I was honored to be the keynote speaker at this year’s Rising Tide Dinner for Maine People’s Alliance. Peppered with a few Maine-specific jokes (did you hear what they’re governor said?!?!), here’s my speech about how we as a progressive movement face hatred with love:
Do you agree? Post your thoughts/reflections in the comment section.
And, if you missed it, I posted my attempts to get back home on a plane with my honorary paddle. You can find the travails on my Facebook page.
Here is the full text, as prepared:
What a week for justice! What a week for justice!
If our Founding Fathers were here with us tonight, they would be so proud that we are advancing their ideals, forging a more perfect and inclusive union. George Washington would be officiating gay weddings. Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr might get married (am I the only one who thought that duel had some sexual tension?!). Heck, our Founding Fathers and Mothers would be chomping at the wooden bit to exercise their own expanded rights. Except for voting….
It’s one of those weeks where we take five steps forward as a nation and two steps back. Gay rights expanded. Voting rights for communities of color constricted. A woman’s right to control her own body was heroically defended in a 13-hour filibuster by Texas State Senator Wendy Davis. But a right wing backlash was whipped back into a frenzy. The United States Senate passed historic immigration reform legislation that includes a path to citizenship for 11 million aspiring Americans. But conservatives in the House won’t be satisfied until we turn our southern border into a war zone. And here in Maine, Republican and Democratic legislators voted to override the governor’s veto and pass a bipartisan budget. Yet the ugly math and uglier consequences of austerity continue to plague this state and our nation.
Although I do want to thank Governor LePage for helping me write my remarks tonight. He really provided the lubrication for….
Around the world, every day, more and more people are standing up for truth and justice and opportunity for all. And yet the divisions between the haves and the have-nots are greater and greater. The tales of repression and violence get worse and worse. The ability of ordinary people to effect real change seems harder and harder. Our hope for a better tomorrow can one moment seem inspired and the next, naïve. All our good intentions for positive change can seem drowned out by hatred.
Not a day goes by that I don’t get hate mail. It can, at times, be overwhelming. Complete strangers, who I’ve never met, who’ve never met me, taking the time to find my email address so they can tell me I’m ugly or stupid or anti-white or too liberal or all of the above. Let me give you some of my favorites:
“From the first day I saw you on Fox I knew there was something wrong about you, then today I heard you say you were gay.”
Which is to say nothing of the fact that this person couldn’t figure that out on her own.
“Please stop wasting our oxygen you moron.”
“You are precisely what is wrong with this country right now.”
Has anyone here ever sent hate mail? No, that’s right. Because sane, normal people don’t send hate mail. Only crazy people send hate mail. I don’t know about you, I don’t even have time to send hate mail. I barely have time to do my laundry! But let me tell you, these folks who send hate mail take up a disproportionate amount of my inbox just like they take up a disproportionate amount of our oxygen and public discourse in general. They literally fill our air with more particles of hatred than are naturally occurring in our environment.
“You are one of those ,I guess your a woman, women who will never have worry about any man attacking you because you are too much of a dyke looking witch. you need to take your ugle [spelled uglE] — your UGLY ass home and hide.”
And hide! That’s what they want, to scare and shame us into a corner.
The voices of hate are trying to kill our progress and quash our hope. They want us to feel that our demands for justice, demands that are popular and righteous, are immoral and wrong. WE are the vocal majority — but the voices of hatred want us to sit down and shut up.
You here in Maine know what I’m talking about. You know hatred. And I don’t mean the way you hate a lobster roll that has too much mayonnaise! I mean the kind of hate that tries to stop you from doing what’s right for your family, your community and your country. I mean the kind of hate that tries to re-write a state constitution to exclude an entire group of citizens. I mean the kind of hate that attacks public servants as the “Gestapo” and tells communities of color “kiss my butt”. That kind of hate.
What do we do? How do we respond? When the signs of hate are looming all around us, more ominous than those moose warnings you have all over the place? Do we fight hate with hate? No! We respond with love. Love. We are the side of love!
It’s not often that I get to quote the Buddha, but here I go. Apparently, the Buddha once said, “Hatred does not cease by hatred, but only by love; this is the eternal rule.” The eternal rule. We cannot fight hate with more hate. Only love.
Jesus embraced similar ideals, to love thy neighbor — even when your neighbor hates you.
A friend of mine tweeted recently, “Even if we don’t like someone, seeing their vulnerability allows us to open our heart to them. Like us, they suffer and long to be happy.”
Notice I’m not saying that those who disagree with us are evil. I don’t think they are. Not even the people who send me the most sexist and homophobic and anti-Semitic and racist (yes, I get racist hate mail!) stuff imaginable. One thing I’ve learned from meeting more and more conservatives in my work is that they truly think they’re on the right side. Most conservatives care about poverty and believe in racial equality — and simply think their ideas are the best way forward. I’m not saying there aren’t some truly evil people in the world…. But not most. By far.
But too many are hateful, too many allow their mix of personal despondence and ideological rigidity to bubble over into hate, to see opportunity and prosperity as a zero-sum us-versus-them death match rather than a collaborative endeavor. They think if someone else wins, they lose. And understandably, — because for too long that’s how we’ve structured our economy and our political discussions — to keep all of us pitted against one another instead of uniting for the common good.
But here’s our secret. Not only do we not see the world in such stark term, but we know that we can only move forward together — that my success isn’t in competition with your success but dependent on it. Which means we want a better world not just for ourselves but for everyone — including those who oppose us. When we win, it means more prosperity and opportunity and fairness for everyone. That is love. And like love, our vision only grows and expands.
When my friend and Fox News colleague Sean Hannity talks about liberals as the “hate America crowd”, he’s being downright Orwellian. Because we are the ones who love everyone in this great country, equally — enough to fight for all of them. We are the ones who love gay people and straight people and black people and white people and immigrants and citizens and boys and girls and poor people and rich people — and we are the ones who want everyone, everyone to have access to the same opportunity, the same chance to fulfill their hopes and dreams as everyone else. We are the LOVE America crowd!
Still, it’s not always easy to love our enemies. Believe me. Those hate mail messages I read you are actually some of the more tame ones! The intensity and ugliness of our opponents can be overwhelming. And I don’t mean ugly like not attractive. Though your governor ain’t exactly a looker, by the way. Maybe if I put Vaseline on my eyeballs… (That’s right, folks, two Vaseline jokes for the price of one…!)
No, I mean ugly words. Ugly emotions. Ugly acts and intentions. That darken our spirits and our surroundings. It’s hard to find love in those shadows. It is hard to find love for people who seem to hate us so much.
But we must. We on the left are not only the voice of reason. We are the voice of compassion. And that compassion must extend even to those who disagree with us.
There is a beautiful story about Nelson Mandela, who my thoughts and prayers are with this evening. After almost a half century of apartheid, 27 years of which he spent in prison, Nelson Mandela was elected the first black president of South Africa in 1994. Suffice it to say, a lot of pro-apartheid Afrikaaners weren’t happy. Some of them were amassing weapons and planning to declare an independent, all-white state called Volkstaat. As one of his first acts as president, Mandela flew by helicopter to this region of angry separatists. There, in the middle of the all-white and very hostile neighborhood, Mandela did the unthinkable. He sat down for tea with Betsie Verwoerd, the 94-year-old widow of the architect of apartheid. It was a gesture of respect and kindness and love. Beginning with that one generous pilgrimage, Mandela ultimately persuaded the Afrikaaners to disarm and join him on the path to unity.
We can continue to honor Nelson Mandela’s character and vision by following in his footsteps. Mandela once wrote, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
That does not mean love is always the easy choice. I’ve been with my partner for over nine years, so I know love ain’t easy! Love takes work. Commitment. Practice. Patience. The ability to find the good in others despite sometimes overwhelming evidence of the bad. To find humanity in all of us, which is precisely what our opponents so frequently fail to do. I’m not saying it’s easy. But I’m saying it’s necessary.
Those who disagree with us may hate us. But we do not hate them. We love them. We love them so hard….. Not too hard, ya know? It reminds me of this great quote: “A hug is a strangle you haven’t finished yet.” We don’t want to love our opponents too much…
But my point is that while our opponents see their struggle as them versus us, either they win or they lose — we are fighting for all of us, for everyone, because we love everyone. And the world will be a better place for all of us when we succeed. It is precisely because we love everyone that we are fighting for a better world for everyone. Everyone!
When Maine People’s Alliance talks about “giving it to the people”, y’all mean LOVE.
Our movement is not perfect. We are not perfect. We do not always embody the love and humanity that is in our hearts. We can be racist and sexist and homophobic. We can be mean, even cruel. We can be unfair and unjust. But we can also strive to do better, to become more perfect like our union — more inclusive, more equitable, more compassionate, more loving. It is our desire to reach toward that perfect image that defines us. Just because we love justice does not mean we are always just. But it means we stretch and ache toward justice, rather than dismissing it altogether.
Your governor says it the liberal Democrat Troy Jackson who “has no brains” and “has a black heart”. Well, you know, people who live in glass arteries….
Our hearts are bright and our eyes are clear. They can throw all the insults they want. We will still love. They can fume all the anger they have. We will still love. They can spew all the hatred in their hearts. We will still love.
They are the hate. We are the love.
They are the dark. We are the light.
They are the sad. We are the happy.
They are the despondent. We are the hopeful.
They are the few. We are the many.
They are the past. We are the future.
The hatred they throw at us, the hate mail, the vitriol, the buckets of nastiness they try and dump on our causes and our heads are all designed to make us sit down and shut up.
Are we going to sit down? No! Are we going to shut up? No!
I want you to stand up for justice. Stand up for equality. Stand up for fairness and opportunity for all. And keep fighting, shouting for hope and possibility and promise and change.
We can make the world better. We will make the world better.
We will stand taller. We will shout louder.
We will not be defeated. We will win for everyone, liberty and justice for all!