We hear the word “woke” more and more these days. It’s being hurled regularly – usually with a soupçon of condescension attached, if not outright venom — at a variety of people and things that have aroused the ire of the far right wing of what used to be a legitimate Republican Party. It seems the GOP’s current batch of bullying apparatchiks have run plumb out of ideas, so instead of coherent policy offerings, they’re more inclined just to take words and use them as weapons, generally in a puerile attempt to insult, defame, or otherwise disparage those who don’t think like them.
Take the words liberal and socialism, for example. Both words are merely shorthand for two vast areas of human endeavor, philosophy, economics, and politics that contain within themselves manifold ideas, iterations, and historical associations that, literally, fill volumes. But for Republicans, they are just reliable epithets that can always be counted upon to trigger some sort of pleasant endorphin response in the soft tissue brains of their reliable base of red-meat-eating voters. Call someone a liberal or just utter the word socialism in a sentence and it’s case closed.
Anyhow, woke is the new trend (although, most recently, “groomer” and “pedophile” are running a close second). The current accepted slang definition for woke, according to Merriam-Webster, is: aware of and actively attentive to important facts and issues (especially issues of racial and social justice). Now, to most of us, I’m guessing that that’s a good thing. I mean, shouldn’t we, as first-class Americans, want to be aware and actively attentive to important facts and issues, especially issues of racial and social justice? Of course we should. Therefore, Watson, it would have to follow logically that anyone who is called “woke” by this definition is actually being complimented for displaying the positive traits of solid citizenship. Odd, then, isn’t it, that the Republican Party, the putative scion of Lincoln, would use the word “woke” as a slur? It can only mean that they really don’t want us to actually be aware and actively attentive to important facts and issues, especially of racial and social justice, after all. Because if we are that, I suspect, then we will be able to see that they are not, which is why, to them, woke is now just another four-letter word.
Another denotation of “woke” is: the past tense and past participle of the intransitive verb “wake.” To be woke, or woken, or awakened implies that one has been asleep at one time, but no longer is. Yet I, and many like me, can never be woke, because we were never asleep in the first place. People like me — smart, aware, politically savvy citizens of the republic — are awake now and always have been so. I’m certainly awake enough to see the peril that the current Republican Party poses to the commonwealth. I’m awake to the scent of nascent fascism that is slowly but surely rising from the ranks of the Party’s far-right denizens and dear-leader-loving Trumpists. I’m awake enough to know that if the new Grand Old Party gets to seize the reins of power in the federal government, then it’s game over. It’s game over for democracy, for women’s rights, for the sick and the poor, for the working class, for public education, for those who aren’t the right color, or the correct gender; it’s game over for planet Earth; and soon enough it’s going to be game over for the freedom to read, think, or even be different in any way from those who control those reins. That’s what history has taught us about how fascism grows and metastasizes.
Finally, another meaning of “woke” is: to stir or excite or alert; to arouse conscious interest in. Now, that’s a meaning I can work with. And because I’m an awake person, I see it as my civic duty to stir, excite, and alert all those who have been slumbering to just how dire the present moment truly is. If the Republicans take over the federal government, you can expect that they will do precisely what they have done this year in Florida. It sure didn’t seem to matter to the majority party in the state house this past session just how inane, ill-informed, illegal, or downright unconstitutional were the mélange of bad ideas and worse policy decisions they managed to vote into law – mainly at the behest, or should I say demand — of Governor DeSantis, our own mini-Trump, only with a more finely-honed set of connivances in his tucker bag. Just like they did in Tallahassee, if they have the numbers in Washington, they will do whatever they want – simply because they can. And that will not end well. And the truth is, they cannot and will not change. They are what they are. The leopard doesn’t change its spots, and as the poet said, “When someone shows you who they are – believe them.” And we see who they are. They don’t believe in democracy, only power; they don’t believe in pluralism, only in their own tortured and flawed brand of Christianity and their own warped understanding of gender and sexuality; and they don’t believe in justice, only in getting their way. And if that means lying and name- calling, or actively shredding the social contract, betraying their oath of office, or defenestrating both law and precedent, so be it. They’re four-year-olds on a rampage and attempting to reason with them is useless when they are acting out. Our only choice is to defeat them at the polls; because when we do that, we become the new masters of the numbers. And that’s where the power lies.
So, now’s the time to be woke. Now’s the time to stir, excite, and alert the populace so that everyone is awake to the danger, awake to the urgency of the moment, and perhaps most importantly, awake to the possibilities that can still lie ahead if we take this opportunity to call out the opposition and name them for what they are – immature petty tyrants at best, but at worst, and more disturbingly, American fascists on the rise.