Like so many of you, I have had a rather rough start to my November. On Tuesday November 8th our neighbours to the south have elected, by a razor thin margin, a president who I believe is the most dangerous man to be given the White House. In the days that followed, I watched in horror as social media became replete with first hand accounts of women and minorities in the United States being subjected to hate speech and acts of violence. As the president elect remained silent, making no effort whatsoever to denounce these senseless acts, I witnessed the people of America take to the streets to express their outrage, as is their right. America came to the startling realization that they have just elected a racist, misogynistic, bigoted dictator to lead the most powerful nation in the world. A man who built a campaign based on hate and fear. As the polls reported in one by one on Tuesday night, I felt physically ill as the reality began to set in. The people who voted for this man were unhappy with the establishment, which is fair enough. They felt disenfranchised, ignored, that they were not even part of the conversation. That would make anyone feel hurt, abandoned, even angry. I’m sure they pay their taxes just like everyone else, (even if the person they voted for doesn’t,) so it’s natural for them to question the authority that exists. But on the flip side, considering that almost half of the American public who were eligible to vote didn’t even show up to cast a ballot, what really happened here? Is the degree of apathy among us so great that during this, one of the most critical presidential elections of our time, indeed, what will no doubt be considered a turning point in history, that so many people didn’t see the value of making their voice heard? Well folks, if not being heard is what you wanted, I promise you, that’s exactly what you’re going to get.
But that’s little comfort to those who did turn out to vote, only to have all of their hopes and dreams for the future of their nation crushed. My twitter feed was filled with heartbroken messages of fear and helplessness, as my American friends asked repeatedly, How could this happen? My heart was also broken. I reached out to my friends south of the border and reminded them they were not alone. I even offered up my sofa. And I continued to watch as the tone of social media turned exceedingly dark. The outrage was on both sides, with the alt right subjecting us all to their messages of hate, misogyny and bigotry, and naturally these were met with the backlash from the left. But trickled throughout the barrage of two way hatred and anger, there were also messages of love and hope. People reminding everyone to look after themselves, reach out to one another, gather with the ones they love, and amongst the writers who grace twitter with their presence, the message was very clear: Keep writing. The world needs our stories now more than ever. I myself felt all the usual emotions, confusion, fear, anger, helplessness. But through all of that I was reminded of one very important fact: I still have a voice, and no one can take that away from me.
As I write this, it is November 11th, 2016. Remembrance day. Ever since childhood this day has been important to me. A day when we reflect and honour those whose sacrifice paved the way for the life and freedom that we now enjoy. We are free to live our lives however we want as long as we are not hurting anyone else. We are free to make our own choices. To make mistakes and learn from them, to be with whoever we want to, to express our feelings and opinions, even if that means openly disagreeing with the powers that be. Or at least, we could.
I have spent this Remembrance Day in mostly the same way I have spent them in the past. I privately observed two minutes of silence at 11:00am, and I took that time to allow my thoughts and feelings to dwell on those people we lost, and those who returned, many of whom are still to this day paying a terrible price for our freedom in the form of PTSD. Imagine putting such a premium on freedom and truth that you are willing to suffer and die to preserve it. Putting the needs of countless strangers you will never know so far ahead of your own that you would literally put yourself in the path of a bullet. I can’t say that I would be so brave, and as such, I have no words to express the profound respect, admiration, and love I have for those that are. Because of these courageous men and women, I have all the comforts and privileges I have taken for granted my entire life, so yes, I think I can find at least two lousy minutes once a year to allow myself to think of them and nothing else.
After observing two minutes of silence in quiet reflection, I turned to news coverage of the Remembrance Day ceremony that was taking place in Ottawa. It played out as you would expect, with the Prime Minister and several dignitaries and ambassadors laying wreaths and paying their respects. But what hit me hardest of all was when the news cameras turned to the faces of the veterans. The sadness, the grief, and the profound sense of loss as they reflect on the horrors they experienced as they fought for their country. For all of us. But on this particular Remembrance Day, more so than in years past, I found myself wondering if they were as afraid as the rest of us? That the freedom they fought so hard to protect is in more peril now than ever before? Are they reminded of the tyrant they helped to liberate the world from so many years ago? What if after all their efforts, and so much sacrifice, that we’re about to throw it all away for no good reason other than almost half of the people couldn’t be bothered to do their civic duty and cast a ballot? Is that really what the world has come to? Or did this need to happen to serve as a grim reminder to people of just how bad things can get when we allow ourselves to become apathetic?
We have a choice going forward. We can take the easy path, and react to the hate with more hate, which solves nothing. Or we can respond to the fear, rather than react to it, and allow it to mobilize us. To motivate us. To be better, to do better, to express kindness, love and tolerance for one another. To be true to ourselves and our ideals. To open the lines of communication, rather than close them. A difference of opinion does not have to lead to division, rather it is an opportunity for greater understanding. Instead of criticizing those who don’t share our views, why aren’t we making more of an effort to listen? The absence of communication only leads to misunderstanding, assumptions and ultimately, anger. This accomplishes nothing beyond driving people apart. But this is particularly dangerous now, as we are at a critical point in our collective history. If we as a species are to survive the next century, we have to start working together to lessen the divide that exists between us. It is truly remarkable what we as human beings are capable of achieving together if we only give ourselves the chance.
So what now? Keep your loved ones close, gather your friends and family, remind them they’re not alone. In this present climate of anger and hate, the only weapon the rest of us have in our arsenal is love. Kindness, hope, charity, tolerance, understanding, and truth. Reaching out to those we love is the first step, but we need to go beyond that. It is more important than ever that we work to provide a voice for those who have none. Complacency is easy, but it is glaringly obvious that the time for complacency is over. We no longer have the luxury of burying our heads in the sand on the basis that it’s not our problem, because quite frankly it is our problem. It’s everyone’s problem. But aside from compassion and understanding, we also need truth. Silence is as dangerous as censorship. Freedom of expression is among our most basic of human rights, and it is critical that we let no one take that away from us. Write, speak, protest, make your voice heard. The pen is mightier than the sword. Wield it wisely and without fear.
And while we’re at it, let’s not forget what our brave service men and women fought and died for. They fought for freedom from tyranny and oppression, but also freedom to experience joy. Take the time to stop and watch the sun coming up over the horizon, sing in the shower, dance to jazz music while your eggs scramble. Do whatever makes you feel alive. And while you’re at it, be sure to laugh out loud. I can think of no better way to fight tyranny. Demagogues thrive on the suffering of others. Don’t give it to them.
And to my American friends, you are not alone. Just say the word and I’ll put the kettle on.