This week I got to go to the ACLU of Massachusetts (ACLUM) Bill of Rights dinner with my whole family and my grandparents. This was exciting for me on so many levels. First of all, I love fancy schmoozy dinners with cocktail hours. I love to dress up, I love wine, and I love chatting (which is surprising and not surprising simultaneously, for those of you who know me… I’m naturally shy and also an introvert, so go figure). The best part about chatting at these events is that I am there as a guest of my grandparents. My gramma loves to introduce her offspring to people, and it’s one of those times where I can see how much she loves us all and is proud of each of us. It’s sweet, and I love being able to put a good face forward for her to show.
Speaking of being trotted out by my grandparents, at one point during the cocktail hour (more like hour and a half!) I took Zayde to go sit down. He can’t stand for that long without pain, and he was starting to look like he was uncomfortable. I wasn’t about to let him sit in a corner by himself though, so I went and had a nice long talk with him. We rarely get to chat by ourselves for long, so it was really nice. I told him how I feel about cocktail hours, but I told him the funny version: “Hi! I’m Beth. I’m the oldest granddaughter. I’m starting grad school in the fall, I play the fife in a world traveling group, and here are my accomplishments all lined up in a row for you.”
Zayde spat water out he thought it was so funny.
Anyway, it was the ACLU dinner, which meant that dinner was scattered with speeches and cheering. Speeches made by those in the upper echelons of ACLUM, speeches made by those the ACLUM has represented… it was amazing. So many inspiring and uplifting stories. Stories where justice and equality won out. Stories full of empathy, fear, and hope.
Oh, and a speech given by the one and only George Takei.
I got to meet Sulu, but more importantly I got to hear him speak about the day his family was taken to a Japanese internment camp. I could hear the raw emotion in his voice, 74 years later. He spoke about why he is such a staunch supporter of the ACLU, referencing the moment in 1978 that the ACLU defended the American Nazi Party when they wanted to openly demonstrate in Skokie, IL… A town where at the time there were many Holocaust survivors living. He talked about how, the day he got the reminder to renew his ACLU membership, the news about Skokie had broken. He struggled with it, tried to figure out how an organization like the ACLU could possibly support people with such heinous and injudicious views as the Nazis. But, in the end, he realized that the ACLU did not support the Nazis… just their right to free speech.
Listening to Mr. Takei (he introduced himself to my family and myself as George, but I just can’t call him plain George. He’s far too incredible, he needs a more reverent prefix!) I kept thinking about how important it is that each and every one of us in the United States has a right to free speech, to practice our religions, to gather in public places. And you know what? It’s HARD to have those rights! You have to want to defend other people’s right to differing opinions if you want to have your own right to your own opinion.
I keep being reminded of the movie, The American President. In it President Shepherd makes a speech, and says “America isn’t easy. America is advanced citizenship. You’ve gotta want it bad, because it’s going to put up a fight.” And gosh darn it he’s right. Being an active citizen of the US is hard. Really hard. In order for us all to be equal, we all have to treat each other as equals. And as shown by the events of the past year (and all of our history) that is not always easy… sometimes we fail worse than others.
But dammit, it’s so worth it.