First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
What strikes me about this poem is the way it emphasizes the importance of
caring. Yes, we have some fun colloquialisms these days about not caring and
not having certain things to give, but this mentality doesn’t have to
dominate our lives. It’s easy to care about our own groups and community.
This is where we live, where we play as children. But what do we do when
other groups are attacked?
Generally, we don’t do much. We don’t speak when someone comes for them
because we are not one of them. More than the idea that he was alone and
unspoken for at the end of the poem, his silence in the beginning makes him
a willing accomplice to the demise of others. It’s not just that this
pattern created a situation where it was eventually easy to come for him,
where no one was around to speak for him when it was his time. It’s that
this pattern was allowed by him through his unwillingness to speak. He
didn’t come for anyone, but he didn’t stand for anyone. He was complicit, to the use the Martin Niemöller’s own words during his speaking tour on this subject. It’s like he knew in the end that he had allowed it to happen and there was no
point in fighting it when they came for him. What was the point in speaking
then? They had already gone too far down that rabbit hole.
Do we speak when someone comes for those around us? Do we speak and let it
be known that injustice will not stand? That groups cannot be erased or
subjugated or oppressed with our permission?
This is a pattern long set where we allow these things to happen because we
choose not to care for people in other groups. We sit by and watch and are
thankful that it is not us. Sometimes we appreciate their removal because
they made us uncomfortable too. But it doesn’t have to be this way. We can
speak. We should speak, we shouldn’t even have to be reminded that it keeps
them from coming for us one day. It shouldn’t even be part of the reason,
but even if that is your only reason, speak.
I chose to put this under entertainment because poetry and literature can be used to entertain and provoke thought. Kerry Washington did a great job of bringing that focus back onto this same concept in her acceptance speech. I love how she echoes the sentiment of the poem. Beware those who come to collect others for they will eventually come for you. Beware of your complicity, you may be party to far greater crimes and atrocities than you think. I started At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance–A New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power and the complicity is already evident. I’ve learned part of this story in school, but this shines a whole different light on them. What will our complicity be?
I think we already know.
Join me again for more on gender issues! You can follow me here, @createparity, Google+ or like me on Facebook! Each medium contains this site’s content but some of the articles that get shared will vary.