Silence is golden, yet what does it mean to be silent and what does it mean to be silenced? It is important that we clarify the difference, because one does exists between these often interchangeable words. To be silent, on the one hand, implies a sort of free will on part of the individual. It is a choice, but an insidious one. It is a choice really to be complicit in the oppression that they might experience themselves to some degree. And perhaps more importantly, it is a quiet complicity in the oppression of others around them who cannot afford the choice: the oppression of the silenced. To be silenced is to have silence imposed on them by another. It is about power, coercive and violent. We may experience silence at work, at school, at home, and other spheres of our lives. This silencing is not accidental, but an intentional act of public policy.
The silence is real as is the struggle. Yet it is a struggle in which we are damned if we do, and damned if we don’t. The woman who is fearful to speak up against the harassment she faces every day, due to the guilt and shame she may face from her family, her friends, and society. The woman who is exposed for reporting sexual assault and tarnishing the “good name” of her attacker; that she was just “asking for it” because her clothes were too tight-fitting or for walking the streets at the wrong hour. The undocumented migrant laborer who overcame the treacherous journey to the States, to seek out the promised land of opportunity and success for a family left behind, only to face subhuman living conditions without legal protection and recourse. The worker who is unable to support her children with a minimum-wage job, submitting herself to invasive home inspections so that she might get whatever meager welfare support available to the countless people like her.
The unspoken silence is nigh inescapable as it is not so much that the silent don’t care about the plight of their silenced humanity, but rather their time is often monopolized with having to just survive. Their time is limited, their availability minimal, and their everyday responsibilities greater than the CAUSE. But they need to see that they are a part of the cause, that they have a stake in the struggle. No one is safe from the oppression and the violent silence stifling our lives. The right to remain silent is not a right, but an infringement of the right to voice. Voice has become a privilege, a commodity, and it is long overdue to be reclaimed. The silenced are already born into the struggle. It is time for the silent to exercise their choice, to take a stand with their silenced humanity, to regain their collective voices and fight to have oppression lifted. It is their voice that validates the cause, their action that creates change, and their presence that makes it known that they will not stand for others to decide for them without being represented. Decisions made on their behalf do not represent their best interests, but rather the interests of those that continue to restrain and marginalize them.
Solidarity is key to create a voice that is heard, one that unites us all as one, thus making it much more difficult for the powers that be to silence us. The silent that choose to make their voices heard cannot take a stand on behalf of their silenced brethren. It must be taken with them. Both the silent and the silenced have to recognize it is through unity they will free themselves. They need to see that the oppression strangling them, albeit differently, are ultimately rooted in the very society promising them the All-American Dream at the expense of their own dreams. Solidarity is a foreign concept in this individualistic society of ours. But it is key if we each hope to be part of social activism working toward real change, becoming a unified movement to put control back in the hands of the voiceful.
We are the ones who live, experience, and know the struggles. Who better to make decisions for the greater good? Many do not want to shake the ground they walk on, few will attempt to engage, and others will turn the other way without inquiring about what is to be done. Yet it is a struggle worthwhile. Recognizing that each voice, silent and silenced alike, can contribute to a collective movement that unifies us and creates solidarity among the less represented to forge meaningful change.