Editorial: “He Will Not Divide Us”
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One of the defining characteristics of living in America is the right to free speech. The right of every American to use their voice in whatever way they please is one of the building blocks of this country. In the past year, that right has been utilized as well as it could be by our fellow citizens. Whether it be to gather and chant to show solidarity with refugees of Middle Eastern countries, as University of Toledo students did on Monday, or to come together in massive numbers at rallies across the country in support of the now 45th president of the United States, as many did over the past election cycle.
Whatever the reason, and whatever the voice, Americans have the right to disparage or commend anything they deem necessary. With the increasing tensions and widening gap between opposing political sides, it seems this right is becoming as important as it was when the Bill of Rights was first introduced. Learning to respect one another’s opinions in this tumultuous political climate will be necessary to avoid division.
This idea of anti-division has its roots set deep in post-Civil War America, with the famous Abraham Lincoln quote, “A house divided against itself cannot stand” often accompanying any discussion of division in America. These philosophies are being carried on today, most notably by actor and ever-controversial public figure Shia LaBeouf. On the day of President Trump’s inauguration, LaBeouf and two other collaborators launched their online performance art project “He Will Not Divide Us.”
The project consists of an empty lot outside of the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens, New York, a white wall with the words “He Will Not Divide Us” written on it and a camera that is livestreaming to the world for the duration of Donald Trump’s presidency. Watching the livestream while writing this gave us a snapshot of modern American life in the same way a Norman Rockwell painting gives us a snapshot of American life. We saw two friends talking. A lot of people just walking by the area. One guy did a bottle flip and then dabbed. Another person walked up to the camera and simply called out his friend for not liking the song “Nightcall” by Kavinsky, a mighty noble cause, in our opinion.
One of the most common things to do is to just look in the camera and say the namesake phrase “He Will Not Divide Us,” which is a reassurance to those looking for stability in the currently unstable state of our country. This phrase, and other aspects of the project, have garnered criticism from various parties. Editor-in-Chief of Waypoint Austin Walker showed up to the livestream on the first day of the event and gave a short speech on how he feels the country is already divided, and how democracy works best when we acknowledge that we are already divided and confront that division intellectually and critically. Other criticisms are about the idea and overall message of the project (unity and peace), as participants in the project have been ridiculed and yelled at by LaBeouf when they use the camera to deliver rhetoric that aligns with white power groups like the alt-right.
In our opinion, what “He Will Not Divide Us” does best is provide a real time look on how we utilize our voices in the modern world. While this project doesn’t necessarily set out to accomplish this task, it demonstrates it in spades. The ways people discuss their opinions, show support for one another and criticize others’ ideas plays out like a real world representation of a Twitter feed, right down to the people shouting memes and random B-tier celebrities.
“He Will Not Divide Us” is not a perfect bipartisan protest, but it has a good message, despite missing the mark. What this project does do, however, is show how protest can unite us. The causes we care for and the people we want to defend gives us a ground to stand on and defend these values in the face of those who oppose.
The day after Trump’s inauguration, millions of women around the world came together in their opposition of the President Trump’s treatment of women, and the day after, thousands gathered in Washington D.C for the annual March for Life. These events showcase people gathering to show their opinion and and having their voices heard. In a utopia, the need for protest would be non-existent, but until we live in that world, we should continue to voice our opinions as loud as we can, and you should fight for the right for others to do so, too.