A word on oppressors & advocacy

Any company, agency,  government, school, healthcare provider, individual, who seeks to minimize the voice of those they claim to serve is an oppressor. To be fair, some get caught up in group-think and find themselves supporting decisions, methods, laws, protocols, directives that oppress a group or groups of individuals. Others know bloody well what they are doing. Some oppress out of a palpable dislike for those they claim to serve, while others do so because those they serve, people with disabilities (PWD) for example, are little more than revenue streams in their eyes. Moreover, PWD have been used as fodder for those who revel in the sewage of arrogant self-aggrandizement.

The question is, a willful oppressor or an oppressor out of ignorance, or, equally relevant, out of fear? Fear of reprisal if he, she, or they hold the oppressors accountable. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was absolutely right when he said, “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Back in 2008 I lost all income and all employment because I would not remain silent when a particular New York State health care provider, a Traumatic Brain Injury Waiver provider to be exact, was denying the rights of those participating in the program in part by community-based warehousing. In other words, put as many difference services on the shoulders of the program participant so you can bill (make money) as much as possible. It was made very clear to me that I needed to go along to get along or lose everything (meaning, in this instance, all my income and healthcare coverage). I chose that latter.

I knew then, just as I do now, that real human rights advocacy (as opposed to lip-service advocacy) can be a bloody business. If you are the real deal on the advocacy front you’re in good company: Mandela, King, Gandhi, Susan B. Anthony, Malcom X, Medgar Evers, Harvey Milk, Elie Wiesel, Simon Wiesenthal, Gloria Steinem, Betty Friedan, Frederick Douglass, Malala Yousafzai, just to name a few.  All of the aforementioned paid dearly for their advocacy. Loss of freedom, loss of life. So, when it comes down to it, any price I may have paid pales in comparison.

It seems to me the job, if you will, of any real human rights advocate, is to, by any non-violent means necessary, drag the oppression and the oppressors into the open, and hold them accountable.

Recently I was pondering a column about accountability. I found myself wearing a rather large smile when several thesauruses listed accountable and responsible as synonyms. I know  a few oppressors who, on the one hand, would, with misplaced pride and predictable defiance, say they do their jobs responsibly. Yet the moment you hold them accountable,  these folks would slither under a rocks with remarkable speed and spit out venomous accusations of unfairness at those holding them accountable.

Oh well.

I Hear I’m Controversial

Sometimes a part of our truth can be right in front of us and we can’t see it. Case in point: I sheepishly confess that I was utterly entirely flabbergasted this morning when a friend of mine said, “Well, you know you’re controversial, Peter.”  It was, I’ve gathered since talking to others since this morning’s conversation, and enduring everyone’s laughter by the way, a rather prominent deer in the headlights moment for me. I instinctively responded by saying, “Why should equal rights be controversial?”

They are.

I asked them why they think I’m controversial. The theme of their answers was the same. You call out people, companies, agencies, government agencies on their actions or lack of actions. You don’t politically walk on eggs. You are deeply sensitive to all minorities and you don’t hesitate to identify those who persecute them, even when you know it is going to cost you. People know if you see people being mistreated you’re going to say it and name names. One person said, You drag things into the light.

Well, if that all makes me controversial then I’m glad I am. I was recently in a meeting where someone I respect a great deal said part of advocacy is about pushing the envelope.

One person said, Some folks hope you’ll just go away.  Those who hope I’ll just go away are those who through action or inaction support things that deny people their rights.

I know of too many people whose support for minorities like people with disabilities, Gays, Lesbians, blacks, Latinos, Jews, Muslims, Native Americans is cast in lip service and self-aggrandizement. Bad news for these folks. I’m not going away. I can’t. I’m controversial.

Actions Speak Louder than Words

Actions speak louder than words. A cliché. When I was a boy my father reminded me there are reasons clichés become clichés, and the reasons are often good ones, which I believe to be the case with actions speak louder than words.

As one who lives with a disability, in my case a brain injury, I am weary of the many who offer up words of advocacy and support for brain injury survivors yet when it comes down to standing up to those who deny our rights they do nothing.  In the world of brain injury there are all kinds of people in the profit and non-profit arenas who, when it comes to taking a stand for equal rights, fail miserably. Too many who claim to care remain silent when they know brain injury survivors are being denied equal rights, real quality care and support, meaning, in part, that those providing the care are qualified to provide the services they are being paid to provide, paid with taxpayer dollars no less!

