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Debra Messing Dissent in America is patriotic — whether challenging Trump or health care inequality or guns

We need to raise our voices — especially white people — to point out oppression and injustice and bigotry when we see it.
Image: Debra Messing at protest
Actress Debra Messing, center, stands with members of the collective "Gays Against Guns" at a rally near Bryant Park in New York on April 15, 2017.Albin Lohr-Jones / Sipa USA via AP file

Over the last three years, things have become so much more divisive and so much more polarized in our country. As a result, it feels like there is a tremendous need to raise awareness about the people who are being targeted for discrimination, violence and abuse, some of it state-sanctioned.

The imagery of the children Trump officials separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border is an example of an injustice so enraging, it inspired outrage across the country. The images of those children in cages were quite simply horrifying. But it feels like everywhere we look, there are examples of inhumane behavior and marginalization. We need to raise our voices — especially white people — to point out this oppression and this bigotry.

It feels like everywhere we look, there are examples of inhumane behavior and marginalization.

This is why we need dissent in this country. In America, now more than ever, dissent is a patriotic act. It is patriotic to stand up for our beliefs and rights and the rights of those who may not be able to stand up for themselves. It is patriotic to say, "Enough is enough. There is a better way, and I’m here to help build it."

I would be lying if I didn't say that I grapple with feelings of hopelessness right now. It is an extraordinary time in our country's history. I think to feel despair at this time is just being human. And I recognize, especially when it comes to activism, that becoming exhausted and burned out is a very real thing.

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But any way that you are comfortable dissenting is valuable. I'm a public person, and so I am privileged; I have a platform that most other people don't have. I want to use my platform for good. And yet, there is no wrong way to speak up. Life is not easy. So if it's simply picking up the phone for 60 seconds and making a phone call to your senator and saying, "Please pass legislation to make sure that all of the coronavirus tests are free to every American," that is an act of dissent. That is valuable.

To the people who feel like they don't have the energy, take care of yourself. Because if you're not strong and you're not healthy, then you're not going to be a good advocate. But also know that little, tiny things still matter. For example, if you want to help make sure that people are registered to vote for this November, you can send voter registration postcards while watching TV on your couch. Even if you do one postcard a night, that's worth celebrating.

We need people writing postcards to voters. We need people highlighting what’s happening to minorities like Ahmaud Arbery. A young African American man is hunted down and killed in cold blood. His name, and the names of his killers, are now known. But until video was released showing the shooting, most Americans had never heard of them or that a beautiful young man out for a jog had been hunted down and executed.

Racism and police brutality are issues that desperately need more attention. But what about health care inequality? What about sexual harassment and gun violence? Being a dissenter means saying it’s not OK for there to be as many mass shootings as there are days in the year.

There are so many things to fight against — and for. Luckily, there are also so many people out there who are organizing campaigns to put pressure on our public officials and have the skills necessary to amplify our voices and force our lawmakers to take action.

The goal is not to sow division. We want to always try to heal and unite. Right now, people are dying in devastating numbers. This isn’t a political thing; it’s a human thing. We need to look around and think about why all Americans are either unwilling or unable to stay safe. Who are the people making this difficult?

Together, we can challenge the status quo. So many people are already doing this, which is the point of my new podcast “The Dissenters.” Together with Mandana Dayani, we’re going to talk to 20 dissenters across all different professions and backgrounds, and Mandana and I are just going to sit back and fangirl out.

We can all use more examples of the men and women who one day decided that they were going to challenge the status quo. We need more examples of people who got sick of the injustice and inequality — and then said so. And hopefully in the midst of all of the fear and trauma, we can find some inspiration. Every courageous journey starts with one step.

As told to THINK editor Meredith Bennett-Smith. Edited and condensed for clarity.

"The Dissenters” is available now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play and across all platforms where podcasts are accessible, with new episodes releasing every Thursday.