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Why I spoke up for people I oppose

It’s been nearly a month since I published a piece advocating for people who foster beliefs that I regularly oppose. The reaction to what I wrote was larger than I ever could have imagined. I had countless people reach out to me to express gratitude for speaking on what I did. My arguments made their way into at least a few classes. I was criticized and insulted for everyone to see on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and even the Duke Confessions page. It got overwhelming pretty fast. No part of me regrets what I did, but with such a dramatic reception I’ve been forced to reflect on why I thought it was necessary to speak out for an ideology with which I disagree.

To fully understand my point of view, I need to tell you a little bit about myself. I grew up in a liberal part of North Carolina where I went to a very progressive high school. During my time there I volunteered for a Democratic candidate for state senate. At home the only news that was ever on was MSNBC, and apart from a few senior citizens, no one I knew personally identified as conservative. It didn’t take much for me to come to the conclusion that Republicans were maliciously intent on destroying our country, and I found myself hating many, many people I had never met.  

This gradually changed when I came to Duke and made a few friendships across the political aisle. At first, I despised them for their politics; I lamented the evil inside of what were otherwise good people. As our bonds strengthened, I taunted and teased them: how could they be so foolish to believe the blatant lies spread by the GOP? Only after enough time and conversation had I discovered that my previous assumptions about the other side were not only inaccurate, but also that they were dangerous.

My friends were nothing like the cruel zealots I had pictured all Republicans to be. They were not racist or misogynistic or bigoted, but rather kindhearted. They had the same desire to be loved and accepted, so I took offense to a political climate that I perceived to be intolerant of these kinds of people. I spoke out because they were still human, like the rest of us, but they were not being treated with the respect and dignity that all humans deserve. 

It’s time that we all understand this and lay down our arms. This will not be easy: for most of us, hatred in politics is all we’ve ever known. It’s hard to imagine a political climate where a conservative heavyweight like Antonin Scalia can be unanimously confirmed by the Senate. It is equally as difficult to think of someone like Ruth Bader Ginsburg receiving a 96-3 confirmation vote these days (with Mitch McConnell voting yea). The most astounding thing, though, is that both of these things happened within the last 40 years. Political contempt is not American. Unity is.

All of us want more unity in this country, but unity craves love in the same way that life craves water. Without love, unity withers and dies.

For unity, we need to love each other more, but I understand how hard this can be. Loving people who hate you isn’t something that’s easy or fun, otherwise so many of the world’s religions wouldn’t command it. I also understand that in my position it’s easy to preach love. I’ve never been persecuted on account of my race, religion, sexuality, gender, or a number of other social categorizations. I haven’t been hurt like so many of you, but I’ve been reading a lot from people who have. 

One of my favorite people I’ve learned from is Daryl Davis. Mr. Davis is an R&B musician and activist from Chicago. As a Black man, Mr. Davis has personally engaged with hundreds of members of the Ku Klux Klan. He does not engage with them to insult or belittle them, but rather he seeks to understand and forge friendships with these men. Through reaching out and creating a sense of common understanding, Mr. Davis is responsible for the departure of 200 members from the Klan.

I can’t expect you to love your enemy in the same way that Mr. Davis has, but I do ask that you learn from his example. The only way we can create a better world is by countering hatred with love whenever hatred is encountered. In the same vein, only love can break the cycle of contempt that currently dominates American politics. We can’t let politicians exploit our differences to turn us against one another. We must make it known that we still value unity, and where better to spread this message than from the top of American scholarship?

It starts with us at Duke. We are among the most able and privileged members of society. This is a gift we must not take for granted. We must understand that our future corresponds with the future of America and the world, so any culture we establish here and at other top institutions will be later reflected on a much grander scale. As such, if we want to establish a precedent for unity in politics and American life, we must first establish this precedent at Duke. I know so many of you are exhausted with the status quo. For this to end, we must learn to love each other regardless of politics—anything less means more of the same for the next generation.

Ivan Petropoulos is a Trinity sophomore. His column runs on alternate Tuesdays.

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