Lin-Manuel Miranda, Activism and You

If you weren’t watching the Tony Awards last night, I guess that’s fine, but you missed Lin-Manuel Miranda’s sonnet upon winning Best Original Score (for Hamilton, our collective religion). Here’s what he said:

My wife’s the reason anything gets done
She nudges me towards promise by degrees
She is a perfect symphony of one,
Our son is her most beautiful reprise
We chase the melodies that seem to find us
Until they’re finished songs and start to play
When senseless acts of tragedy remind us
That nothing here is promised, not one day
This show is proof that history remembers
We live through times when hate and fear seem stronger
We rise and fall and light from dying embers
Remembrances that hope and love lasts long
And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love
Cannot be killed or swept aside,
I sing Vanessa’s symphony, Eliza tells her story
Now fill the world with music love and pride

And now we’re all crying.

First, because this has been a terrible, abysmal, awful, horrible and traumatic 24 hours, and also because we needed something. We needed love and earnestness and feelings and vulnerability and joy and whatever a hug would be in Tonys form. We needed to hear somebody with a platform remind us that love is love is love is love (and bigotry and racism and hatred and homophobia can get all kinds of fucked), and we needed to hear it this way. From the heart, and full of earnestness. While all of us cried a lot.

Which I know cannot and will not fix or change the landscape we live in that’s so, so broken. No amount of sonnets or awards shows or tears in the world will bring back the victims of America’s largest mass shooing, nor take away the fact that one man was so full of hate that he targeted the LGBTQ2 community and wreaked havoc and took lives in the name of it. Nothing. A change of American legislature can prevent it, education can help curb ignorance, but the effects of what happened in Orlando on Saturday will leave permanent scars on a community that’s already withstood so many of them.

So what Miranda’s speech did was less make us forget, but reminded us that love is love is love is love is love. And, that when given a platform, to use it.

Because it is very not to. It is easy to sit silent and scared”which is a reasonable wish in the wake of horrific events” while declaring yourself removed, but sorry and sad, etc., etc. You tell yourself that it didn’t happen to someone you knew or to yourself or in your country, and then you send hope and prayers, and then you think about what else there is to be done but shrink away from it because it’s all so big and so scary and what can you do? I mean, really? Like, come on?

But if you stand for nothing, what will you fall for.

There can’t be currency in apathy. It’s not acceptable just to be an ally when it’s convenient or trendy or cool. It’s not enough to say you love Pride, and then shrink away from a conversation that requires you to defend and/or champion LGBTQ2 people. Just like it’s not enough to call yourself a feminist and sit silently by in the wake of rape culture or say “all lives matter,” in an attempt not to rock the boat. Meanwhile, it is acceptable to stand up and speak when it’s time (or better: share the words of an activist/writer/person at the helm), or, if you really don’t know what everybody’s talking about, to sit down and learn. To be an ally is not about activism fitting your schedule. It can look many ways, but it does not look like blending into the background because it’s hard to stand for something. You can RT a call for blood, or attend a vigil, or ask if everybody’s okay and what you can do if they’re not. (Asking what you can do is the best! Especially if you do whatever’s needed!) It’s not about standing up and hitting your shoe on the desk as a call for attention. Find your own way. But find a way.

On Sunday, Lin-Manuel Miranda seized his moment and it suited him and it was his. I think what makes us nervous in the wake of tragedy is to allow yourself to really feel; to extend ourselves and to commit to somethings and someones and then doing something in response to those feelings. But odds are, your gut will not lead you down a road that will lead to you making a situation worse. You don’t have to write and perform a sonnet. Maybe you donate to an LGBTQ2 shelter. Maybe you correct a friend who’s saying something hateful, even if they’re “just kidding.” Maybe you read about a topic you thought you knew more about, but don’t, because educating yourself is one of the most powerful acts in the world. Or maybe you don’t post something in a moment of scoring Cool Ally Points. (And instead ask yourself what’s making you do that.)  You know what’s authentic for yourself, and you know what would be performative. You know who you are, and who you want to be.

There’s courage in feeling. So let those feelings lead you to helpful action.

Tags: Anne T. Donahue

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