“You can’t write about character and the human condition and be apolitical … that’s not the kind of world we’ve ever lived in.” — Sam Hamill, in a 2006 Poetry Foundation interview.
The world lost a powerful voice last year when Sam Hamill died. Hamill served as an advisor to the international organization, Writing for Peace, founded Poets Against the War, and spoke for people who otherwise could not. We need more Sam Hamills. We must always take sides.
Some people have told me that sometimes this column is too political. Some others have asked me to take a stronger stance. Some people have called me unpleasant names and some have supported my perspectives.
We live in widely diverse society where, ostensibly, we are all free to disagree in this way. And so we celebrate the birth of our country, and the freedoms that are supposed to allow us to speak without fear of government reprisal, to worship without fear of governmental oppression, to benefit from a free and open press.
It’s worth noting not only this vision of our founders, but also the courage of those who have fought for their ideals. My parents were among these. Both enlisted in the Army to serve in World War II. Both left their homes to help protect people they didn’t know. Both risked their lives for a cause greater than themselves.
I write at this time each year to honor Eva Levine, born on July 6, 1916. Eva was rounded up and transported from Poland, her homeland, to Bergen-Belsen, for no other reason than that she was Jewish. She lost her health, her husband and the rest of her family in the brutality of the Nazi death camps.
According to United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. – where I received Eva’s information on ID card #2633 – after she was liberated by the British in 1945, Eva emigrated to the U.S. in 1950 and nothing more is known of her.
Yet I will continue to commemorate her, and the millions who suffered with her. I will also continue to stand up for victims who suffer today … because of their faith, their heritage, their gender, because of where they were born, how they were born, or who they love.
In these times of polarized, normalized and codified hatred, at home and abroad, I believe it’s more important than ever to recognize the men and women (Abigail Adams, anyone?) whose struggles birthed our nation. It’s more important than ever to recognize the sacrifices of the men and women who keep, and have kept, these ideals alive. It’s more important than ever to recognize that we each, each, have a role in the future that faces us—not just for ourselves, but for others who may be suffering. The lessons of the Holocaust have taught us this.
We have also learned that to be silent is to become complicit … Albert Einstein, Desmond Tutu, Elie Wiesel and countless others have warned that when we are neutral in situations of injustice, we have, in essence, chosen the side of the oppressor.
If this means, then, that we are not apolitical, so be it. Perhaps, as Mother Teresa said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
Andrea Doray is a writer who believes in the words of Elie Wiesel: “We must always take sides … the opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” Contact Andrea at firstname.lastname@example.org.