Martin Niemöller (1892-1984) was a Lutheran pastor in Germany best known for his opposition of the Nazi regime. “Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out —- / because I was not a Jew. / Then they came for me — / and there was no one left to speak for me,” he wrote in a famous poem after the war.
The Trump administration has come for the poor. It has come for people of color, women, immigrants, the LGBTQ+ community, Muslims and others. If you are still silent, I beg the question, when will it be enough to make you speak? Will you only speak up once your own voice is at risk of being silenced?
It is only a matter of time before they come for you, and the only people left to speak for you will be a few rich, white, straight men. And I’m not confident that they will be agents of change.
I have always led a life of privilege. I’m white, from an upper class family and was raised in a safe and cozy suburb of Chicago.
To say that being Jewish has ever made me feel unsafe would be a lie. My family has always been immersed in the Jewish community; I attended Jewish summer camp, had 30 family members over for a Passover feast and was accustomed to weekly Shabbat dinners. Although I’ve known anti-Semitism exists in the United States, it has always felt distant from my life
There are many reasons why I chose to speak out about the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. But I know that the selfish reason is what empowered me the most: I do not want this to happen to me. I want to be capable of being a counselor at my Jewish camp this summer without fearing for myself or for my campers.
I want to attend Kenyon’s Hillel knowing that I will leave safely. This is my first year celebrating Jewish holidays away from my family, and I want to live in a country where I do not fear for them when they attend services on Rosh Hashanah.
Conversations I have had about the Pittsburgh shooting were strictly with my Jewish friends and family. Meanwhile, my non-Jewish peers strayed away from the conversation. I am guilty of the same offense when it comes to conversations of police brutality and immigration, among other crucial political battles about which I fear I am not qualified to speak.
This passivity must end here. If we continue to only speak out when violence affects groups personal to us, how can we expect others to speak out on our behalf? I wish it didn’t take an attack on Jews for me to come to this realization, but I hope to encourage others to break this cycle.
I vow to speak up for the rights of those whose voices are being taken away, and I urge you to do the same.
Do not wait until they come for you and your identity. Do not wait for another shooting, attack or cruel law that perpetuates oppression. While minority after minority is being silenced, there may be no one left to speak for you.
Mia Sherin ’22 is from Wilmette, Ill. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.