I was born just outside the gates of hell, so close that I could hear the screams of horror and smell the stench of immutable despair. My parents were WWII Holocaust refugees. I grew up in a refugee community, here in America, in the late 1940s and through the 1950s, speaking my parents' native language, the language of their oppressors. They began life anew here, their American born children were their hope for the future. Truman was president when I was born. When I was a toddler, they taught me that 'there was nothing more precious than American Freedom.' They taught me to always speak out in the face of oppression because the Nazis had committed genocide against our families simply because of who we were.
I remembered what they taught me; I remembered things they never told me, things they didn't want me to know about, what came before, where they came from. They wanted me to only experience freedom. But to know freedom, I had to know what had happened where and when it didn't exist, about the trains of cattle cars filled with our relatives on their way to the death camps of Eastern Europe, about the bombs, rubble and carnage of war, starvation, and all of that.
So, I became a civil rights activist 'speaking out in the face of oppression.' I couldn't do otherwise, it was who I was raised to be. I stood shirtless and shouting in the streets with my fist in the air. As a teenager, I saw presidents Kennedy and Johnson hear our protests and lead the way to the start of human rights in this country. As a young adult, I became a patriot as my parents had taught me to be even before I knew how to speak our American language. They were strangers on a foreign shore, but they raised me to be an American patriot. I volunteered to serve my country at the height of the war in Vietnam, while my fellow Americans ran away to Canada to avoid serving. While they lied and said they were gay to avoid serving, I lied and said I was straight so I could serve. I served ten years in the Navy and Army Reserve, leaving honorably as a Sgt First Class; me, the son of an illegal immigrant.
When I joined, my parents were horrified; but when I came home from boot camp, fit and stuffed into my dress blues with my National Defense Service Medal resplendent, they nearly burst with pride! My old dad's eyes bugged out when he spotted the medal, imagining that I'd single handedly taken out an entire German panzer division with my bare hands; "ACH, you heff a medal already!" he exclaimed. I didn't have the heart to tell him it was a freebee just for signing up. If I had my life to do over again, I would have tossed it in his grave, just to make him happy. But it didn't occur to me at the time, even though I wore my uniform to that sad ceremony and saluted as they lowered his coffin into the earth, so long ago.
I spoke out for black rights and women's' rights even as I had to serve in silence in uniform as a gay man without any rights. And I lived to see all those rights become American rights. I lived through nearly all of America's entire history of human rights progress, from Truman's 1948 Executive Order racially integrating our armed forces, educational equality, women's right to choose, the Voting Rights Act of 1964, the election of President Obama, the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, to the right to serve and gay marriage.
Now, I fear that I will live to see all of that reversed and repealed. A lifetime of activism and protest, sent down the toilet by a totalitarian tyrant to be. I watch in horror as all kinds of the most horrible mean nasty ghastly extremist bigots are being named as possible high administration appointees. Its like not being able to wake up from one of my childhood nightmares about 1930s Nazi Germany from which my family had fled. When will his poor voters realize they've been shafted as people such as evil billionaire moguls, Russian agents, and hatemongers take over our national agencies that were set up to ensure decent pay, healthcare, equality and justice, our precious veterans' benefits, and so much more?.
I see our democracy descending into darkness as one political party has achieved its decades long plans to poison our electoral system with minority voter suppression, foreign interference, gerrymandered districts, intimidation, lies and propaganda, hatemongering, and convincing poor people to vote for limiting entitlements and letting their children starve for the privilege of prejudice. They call their goal a 'permanent majority,' just as the Nazis referred to their own 'thousand year Reich.' People will be lining up to find out their second class status.
A handful of psychotic dictators are cheering the coming chaos in America; the rest of the free world is looking on in helpless horror.
I believe it will be a long time until there are serene sculptured memorial parks dedicated to the memory of the victims of the coming regime. To paraphrase the Rev. Martin Neimoeller, First they will come for the Muslims and Mexicans; who will speak up for them? Then they will come for the unionists and workers; who will speak up for them? And they will come for Blacks, Jews, and independent women; who will speak up for all of them? And finally, they will come for us; and by then, will there be anyone left to speak up for us?
The election of Barack Obama brought this nation into an age of enlightenment not seen since our founding fathers debated every word of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia. Those who opposed freedom screamed bloody murder non-stop through the past eight years of his leadership. From the day before he set foot in the White House there were traitors who set out to sabotage not only the President of the United States, but America itself.
And now we have a crude animal who bragged about his manhood during a debate, who tugged the tops of his trousers and bounced his junk on live television. The list of lies, insults, scapegoating of minorities, disgusting disrespect for women's bodily functions, and more could go on for pages. And yet he won a supposedly fair election.
Stand up, speak out, you have the right; use it or loose it! If you take your rights for granted, now is the time to step forward before you no longer may. If you 'wait and see,' there may be no one left to speak out by the time they come for you. Speak out for others whose fate you do not currently share. You might not be a hungry stateless refugee right now, looking for somewhere safe; but imagine if some new leader blamed us for all problems and sins and said we must go! Then what?
I don't have to imagine it; I was born just outside the gates of hell.