Your Rights, My Rights

What right have you

To take my rights from me?

My right to live freely

To feel safe in who I am

In what I want to be

To have autonomy of my body

And a voice that’s free to speak

Then join the world more fully

Without exclusion or derision

Without the hateful persecution

All rights are therefore human ones

For, if not, they’re all inhuman ones

Your rights, my rights

**********

Most rights are hard-fought ones

For they’ve swum upstream

Against a current of the powerful

Against entrenched entitlement

These rights are, therefore, meant as shields

To protect the ‘other’ and the disempowered

To bridge inclusion

Invite participation

An active social lubricant

Not domination or exclusion

Your rights, my rights

**********

Rights are never simple things

Instead, they form a complicated balance

The rights that one extends to you

Might infringe on those of me

The rights of me

May infringe on those of you

It’s a delicate dance of give and take

Of civility and respect

In all respects, our rights are shared

It has to be that way

For when enforced in selfish ways

Your rights become a sword, not a shield

Your rights destroy my rights

They demonize me as something less than you

Your rights, my rights

**********

As the beating ‘heart’ of my rights weakens

From repeated blows of your sword

My breath and spirit depart from me forever

But not just mine

Yours as well, however imperceptibly at first

What’s more, the soul of democracy begins to fade

There’s only your rights left

For you the victor, for at least a while

Vanquishing feels like liberation

Without distraction or resistance

But is that truly living?

I think not

It’s surviving, not thriving, in a lifeless, loveless residue

A hollow version of your former greatness

An echo-chamber of your shallow one-sidedness

That suffocates the few remaining members

Like-minded people who now cannibalize their own

Zealous to protect their purist version of what’s ‘right’

And the cycle thus continues

Your rights, my rights

**********

You do this so feverishly

Until you reach a point of no return

One of utter isolation

Of utter desecration

Where there’s only one ‘right’ left

Until there’s no ‘right’ left

Until there’s no one even left

All now long vanished

An empty, silenced place

Strewn with vanquished souls

Borne of self-genocidal rage

A circular firing squad of sorts

Entirely of your own making

This is, indeed, a horrifying wrong

A legacy of failed rights

But it’s the path you choose

When no humanity remains

When no compassion remains

When all that remains are your rights,

Not my rights

Dedicated to all those who courageously defend these human rights across the globe every day: civil, women’s, privacy and reproductive, LGBTQ, voting, climate, speech, refugee, and artistic.

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