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[personal profile] rinue
This quote is from The Chicago Tribune.

Carole Joyce of Arizona expected her role as a GOP elector to be pretty simple: She would meet the others in Phoenix and carry out a vote for Trump, who won the most votes in her state and whom she personally supported.

But then came the mail and the emails and the phone calls - first hundreds, then thousands of voters worrying that Trump's impulsive nature would lead the country into another war.

"Honestly, it had an impact," said Joyce, a 72-year-old Republican state committee member. "I've seen enough funerals. I'm tired of hearing bagpipes. . . . But I signed a loyalty pledge. And that matters."

I've been thinking of Lieutenant-Colonel Harald Jäger lately because I've wondered why it's hard to be brave. I think it's because we can very easily imagine the worst case scenario of what might happen to us if we stepped out of line (jail, mockery, threats), but it's hard to convince ourselves that what we do could make a difference to tens of thousands of other people. Thousands? If it would really help thousands of people, somebody else would have done it by now. We convince ourselves that the imagined consequences are real and the hope isn't.

On November 9, 1989, tens of thousands of East Germans gathered at the Berlin Wall, waiting to be let through. There had been an announcement from a government official that the border would be opened, but nobody knew exactly how or when. As the crowd around the Bornholmer Straße border crossing continued to swell, Lt.-Col Jäger called his superiors, and anybody he could think of, to find out what to do. Nobody knew. Everybody understood that it was important to open the borders, but nobody wanted to be the person who said "yes, I'll take responsibility. Open the gate."

At 11:30 p.m., knowing he didn't have the authority to give the order, Jäger ordered the gate be opened. People streamed through. There was no violence. Hearing what Jäger had done, other gate minders opened their checkpoints. That was that. It's been estimated that Jäger's action averted riots, averted panicked guards firing into ever-larger crowds, and saved the lives of dozens or hundreds of people who just wanted to be able to do things like visit family and go shopping. It was the end of the Berlin Wall, and the beginning of German reunification.

I think that when we're cowards, it's not exactly because we're worried about what will happen to us. It's because we don't believe one person could possibly make that much of a difference - a difference on the scale of deciding how to change a country's borders and leaders - so we'd suffer the consequences with no good result. Anyway, we don't think it should come down to us. What arrogance!

But here we are. Sometimes it does come down to us. In 1989, it came down to Lieutenant-Colonel Harald Jäger. He didn’t start the protests, or write the newspapers, or participate in the government negotiations. He just opened the door when everybody knew it was time.
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August 2017


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