Should Nashvillians applaud when Tennessee Republicans strive earnestly to “protect” us with bills that discriminate against gays, Muslims, Hispanics, teachers, students, union members, pregnant teens, the poor, the elderly and other people on their ever-expanding hit list?
After all, most of us don’t fall squarely in the Republicans’ bulls-eye — or at least not yet.
Will Nashvillians be “safer” when gays don’t have the right to work or marry, when Muslims don’t have the right to worship freely, when Hispanics can be pulled over without provocation because they “look wrong,” when teachers are denied the right to bargain collectively, when students are denied the right to the best possible education because teachers can make more money working as waiters, when union members have to accept whatever pay and benefits their employers deign to offer them, and when the poor and elderly are no longer such financial burdens to the rich and powerful?
Will Nashvillians be “safer,” really? Or are we risking our own rights and freedoms when we strip other people of theirs?
And what happens if we’re next on the Republicans’ hit list of “out of favor” minorities? What will happen to atheists, agnostics, free-thinkers, Hindus, Buddhists and people who believe the government should stay out of their bedrooms? One we allow bigoted moralists to dictate how everyone else should live, how will we avoid descending into the fanaticism and fascism that once led to the downfall of Weimar Germany?
Today we may be reasonably “safe” if we’re not gay, Muslim, Hispanic, poor or elderly. How truly wonderful it is to be part of the majority in a democratic nation! But a true democracy does not allow the majority to strip minorities of their rights and freedoms. As soon as that process begins, it can easily avalanche, as it did in Germany and other nations where the “chosen few” gained absolute or near-absolute power. Then people who had been in favor found themselves suddenly out of favor, without the protections of just laws and courts.
Which is the greater danger to Nashvillians: the “danger” of treating all law-abiding citizens as equals, or the danger of creating ever-expanding classes of “out of favor” citizens who are considered “criminals” or “problems” in advance, due to guilt by association?
Quite obviously, the second danger is the only true concern, because some rich, powerful moralist or bigot might decide that we are “too different” and therefore “dangerous,” even though we’ve done nothing to harm anyone else.
So when gays and Muslims march for equal rights, in effect they’re marching for our rights to remain free and equal, in a true democracy that does not unfairly favor the majority over any minority. If we want to protect our personal rights and freedoms, we should join them, before it’s too late.
Michael R. Burch is a Nashville-based editor and publisher of Holocaust poetry and other “things literary” at www.thehypertexts.com.