Speaking Truth to Power

Cecili Chadwick, Contributor

Editor’s note: Article has been edited to remove a sentence about speaking truth that was not in the author’s original submission, we regret altering the submission.  

Speaking truth to power is not something we do as individuals and it does not come in the form of a sign that reads, “white privilege is a myth, change my mind.” It is something that requires a kind of collective consciousness.

This can be activated at times by grief and at other times by a moral imperative to act in the face of injustice. Just think for a minute about undocumented immigrants courageously blocking a bus routed for deportation or the Parkland students who put together one of the largest youth protests since the Vietnam War.

These acts of rebellion, both organized and spontaneous, speak truth to power and they have nothing to do with being offended.


From the tragic murder of 11 Jewish worshippers in Pittsburgh to the racially motivated murder of two black people shopping at a supermarket in Kentucky, this moment in time feels more like a minefield.


Adding to the trauma, the presence of white nationalist posters and Proud Boys t-shirts on our own campus reminds us that this is not just happening “out there,” but right here in our own backyard.


The question is, how do we build a collective consciousness considering the problems we are facing? What should we do about the obvious and widespread disillusionment with participatory politics?


How do we respond to old and new forms of racism and displays of vulgar dogmatism? What should we say when the boundaries between reality and fiction are blurred- the same problem Hannah Arendt described as the province of totalitarianism?


First, we must understand what we are up against, and it’s becoming clear to me that some of the vulgar irrationality on our own campus is coming from a certain style of Republicanism that has little in common with traditional conservatism.


This brand of Republicanism is based on exclusion and it is on the rise around the world in part because of the commercialization of all life, but also because of an explosion of privatized greed. This phenomenon is also tapping into vanity, nihilism and rage and embodies a range of contradictions.


It’s worth pointing out that many of the “conservative” voices we have today have only an exoteric commitment to American constitutionalism without the necessary moral foundations that would bring that commitment to life.


For me, real conservatism begins with civic-oriented habits in youth, continues with a liberal arts education and grows through practical experience and interaction with the world. Proper conservatism has nothing to do with bigotry or racism or hatred of any kind, but stems from a love of certain traditions that invest themselves in the goodness of civic institutions (state departments, parks, universities, cultural centers, etc.)


It’s worth asking Republicans right now what they are working to preserve since what we are seeing most from the Republican party is anti-civil, wholly isolated and all about figuring out how to get more by doing as little as possible. These Republicans have swapped out genuine friendship for “loyalty,” justice for privatized greed and truth for propaganda.


Speaking truth to power is about saying “no” to destructive acts born from grief and inspired by fear. Speaking truth to power is about engaging with each other around issues of identity with the hope of establishing real friendship. Speaking truth to power aims towards better service to our communities.


It is here and now that we are called on to take a stand against indecency, to hold the line, speak truth to power and put virtue into practice.