Remember the day
That they took our rights away
Next they'll come for you
So Raise a fist, take a knee!
Speak truth to power, be free!
February 20 was the UN's World Day of Social Justice. It's also President's Day and a day after February 19, the day a president issued an executive order that forcibly incarcerated more than 125,000 Japanese Americans. Let's remember so that we have the courage to protest injustice against any people, even that done in the name of presidents and other authorities. Remember so that you will not submit when presidents violate constitutional rights and turn us against each other in fear and hatred.
I remember how my youthful rage turned from an individual sense of alienation to realization that the prejudice and discrimination that I personally experienced was part of a whole institutional and structural racism upon which this country is built.
In Black History Month I remember how I was liberated from the loneliness of my solitary journey to a sense of being part of a collective struggle by the Black friends who I met in high school in those volatile times of the sixties. Our heroes spoke out against injustice and violence, some with eloquent and moving words, like MLK.
As a Japanese, whose cultural heritage values silence and indirect or nonverbal communication, I was also impressed by the way Black athletes spoke out through their actions, silently making powerful statements against the actions of their presidents and the state.
Shortly after Dr. King defied President Johnson by giving an historic talk against the Vietnam War in April 1967, the boxing champion Muhammad Ali refused induction into the U.S. Army by silently refusing to step forward as ordered. He later explained that he was not going to go to some other country to kill brown people when his people were not even free in their own country.
Then there was the protest on the victory stand at the Olympics in 1968 when Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised black-gloved fists and wore black socks during the playing of the National Anthem. On the victory stand with them, Peter Norman showed solidarity by wearing a Human Rights button. Years before Colin Kaepernick's bold action of simply taking a knee, these silent protests against injustice deeply influenced me. Knowing that all three suffered greatly for their silent protest against the U.S. government's violation of human rights.
This year I commemorated by leading students in a remembrance day activity. We remembered the past and asked ourselves where we find the courage to oppose a president or other authority. We practiced writing haiku and tanka, poetry that honor both words and MA, the space between words.
We wrote collaboratively so that each poem was written by several people, each writing one line. We talked about our feelings and then in silence came together through words that expressed what we need to say now to protest injustice, to advocate for our rights and the rights of others. In community we found the courage to speak truth to power.