I often write not because I have the answers, but, rather, because I have questions that require vocalization. Writing helps me think through and knead out questions that don’t have obvious answers. There are some things I know for sure: I know that Jeff Sessions is the antithesis of the values I hold dearest. I know that he has enacted some of the most wicked policies this generation has seen and that he is responsible for the inhumane and heartbreaking separation of families at the border.
Here is what I don’t know: I don’t know how to react when all that despicable policy is embodied in an individual human being, and what to do when that individual comes to my doorstep.
It seems that the decision has already been made for many. In the wake of a tense month on campus, the Sessions visit has taken on its own meaning. One’s physical presence has become a political act. Attending means support; absence means dissent. It has become as simple as that. My instinct was to not attend because that’s what most other liberal-minded people on campus were planning on doing. That seemed like the answer of how to dissent, and there is something viscerally pleasing to the image of such a slimy man speaking to an empty room.
However, I then realized that the room wouldn’t be empty. It would be full (at least partially) with all the people on campus who invited him here — the people who sent the hateful messages in the Amherst College Republican GroupMe. These are people whom we don’t always notice on such a liberal campus, but people who are very much here and working to unravel many of the beliefs valued by the college and its students.
I thought of how that would look, and how those individuals would react. I find it absurd that free speech has been the lightning rod channeling so many of the recent campus controversies, especially as the conservative party has worked to stifle so many voices that do not reflect its own agenda. Here is an opportunity in which conservatives have decided who gets the stage and whose voice is heard. As liberals, we owe it to ourselves to show that, unlike many Republicans, we listen to the other side and remain staunch in our beliefs. Like many moments in which opposing views are placed on our doorsteps, this is an opportunity to deeply interrogate our own beliefs to understand what we stand for and why, rather than sculpting our views off of whatever the party dictates.
In this moment of conflict, we owe it to ourselves to prevent politics from being swallowed by distinct partisan lines. We owe it to ourselves to deeply interrogate what our role is and how we let facts dictate the right course of action. So protest, if that is where you are most comfortable; simply don’t attend, if that is where your message is strongest; or go and ask hard questions — both of the speaker and of yourself. But do not allow political parties to siphon us off into separate worlds, when the world we live in connects all of us.
As I urge you to ask questions and be critical, I leave with a question. What do we, and what do you, do when an individual who represents the antithesis of compassion and open-mindedness comes to our doorstep?