In the mid-80s, I joined my mother at Amnesty International meetings in the Centennial Building. Nelson Mandela was never one of the prisoners of conscience our group wrote letters for. He, and the South African apartheid state, were frequent topics of discussion.
This was the end of the cold war. In hindsight, the cracks in the Iron Curtain were forming, but they were not evident yet. The Soviet Union was such a perceived threat that the United States was supplying aid to the Nicaraguan Contras, who were preventing the spread of communism by targeting vaccination convoys. My father was working alongside one of those convoys. He was working under the thankfully correct assumption that the Contra world not risk the mess in Washington if they killed a US citizen. My father was showing my brother and me that pacifism was not passive.
That was then. Within ten years, I had recreated the Amnesty International logo of a candle behind barbed wire with wire and concrete I had pulled from the Berlin Wall. I had spent an amazing two weeks with host families in the formerly closed city of Vladivostok, and they in Sitka. The Iron Curtain had fallen.
Nelson Mandela had not only been released from prison and been allowed to vote, and he was the president of the country.
While I was in college, Matthew Shepard was buried in an unmarked grave for fear that a kid who had already been brutally murdered would have his grave dedicated. He has since been moved to National Cathedral. Same-sex marriage is the law of the land and protected in the workplace.
In the last decade, one of my best friends had to break up with his partner. It was the era of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. Someone told. Now, they are married. He’s a military spouse with full benefits.
My Grandmother, an old campaigner who used to work with Elenore Roosevelt promoting human rights never thought she’d see a Black or female president. For her last election, both were on the primary ballot.
This is all in my lifetime, and I’m still young. I’m tired is hearing about the darkest timeline, because every single thing I’ve mentioned could have gone the other way.
Things are not worse now then they used to be. They are just not being hidden anymore. Things that i learned about in hushed tones around a campfire, such as the Tulsa massacre and Haymarket bombing, are now regular staples of social media.
We’ve got a long way to go, but we can’t lose sight of how far we’ve come, how much we’ve done. And they can’t hide our history from us anymore.
In the words of Wellstone: stand up, kick ass, keep fighting.