Martin Niemöller’s famous poem, “First they came for…” has been on my mind recently. I think that it has an important warning for us about what happens when we let people do bad things.
Consider how it starts: “They came first for the Communists, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.” And he wasn’t! So why should he worry about what happened to the Communists? The Communists were different, after all, and what happened to them did not affect Martin Niemöller. What was there to worry about?
Of course, the Nazis kept coming for more people, like the trade unionists, and the Catholics, and the incurables, and the Jews, and so on, and Martin (like so many others) still did not speak up. Why should they? They had nothing to fear from the Nazis, who were only going after the undesirables, after all. No need to worry.
And then, one day, they came for Martin Niemöller.
It turns out that those “undesirables” are not so different from the rest of us, and we now know that if someone is willing to be cruel to them, they will happily be cruel to us as well at the first opportunity. Perhaps Dr. King put it best: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
We’ve seen this here in the USA. Consider “asset forfeiture” laws: they tells us that these laws will help fight drug dealers and organized crime, and then they use these laws to steal cash from innocent people. Or how about the surveillance apparatus that was supposed to spy on foreigners and terrorists, but which was spying on all of us the whole time? We should have known this would happen. As one rabbi put it long ago: “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
And now, today, I read about children being taken away from their parents as a matter of policy. I read this, and I am afraid. I know that these people will not stop at taking children from immigrants. They will happily take children away from anyone who falls within their power. Don’t think that your status as a citizen will protect you for long. They’ll find some excuse to get you.
Unless, of course, we stop them right now.
We can put an end to this. While our common enemy is still going after easy targets, we can stop them. Before they hurt anyone else, before they even come close to hurting us, we can stop them. But we have to speak up. So please, speak up. Though you are not a Communist, speak up for the Communists. Though you are not a Jew, speak up for the Jews. Though you are not an immigrant, speak up for the immigrants. Though you are not a criminal, speak up for the criminals, yes, you read me right, speak up for them, because criminals are humans, and if we do not speak up for them, then we do not speak up for humanity, and then who will speak up for us?
This is our chance. Before it is too late, speak up, now, for the good of us all, before they come after any more of us.