Words matter – they transmit meaning to help us make sense of the world around us and communicate our intentions and fears and needs to others. Consequently, one of the things that frustrates me most about the US over the last years has been the attempts to undermine our language. Morphing the word “liberal”, which used to mean “free from restraint in speech or action” and instead making it a totalitarian political mantra policed by know-nothings. Or taking “capitalism”, the system that gave the world the greatest prosperity in history and lifted billions from poverty and converting it to an insult insinuating greed. I could go on, but you get the point.
Resistance. Now I know a thing or two about resistance. Night flights from darkened airports; graves populated by the ‘disappeared’. I one time worked with a group of war crimes investigators who were piecing together bodies – exhumed from a mass grave – trying to make the legal case to try a heinous crime against those who resisted the regime. Do you know what the “stench of death” really smells like? I do. A good friend of mine from Argentina once told me the story of how he had to flee from the Junta after being disappeared for three days – daring to study and to read, and think – freed only by the pressure of the priests, running to Peru with only the clothes on his back. Leopoldo Lopez, who I have known, continues to languish in a Venezuelan jail – for speaking against those who would have preferred him silent. At least you’ve probably heard of him. Lorent Saleh – a student activist who angered Venezuela’s regime – is in a place called “The Tomb”, underground, where they keep the temperature in the fifties, the lights on all the time, feed him at random intervals and play loud music at him. In Nicaragua one time I spent a morning listening to the stories of a woman who was selling thimblefuls of coffee on the plaza – in Leon, famous for the student uprisings against the Somoza dictatorship – she showing me the scars of torture from cigarette burns and car batteries. I have written letters to US immigration courts helping those who made it to our shores fleeing tyranny to find safe-haven.
Those are stories of resistance.
Resistance is fleeing from North Korea’s monstrous regime (buy this book!); resistance is a Tuareg man in Gao, Mali boldly going on television to demand that his clan, his people put down their guns; resistance is dousing yourself in gasoline as a final desperate act of violence in protest at a seemingly endless dictatorship, not because you want to die but because the police just seized your entire livelihood and you don’t know what else to do; resistance is joining a pro-bono law firm, running around behind the tens, hundreds of people arrested by Venezuela’s totalitarian regime, trying futilely to bend the regime to the law through the force your will and your righteousness alone – and sometimes even paying the ultimate prize.
No, sorry, you aren’t a resistance, because USA is not a dictatorship. Nobody is persecuting you; none of your rights are being violated; no illegal purges enacted; no tortures and disappearances. You didn’t like the results of an election – and want to pretend it is illegitimate, because you don’t want to do the hard work of rebuilding a constituency alienated, “Because you thought correcting people’s attitudes was more important than finding them jobs. Because you turned ‘white man’ from a description into an insult (…) Because you cried when someone mocked the Koran but laughed when they mocked the Bible. (…) Because you kept telling people, ‘You can’t think that, you can’t say that, you can’t do that’,” as Brendan O’Neill has said. Alas, the only people losing their legitimacy are you; who wear little pink hats and take off all your clothes and wander through public spaces offending friend and foe alike; who vandalize coffee shops and write little slogans misspelled on cardboard. No, you aren’t a resistance, and you don’t get to have that word.
For those who have fought and suffered for their liberties, it is far too sacred to let it – too – be defiled.