In When They Go Low, We Go High, Philip Collins’ collection and analysis of the greatest speeches in history, the author hits on three unassailable truths: rhetoric and democracy must go hand-in-hand; democracy, for all of its flaws, is superior to tyranny; and democracy is currently under assault. With that in mind, Paste contributing writer B. David Zarley has written a speech calling on us “to fight and to sing.”
Greetings, any and all who read these words. I thank you for your indulgence and your time, and I ask of you an even greater debt: to not only read, but to heed.
Around the globe, a rising tide of populism threatens the fragile peace of the post-War era. From Hungary to the Philippines, from America to Italy, strongmen stoke fears and avail themselves to our most reptilian impulses in an effort to create a world for themselves and by themselves. They point to the flaws and wounds of democracy and globalization, of which there are legion, and insist that they—and only them—can save us; that they will lift us up, us helpless children of the world, and place us within a safe crib of their own creating. Those bars are not to keep us safe; they are a prison! They are not to protect us from the world, but to keep the tyrant’s world safe from us.
The failings of democracy are many and obvious. It is in the yawning maw of the inequality gap which threatens to swallow the world whole; it is in the continued murder, vilification and disenfranchisement of transgender people, immigrants and people of color; it is in the shamefully dark windows of Puerto Rico; it is in the shamefully dark past of so-called great nations. But where the populists and tyrants see evidence for their own way of rule, we see these harms for what they truly are: inexcusable crimes from which we gather the strength and the perspective to say “never again.”
The populists and tyrants seek to shred the precious compacts which the blood spilled by soldiers and civil rights activists have already bought us; they seek to break the chains of commerce which hold back the dogs of war; they seek to invalidate the sacrifice and promise of the past and present for a selfish future which is their’s alone.
Not since an Iron Curtain cut the world in two has a War of Ideas so threatened the very basis of human civilization. It is a war which we cannot allow the tyrants to win; a war which must be won, not for the democracy of the Roman Tribunes or the Founding Fathers, but for the promise of the true democracy to come, the shining ideal the majority of the world seeks now, one wherein equality and justice are extended to every being, the democracy which we have been striving for since Athens.
And so I say to you that we are left with but two options: to fight and to sing.
Fight them on the streets and the screens! Fight them with truth and love as your spear and shield. Fight them with the intent to draw them close to your breast, see your eyes in their eyes and embrace them as your equal.
Sing the song of equality with volume and clarity, so that nothing—not the speech of demagogues nor the venomous response they conjure, not the dog whistles nor the propaganda, not the heaving cities nor the rising seas—can drown you out. Sing so that the song is heard by the lotus eaters still sleeping, so that the few left in shadow can find their way to the light.
We are the young and young at heart. We are angry; we are passionate; we are right.
As populism, racism and discrimination align against liberty and equality, it is up to us to fight and to sing—to break down the walls which encircle nations and hearts, to lift humanity in one choir impossible to ignore and to ensure that all hands are ready to bend back the arc of the moral universe towards justice.
B. David Zarley is a freelance journalist, essayist and book/art critic based in Chicago. A former book critic for The Myrtle Beach Sun News, he is a contributing reporter to A Beautiful Perspective and has been seen in The Atlantic, Hazlitt, Jezebel, Chicago, Sports Illustrated, VICE Sports, Creators, Sports on Earth and New American Paintings, among numerous other publications. You can find him on Twitter or at his website.