They came first for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew.

Then they came for me
and by that time no one was left to speak up.

— Martin Niemöller (c. 1937) about the inactivity of German intellectuals following the Nazi rise to power and the purging of their chosen targets, group after group.

Actually, there is some question as to just exactly which religious, ethnic, political, or social groups were in the original quote, since Niemöller himself seemed to change the quote as needed for different groups that he was speaking to. Over the years, we have heard this used many times in the media, in the movies, and on television. A wide variety of groups have been mentioned in this context over the years.

The point is that, even though there is no threat of Nazi’s going around and committing genocide today, there are those in this country who would be tempted to do so if the opportunity were available. In today’s world, the threats are in intolerant political and religious groups that feel that anyone unlike them deserves to die. (And if you don’t believe me, look in the comments section of articles in any major metropolitan newspaper today.) Today’s targets may be less traditional: Hispanics, Muslims (or any non-Christians), homosexuals, and so on. Sadly, the same concerns that Niemöller had in 1937 Europe are similar to the concerns I have about the United States in 2010.

In 2010, it is moderately unsafe to be a Muslim or gay or Hispanic in America. If you look around, there are not a whole lot of us who are speaking out for the rights of these and other groups who do not meet the “conservative right-wing” definition of “normal”. Frankly, I am ashamed that more of us do not step forward and defend the rights of our friends and neighbors who fall into these groups.

It is really easy to stand aside while our neighbors are figuratively (and literally, in some cases) beaten up. It is easy to just nod and go on with our day when some people threaten the rights of others. After all, they are not coming after me. But we really need to start defending the basic rights of all of our neighbors. By the time they decide to come after me, there may be no one left to speak up.