any white person who is reading this, and you find yourself uneasy…. good. Your genteel sensibilities have had so much to do with how we got here.

I, and so many like me, are not here to make you comfortable. We are here because we hope to give you insight into what you maybe cannot see. Just so there is no confusion, know this. I, for one, love you. You are part of my national body. So, for me, hating you is a kind of self-hate that has no good purpose. I and so many others like me have tried to shine what little light we have into those dark corners of the American character for as long as there has been such a thing. We do this because we live closer to those dark places than many of you.

We always have.

Not because we choose to.

Whether you believe me now or not matters little because your beliefs are your own. Just leave it said that someone who cares about you and the beauty this fragile experiment tried to tell you.

The darkness is spreading.

All of the reasons and party rationale that may have divided left from right have been cheapened by the stark fact that our Chief Executives have given Violent White Supremacy air in the public space in ways that we have not seen so publicly since the reconstruction. Emboldened, and organized, they have a plan. And for the first time since Woodrow Wilson, they have a president that openly supports them. If you think I am just talking about the debate last week, know that was just the coach telling the boys to “get on deck!” Last week we saw in Michigan what “on deck” means to some. They were ready to play or in their own words “Boogaloo”. These are just the most recent chapters in a book called “The Death of the Republic.” It is being written in real time and for longer than you may think.

For those on the right who want to justify or mitigate his clarion call to “Stand Back and Stand By”, it does not matter if you do not believe their hateful and violent beliefs. They believe the president speaks for them. They support him just like you, so it is at your own peril that you ignore them. Sadly, at mine as well.

The last few years of the president’s life have been an exercise in working the book chapter by chapter. Even before he entered the White House, he read page after page to willing and unwilling ears.

  • Chapter One: Oversimplification of Your Misery (Perceived or Real)

  • Chapter Two: Discrediting Opposition and Critical Sources

  • Chapter Three: Scapegoating

  • Chapter Four: Stoking Your Fear and Ignorance

  • Chapter Five: Dehumanizing Language for Your “Enemies”

  • Chapter Six: Call to Action

Obama is…. Mexicans are… Women are... Invading hordes are… Democrats are… Anyone who opposes me is….

Asserting that he is the only answer. Trust me…. Believe me…... If you don’t………

All the while injecting chaos into society in little and big ways. Most of it is designed to distract. Keeping you focused on short-term outrage while long-term devastation rumbles right under you, which you are all too comfortable to feel.

Many of the policies and orders can be overturned or undone. That will not make the hurt any less real, but that is part of our imperfect system. The real goal of all his chaos was to shake your faith in your own country and all of its’ people. It is part of the orientation process that takes advantage of your collective ignorance.

This is the pattern all around the world. Keep’um dumb. Make’um mad. Juice their fear of the worst. Give’um a target. Cut’um loose. From Armenia to Germany to Cambodia, Bosnia to Rwanda and more. I will be the first to admit that all of those examples are the worst case. But that’s my point. In every one of those cases, the good and decent majority of the country allowed the tide of ignorance and hatred to sow national divisions, until one day, the tide was too big to easily stop.

For Republicans, on April 17th, the president told his supporters to “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” He has opened wide the door of your party to them. Some would say that the door was already opened. But the fact that some of the men indicted this week showed up after that tweet should be ignored.

Here is my hypothetical to those of you who showed up with guns and grievances. If you had known that there were those among you who were going to try to kidnap the governor and kill law enforcement personnel, what would you have done? Join them? Stop them, or do what far too many do already: stand back and stand by. Whether you believe it or not, they are part of you. And if history has taught us anything, if you allow them to thrive in the gentle sunshine and shade of your apathy and rationalization, eventually you will be forced to make a choice. Become one of them or be taken out by them. It does not matter what patriotic names they give themselves: Militia, Sovereign Americans,

Protectors of Freedom, Whatever %’s. They are far more dangerous than you give them credit for. They, whether you believe it or not, are mostly unlawful and have already killed in the name of their kind of freedom. Many times.

And if you, white male America, do not stop them, they will eventually “boogaloo” all over you. On that day, I will not be there to help you. Not because I do not want to, but because they will have already burned through me and others like so many dry leaves in autumn. If I am still around, I may have to live in a world where staying in my place means survival.

As I said before, this is not a new world. If you believe that a coup attempt is outside the realm of reasonable, go to your search engine and type in Wilmington N.C.,1898. Black and brown people have been telling you about this “reality” for far too long. History has given us a cavalcade of figures who tried to warn us of the coming darkness. Worse still, there are those who have lived in that inferno and told the tale: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Eli Wiesel, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, James Baldwin, Flo Kennedy, Frances Dana Barker Gage, Chief Joseph, and hundreds more. Living and dead.

When I lived in Boston, I had a group of people who I counted among the most important people in my life. They were my friends and colleagues. I tried to tell them about the personal racist indignities that I suffered. Some heard. Most didn’t. They did not want to deal with the fact that if what I was saying was true, then there was something wrong with the world that they lived so comfortable in. Because it was me, it was not theoretical. It was not some distant problem of the past or the racists that lived in far-off places. Always willing to talk about justice, rarely willing to extend an arm to those closest in need.

For far too long people have complained about the “toxic” tone of our politics, yet I see too few talking across the divide. I see too many willing to ignore hard cross-ideological dialogue that will keep us all from gravitating to the extremes.

Democrats (and Republicans), if your ideas are so damn good, stop talking about them among yourselves. Start to learn the almost lost art of talking across ideas. At the very least you will challenge some of your beliefs to see how strong and valid they are. You may come to understand why people do not believe what you believe. Our founding fathers expected us to, and I’m pretty sure they are not as enlightened am most of us. Maybe I’m wrong.

Either way, stop making excuses. Stop bitching about politics and learn deeper than CNN, Fox, and MSNBC talking points. Make yourself a little more uncomfortable now or you are going to be a lot more uncomfortable later. Engage with those people who do not believe what you do. Just so I am clear, I’m not talking about going to a proud boy rally and see if you can “have a moment” with one of them. What I am talking about is opening up a dialogue with those people in your life already. You know exactly the ones I am talking about. The friends and family that you have chosen to divest yourself from cause it was too hard to engage them honestly and openly with ideas. Not getting caught of the traps of yours of their talking points. Working to find bridges to help build a floor of respect on which more of us can stand. I’m not saying it will be easy. If it were easy, they would not be the people you are thinking about right now.

Ultimately, all that “proud” had to start somewhere.

If you the dominant culture, in particular white men, do not stand up in support of the very principles that the country was founded on (civil rights, human dignity, a plural society where the rights of the weak are not trampled by power and tranny), the book will end. It will fulfill its title. The sun will go down on this most wonderful expression of a national community. An alien darkness will cover the land. We will become the next place on the list of nations eaten alive from the inside. Maybe worst of all, it will come to fruition on the shoulders of your sons. Just look at the average age of those indicted in Michigan. Then look around the country.

I wonder what those parents of old thought when they saw their good children (who they believed knew better) came home with that funny patch on their arm or that jacket from their new friends. Did they have ask where they got the government style weapons or who’s blood was being washed off a machete?

Again, maybe a worst case, but every story has a beginning.

There is still hope. We are still in the fight if we wish to be. The last chapters are still un-written. We can make the title a cautionary tale rather than prophecy, only if you make it so.

I believe in you. I always have. We are from the best aspirational stock. I believe our God-given hearts are born of an infinite love. Because of this, we have access to an infinite well in empathy and compassion. We would have not made it this far otherwise.

SO, once more, I ask you to please…

Pick a side, or we all pay.


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