I don’t know how old I was when I first heard Martin Niemöller’s famous poem but it’s stayed with me ever since.
I imagine it’s stayed with you too, if you’ve heard it before.
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:
‘Martin Niemöller (1892–1984) was a prominent Lutheran pastor in Germany. He emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps.
‘The quotation and its variants express Niemöller’s belief that Germans had been complicit through their silence in the Nazi imprisonment, persecution, and murder of millions of people. He felt this to be especially true of the leaders of the Protestant churches.‘
As I reflect on what it means to be an ally and the inspiring and brave examples of those around me, I also think about those people who have admitted to being too scared to speak out on Black Lives Matter – and I also think about those working to silence the protests, on the streets, in our homes and in our offices.
Whenever I’m scared about speaking out – and I’m scared often – I turn to poems like these to remind myself of the right thing to do.
What you might miss the first time you read the poem is that we don’t stand in solidarity because it may one day affect us; we stand in solidarity because it is already affecting us. Racist harm against one human being is racist harm against all of us.
You can start with this very long list here.