All people have the right and the responsibility to engage in their society in whatever way(s) they are able. This right must be safeguarded, and this responsibility normalized.
We, the Not a Rhino team, will work to protect the right to engage and encourage our sisters and brothers to practice it. We acknowledge that there are micro- and macro-level hurdles which can prohibit this engagement; by fostering a coalition of labor, advocacy, education, activist, academic, and other groups, we can simultaneously foster a space for everyone to become or continue to be engaged and work to overcome systematic violence which inhibits participation and exercising of rights.
We do not, and will not, capitulate.
What’s with the Rhino?
Teju Cole, The New York Times Magazine
November 11, 2016
It is a Sunday afternoon in a provincial town in France. Two men meet at a cafe. One of them, Berenger, is half-drunk. He is being berated by his companion, Jean. All of the sudden, they hear a great noise. When they and other townspeople crane their necks to figure out what’s going on, they see a large animal thundering down one of the streets, stamping and snorting all the way. A rhinoceros! Not long after, there’s another. They are startled. It’s outrageous. Something must be done. What they begin to do is argue heatedly about whether the second rhino was the first one going past a second time or a different one, and then about whether the rhinos are African or Asiatic.
Things become more disturbing in the next act. (This is a play: “Rhinoceros,” written by Eugène Ionesco.) The rhino sightings continue to be the subject of pointless dispute. Then, one by one, various people in the town begin to turn into rhinos. Their skin hardens, bumps appear over their noses and grow into horns. Jean had been one of those scandalized by the first two rhino sightings, but he becomes a rhino, too. Midway through his metamorphosis, Berenger argues with him: “You must admit that we have a philosophy that animals don’t share, and an irreplaceable set of values, which it’s taken centuries of human civilization to build up.” Jean, well on his way to being a rhino, retorts, “When we’ve demolished all that, we’ll be better off!”
It is an epidemic of “rhinoceritis.” Almost everyone succumbs: those who admire the brute force of the rhinos, those who didn’t believe the sightings to begin with, those who initially found them alarming. One character, Dudard, declares, “If you’re going to criticize, it’s better to do so from the inside.” And so he willingly undergoes the metamorphosis, and there’s no way back for him. The final holdouts from this mass capitulation are Berenger and Daisy, his co-worker.
Eugène Ionesco was French-Romanian. He wrote “Rhinoceros” in 1958 as a response to totalitarian movements in Europe, but he was influenced specifically by his experience of fascism in Romania in the 1930s. Ionesco wanted to know why so many people give in to these poisonous ideologies. How could so many get it so wrong? The play, an absurd farce, was one way he grappled with this problem.
On Aug. 19, 2015, shortly after midnight, the brothers Stephen and Scott Leader assaulted Guillermo Rodriguez. Rodriguez had been sleeping near a train station in Boston. The Leader brothers beat him with a metal pipe, breaking his nose and bruising his ribs, and called him a “wetback.” They urinated on him. “All these illegals need to be deported,” they are said to have declared during the attack. The brothers were fans of the candidate who would go on to win the Republican party’s presidential nomination. Told of the incident at the time, that candidate said: “People who are following me are very passionate. They love this country, and they want this country to be great again.”
That was the moment when my mental alarm bells, already ringing, went amok. There were many other astonishing events to come — the accounts of sexual violence, the evidence of racism, the promise of torture, the advocacy of war crimes — but the assault on Rodriguez, as well as the largely tolerant response to it, was a marker. Some people were outraged, but outrage soon became its own ineffectual reflex. Others found a rich vein of humor in the parade of obscenities and cruelties. Others simply took a view similar to that of the character Botard in Ionesco’s play: “I don’t mean to be offensive. But I don’t believe a word of it. No rhinoceros has ever been seen in this country!”
In the early hours of Nov. 9, 2016, the winner of the presidential election was declared. As the day unfolded, the extent to which a moral rhinoceritis had taken hold was apparent. People magazine had a giddy piece about the president-elect’s daughter and her family, a sequence of photos that they headlined “way too cute.” In The New York Times, one opinion piece suggested that the belligerent bigot’s supporters ought not be shamed. Another asked whether this president-elect could be a good president and found cause for optimism. Cable news anchors were able to express their surprise at the outcome of the election, but not in any way vocalize their fury. All around were the unmistakable signs of normalization in progress. So many were falling into line without being pushed. It was happening at tremendous speed, like a contagion. And it was catching even those whose plan was, like Dudard’s in “Rhinoceros,” to criticize “from the inside.”
