There has been so much trauma, violence, inhumanity and depraved indifference splashed across our screens in recent months, it’s often difficult to process it all—let alone the brutality we’ve become almost inured to over the past decade and those prior. But what we have been witnessing as of late is not only not new, it is an escalation that would inevitably once again reach a boiling point in our current moment; a moment that demands not only our rage but our vigilance and commitment to change.
A new video by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) asks us to do just that, presenting a striking visual retrospective (with a requisite trigger warning) of exactly what’s at stake as we enter the final 100 days until the 2020 presidential election. The imagery, set to a speech given by Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David and a soundtrack of Billy Porter’s passionate rendition of Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth (Stop, Hey What’s That Sound)“ is stunning; as much for its disturbing and sometimes graphic nature as its collective impact—because the truth is, we’ve seen this all before.
A transcript of David’s voiceover:
We are at a crossroads in this nation. We have seen an increasingly disturbing painting, a painting reflected on our television screens and in our newspapers, a painting of history repeating itself.
There has been and continues to be a widespread indifference and bigotry advanced through the highest halls of power, a fundamental regression of our society.
We’re losing our soul.
If we are going to weather this existential crisis that we face in this country, we must see beyond ourselves. We cannot win this war against hate if we live in our silos. We cannot win this war against division by remaining divided. We cannot win this war against indifference by ignoring each other. We must unite and break down the barriers that too often allow some of us to forget about the rest of us.
Regardless of how we self identify, we share a common dream, the dream of full equality. It is the dream that led Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera to fight back at Stonewall. It is the dream that led Harvey Milk to run for public office. It is the dream that led Edie Windsor and Jim Obergefell to fight discrimination all the way up to the Supreme Court.
When we dig deep to see beyond ourselves and we see others for who they are as human beings, our power has no limits. I say that whoever you are, however you identify, see yourself in the person who looks nothing like you.
Let our next greatest achievement be realizing the dream of full equality for all of us and let it begin right here with each and every one of us.
Speaking with The Root earlier this week, David and Porter explained the inspiration behind HRC’s compelling campaign spot, and why our activism is nothing without equal engagement at the ballot box on November 3 (or sooner, if you are able to vote early or by mail).
“The inspiration was really trying to encapsulate what we are going through in this country, both as residents in this country, but also as people of color,” David explained. “We are experiencing an incredibly traumatic time for all of us, and when we see these images, they affect us. They have an impact on how we interact with each other. It has an impact on how we see our democracy. It has an impact on whether or not we think we have [the] power to affect change.
“And so, we wanted to make sure that we empower people and we could not think of a better person to partner with than Billy Porter, who is an activist and artist of the highest caliber, but also an activist who uses his platform to effect change,” David continued. “And his remake of this song is so powerful, we wanted to work with him and really use it as a tool to energize people; to get them to appreciate that we have the right to vote.”
Porter is no stranger to activism—and if you’re a fan, you’re no doubt already familiar with his activism on any number of issues—from LGBTQ+ rights, protections and representation to galvanizing us all to show up and vote in this crucial election.
“Activism is in my DNA. I have been in a state of intense trauma since the 2016 election—on a daily basis, as a Black man in general. I am that first,” he told The Root. “And so I need to speak to that in this space, in this Black space where we still have many of our compatriots dismissing and silencing the LGBTQ community within that space and within that struggle. The intersectionality of those worlds is essential to the movement towards equality. We have been silenced for too long...
“I’m not just talking to Black people; to homophobic Black people,” Porter continued. “I’m talking to everybody: None of us are free until we all are free. And this is the moment where every single one of us has to look at our blind spots. We all have them. It’s all good. This is not about bullying. This is not about shaming, but it is about awareness. Now you have the awareness. Now we all have the awareness. The question still remains for me. Are we, in fact, better than this?”
It’s a question that has been asked repeatedly in recent years, as a country already struggling with an unresolved racial debt has terrifyingly regressed since Donald Trump was allowed access to the White House. But as David reminds us, the White House is not all that is up for grabs, come November.
“This is not only about the presidency,” said David. “This is about seizing back the Senate. This is about holding onto the Supreme Court. This is about electing mayors and city council members who actually decide how much money to give it to the police departments and who is actually going to be a police chief. So if you’re focused only on racial justice and you’re concerned about making sure that we have more diverse people that are working in policing, you need to vote...
“Our job is to make sure people are informed about how this country functions, [and] understands their power in our democracy,” he added. “We can’t lose again. If we lose again, we lose the Supreme Court...we have to appreciate that this election is the election of our lifetimes; everyone has to understand how important this is, and that is what we’re fighting for.”
In the immortal word of De La Soul, “Stakes Is High”—but as both HRC’s poignant video and its attorney-advocate president remind us, hope can be too. Believe it or not, Trump isn’t our biggest enemy; apathy is. David went on to explain that there are more than 57 million pro-equality voters in this country—voters who prioritize liberty for all at the ballot box—and 10 million of them live in what we know as “swing states.” Yet, for myriad reasons (hat include indifference), 3.4 million don’t routinely vote in those crucial states that can decide the outcome of this and future elections. With that in mind—and as voter suppression threatens to steal another election (we said what we said)—we are our own best line of defense.
“We have our ancestors who died to make sure that we have this right to vote; let’s make sure we use it,” David implored. “Let’s make sure we seize back our democracy. Let’s make sure that Black lives do matter; that Black trans lives matter. And we have that opportunity to do it now.”