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Free Speech Friday

"Business as Usual"

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On the thirty second floor of the Jackson federal building, tucked around the corner, is a small office dedicated to serving Maria Cantwell’s constituents. The Social Security department shares the same floor, along with other offices whose only distinguishing feature is the presence of a door. The Senator’s office is on most days empty. 

The Social Security department bustles with old folk, young folk, black folk, white folk—with people. Take a number. Wait in line. Wrong Line. But on most days the Senator’s office is empty. 

Past reception and the two receptionists who strain behind taut smiles are empty cubicles and empty desks and empty offices. And one of those offices belongs to the Senator. And everyday that you worked there you were answering phones. Some people cried, other people yelled, some praised the Senator, some condemned her, but it didn’t matter because you would “pass it along to the Senator” and “the Senator hasn’t issued a statement on that yet”. And on most days the Senator’s office is empty. 

And everyday that you worked there your country and its people were subjected to another small crisis. And they called their representatives, and they formed their coalitions, and they went to the Senator’s office and now the office wasn’t empty. And they walked past the taut smiles, and the empty desks, and the empty cubicles. But the Senator wasn’t there. And then the Senator’s office was empty.

And everyday you dreamed of sitting in the Senator’s seat. You dreamed of the newspaper headline that you would have framed on your desk. “The Senator endorses Medicare for all”, “the Senator backs the Green New Deal”, “the Senator donates his salary to furloughed workers”. But on that desk the framed headline says something about tax breaks for Boeing.

And the final injustice arrives. And hundreds of men, women, and children are treated like cattle, are severed from each other. And you can’t bear it any longer. But still we call empty offices and we plead with the taut smiles and “I understand your frustration” and “please fill out a visitors form” and “there are no signs allowed in the federal building”. 

And so we take to the streets, to the parks, to the churches. And we speak and we march, and we get our protest permits and make sure our paperwork is in on time. And it is, and nothing changes. And now the streets are empty too.

And still you can’t bear it. And we all know that it has to change. Because it is injustice when children die, it is injustice when families are torn apart, and it is injustice when we stay silent. 

We can be justice. 

But we cannot place our destiny in the hands of those who seek to maintain this status quo. And I know that you don’t need me to tell you that things are bad. Because they are. And they have been. But what we need to hear is that none of this will change if we continue to give our tacit consent. All of our lamentations, our emails, our phone calls, our letters are quickly deleted, hung up, shredded, and forgotten. Every flutter and tremble of our voice becomes a data point in an excel spreadsheet whose purpose is to convince its curators that the Senator’s office isn’t empty, but nevermind the fact that she couldn’t even be bothered to issue a statement at the Lights for Liberty Protest. 

“Different offices”, says the Senator Murray staffer. After all, Senator Murray issued a statement. “Please fill out a visitors form”.

Nikita Yuri Minkin

UW Student, Political Science/Sociology 2020; Co-Organizer of "Rally Against ICE: Fight For Thy Neighbor"

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