If you’re anything like me, November 6, 2016 was the day the nightmare started. If you’re anything like me, you spent the next two months waking up every day hoping you imagined it all. Hoping it wasn’t real. Hoping this lethal combination of Ground Hog Day and The Twilight Zone was nothing more than a really long movie that would eventually end.
If you’re anything like me, you hoped that the end credits would roll around before January 20, 2017 did.
If you’re anything like me, you are still wondering when you are going to wake up.
And deep down, you’re aware this nightmare isn’t going to end any time soon.
I recently started working at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library & Museum in Boston. I look out the window every day, see the stunning city skyline and unbeatable harbor view, and catch my breath at the beauty of it all.
I witness extensive museum exhibits and help plan events in the memory of President Kennedy. I hear colleagues talk about his life with reverence and respect. I read the archives of his speeches and take notes on the details of his life. I look at this exceptional human–his life, his messages, his love for this country–and I am reminded again and again of what a United States President should be.
John F. Kennedy came from a place of privilege, and used it to change the world for the better.
Our current President, on the other hand, is the epitome of the damage an abundance of privilege can inflict on a person. His Tweets are evidence of his immaturity, his failed business dealings evidence of his greed and duplicity. His lack of ethics, moral code, or empathy are evidence of the absence of accountability in his life.
Life has given him many advantages, many stepladders, and he has chosen to only improve what is his.
Some seem to be unconcerned with the fact that this man has become President. They think him not unlike many other politicians who have stood where he now stands.
But they could not be more wrong.
History will not be kind to this man, or those who support him.
In short, the man sitting currently holding that title does not deserve to be in the same room as President Kennedy (or any other President who has sat at that desk, for that matter), let alone the same white house.
He has not earned my respect or support.
He certainly did not earn my vote.
Within my first month at the JFK, I learned that the Library and the JFK Library Foundation host a Naturalization Ceremony for new US Citizens once a month. Around 150-200 immigrants attend, along with their loved ones, and are sworn in by a Federal Judge as US Citizens.
I was lucky enough to attend the last ceremony that was held before President Obama left office. There was an air of sadness in the room, like people were aware of the fact that things were about to change in the upcoming weeks. Many were afraid. I was afraid.
I watched tears fall from their eyes, evidence of their struggles to make it here, to find a better life, finally finding relief. I watched as they smiled and laughed, some taking pictures of their new documentation to send to family and friends. Many applied for passports. Even more registered to vote.
That day I watched as this country gained 162 new citizens, hailing from 50 countries in all, and I could not feel more grateful they fought to join us here.
I watched in awe as I saw a great gift being given to those 162 individuals, a gift I had taken for granted every single day of my life.
Everywhere immigrants have enriched and strengthened the fabric of American life.
–John F. Kennedy
I was able to attend the first Naturalization Ceremony held after the new President was sworn in. I watched as a beautiful group of people stood and spoke the Pledge of Allegiance for the first time as United States Citizens. I watched as they stood up as their former countries were called, waving their hands amidst bouts of applause, smiling with joy.
And then, I watched as they all stood, as my own vision blurred, waving small American flags with pride and vigor and gratitude.
In light of everything that man in the Oval has tried to do–the number of attempts to break up families, to keep people out, to stop their lives before they start–this ceremony felt like such a win.
I thought to myself, there is good in this world. This fight is not over yet. We will not back down.
On that day, despite all odds, we won.
“This nation was founded by men of many nations and backgrounds. It was founded on the principle that all men are created equal, and that the rights of every man are diminished when the rights of one man are threatened.”
–John F. Kennedy, Civil Rights Address – June 11, 1963
It is these tiny victories we must fight for. The moments were we bridge gaps and offer nothing but love. Love, compassion, empathy, courage. That’s what the world needs.
I have been pulled over by a police officer before, but I have never been scared for my life. I can’t comprehend what that feels like, but I can try.
One of my best friends recently became a US Citizen, and even though I don’t fully understand the fight she fought to get here, I can try.
I know what it feels like to be oppressed by religion, but I don’t know how it feels to be oppressed because of my religion. However, I can try.
I know how it feels to be a gay woman in this country, but I don’t know what it feels like to have others dictate which bathrooms I use. But I can try.
We have to try.
Put yourself in another person’s shoes. Listen to their story and believe it. Give them the benefit of the doubt, and then try to imagine what that would feel like.
It’s called empathy, something our President sorely needs to educate himself on.
We must speak up for those who do not have the power yet to do so. And then, once our voices are heard, we must step aside and let them speak for themselves.
We must remember: my story is important, but so is yours.
We must fight for the rights of all people, no matter where they come from, no matter who they are.
We owe it to them. We cannot be silent.
If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.
No matter how long this chapter in America’s history lasts, we cannot give up. Most of the days may feel unbearable, we may feel weighed down by bad news and bigotry and all the executive orders a man with such small hands can hope to sign, but we cannot give up.
Because tucked inside all of that struggle, there are going to be moments of victory. I just know it.
We can’t lose hope now, because people are depending on us to fight back. To look our privilege in the face and quietly step around it. To go toe-to-toe with oppression and never back down.
To stand next to a person who is different from us, and hold out our hand with love. Just love.
We must stand on the right side of history, and when bullies inevitably knock us down, we will get back up.
If you’re anything like me, you know we have a great deal of work ahead of us. But, if you’re anything like me, that also means that there at least two people in the world who feel this way.
And if we both feel all these things, then that means in our suffering, our fear and hopelessness, we are not alone.
“In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility–I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavor will light our country and all who serve it–and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.”
-John F. Kennedy, Inaugural Address – January 20, 1961