By Hannah Brandt
January felt like a tornado hit. In the storm, Barack Obama became the former president, Donald Trump became the current president, and the country commemorated the life of Martin Luther King Jr. The juxtaposition is surreal. If he had been alive today, we have to ask ourselves how King would have reacted to the moment in which we find ourselves.
It goes without saying that Dr. King would have been upset by Trump’s ascendance to the Oval Office. He would certainly have lifted his voice in protest against this injustice toward women, people of color, immigrants, Muslims, people with disabilities, and LGBTQ individuals. That a man who has said and done unconscionable, violent things could be given such tremendous power and filled those powerful cabinet positions with people who have done the same is an act of violence itself.
But how would King assess Obama’s presidency from the day he took office on January 20, 2009, to the day he handed over the keys on January 20, 2017? That is a tougher reality for many of us to wrestle with, especially in this moment. Like a grisly crime scene, few of us can uncover our eyes to look directly at the issue but it is important that we do. Not because the future is not more dismal, but because it is.
Although King would have been very proud to witness the first African American president and praised many of his policies, I believe he would also have strong criticisms of President Obama. He would have taken a hard line with him while he was still a candidate who called Afghanistan the legitimate war. For King, there would not ever be a legitimate war. And he would have made his conviction very clear that war is always immoral, always unjust, and that it always takes innocent lives.
The anti-war aspect of his teachings, his protests, his thinking has been erased throughout my lifetime because it became a joke to be anti-war. It is not a term my generation even recognizes as part of our language, it is seen as a naïve relic of the past to be derided in pop culture. There was that brief moment in 2003 when millions marched against President W. Bush’s Iraq War, but people seemed to move on from that in a nanosecond. As soon as Bush was out, too many of us became quiet about atrocities committed by our president.
We cannot afford to make that mistake again. We cannot lose momentum or stand still for any length of time under this administration. There is too much at stake. Despicable actions are being made very quickly. In only a few days in office, President Trump has put a white supremacist (Steve Bannon) in charge of national security and signed executive actions against women, Muslim refugees, immigrants, health care, the press, and the environment that are already infringing on basic human and civil rights. This is why so many of us marched in January, demanding rights for all.
We hear too often “it’s just politics.” I am testifying today that it is never just politics when people’s lives are at stake. We are talking about policy decisions that determine whether people live or die.
One day after the Women’s March that brought millions together around the world to fight for justice a friend of mine lost her own fight to stay alive. At 34-years-old, after years of working hard to manage a mental health condition, she could not stay in this world any longer. Given the Trump/Pence administration and its supporters’ attacks on the gay community, on women, on access to healthcare, I cannot help but feel that it was bigotry and hate that took her from us.
There are so many whose lives have been taken too soon due to prejudice and brutality. I am trying to turn my anger and sadness about these injustices into something constructive. Unlike some of us, Emily was a natural born warrior. She always went out with a roar, not a whimper. Strong in her convictions studying law and business, she was determined to make the world a better place. She lived fiercely and spoke out against all forms of bigotry and abuse. This made her a hero of mine.
Since she can no longer use her earthly voice to work for justice for herself and others, those who cared for her must take up the mantle. We cannot stop marching, speaking out, and holding the powerful accountable. I am determined to make her proud. This edition of the newspaper is dedicated to all those we have lost in the struggle, like my friend. Rest in peace, Emily.