Vox Populi

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Billy Clem: As My Death Approaches

I am gravely ill. Medical tests indicate that my blood and many of my internal organs now fail to perform necessary functions. My body, enervated, starving, looks and feels terrible. I decline more each day, and I am unlikely to improve, recover, or survive. I must, therefore, be honest and speak, for as poet Audre Lorde tells us, “Your silence will not protect you.”[1]

The result of the last US election continues to be a total catastrophe. Racism, Misogyny, ‘Crony’ Capitalism, Ableism, Heterosexism, Jingoism, Religious Bigotry, and Environmental Destruction create pure hatred that emanates from the highest perches of power and the lowest recesses of daily life. The killing of the most vulnerable will never cease unless and until we resist by any means necessary[2] the know-absolutely-nothing-fascist-minority holding the good hostage. We must make no peace with oppression,[3] and I will do all that I can with my frail body and weakening tongue to counter immoral pipelines and torn up treaties, travel bans and slander, war-mongering, the gutting of civil rights, consumerism, attacks on women’s bodies, and racist deportations and police brutality—at least.

As my death approaches, I will be able to recite from Psalm 26:

I do not sit with the worthless,

Nor do I consort with hypocrites;

I hate the company of evildoers,

And will not sit with the wicked. [4]

How? Why? As poet Adrienne Rich writes:

My heart is moved by all I cannot save:

So much has been destroyed

I have to cast my lot with those

Who, age after age, perversely,

With no extraordinary power,

Reconstitute the world. [5]

I will resist to my last breath.

[1] Audre Lorde. “The Transformation of Silence into Language and Action.” Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches by Audre Lorde. Freedom, CA: The Crossing Press, 1984. 41. Print.

[2] Malcolm X. “3. The founding rally of the OAAU.” By Any Means Necessary. New York: Pathfinder Press, 1970, 1992. 59. Print.

[3] From “21. For Social Justice.” The Book of Common Prayer. New York: Church Publishing Inc., 1979. 260. Print.

[4] PS 26: 4-5. NSRV.

[5] Adrienne Rich. “Natural Resources.” The Dream of a Common Language: Poems 1974-1977. 67. Print.

Copyright 2017 Billy Clem



Billy Clem: “Here I am, 30 January 2017, trying to answer a student’s excellent question about Toni Morrison’s *Nobel Lecture in Literature, 1993.* It’s proof that I am, if unwell, alive, teaching, and fighting the good fight. As Morrison says, “Oppressive language does more than represent violence; it is violence; does more than represent the limits of knowledge; it limits knowledge.” (Photo: Karyssa Hoehn)

24 comments on “Billy Clem: As My Death Approaches

  1. Elizabeth Clem
    September 24, 2022

    Billy your writings are very impressive and inspirational. I hope you are well. I miss you and I love you. I look forward to reading anything else you write. Much love to you…..sister Bethy

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Tracie Stafford Taylor
    September 7, 2021

    Thinking of you today and wondering how things are.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Jade Butts
    May 27, 2020

    Grandmother would have been so proud to see the actual person you’ve become uncle. To know how many people look up to you, and hold such a deep respect for you.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Arlene Weiner
    December 7, 2019

    Love to you.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A Friend
    March 24, 2017

    Dear Billy, I attended an Ellen Bass lecture that you sponsored at Waubonsee many years ago, and in that single hour I found the courage to get the help that I so badly needed in my life. I purchased one of her books after the lecture, and felt as if the book were written just for me. I started to live! As you continue your resistance of intolerance in our world, your physical body may be drained, but your influence that helped me to break free will be forever strong!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hannah
    February 24, 2017

    Mr. Clem, your story has touched my heart deeply and I dont know if you remember me but I was the cashier that helped you at Best Buy almost a month ago. I have thought about you every day since you left and have wondered how you are. You left me speechless that day, thinking about how life is very short. You held my hand that day and thanked me over and over for helping you and all I could think of was I hope you come back to see me and show me some of your writings. You have touched many lives Mr. Clem, you have inspired many people and I hope this message reaches you. Because you made me veiw life in a different way that day and every single day since. Bless your heart!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Vox Populi
      February 24, 2017

      What a beautiful comment! I’m not sure whether Billy is checking these messages, but I’ll copy and paste this message in an email and send it to him. Thank you so much! — Michael Simms, the editor of Vox Populi


  7. Randy Lahey
    February 23, 2017

    I support our President but I respect the fact that you do not. Blessings.

