First they came for the communists, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a communist;
Then they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a socialist;
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a trade unionist;
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
because I was not a Jew;
Then they came for me–
and there was no one left to speak out for me.
–Reverend Martin Niemöller
When do people know they are contributing to intolerance that may lead to violence? When is silence complicity? When is it time to stand up to those voices and say, “Enough”?
The afternoon of July 19th, the Oakland Police Department called the Tides office to inform us that the man who survived a shoot-out with the California Highway Patrol last Saturday night had intended to target our organization. It was shocking: an American seeking to reign terror on fellow Americans.
In disbelief, we have watched events unfold resulting in the news media reporting publicly that we were one of the intended targets. And others in the media suggest a connection between this sad soul’s violent intentions with the frequent, inflammatory and highly inaccurate, portrayal of Tides promoted in the conservative media.
Realizing that my colleagues and I narrowly missed being the target of an unbalanced extremist’s weapon is deeply unsettling. Tides supports innovative, creative nonprofit work to address social problems. We work for sustainability, better education, solutions to the AIDS epidemic, and human rights. We strive to encourage every American to be as involved in public life as they can be, and to resolve differences through the honest exchange of ideas.
One wonders just what has the world come to.
On occasion, the shadow of violence falls on American civic life and it should never be accepted or tolerated. Sadly, it is often encouraged by voices who label activities of which they disapprove as “anti-American” or use some similar epithet.
This incident serves to remind us that it should be the obligation of every American, especially those whose voices are amplified by the media, to foster civil discourse and dialog among those who may disagree about public matters. One does not win an argument by inciting unbalanced people to violence. As Americans, we know we can best solve problems when we reach broadly across boundaries for the best of ideas.
Intolerance that closes our eyes defeats our aspirations. It is time to speak up because we all have a right to lead safe, productive lives without fear.
This incident has shaken us at Tides. It also compels us to call upon our colleagues in the nonprofit and philanthropic sector, as well as all fair minded people, to call for an end to the culture of intolerance and embrace dialogue among those with differing views. For more ideas and information, go to www.tides.org/discourse.
Drummond Pike is the Tides CEO and Founder. This post originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle.