On Inaction and Consent
March 1, 2018
As promised, here is the second invited blog post. This one is from Rachel Harshaw, an administrative staff member in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders. Rachel addresses the issue of consent and asks us to think about our own action vs. inaction. Thanks to Rachel for her thoughtful contribution! — Alex Johnson, Provost
“All too often, when we see injustices, both great and small, we think, ‘That’s terrible,’ but we do nothing. We say nothing. We let other people fight their own battles. We remain silent because silence is easier. Qui tacet consentire videtur is Latin for ‘Silence gives consent.’ When we say nothing, when we do nothing, we are consenting to these trespasses against us.” – Roxane Gay, Bad Feministi
I was at home in Connecticut when I heard about Sandy Hook. My mother and I sat, eyes fixed on the TV screen, where bewildered anchors repeated themselves over and over until the shock finally slid off their shoulders and reality set in: twenty-six children and educators had been massacred in broad daylight.
As I struggled to come to terms with the sheer horror and senselessness of these killings, there was one pinprick, one grain, one atom of knowledge that I knew to be true: this would be the last mass shooting in America. I was steadfast in my conviction that, if anything could bridge the divide in Washington to spur sustainable change and effective legislation, it was this. I pored over articles, debriefed and debated with family and friends, and sat by while I waited for activists and politicians to do their work. One year later, there was a mass shooting in the Washington Navy Yard. Three years, Umpqua Community College. Then San Bernardino. Pulse Nightclub. Sutherland Springs Church. Las Vegas Harvest Music Festival. And now, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.ii
Instead of protecting our most vulnerable, we have left them to fend for themselves. I sit idly by while the children of Parkland, Florida leave their essays unwritten and their classrooms empty to march on Washington, hold their senators accountable, and attempt to dismantle the National Rifle Association. Weren’t we supposed to protect our children after Sandy Hook? Now, the whole country is watching high school senior Emma González lead the charge, all from the safety of our Twitter timelines. She should be given the space to grieve the loss of her classmates and friends. She should be studying for her Advanced Placement exams. She should be allowed to be a teenager, carefree and invincible. Instead, she is on her way to Capitol Hill to fight for her life.
I have heard the phrase “silence equals consent” countless times. It lives on t-shirts, Facebook statuses, and research papers alike, and, unsurprisingly, rose to fame around the time of the 2017 presidential election. It seems to be no coincidence that the second most looked-up word of 2017 was “complicit.”iii Why, then, do I still feel a nagging sense of inadequacy and guilt when I voice my opposition to our nation’s lack of gun control, among other public health issues? Why, if I am anything but silent, do I still feel complicit in this flawed system?
For me, advocacy and education, both of myself and of others, have ceased to be an effective response to injustice. Silence may be consent, but so is inaction. No matter your resources or abilities, there is always something tangible you can do as an agent of change. For the financially secure, donate to the #NeverAgain movement founded by Stoneman Douglas students.iv For those with limited income, donate just $1; it may not make a difference to you, but it will to the movement. For the able-bodied, join the March for Our Lives on March 24 in Washington, DC. For the able-bodied who do not live in Washington, join one of the countless sister movements cropping up in communities across the country. For anyone with U.S. citizenship, register to vote and show up to the 2018 state primaries. The people who have lost their lives to gun violence have lost these privileges; it is your duty to exercise yours.
Some days, it is all I can do to reblog a new Washington Post article that I found informative. Other days, I feel so overwhelmed and drained that I turn people away who want to initiate these difficult conversations, even though I know they are important. But today, I am putting the date of the Massachusetts primary election in my calendar, and on September 4, I will be at my local polling center, pen in hand.
Where will you be?
i. Roxane Gay, Bad Feminist
ii. The terrible numbers that grow with each mass shooting
iii. Merriam-Webster’s 2017 Words of the Year
iv. March for Our Lives
v. 2018 State Primary Election Dates