Silence is not an option

If you are going to truly be an advocate for equal rights there are a few things I’d like to share with you.

First, there will be times when you will be wildly unpopular. People in positions of power and those whose advocacy efforts are primarily a form of self-serving lip service will not like it when you bring their realities into the light. But, if your commitment to equal rights is sure and heartfelt, bringing their realities into the light is a must.

Second, there will be times when the facts, as you honestly understand them, will bring you to places and circumstances you wish they didn’t. Nevertheless, these are places you must go if your allegiance is to the equal rights of each and every individual. Sometimes the facts will lead you to places where you will discover people you may like are, in fact, part of the very process that is impeding or outright denying equal rights. Still you must proceed and bring the truth into the light.

Third, at times you will pay a price. Some advocates have lost their lives. Others have lost jobs, financial stability, relationships, and much more.

Fourth, find ways to replenish your spirit, your body and your mind. For me it’s nature, conversations with those very close to me, thinking about and reading the words of people like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela, Father Mychal Judge, Gandhi, Shirley Chisholm, Soujourner Truth, Frederick Douglass, Lincoln, Teddy Roosevelt and others of similar ilk. And then, of course, the people whose rights you are fighting, in my case primarily individuals with brain injuries. My life is all better and then some for knowing as many as I do. As remarkable and resilient and courageous a group of human beings as one can imagine. And then, lastly, for me, reading books!

No matter what you do to keep your spirits up, there will be times you’ll want to give up. There will be times the fear and heartbreak will be so bad you’ll want to curl up into a ball and vanish into the earth. Please don’t give up. For if you give up, you hand those who deny equality a victory because giving up means you’ve surrendered your humanity.

While I will not get into specifics at the moment, I am beginning to realize I may need to  bring certain things into the open that may bruise people I like and, perhaps, in some instances, end friendships or acquaintances. Then again, perhaps some of these individuals will look into their hearts and discover that they too will put equal rights ahead of their honest, but perhaps misguided allegiance, to governmental or private agencies as well as for-profit and non-profit companies.

We’ll see. Being an advocate can be an unsettling, upsetting, heartbreaking, and scary experience. But, the experience of remaining silent in the face of people be denied their rights would be immeasurably worse.

Now, if you’ll permit me, I’m going to go read. I wish you the best.

ADAPT Fights Slavery in 2009

The nation’s largest grassroots disability rights organization this week unleashed  24 simultaneous protests at Democrat offices across the country including the Democrat National Committee’s (DNC) office in Washington D.C. and Senator Max Baucus’ office in Missoula, MT. Baucas is the chair of the Senate Finance Committee.

In a very real way, ADAPT is fighting slavery. Federal law requires states to pay for institutionalizing seniors and people with disabilities. However, states have to ask permission! to pay for services that would allow seniors and people with disabilities to live in the community. In other words, the law forces people with disabilities and seniors into institutions and robs them of their freedom.

This is slavery. Hard to believe? I hear you. But it’s true. Consider this; forced institutionalization violates the United Nation’s 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Article 4 of the UDHR reads: No one shall be held in slavery or servitude; slavery and the slave trade shall be prohibited in all their forms.

How can we call robbing people of their freedom by forcing them into institutions against their will anything other than slavery?

Lest anyone doubt the power and significance of the UDHR, consider this. It is the most translated document in the world.

ADAPT is rightfully demanding Congress eliminate the Medicaid institutional bias this year as part of healthcare reform or by passing the Community Choice Act. ADAPT protested at Democrat offices largely because the Democrats are in the majority. However, I would urge ADAPT to protest at Republican offices as well. One party may be the warden, but all the jailers have keys.

Over the years I have become more and more convinced that bringing injustice into the light is one of the most effective ways of destroying. Moreover, I know of a man who said, “I expose slavery in this country, because to expose it is to kill it. Slavery is one of those monsters of darkness to whom the light of truth is death.” He also said, “I didn’t know I was a slave until I found out I couldn’t do the things I wanted.”

Now I can’t do much about it if you disagree with my belief that bringing injustice into the light helps destroy it. Nor can the man I quoted do anything about it if you disagree with him. He died many years ago. His name was Frederick Douglass.