Monday, February 13, 2017

We Are a Republic of Conscience or We Are Nothing

photo by  Mai Der Vang
On Saturday, February 11, 2017, over 1,000 writers gathered in Lafayette Park, across the street from the White House, to speak out for free expression.

Split This Rock and a number of hard-working individuals joined together to organize the vigil to coincide with the annual conference of the Associated Writers and Writing Programs (AWP), which brought thousands of writers to the nation's capital. Thirty organizations cosponsored, spreading the word and helping writers gather at this time of intense threat to our basic human rights, of which freedom of expression is one of the most fundamental.

Split This Rock will be publishing the statements of those who spoke, Kazim Ali, Gabrielle Bellot, Melissa Febos, Carolyn Forché, Ross Gay, Luis J. Rodriguez, and Eric Sasson. We're proud to begin with that of Carolyn Forché, a model and guide to us for so many years.

Statement by Carolyn Forché for the Candlelight Vigil at the White House, February 11, 2017

This is the first amendment, as written by James Madison: Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances. 

We are gathered here in vigil as defenders of these rights, and to declare our allegiance to the party of humanity; to proclaim that walls do not offer protection but rather enclosure and are a sign of fear rather than strength. As Monsignor Oscar Romero once said, “A society’s reason for being is not the security of the state but of the human person,” and “peace is not the silent result of violent repression,” but “the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all.”

We are guided by the words of one of the Republic’s founding poets, Walt Whitman: “This is what you shall do: Love the earth and sun and the animals, despise riches, give alms to every one that asks, stand up for the stupid and crazy, devote your income and labor to others, hate tyrants, argue not concerning God, have patience and indulgence toward the people, take off your hat to nothing known or unknown or to any man or number of men, go freely with powerful uneducated persons and with the young and with the mothers of families, read these leaves in the open air every season of every year of your life, re-examine all you have been told at school or church or in any book, dismiss whatever insults your own soul, and your very flesh shall be a great poem and have the richest fluency.”

The hour calls us to be moral and ethical in our private and public lives, to live with our hearts open, to cultivate our empathy and capacity for self-sacrifice.  To the darkness of bigotry, racism, xenophobia and misogyny, we bring the light of conscience, for we are a Republic of Conscience or we are nothing. To those suffering injustice, we offer our resistance to oppression. We offer our protection. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian and anti-Nazi dissident once said, "We are not called simply to bandage the wounds of victims beneath the wheels of injustice. We are to drive a spoke into the wheel itself."

We will not stand down. We will not end our just resistance. We will work together with compassion, intelligence, hope and commitment. We will base our decisions not on narrow politics but on the wisdom of the heart.  We will not tire, we will not flag in our efforts. We are watching, we are clear, we are awake.

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