Why Meryl’s Speech Mattered

It was almost instantaneous. The moment Meryl Streep said her final words during her acceptance speech at the Golden Globes, my Twitter and Facebook newsfeed exploded with digital applause.

Dozens upon dozens of comments praising the most successful female actor of our generation for remarks she made that directly targeted the actions of our President-elect.

And amongst the positive, there were the usual negative comments that usually come from the same people on my newsfeed. They are the kind of person whose mind is already so made up about the divide of left and right, that they won’t even listen to the other side, to hear an opposing point of view or perhaps, scary thought— learn something new.

One woman sent sent me a Facebook message saying that actors shouldn’t talk politics and that Meryl Streep should just stick to acting.

“Why not, I asked her? Can restauranteurs talk politics? Can waiters talk politics? Can teachers talk politics? Can factory workers talk politics? Why shouldn’t actors be allowed to talk politics?

“Because they’re actors and don’t know anything about politics,” the woman responded.

And I asked her, “and what do you do for a living?”

And she responded, “I work in a Costco as a cashier.”

“And what credentials do you have to talk politics, I asked her. And what if EVERY American stopped talking politics and just did their jobs?

Then she blocked me on Facebook.

Another Facebook friend commented on my post:

“A tremendous performance by a very gifted artist. I do enjoy watching her in her field of expertise. Now when it comes to politics, I will also turn to experts in that profession and listen to them on that topic.”

The comment irked me for a number of reasons, because it implies a number of things that just rub my logic and reason the wrong way.

First, Meryl Streep wasn’t talking trade deals with Mexico and our policy vis-a-vis Taiwan and China. She wasn’t talking capital gains taxes and Obamacare.

What she WAS talking about was human decency and civility. She was talking about how she believed human beings should each treat other.

Another friend commented “she has no right to use the Golden Globes as a platform for her political views.

The same friend had a video on his Facebook wall of a football player in the NFL kneeling and crossing himself in the end zone after scoring a touchdown and a comment “God Bless America and his right to share his Christianity with the world.”

OK… so Meryl Streep doesn’t have a right to share her views at the Golden Globes but this football player is allowed to use an NFL game to share his?

Is this selective free speech, or a case of “I don’t agree with you so you can’t share your views” syndrome?

Someone else on my newsfeed wrote “Muzzle that bitch. She has no right to speak against our President.”

I responded to this by reminding her that “In Turkey, North Korea and Russia, it’s against the law to speak ill of the leader and if you do, you’ll go to jail. Thank god I don’t live in any of these countries.”

Meryl Streep’s speech mattered because she was using her expression as an American, to share her thoughts, her vulnerabilities and her opinions.

She had the same right that a restauranteur, a student, a teacher or a housewife has to share their opinions.

To try and mock or deny anyone of this right is not only un-American at its core, but also dangerous.

The Ancient Greeks gave Western Civilization the concept of freedom and saw human beings as rational thinkers, needing freedom and logic and having individual worth. To deny any of this was considered barbarian.

These ideals of freedom and individual worth aren’t simply touchy-feely things we see on memes. They are the very core of our existence and what defines us, and all of Western Civilization. They are the difference between us– those who believe in freedom; and them, those who seek to suppress it and deny people from having it.

The very battle we face today is with the darkness of fundamentalism— whether that is Islamic terrorism, left or right wing radicalism, or any “ism” that seeks to suppress an individual’s freedom to speak or have an opinion.

Meryl’s speech mattered because it goes at the very core of this notion that yes, even an actor has a right to speak her mind. Can we be critical of it? Absolutely. Can we disagree? 100% we can. But the minute we start saying that she doesn’t have the right to speak– then we start entering dangerous, barbarian (as the Ancient Greeks would say) territory.

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