Remembering John Lennon and Matthew Shepard on the anniversary of Shepard’s death
11th October 2020
Today, October 12th, 2020, marks twenty-two years since Matthew Shepard’s murder, three days after the 80th birthday of John Lennon, international peace and human rights activist and icon, who was also murdered and lost to the world at an unbearably young age.
Why is it important to remember their lives and what they stood for today, in 2020? It is important because their lives and deaths symbolize the fragility of the global fight for human rights. The victims of hate and violence, such as Lennon and Shepard, are among the people who made it possible for us even to begin to talk about human rights and pie-in-the-sky notions such as world peace. Additionally, many young people do not know who Matthew Shepard was.
In the next few weeks, we will march into a time of intense vitriol and polarization. The progress on which we have been riding will be renegotiated and redecided at the ballot box by over 300 million people. During this period, we must remember the sacrifices of people whose work and memories have formed the basis of the human rights movement, which is at a critical stage in its progression. Matthew Shepard and John Lennon are two of those people.
John Lennon was shot outside of his apartment building, the Dakota, in New York City on December 8th, 1980. Matthew Shepard, a young gay man, was pistol-whipped, tied to a fence, and left to die on the Wyoming prairie and died on October 12th, 1998.
Shepard’s mother described his final moments in his hospital bed this way:
“Bandages and stitches all over his face,” […] “and bandages around his head where the final blow had crushed his brain stem. His fingers and toes were curled in a comatose position already. Tubes everywhere enabling his body to stay alive. One of his eyes was partially open so you could see his blue eyes and the tubes in his mouth. You could see his braces, so of course it’s Matt. His face was swollen, actually kind of unrecognisable till you got closer.”
Lennon was a political target not only due to his support for the peace movement but because he was married to a Japanese woman, with whom he eventually had a son, Sean. In the 1960s and 1970s, inter-cultural marriages, which is one way of putting it, were not easy affairs. Lennon’s personal decisions were political. Significantly, Lennon’s professional decisions were also political: Ono was only named as a co-writer of Imagine in 2017.
Lennon was also a baby boomer, of the same generation as my parents. His parents would have involved in or at least affected by, the war that undoubtedly left Ono’s childhood with deep, indelible scars and trauma. Their martial and professional union literally spanned the globe, cultural borders, and historically disparate human civilizations. Lennon would have grown up among the first generation in human history, probably, to be educated about concentration camps and the evils of mass murder, or the international crimes that comprise the basis of the jurisdiction of a human innovation formed after his death: the International Criminal Court.
Their lives and deaths are clear, strong reminders of the work that is left to be done for all vulnerable people, including women, not just to be able to physically survive in the world, but to thrive. In the coming days and weeks, many of us will have a critical choice to make that will influence the world. We will continue to have micro-choices in front of us on how we implement our commitment to human rights and feminism in our daily practices.
This brings me back to the context in which I introduced this topic: The future is ours. The question is: what will we do with it? I hope that we will choose to “Give peace a chance, not shoot people for peace. All we need is love. I believe it.”