April 5th, 2017
Cara Pomerantz Senior Speech to St. Paul Academy
Since the presidential election this past November, I have been angry. Since last November, there have been changes in our country that need to be addressed.
This election has further divided our nation. It has fostered an environment where hate is acceptable, exclusion is tolerated, and racism, anti-Semitism, and discrimination are defended as “I have the right to express my own opinion”.
Politics are no longer about policy, they're about competition: liberal vs conservative, democrat vs republican, right wing vs left wing, and black vs white. The gray area is gone. The ideals of moderation and compromise have been erased, cast away, and made irrelevant.
I feel I can no longer express a belief that doesn’t align with our polarized nation, or else I am deemed unimportant, uninformed, and uneducated. It’s alienating. The attitude of “us vs them” is creating a divide that will tear our country in half. The "liberal snowflakes" and the "alt-right" are being preached at to ignore each other, to disregard each other, and to hate each other. These internet personalities and public figures who encourage their followers to spread hate, create dissent, and to poke fun of people with different beliefs, their power is unparalleled. We are training people to think that there are only two extreme sides to any issue. Because everything is being set up as one or the other, people are not compelled to answer and address every issue from anything other than one of two perspectives.
Here at SPA, we're not immune to this idea. We enjoy debating. Our debates always have two sides, and we play to win.
While this is fun and acceptable in an academic setting, it's not reflective of how some issues should be dealt with. There are many things happening right now that are not deserving of debate.
These are basic human rights as stated by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights written by the United Nations and supported by 48 separate countries including the United States of America: food, water, shelter, and political refuge. Basic human rights means that by being a human, you are entitled to these things. These are things that some people in America, the "greatest country on earth", don't have. Flint, Michigan, has been without clean water for almost three years. There are people who can't afford food for themselves and their families. There is a large homeless population and not only are there ever growing numbers of people being evicted from their houses and their shelters, but we also continue to limit refuge for those seeking sanctuary.
It is unacceptable to ignore that this lack of rights is taking place in our country. There is no one in America who does not deserve a shot at the same opportunities that we have here. We don't get to debate who deserves water or food or a place to sleep. This is something that our President and his team are failing to address, and in some cases, they are actually the ones perpetuating this violation of human rights.
The people of America and the people of the global community don’t deserve this. No one deserves to live in fear, to not know if they will be allowed to return to their home, or to be persecuted based on their identifying attributes. The current presidential administration is not helping these people. President Trump is not fighting for American citizens to have affordable healthcare. He is not fighting for people that don’t fit into stereotypical boxes. He is not fighting to help people affected by a racist system, and he is not fighting for people who cannot fight for themselves.
It’s not about politics anymore. It’s about taking away a woman’s rights to her body, allowing discrimination and hate speech to go unpunished, ripping people away from their homes and their families.
There are gray areas in politics. There are issues that don't have a right answer. These are not those issues. There is no gray area in gender equity, there is no gray area in hate speech, and there's no gray area in white supremacy.
So far, the Trump administration has made it a priority to erect borders, to marginalize specific groups of people, and to demean the credibility of any organization other than their own. The way that Kellyanne Conway, Sean Spicer, and the rest of the President’s team undermine the media and create a lack of faith in the news sources, allows them space to create false narratives that without the backing of the media or reliable sources, make it difficult for the people of America to properly evaluate. Examples of such proceedings have been defended as both "alternative facts" and as free speech.
Free speech. A beautiful thing that we should not take for granted. Free speech helps to make sure that everyone's voice is heard. Free speech is something that we are lucky to have and should be used when we have something to say. However, just because the first amendment makes it legal to say what you want, when you want, to whomever you want, does not mean that it is right to do so. Using a voice of privilege to silence already marginalized voices is not right. Using the platform that the people of America have provided for the current administration to exercise hatred is not right. Please, be clear about what I am saying. Yes, free speech is a constitutional right. But it is not right, not morally or ethically defensible to marginalize, demean or dehumanize anyone. There is an enormous difference between "legally can" and "defensibly should." You can legally say something you know to be horrible. But should you? Hell no. America was NOT founded to provide an opportunity for neo-nazis, meninists, and racists to have a platform to project hate and discriminatory propaganda to a national audience. America was NOT founded so that people like Steve Bannon and Milo Yiannopoulos and Tomi Lahren could easily build a following of people that subscribe to ideals that stereotype, objectify, and belittle the people of our country.
We have been reduced to listening to these people, people who say things because they want to, not because they should.
The actions and behaviors of our elected officials and many of their supporters have created a political climate that is demeaning, delegitimizing, and further oppressing marginalized people. Within the first week of Trump's presidency, a travel ban was introduced that blatantly targeted those of a specific religion. Last month, he proposed a federal budget that gutted funding for almost every social assistance program. Just three weeks ago, the president's team attempted to pass a bill that, regardless of its merits, would essentially take healthcare away from no less than 24 million already poor and underprivileged U.S. citizens.
We are becoming numb to these kinds of proceedings. We are becoming numb to these events that change people's lives and infringe on their basic rights. We are becoming numb to these changes and we are not doing anything about them.
I’m sure you’ve heard that the motto of SPA is “Shaping the minds and hearts of the people that will change the world”. Every single thing that I talked about can be changed, and we are some of the people that can make that change happen. We are too passive - SPA is too passive - we debate, we discuss, we mediate. And while this approach is certainly enlightening, we cannot continue to stop there. Maybe none of the things I mentioned affect you personally, but they affect people in the country, people in our neighborhoods, and people in this room. We owe it to those people to use our privilege to stand up for them. We owe it to other Americans to not let this election and this administration divide us, and we owe it to ourselves to advocate for human rights, equality, and justice for everyone.
Do not let these discussions die on the opinion board, around the Harkness table, or in senior speeches. Take them to your outside communities. Take them to your families. Take them to your friends, and your workplaces, and your colleges. Do NOT let your privilege enable you to ride through the next four years. Do NOT let the injustice in the world pass you by. Change will not happen unless people like us spark it to happen. We ARE the future. Our generation is the one that can make change possible. We are powerful. We can see that in the millennials heading up social justice movements, protests, and rallies, especially ones against our current government. We know that when social justice turns into a movement to resist instead of a movement for forward progress, then that is time for change. That time is now, and we are that change. Thank you.