I have been driven lately to consider the moment we are living in and to consider what the goal of my activism is. Direct actions must have clear goals to be effective, but so too must movements and activists. And we must be honest about what achieving those goals means. How do we measure success? How do we measure failure?
We’re living in a pivotal moment right now. Someone told me recently that she reflected on where we are in history and that this was a Moment—capital ‘M.’ So what does victory look like? What does failure look like?
Recently I’ve had the good fortune of visiting Europe several times. While I was there I visited many sites of many recent trauma’s of humanity’s past. And it should come as no surprise that the site that moved me most was Bebelplatz, the site of the famous Nazi book burning in May of 1933.
This event is famous and some folks know the basic facts: Goebbels spoke before a crowd of 40,000 people while 20,000 books burned. And some people know that those books were the research volumes of the Institut für Sexualwissenschaft. But what most people don’t know is that these volumes were the most comprehensive resource on transsexuality ever compiled, perhaps even to this day. Much of this information has never been duplicated. These studies were 80 years ahead of their time—but only because they were destroyed. We are only now beginning to re-understand some basic facts of gender and sexual fluidity that were openly studied almost a century ago. Of all the people the Nazis came for, they came for trans people first.
I fell to my knees and wept over the memorial.
The Moment we are in now isn’t Nazi Germany in 1933. It’s before that. It’s the time when Hitler’s movement was still growing. We’re at an inflection point: the alt-right can still fail. Trump’s America can still fade to the shadows. But it has momentum. And it needs resistance. And what we do right now will determine whether the racist, bigoted forces of the alt-right succeed or fail.
If we win, history may never know. The alt-right may be consigned to a footnote in history, the hard-fought successes of small, anonymous activists lost in the noise. But if we lose, history may eventually remember us as those who saw it and stood against it only to fail. We fight for the privilege to remain anonymous in history. To have no tales written about our desperate stand. We fight to continue the fight. Victory will be invisible. I’m okay with that.
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