Community Forum: Time to rally against hate, intolerance

This week’s writer is Jack Mayer, a Middlebury resident, pediatrician and author.
Our community, and indeed, our nation, has been shocked out of complacency recently by hate crimes and expressions of extreme racism, anti-Semitism, white supremacy, misogyny and anti-immigrant sentiments. We are all called upon to be “Upstanders” and not bystanders.
Recently, the Association of Holocaust Organizations, a network dedicated to the advancement of Holocaust education, remembrance and research, released this powerful statement calling on lawmakers, and civic and religious leaders to condemn white nationalist groups and other groups that promote hate speech and intolerance.
This statement has been affirmed by 90 institutions and 71 Holocaust scholars: “Recent months have seen a surge in unabashed racism and hate speech — including blatant anti-Semitism and attacks on Hispanics, Muslims, African-Americans, women, the LGBTQ community, as well as other targeted groups. Journalists have been threatened. Places of worship, schools and playgrounds have been defaced with Nazi symbols intended to intimidate and arouse fear. White supremacist groups have become self-congratulatory and emboldened. As Holocaust scholars, educators and institutions, we are alarmed by these trends.
History teaches us that intolerance, unchecked, leads to persecution and violence. We denounce racism and the politics of fear that fuels it. We stand in solidarity with all vulnerable groups. We take Elie Wiesel’s words to heart: ‘I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation.’ Therefore, we call upon all elected officials as well as all civic and religious leaders to forcefully and explicitly condemn the rise in hate speech and any attacks on our democratic principles.
We call upon all media and social media platforms to refuse to provide a stage for hate groups and thus normalize their agenda. And we call upon all people of good conscience to be vigilant, to not be afraid, and to speak out.”
Now is the time to put our convictions into action, to speak out and demonstrate with courage, for tolerance, decency and respect for all people. We must be the civil opposition to any and all measures that diminish the high ideals our nation has come to stand for. We must be persistent and indomitable. There is an undercurrent of fear and intimidation that has been released in our country and abroad. I would suggest that fear is the handmaiden of courage.
When we embrace our fear — at these moments of decision — we are invited to be brave. A friend of mine, a psychiatrist who fought against the fascists in the Spanish Civil War in the Lincoln Brigade said to me before he passed away, “If you’re not scared, it isn’t courage.” I carry that wisdom with me always and it has served me well.
Jack Mayer

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