There comes a point in the life of every individual, a crossroads, where they must make a decision on how they will live their life.
One path is a well paved and well traveled road of individual desires and selfish materialism; the other road is an uphill climb of selflessness and tireless work towards a goal larger than the individual. The first path can bring instant gratification and short-lived happiness while the other brings the noble satisfaction and pride for fighting the good fight no matter what the odds.
Our past is filled with stories of women and men fighting the good fight, staying true to themselves and their beliefs even though times seemed hopeless. Our history tells us about charismatic and vigorous individuals who laid their lives on the line in order to attract the attention of a world too busy to care about issues that begged for change. These self sacrificing souls knew the risks involved with their actions, but they also knew the greater risk of taking no action at all.
Historic tales of courage in the face of incredible odds serve as examples to us. Like the Battle of Vartanants in 451 which preserved religious freedom for Armenia’s, or the French Revolution which sought to instill the far-fetched ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity or the story of a timid Indian lawyer, named Mohandas Gandhi who founded the idea of Satyagraha or the strength of truth, in a nonviolent campaign to free India from British colonialism.
Here in America we have an unbroken history of organizing for social, economic and political justice. The generation that was inspired by the words of Thomas Paine fought alongside George Washington and Patrick Henry blaring “give me liberty or give me death” to put an end to British rule. That same generation inspired later abolitionists and feminists who worked to extend liberties of the American Revolution to the entire population. Feminist leaders like Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony worked with and shared the same platform with abolitionist leaders like Frederick Douglas, Sojourner Truth and William Lloyd Garrison. Following the Civil War, it was the generation that fought at Gettysburg and a generation of immigrants who worked 16 hour days in the country’s factories, mines and mills. Their frustrations would lead to a movement of economic democracy, socialism and trade unionism lead by Eugene Debs. This lead all the way up to the passage of the New Deal of Franklin Roosevelt and helped to ensure the passage of legislation securing the right to organize, the minimum wage, social security, unemployment compensation and the eight hour work day. The generation of the 1930’s taught and inspired civil rights workers in the 1950’s and the activists of the 1960’s who came to be led by the likes of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Ella Baker and Stokey Charmichael.
It was Martin Luther King Jr. who once said, “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” That quote was true during the 1960s Civil rights movement and it is true today in the 21st century.
Monday was Martin Luther King Jr day. More than that, it’s poignant to think that two years ago that same day, shockwaves went around the world as the one million, five hundred thousandth and first victim of the Armenian Genocide was brutally, cold-bloodedly, and calculatedly assassinated in Istanbul.
Hrant Dink was a man who believed in the rights of all people. He was a man who was not afraid to talk about the Armenian Genocide, living inside Turkey. Dink had a vision of a future for Turks and Armenia’s founded on a respect of historical truths. Even with his desires to promote democracy within Turkey, Dink was seen as a threat, a traitor, an agitator. Despite being prosecuted three times for insulting Turkishness and despite threats on his life he would not be silent. The only thing able to silence the editor of Agos was a bullet from the gun of a 17 year old ultrantionalists blind to the truth of his nation’s past.
We need to take a look at our past and remember our history–a history of steadfast resolution, a history of individuals who were willing to die on their feet rather than live on their knees, a history of people coming together, recognizing social wrongs and working to correct them. And we must take example in our lives today.
Those who will be our next generations will look back to us and they will ask; what did they do when the world wasn’t listening? We must be able to say we did everything in our power, we organized ourselves, we educated ourselves, we worked together, we stood against political madness and we fought the righteous fight. This is what we must say and this is what we must do to ensure a better tomorrow.
I’m not writing because I have all the answers. I can’t tell you how to end the world’s problems. I can’t tell you how to stop global warming; how to end homelessness or feed the millions of people around the world who go to sleep hungry every night.
I can’t tell you why the international community still can’t properly respond to genocide in Sudan. I can’t tell you how to stop 12 year olds from being forced into becoming soldiers in wars they don’t understand, carrying rifles that are bigger than their own bodies.
I can’t tell you how to stop human trafficking and the sex trade. I can’t tell you why over a billion people in the world don’t have clean drinking water or why the richest, most developed nation the world has ever seen, the United States, has over 70 million citizens without health care.
I can’t tell you why in 2009 country’s like Turkey continue to repress free speech and minority rights or how to stop Israeli war planes from bombing innocent Palestinian children.
I can’t tell you how a progressive state like California can pass a backwards, homophobic law like Proposition 8.
I can’t tell you a lot of things. But I can tell you this: the most powerful weapon in the world is not one which is fired by any gun, its not dropped from any plane, it doesn’t come at the tip of a missile, and it doesn’t maim, wound or murder. The most powerful weapon in the world is the passionate human’soul, empowered by the truth to change what its sees as wrong.
With so many problems that our society is facing I will leave it up to you to decide what to care about. But caring is one thing. Acting on it is another.
It’s obvious I have more questions than I do answers, but the one question that I would like every person reading this to ask themselves, everyday, is “What does the world that I want to live in look like?” What does the world that I want my children and my children’s children to live look like.”
Is it one which is ruled by injustice, inequality and exploitation or is it one which respects the rights and freedoms of all people?
Words like democracy, freedom, rights, and justice have come to have a hollow meaning, synonymous with idealistic thoughts that live unattainably in the clouds. But what has truly been misplaced is the power each individual has to make a lasting effect on our society.
I write to exercise the Opposite of Silence; to pay respect to the leaders of the past. True their bodies are gone and we have mourned and honored them, but have we taken their work, their words, their ideals and applied them? Magnified them? Intensified them? I write because I refuse to be a bystander, to accept the status quo.
The Opposite of Silence is about seeing the wrong, speaking your mind, making some noise and being heard.
Rather than paying our respects to Hrant Dink, and Martin Luther King and the other murdered leaders with a moment of silence, I ask you to join me in a moment of noise. Take a moment and think about something so wrong that it makes you want to scream out loud. Think about it and make some noise.
Now what are you going to do about it?
Editor’s Note: Vache Thomassian is the chairman of the Armenian Youth Federation’s Western Region and a member of its Hollywood ‘Musa Dagh’ Chapter. He recently spoke on this theme at commemoration for the 2nd anniversary of Hrant Dink held Monday at the Pasadena Armenian Center by the United Human Rights Council. Asbarez will provide more coverage of that event in upcoming editions. To find out how you can get involved, Visit ayfwest.org or email [email protected].