Take Your Seats

“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies but the silence of our friends.” -MLK, Jr., from a 1967 lecture published in The Trumpet of Conscience

“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.” -Martin Niemöller, who spent several years in Nazi concentration camps

It is your silence I will remember first. And on many days, most.

When the Texas governor gave the order to terrorize trans families, as anti-trans bills advance across the US.

When the CDC director said it was “encouraging” that the “overwhelming number of [COVID] deaths–over 75 percent–occurred in people who had at least four comorbidities.”

When the CDC director called masks a “scarlet letter.”

When Biden talked about how well the economy is doing, over and over, instead of how many lives have ended, how many lives continue to end.

When people said “back to normal” and “we have to learn to live with the virus” and meant “leave the vulnerable to die” because they want to return to a world that no longer exists.

When my former employer was called out for wrongdoing, when marginalized workers who came forward were pushed out one by one, and their publicity manager and friends spread lies.

When bisexual, intersex, aromantic, and asexual people describe the discrimination and hostility they experience, even and sometimes especially in LGBTQIA+ spaces.

When someone who is being crushed by the system you so often celebrate and defend pleads for aid, and you can’t even be bothered to share their request.

When indigenous people say Land Back and ask for help finding their missing.

Each time a trans person is murdered, a Black person is murdered, an Asian person is murdered, anyone who doesn’t look like you is murdered.

Each time someone steps forward to say #metoo and is ridiculed, harassed, and blamed.

Your silence is loudest when the abuser is someone you know, when the person suffering is not like you, when the organization in the wrong is one you funded, when the candidate in office is the one you voted for, when the country doing the invading and bombing and displacing and caging is your own.

Your excuse always seems to be that you want to keep your posts and gatherings and conversations positive and apolitical. You want to keep things fun and light.

I watch you post pictures about your kids, vacations, possessions, relationships. I watch you laugh over a grill or by the pool or outside a venue. I watch the scene you set. I wonder what you’ll allow in order to keep your friends, your following, your status.

Over and over you say you just want to live your life. But if you listen, you’ll hear that very thing echo from the shadows.

We just want to live our lives.

You say you don’t talk politics as if that puts you on some moral high ground, safe above the crowd. But every election cycle I see your posts about your candidate. You regurgitate the party line. You demand my vote. You release all that negativity you claimed you’re not capable of. Most days, you hide it with nice words and a smile.

I know I only have value as a member of the audience. I’m only acceptable when I’m clapping or cheering or liking or sharing. I’m only worth hearing when I’m smiling, when my tone is to your liking, when my words are exactly what you want to hear.

It’s late. The seats around me are emptying. It’s easy to believe I’m alone in the dark.

So many times I could have spoken up, but I too remained silent. Every time I say I’m sorry, it sounds hollow because sorry can’t bring back the dead. Still, I say it. For so long, there were people I couldn’t see working, marching, writing, speaking, so that I and others could live. People I’ve never met. People who will never know me. When I say thank you, I wonder if they hear me. I keep saying it. And yet you, who know me, are silent.

I know, soon, my own seat will be empty. And eventually, yours. This whole time you thought you were on the stage, warm in the spotlight. But you’ve been sitting in the audience all along. It won’t matter that you had better seats. When the curtain drops, there will be no applause. Only silence.

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