My partner and I went to see Hamilton last night. For those of you who aren’t familiar, Hamilton the Musical is the story of Alexander Hamilton, the Founding Father who came to America as an immigrant, fought in the Revolutionary War, and paved the way for the financial success of the new country. He was also pretty famous for dying in a duel after being shot by Aaron Burr.
I’ve been in love with this show since I first heard the music and seeing it live was an incredible experience. As I listened to the songs I’ve heard a million times before, seeing them coming to life for the first time, some of the lyrics struck me in a whole new way.
In one of the most famous songs, My Shot (link), Hamilton sings about making the most of every opportunity that comes his way, no matter the challenges he faces. Several moments in the song stuck out to me. The first, in light of #MeToo, is when Hamilton sings that “This is not a moment, it’s the movement.” We’ve written about it before, but #MeToo and #TimesUp are not just a glitch or an aberration. People have been being abused, harassed, and assaulted for thousands of years and brave survivors have been talking about it. We just haven’t been listening. This is the moment when we started to seriously listen but it has to be more than that. It has to be more than the moment when we started paying attention. It has to be the movement for lasting change.
The next moment that stood out to me was when John Laurens (historically, a close friend of Hamilton) sings that “we’ll never be truly free until those in bondage have the same rights as you and me.” On its own, this is something we as a nation have to learn to face. We need to reckon and struggle with that issue that our country was founded on ideals that we didn’t extend to people of color. We have to reckon and face the fact that our country was built on slavery. Our struggles as a nation to this day are connected with the racist history that pervades every element of our modern institutions. We can’t ignore that. And on a more personal level, for the movement to end sexual assault and for the women’s right’s movements, we have to address the fact that our struggle for equality and action was often promoted at the expense of people of color. White women, particularly, led early action but left their sisters of color behind. People of color cannot be collateral damage on the path to equality. We are not free until we are all free. John Laurens knew this and we have to learn it.
Finally, the villain in the story, Aaron Burr sings that Hamilton and his friends should “lower your voices. Keep out of trouble and you double your choices.” He tells them to keep quiet, don’t rock the boat, and go along to get along. This kind of moderating influence is popular in social change organizations. We tell people not to upset the status quo. We encourage changemakers to work within the system as it exists. We try to reform from within. That can work. That can be the right option. But sometimes it isn’t. Sometimes we have to be bold. Sometimes we have to be like Hamilton and be willing to wade into the mess and get dirty fighting for what we know is right. We can’t patiently wait for men and women to be treated equally. We can’t just hope that society will stop victim-blaming and shaming survivors of sexual assault. We can’t ask politely for the gun control reform that will save the lives of thousands of abuse victims who are at higher risk of death due to easy gun access for abusers. We have to speak out and stand up, even if we speak out and stand up alone.
Hamilton had a difficult life. He faced overwhelming childhood trauma. He faced bias and prejudice as an immigrant. His boldness angered many people in power. But his strength changed a nation. My hope is that our agency will have a similar courage and power in speaking out for survivors of domestic and sexual violence and we hope you’ll stand with us until everyone feels truly safe and truly free.
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