History can teach us many things, but only when we remember. As our cultural memory fades, the reasons for our hard-fought battles, won at dreadful cost, also fade.
We have substantially forgotten how the horrors of nativism, nationalism, and racism brought us World War II; ideas that brought the greatest of atrocities upon minorities and to the otherwise disadvantaged.
We have also forgotten that a social unity and global community rose up against these horrors, to create an alternative vision – that there are basic human rights, that these rights are sacrosanct, and that institutions grounded in robust social and political norms are needed to ensure that these rights are preserved.
We have forgotten that we humans are interconnected, with each other, and with the world. We are not born tabula rasa, but with sets of conditions that give us various advantages and disadvantages in life, conditions largely out of our control.
When we forget about others, and think of only ourselves – when we construct identities to define us and other people, when we no longer respect each other, when we retreat from each other and the world and think ourselves independent of it, we lose that interconnectedness. We blame others for our problems, we lose perspective, and fear mongers, opportunists, and demagogues take advantage.
The wheel has turned. Perhaps only through great shame can we rediscover our humanity. But at what cost – how many people will suffer and die, and what irreversible devastation will we inflict on the world, until we learn again?
To those that agree with my message, understand that this is a defining moment for our lives and the values that we hold dear. We all have a role to play in the great struggle.
Today we start again. Today we fight again.