Standing up against Injustice amidst the Storm

Photo credit –

This past week, prominent representatives of our national arts community stood up against injustice, drawing the line in the sand over President Trump’s remarks about white supremacists, neo-Nazis and protesters in Charlottesville,VA.

I was deeply moved by their determination, statements, passion and decisions to act. Like too many people in prominent positions, they could’ve chosen the safety of silence. Instead, artists like 86 year-old dancer, choreographer and actress Carmen de Lavallade, are publicly resisting and pushing back. Ms. de Lavallade is scheduled to be among the recipients of the 2017 Kennedy Center Honors. She issued the following statement to the media last week, and also posted it on the home page of her website:

“I am truly honored to receive the Kennedy Center Honors Award and look forward to attending the ceremony at the Kennedy Center. In light of the socially divisive and morally caustic narrative that our existing leadership is choosing to engage in, and in keeping with the principles that I and so many others have fought for, I will be declining the invitation to attend the reception at the White House.”

Ms. deLavallade, a prima ballerina, as well as a modern dancer and choreographer, was one of the first African-Americans to dance for the Metropolitan Opera. She also was a principal guest performer with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

Writer/producer Norman Lear is another one of the 2017 Kennedy Center Honorees declining to attend the White House reception. He posted his stinging rebuke of the President’s Charlottesville comments on Twitter: “I fought Nazis in World War II. They are not “very fine people,” and “Hate is NOT #TheAmericanWay.”

In addition, all 17 members of The President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities resigned last week, becoming the first entire White House department to resign en masse. The committee’s work made a tremendous difference in the lives of children around the country, especially through its Turnaround Arts Program. Let’s applaud and support the unprecedented and courageous actions of the committee members: Paula Boggs, George C. Wolfe, Chuck Close, Minnesota State Senator Richard Cohen, Fred Goldring, Jhumpa Lahiri, Anne Luzzato, Kal Penn, John Lloyd Young, Thom Mayne. Howard Gottlieb, Eric OrtnerCaroline “Kim” Taylor, Jill Cooper Udall, Andrew Weinstein, Victoria S. Kennedy, and Ken Solomon.

Please share throughout your network their resignation letter, which contained the urgent message “RESIST.” I believe that message of resistance is directed to all of us:

Dear Mr. President:

Reproach and censure in the strongest possible terms are necessary following your support of the hate groups and terrorists who killed and injured fellow Americans in Charlottesville. The false equivalencies you push cannot stand. The Administration’s refusal to quickly and unequivocally condemn the cancer of hatred only further emboldens those who wish America ill. We cannot sit idly by, the way that your West Wing advisors have, without speaking out against your words and actions. We are members of the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH). The Committee was created in 1982 under President Reagan to advise the White House on cultural issues. We were hopeful that continuing to serve in the PCAH would allow us to focus on the important work the committee does with your federal partners and the private sector to address, initiate, and support key policies and programs in the arts and humanities for all Americans. Effective immediately, please accept our resignation from the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities.

Elevating any group that threatens and discriminates on the basis of race, gender, ethnicity, disability, orientation, background, or identity is un-American. We have fought slavery, segregation, and internment. We must learn from our rich and often painful history. The unified fabric of America is made by patriotic individuals from backgrounds as vast as the nation is strong. In our service to the American people, we have experienced this first-hand as we traveled and built the Turnaround Arts education program, now in many urban and rural schools across the country from Florida to Wisconsin.

Speaking truth to power is never easy, Mr. President. But it is our role as commissioners on the PCAH to do so. Art is about inclusion. The Humanities include a vibrant free press. You have attacked both. You released a budget which eliminates arts and culture agencies. You have threatened nuclear war while gutting diplomacy funding. The Administration pulled out of the Paris agreement, filed an amicus brief undermining the Civil Rights Act, and attacked our brave trans service members. You have subverted equal protections, and are committed to banning Muslims and refugee women & children from our great country. This does not unify the nation we all love. We know the importance of open and free dialogue through our work in the cultural diplomacy realm, most recently with the first-ever US Government arts and culture delegation to Cuba, a country without the same First Amendment protections we enjoy here. Your words and actions push us all further away from the freedoms we are guaranteed.

Ignoring your hateful rhetoric would have made us complicit in your words and actions. We took a patriotic oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.

Supremacy, discrimination, and vitriol are not American values. Your values are not American values. We must be better than this. We are better than this. If this is not clear to you, then we call on you to resign your office, too.

Thank you.

Let’s resist tyranny, injustice and all efforts to marginalize any human being. But we can only do this by taking action. What can you do to “say no!” to injustice? How can you combat negativity through your work in the arts? Which civic organizations fighting for justice can you donate your time and talents to support?

I hope you will always remember the prophetic and profound words of the late cultural anthropologist Margaret Meade:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Never feel as if there is nothing YOU can do—wherever you are, whatever you do, you can change the world. You can lend your voice. You can take a public stand. Or you can courageously kneel like Colin Kaepernick. Just do something! The time to protect and secure the future is right now. We have no choice but to resist. We must be the storm!