And so it is that this year my eye will be on the actions versus words arena. When the actions don’t match the words, I’ll say so. Yes, I know, I will upset some. I don’t care. Why should I? The ones I’ll be upsetting are the ones spewing lip service. They  don’t deserve caring, not when the rights of others are being denied and their silence and inaction makes them one of the forces contributing to the denial those rights.

Everyone and every organization is fair game. I am overjoyed that my state’s new governor has made it clear ethical standards are a must and in some instances in this state, they are severely lacking. True that governor.

It’s All About Respect

In order for relationships of any kind to work, each person must be able to be who they are safely with the other. I’m talking about emotional, physical, spiritual, and intellectual safety. It is all about respect.

Too often people give up who they are to remain connected to another. It never works, at least not if happiness and fulfillment and your ability (and right) to be you is concerned.

Judgment is one of the primary poisons that can make being who you are risky business. People see the way you look or hear the way you sound and in the blink of an eye draw all kinds of conclusions, more often than not inaccurate ones. If you are black or Latino, Gay or Lesbian, Muslim, female, Jewish, and so on, the judgment flies. When I met my first wife she’d just left the high-paying field of modeling for a low-paying job in marketing. When I asked her why she’d made the change she said, “I was tired of people talking to my looks and not me.”

Judgment precludes respect. This holds true if you live with a disability as well.  I’ve seen people who for some odd reason conclude that people who use wheelchairs must be hard of hearing. People often draw the same baffling conclusion about people who are blind.

And then there is the number one well-founded complaint I hear from people with disabilities; we are treated as if we’re children. There is no respect in that.

Respecting others is rooted in a commitment to accept others for who they are, which requires being on the lookout for when a lifetime of inaccurate teachings may be skewing your view of another, including your view of your self.

Many of us are slaves to our histories and as a result do not see ourselves clearly. If you were raised being told you were stupid or ugly or bad you may still be under the grip of those damaging inaccuracies. Equally true, if you were raised being told you were better than  or smarter than or better looking than you too are under the grip of damaging inaccuracies.

Dare to discover your truth and the truth of others; doing so is all about respect, for others and your self. Others deserve the respect. So do you.

Note:  The title of this essay is the title of the book I am working on about my experiences in the field of brain injury.

Criminalize Dehumanizing People with Disabilities

If you deny someone their equal rights you deny them their freedom, and for that you should face criminal charges.

This happens all to often in the world of disability. I’ve seen it, endured it, fought it, and will fight it until the end of my days.

If you are going to treat someone with a disability as if their humanity is less whole than yours, you should be charged with a crime. If you are going to treat people with disabilities as if each and everyone of them is a cottage industry for you to profit from, same thing, criminal charges should be brought to bear and if you are convicted you can do the community service by going to jail. In other words, leave the community.

I hear many things from many people on many fronts, particularly in the world of people like me who live with brain injuries. Sometimes I can reveal my sources, sometimes not. Sometimes discreetness is the wisest choice, sometimes in your face is. I am willing to play both cards if I genuinely believe doing so will further equal rights and or hold accountable those who willfully deny others their equal rights.

Here is an example that typifies a lot of what goes on. I know someone who lived with a brain injury. She is extremely bright and nobody’s fool. Were she in a coma she could likely outwit 99 percent of the people I know. Anyway, she was attending a day program and made it known she wanted to get a part time job. So the program tells this woman that they will clear out a little office space they have and set it up with candy and soda that she can sell a few hours a week and she can keep some of the money. This woman said to me, “Do they think I’m stupid or what? Do they think I don’t know that the only reason they’re offering this is so they can bill for the hours I’m in selling their damned candy?” In other words, all this Albany-based provider cared about was not losing the money they would lose if this woman had a part time job in the, wait for it, community!

There was a time in life when I believed that in everyone’s heart of hearts there rested an active or untapped reservoir of compassion for others. Wrong. There are plenty of people that simply don’t care, not at all. And they are the ones that need to be exposed,  criminally charged when possible, and given a leave of absence from the community, and if not the community, a permanent leave of absence from working in an arena designed to help people reach their maximum level of independence.