Protecting Human Rights in a Trump Presidency – If Not Us, Then Who? If Not Now, Then When?

imageI did not know Jamie Lee WoodArrow. She was a 28 year old transgender woman found murdered in her Sioux Falls apartment on January 6, 2017. She’s the same age as my youngest son, who is gay. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) reports on its website that 21 transgender men and women were killed in the United States in each of the last two years – the most ever recorded.

The website noted that in the last two years those transgender folks who died were between the ages of 16 and 43 and were disproportionately women of color who faced the intersection of “racism, sexism, homophobia and transphobia,” which results in their being deprived jobs, housing and healthcare.

Ms. WoodArrow’s murder is already the second transgender person murdered in the United States in 2017. Did you know that? This further suggests to me that the record of 21 murders may well be broken this year in Donald Trump’s America.

Am I blaming our president-elect for Ms.WoodArrow’s murder? Of course not. But look at our president-elect’s actions and language of intolerance, bigotry and racism. His ongoing actions have created an atmosphere in this country of intolerance that has emboldened others to take such actions.

There will be a continuing need for Americans to stand vigilant against a president  who has marginalized women and minorities, people like Jamie Lee WoodArrow. There will be a need for all of us to be engaged at the local, state and national level, and in our faith communities, and to call out our leaders emboldened by a Trump victory.

But it’s much more than that. I worry about the smallness a president Donald Trump brings to America. He is not someone who lifts all people up. How do we find our individual and collective voices to rise above the smallness? There are times we must summon our moral courage from a gut that is churning and when it feels incredibly lonely to speak out. I get that.

This week we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in America. We do this the same week we inaugurate Donald Trump. Dr. King said “[t]here comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe nor politic nor popular, but he must take it because his conscience tells him it is right.”

This is that time. We must unceasingly speak out for what’s right, for human rights, for the Jamie Lee WoodArrows. Individually, and together, we must draw a line in the sand and say we know what is morally right and what is not. We will need to do this repeatedly, as our president-elect repeatedly attempts to make America small.

We saw the positive results of that recently when the new Republican House, emboldened by a Trump victory, tried to gut the Office of Congressional Ethics. Ironically, in addition to the public outcry that led to that idea being shelved, Donald Trump criticized the House Republicans for focusing on this issue when they had other important things they should be tackling. But the public outcry, standing up for what’s right, because it’s right, is what made the deifference in the outcome.

The 2017 legislative season is underway and across this great country we see an emboldened right wing. Who intentionally messes with the healthcare of all Americans, life and death decisions, vowing to repeal Obamacare – without any replacement for us? Your Congress. Women and their reproductive rights continue to be at risk.

Our president elect still wants to build a wall between the United States and Mexico –  to keep folks different from “us” out. And Mexico will pay for it. That’s not just funny, but small, and what you do when you’re afraid. You tweet about Saturday Night  Live and Meryl Streep when actors and entertainers criticise you. That’s not presidential, it’s just small, and sad.

At every turn we must resist. Senator Jeff Sessions, president-elect Trump’s Attorney General nominee, waded through his confirmation hearing with the Senate Judiciary Committee, trying to paint himself as someone other than his 40 year legal career has shown him to be – not a protector of the civil rights of minorities,  LGBT folks and women. My Minnesota Senators, Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar, have spoken out against Sessions and have stated they will vote against his confirmation. Contact other Senators and urge them to summon the same moral courage to vote “no.”

Many years ago I heard Robert F. Kennedy’s daughter, Kerry Kennedy, speak at a human rights event where celebrities read excerpts from her book, “Speak Truth to Power.” This powerful book chronicled the amazing journey of seemingly ordinary citizens, people from all around our world, who performed amazing acts of courage in the name of human rights. At the end of the evening, Ms. Kennedy asked those of us in the audience, “If not you, then who?  Who will take action to defend people’s human rights? And if not now, then when?”

It’s January 2017, the beginning of a Donald Trump presidency in America, and I ask you –  if not us, then who? If not now, then when?