With horror I read stories of people looking on as other people are beaten and even murdered. I watched the George Floyd video. Four times in a month, riders on Chicago’s transit system witnessed singularly brutal acts of violence: two murders, a rape and a slashing, each of them carried out in full view of horrified onlookers, who helped by taking pictures of the events.
“Thank goodness, we live in Small Town, USA,” we say. “Things like that don’t happen in this little town.”
Often, we turn away when we should speak up? It’s none of our business. Let someone else take care of it. The government ought to do something. Somebody ought to do something, but not us. We clamp our mouths shut lest we become victims ourselves.
Martin Niemoeller, a concentration camp survivor, wrote that “In Germany, the Nazis first came for the communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, but I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak for me.”
When the silent majority allows atrocities to take place and remains silent, it becomes culpable, whether by watching a crime committed without interfering or turning blind eyes on elected officials.
“Why, the government can’t do that,” we declare righteously from our ivory towers. “This is the United States.”
Is there a check and balance system for local government? One supposedly exists for national government, but it doesn’t appear to work very well. We, the people, are responsible. If we shirk our responsibility, elected officials can and do indeed do whatever they wish.
On Election Day, we proudly wear our Georgia peach stickers declaring that we voted. We actually took time out of our busy day, drove to the polls, and cast our ballots. Or in these times of virus and such, we mailed those absentee ballots in. Our civic duty done for this term, we donned our stickers, drove away, and buried our heads back in the sand to wait for the next Election Day. We have done our jobs. Whoever won the election can take it from there. They will! Believe me, they will.
Now in a perfect world where truly honest people seriously carry out their public duties once they’re elected, this system would work. County commissioners would look out for the interests of all the people. So would the school board, the mayor, the governor, the President. Personal agendas would not exist, and we would all play our happy music on our pipes in our sunny Utopia and live happily ever after.
So many books address the themes of Utopias—Fahrenheit 451, Brave New World, The Handmaid’s Tale, among myriad others. These societies set up by various governments for the good of the people usually aren’t—for the good of the people, that is. Personal agendas always get in the way.
Granted, sometimes we listen to the news and hear about corruption in politics. We hear gossip out on the street about corrupt politicians. And we declare again, “Why the government can’t do that. This is the United States.” Or we hear that warnings came about 9/11 and nobody listened. Warnings were there about the extermination of the Jews too, and no one listened. I read that genocide is taking place in many places today. Is anybody listening?
We are far too busy playing video games, hiding in our televisions and phones, and chasing our various rainbows to notice what’s going on in our little towns, much less in the world. If it does not happen in our living rooms, we don’t notice, and if we do, we say, “Well, all those politicians are crooked. What do you expect?”
Maybe the silent majority should wake up and speak up. Silence is consent, after all. If we remain silent, then we deserve whatever our elected officials hand us. We can expect to reap the rewards of our silence.