    Liked by 1 person

    • caroline
      February 24, 2017

      Whatever reasons you have to support our President, I don’t know. But I hope you are aware of the fact that you are supporting a proven pathological liar. Far beyond any political or policy disagreements one might have, I believe that nothing good can ultimately come from a radically unreliable person who creates his own reality each day, with complete disregard of the world’s realities at large, which he only sees through his own distorted lens.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Lynn Turner
    February 23, 2017

    “Let not your heart be troubled…” Please pray for all of us; we are praying for you. Your spirit shines with the light of Love. I love you…XO

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Ramadan Sulejmani
    February 23, 2017

    Mr. Clem is an outstanding teacher and man. He was my teacher twice at WCC in 2000 and 2001. There is an incident during class once and he backed me up completely and ultimately helped me tremendously. I’m saddened to hear he is ill. I pray that he gets well. Thank you Mr. Clem.


    Liked by 1 person

  10. Delanie Knapp
    February 23, 2017

    You were my first English professor and I must say, you are so influential. I have never been motivated to write until the day I sat in your class. I’m thankful I was able to learn from you.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. LeeAnn
    February 23, 2017

    Thank you for being you. My daughter spoke highly of you and enjoyed your class. I am so grateful you touched her heart and her mind. God bless you

    Liked by 1 person

  12. fuadberolahraga
    February 22, 2017

    thank you holding you in my thoughts and heart.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Jennifer K.
    February 22, 2017

    Mr. Clem, you were my teacher for a few classes at Waubonsee. You inspired me in so many different ways. I am thinking of you, and I will carry your torch of inspiration always.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. asbwaubonsee
    February 22, 2017

    You were one of my favorite professors and I always looked forward to your class because I loved hearing your viewpoints and everything you had to say about the world! I am grateful that I had the opportunity to be your student, I wish you the best on your journey.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. granolaho
    February 22, 2017

    You are a strong person. I think your words will stay with people for a long time. Thanks for them. I know they’ll stay with me. Keeping you in my thoughts for a gentle transition and journey.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Kathi A Irwin
    February 22, 2017

    You are courage. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Sarah Duffy
    February 22, 2017

    Dearest Mr. Clem,

    My boyfriend, Joe Clodi, & I, are so deeply saddened by your frailty & ill health. You were always our favorite teacher & you are such a wonderful person. I looked forward to the day that I would’ve been able to take your next class.
    I had a major back surgery that put me out quite aways, but am continuing to heal nicely & am considering signing up for classes again this year. I do believe I still have a paper for your class in my English binder.
    Your class discussions & outlooks on those discussions were always the best. I loved how you taught & just how awesome you are in general, as a person! I couldn’t wait to get to your class, not just because it was my last one of the day, but because I loved the way you taught & helped us to learn. 😊
    You will continue to be in our deepest prayers & thoughts. Thank you for being the wonderful teacher that you are & have been. Your struggles here on earth are not in vain. Your knowledge will continue to spread through those of us, whose minds you’ve taught.
    I pray for a miracle that you will heal & that your suffering will subside. You are forever in our hearts. “YOLO”, Mr. Clem. 😘 You sure as hell have made & continue to make the most of your life. I will forever be grateful that I signed up for your class!

    All our love, Sarah Duffy & Joe Clodi 💗💗

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Sandy Kolkay
    February 22, 2017

    Forever a champion – thank you, Billy

    Liked by 1 person

  19. jenneandrews
    February 22, 2017

    So very brave, and inspiring. Thank you, Billy. hugs–Jenne’

    Liked by 1 person

  20. janetisserlis
    February 22, 2017

    thank you holding you in my thoughts and heart.

    Liked by 1 person

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