“And how in the world
Can the words that I said
Send somebody so over the edge
That they'd write me a letter
Saying that I better Shut up and sing Or my life will be over?”
-The Dixie Chicks
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."
-Martin Luther King, Jr.
We cannot be silent. In these tumultuous times, we may be tempted to hold our tongues. But we cannot be silent. Not now.
It takes courage to speak up. In 2003, nine days before our country invaded Iraq, the lead singer of The Dixie Chicks, Natalie Maines, told an audience, “We don’t want his war, this violence.” And she added, “And we’re ashamed the President of the United States is from Texas.” In response, the group faced boycotts and death threats. They were told to “shut up and sing.” But they refused to be silenced.
The former quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, Colin Kaepernick, faced similar blowback when he took to kneeling during the National Anthem to call attention to the shootings of unarmed black men. In response, he faced false accusations that his protests were unpatriotic and disrespectful. The President rode this sentiment: “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired.’” In other words, “Shut up and play.” Kaepernick paid a price: he’s been banished from the NFL. Yet he still speaks, and if anything, his voice and his message have been amplified.
Given the risks, it would be tempting for physicians to stay silent. We’re busy. We may doubt our authority. Some patients and colleagues may disagree with us. But silence has consequences. We cannot be silent.
How can we be silent…
- When children in Michigan are being poisoned by lead in their drinking water?
- When environmental regulations are gutted, poisoning our air and waters?
- When the President calls climate change a hoax, exposing humanity to displacement and disease?
- When visas are withheld from foreign-born physicians who want to serve our communities?
- When honesty and science are under attack?
- When the government aims to discriminate against transgender people?
- When citizens of color are denied the right to vote?
- When immigrant children are torn away from their parents?
- When desperate refugees and asylum seekers are denied entry into the United States and locked up in cages?
- When women are denied the right to control their bodies?
- When the President is a misogynist?
- When millions cannot access health insurance?
- When gun violence leads to tragedy after tragedy after tragedy after tragedy?
- When the President vilifies Mexicans and Muslims and people of color?
- When millions of lives are destroyed by the opioid epidemic?
We cannot be silent. The times demand that we speak. We may face blow back and we may be told it’s not our place. We may be told to shut up.
But we must speak. For the sake of our patients, and for the health of our country, we must use our voices. We cannot be silent about the things that matter.