Letter: First they came for the protestors…

Originally Posted on The Yale Herald - Medium via UWIRE

Kyle D. Pruett

40 Trumbull Road, Northampton, MA 01060



To: Yale Herald Editor

24 November 2019

Two of our grandchildren were with my wife and me at The Game this past Saturday. They got their first real lessons in civil disobedience and bigotry during the Harvard-Yale students’ Climate Change Emergency protest. I can only imagine what they might have learned about leadership and respect for the freedom of expression had President Salovey taken the public address system 20 minutes into the protest and said something to the effect of: “I know you students sitting on our 50-yard-line feel deeply about the issue you protest. You’ve made your point, and we are committed to continuing the discussion, but in another time and place. Your classmates, their families, and thousands of others deserve the chance to participate in this important experience in their lives — many, for the last time. Please leave peacefully and we will talk on Monday, and your classmates and friends will get to see through what they have accomplished so far today.” Instead, dozens were arrested.

The second lesson came in the form of bigotry on and off the field. Some Yale football players turned to the Yale crowd giving thumbs-down and offering throat-slitting gestures. Then, shouts from behind us: “Security!”…“Cuff the commies!”…“Tear Gas would work!”…“Where are the dogs?”…“Transfer to Berkeley!” (my wife Marsha’s favorite). A man behind me asked, “So, what’s the emergency?” I replied, “The students are deeply upset that so few people are listening to the fact that we’ve got about a decade to turn this around, or their grandchildren aren’t going to have any place to live. They want Yale and Harvard to divest from fossil fuels now before it’s too late. Not so unreasonable.” “Oh,” he said.

The gut-wrenching similarity to videos of Trump’s political rallies were searing. Indeed, what are we becoming? Maybe we’ll find out as we watch Yale and Harvard deal with this “disturbance.” There were, of course, tens of thousands of people at The Game who were not bigots but, in the face of the ugly chants, stayed silent for fear of what opposition might ignite. Sound familiar? The poet Martin Niemöller, writing in the aftermath of World War II about silence in the face of bigotry and extremism, wrote these opening lines: “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out…”

We can all do better, and time is no longer on our side.

Kyle D. Pruett, M.D. ’65

Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Yale School of Medicine

Fellow, Saybrook College

Northampton, MA

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