Resistance in the face of aggression is one of humankind’s most enduring and romantic themes. David stood up to Goliath. Churchill rallied Britain against the Axis. Frodo.
We tend to romanticize these events. In the warm glow of history, we put ourselves in the roll of the hero, imagining how we too would stand up to evil, shunning our fears and our personal interests to do something historic and worthy of praise.
The reality is, obviously, different.
Eighteen month ago, I was living in London. I had left my marriage of three decades and followed the love of my life across the Atlantic to a 400 square foot walk-up garrett in Notting Hill, a graduate student’s life. I was untethered, scared, numb from the raw emotion and the ocean of uncertainty that seemed certain to overwhelm me.
I road the Tube and walked the neighborhoods and parks of London, looking. I carried my camera, and captured images that interested me. Graffiti. Children. Old people. Patterns. Hyde Park, and Southwark, and Shoreditch and Kensington.
One day I was walking back from the gym, crossing under the Westway on Portobello Road, and I noticed a primitivist mural in mosaic tile, tucked up in the structure of the overpass. The inscription, “They shall not pass — echoes of Spain 1936–1937 Ecos de Espania — No pasaran”.
I hurried home and read everything I could about “No pasaran” and the Spanish Civil war. I learned that the phrase (in French) initially came from French general Robert Nivelle prior to the battle of Verdun in World War I. But it was Delores Ibárurri Gómez who used “No pasaran” to inspire the Republicans during the Siege of Madrid by Franco’s fascist armies. Later in 1936, it was the rallying cry of the anti-fascist forces in the Battle of Cable Street in London’s impoverished East End.
And when Franco smashed the Republicans, they fled, many of them to this neighborhood on Portobello Road. To regroup. To survive. To fight again.
We defeated fascism in the 20th century. Normandy, Iwo Jima, Anzio, Stalingrad. Ordinary people possessed of extra-ordinary courage and self-sacrifice. Democrats, Republicans and Communists. Laborers, school teachers, and lawyers. People from Florida and California and Michigan and Idaho. We beat fascism until there was nothing left.
Yet fascism is back. It always comes back because it is spawned by fear and nourished by demagoguery. America just elected a president who walks a line uncomfortably close to that of Adolph Hitler. Scapegoating foreigners and people of different ethnicities. Twisting science to fabricate a justification for the unconscionable. Promising safety and prosperity if we will just surrender our personal liberties.
This is wrong. Don’t stand for it. Resist. Push back. Speak up. If not now, when?
The 2016 election was an aberration. It does not represent, by itself, a true picture of America. Yes, people are broadly dissatisfied with the elite establishment. But that does not mean they condone racism, misogyny, and a 1950’s sensibility about the environment. It means we didn’t offer them an alternative to business as usual. The far right did.
We must not shy from speaking the truth for fear of offending, or out of concern for how it might affect ours careers or our relationships. Have the courage to stand up. To be brave. To embrace what is true and meaningful. With clear eyes and a full heart.
I embrace resistance.