When I learned that the town of Los Gatos, with the support of more than forty local organizations and businesses was organizing a “UNITED AGAINST HATE” march I didn’t expect much.
When my mother was eleven, and my father fourteen years old, they both escaped Europe shortly after Kristallnacht (November 9-10 1938). They came to the United States unescorted, and navigated their early teen years with the help and support of community and previously unknown relatives. My mother eventually reunited with her siblings and parents; my father never saw my grandfather again.
I understood this personal legacy of hurt and hate as historic. I grew up under the notion of Never Again. It couldn’t, wouldn’t ever happen again, not here, not anywhere. We were all better than that. Good triumphed, the United States was a land of freedom, opportunity and equality. Everyone mattered, every voice was heard.
Until it wasn’t.
I’d taken my freedoms for granted, I never felt constrained in my choices of who to love, where to live, how to worship. I was naïve enough to believe that everyone enjoyed the liberty to pursue their personal happiness without any threat to their well-being, as I have. I believed that the only limitations to achieving my goals were self-imposed.
I wish I still believed that.
In the last few years I’ve watched protests and vitriol tear us apart. I’ve seen torches held high, and heard chants of “Jews will not replace us.” Who am I replacing? And why? I’ve seen swastikas and read about mass murders. I’ve listened to hate-filled speech. I’ve watched video after video of senseless killings, of brutalities and atrocities committed against people of color. Or of non-conforming sexual identification. Or both. Or neither. All of the above and none of the above. As long as there was disagreement, there was loss of dignity, respect and decency. In kindergarten we’re taught to Use Your Words. But the words I was hearing were as bad as any action I was seeing. Slurs, epitaphs, dehumanizing our fellow human beings became the new normal. No disgusting behavior off limits. No truth unchallenged.
I started asking myself questions I never thought I’d ask. Like, how did my grandparents know when it was time to let their kids leave? How come so many didn’t? Would I know when that time had come? How much is too much? Is the writing on the wall, or am I being hysterical?
And worst of all, where could I go, if the time came for me to leave.
But maybe those are the wrong questions. Maybe the right questions are, what can I do to stop this? What can be done to prevent this hate from spreading and winning? How do I stay where I am and fight for the right to live my life, and let everyone else live theirs in peace, and safety? How do I learn to treat others the way I want to be treated, so as a group we all win.
What could the citizens in Germany have done in 1938 to prevent what became inevitable.
On November 14th 2021 the citizens of Los Gatos, along with many others, asked the right questions and gathered with a great show of hands, and bodies, and hearts to take back the story they want to tell. Speaker after speaker spoke of empathy, of love. Of mutual respect. The energy in the air was palpable.
This is how you fight back.
Alone, it’s hard. Sitting in my living room, watching the news, reading the papers, I can feel overwhelmed. On that Sunday afternoon, I felt empowered. There are more good people out there, people who care, who are as horrified, or terrified, as I am. But together we’re stronger. Against hate. Against bullies. We do have voices that we can make heard.
I don’t know if anyone else did, but I didn’t see a single person standing in protest to the message we were delivering. Along the way, as we stretched out for over a mile, passing cars honked their approval. Mothers and fathers held their babies on their stood front porches waving and cheering, sharing heart signs and encouragement. I wasn’t alone in this fight. None of us are.
On our walk home my husband asked if anything would change. The haters are still out there, he said. Yes, I answered. But so are we.