Evil settles into everyday life when people are unable or unwilling to recognize it. It makes its home among us when we are keen to minimize it or describe it as something else. This is not a process that began a week or month or year ago. It did not begin with drone assassinations, or with the war on Iraq. Evil has always been here. But now it has taken on a totalitarian tone.
At the end of “Rhinoceros,” Daisy finds the call of the herd irresistible. Her skin goes green, she develops a horn, she’s gone. Berenger, imperfect, all alone, is racked by doubts. He is determined to keep his humanity, but looking in the mirror, he suddenly finds himself quite strange. He feels like a monster for being so out of step with the consensus. He is afraid of what this independence will cost him. But he keeps his resolve, and refuses to accept the horrible new normalcy. He’ll put up a fight, he says. “I’m not capitulating!”
What’s with the White Rose?
Erin Blakemore, Smithsonian.com
February 22, 2017
On this day [February 22, 2017], 74 years ago, three young adults placed their heads beneath a guillotine and prepared to die. Their crime? Speaking out against the Nazis with graffiti and hand-printed pamphlets. Their names? Sophie Scholl, Hans Scholl and Christoph Probst. It was a violent end to a peaceful student movement known as the White Rose—one that used the power of language to resist the horrors of the Nazi regime.
The White Rose emerged from a core group of students who attended the University of Munich. Hans Scholl, his sister Sophie, Christoph Probst, Alexander Schmorell, Willi Graf and a few other friends had spent their teen years under Adolf Hitler’s rule. Most of them were members of the Hitler Youth and the Union of German Girls, youth organizations designed to breed party loyalty and spread Nazi ideals through shared experiences and ideological training. At first, they participated enthusiastically in these groups, but slowly, the friends became more and more disillusioned with Nazism.
They started reading anti-Nazi sermons and attending classes with Kurt Huber, a psychology and philosophy professor whose lectures included veiled criticisms of the regime. They began to talk about how they might resist and formed a group they called The White Rose (historians can’t agree on why).
Then Hans, a medical student, was conscripted into the Army. He served at the Eastern Front for three months as a medic. There, he witnessed the abuse of Jewish laborers firsthand and heard rumors of the extermination of European Jews and Poles. He returned to Germany and spoke of his experiences to his friends, many of whom also served as medics. In the words of Jürgen “George” Wittenstein, a member of the group, the friends’ detachment melted away in the face of their wartime experiences and the growing Nazi terror. It was not good enough “to keep to oneself, one’s beliefs, and ethical standards,” he wrote. “The time had come to act.”
Action came in the form of a printing press and six leaflets. The students got their hands on a manual printing press and began to write texts that encouraged readers to resist the Nazis. They urged readers to engage in passive resistance, reject Nazi philosophy, sabotage the war effort and break through their apathy. “Do not forget that every nation deserves the government that it endures,” they wrote in the first pamphlet, peppering calls to rebellion with poetry and historical references.
The White Rose mailed the pamphlets to random people they found in the phone book, took them in suitcases to other cities, and left them in phone booths. They also painted graffiti on the walls of the University of Munich with slogans like “Freedom!” and “Hitler the Mass Murderer!” The society’s work quickly spread to other cities, with some of its literature even showing up in Austria.
But the movement was doomed from the start. Anti-Nazi speech was carefully monitored and investigated by the Gestapo, and the danger of a denunciation was ever-present. On February 18, 1943, Hans and Sophie took a suitcase filled with leaflets to the University of Munich. They were caught throwing extra pamphlets into a courtyard from a balcony, arrested, and interrogated by the Gestapo. Dozens of the group members were subsequently imprisoned.
On February 22, the Scholls and Christoph Probst stood before the “People’s Tribunal” in Munich. They were tried by Roland Freisler, the court’s infamous “hanging judge,” and swiftly convicted of high treason. The verdict stated that they “propagated defeatist thinking and vilified the Führer” and that Hans in particular had been “deluded” into no longer believing in the war. That afternoon, they were decapitated by guillotine. Hans’ last words were “Long Live Freedom!” Other members of the White Rose were executed as well, including Huber. One of the victims, Schmorell, was eventually canonized as a saint by the Russian Othodox church.
The White Rose was active from 1942-1943, but the courage of its convictions has left a lasting mark on history. “We will not be silent,” the group wrote in its fourth leaflet. “We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace!”