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.

An advocate’s thoughts on accountability

We are all, unless determined otherwise by a court or healthcare professionals, accountable for our choices, our actions; let’s call it, our behavior. None of us gets a pass, at least when it comes to our personal and professional lives, nor should we.  When we are public servants, i.e. elected officials or employees (contract or otherwise) of state, federal and local governments, we are also accountable for our behavior. If we are members of non-profit agencies pledged to help some segment of the population, we are accountable for our behavior.

As I see it, my responsibility as a human rights advocate, is to hold people and agencies and governments and government officials accountable for their behavior, and to do so openly; bring the behavior out into the light of day. When the behavior is good and healthy, it deserves the accolades, the gratitude, the recognition. When the behavior is not good, not healthy, it deserves the response it will get, and it deserves to be publically recognized; people have a right to know. President Obama once said, “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.” True. Martin Luther King Jr once said, “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” True.

The price I’ve paid for my advocacy -I’ve paid and still pay some “bills” to be sure – pales in comparison to what those being denied their rights go through. I know too that there have been and are people, some of whom I like very much, who have been and still are very upset with me; angry with me. I take no pleasure in this, but I have no control over where the facts lead. And, for me, silence is not an option. If I worked for or knew of a company or agency that discriminated against people who were Gay or Lesbian or Transgendered, I would not be silent. If I worked for or knew of a company or agency that discriminated against people who were disabled, black, Latino, Jewish, Muslim, etc., I would not be silent.

There are also instances when people or agencies take my actions are personally. They believe, honestly I am sure, that my actions are aimed at them on a personal level. Not so. My actions are not aimed at anyone on a personal level. But let’s be unflinchingly clear about something; it doesn’t get more personal than when someone’s rights are being denied. And when I watch and experience this happening to others, I do take it personally. Perhaps this is a character flaw, that’s for others to judge, and I’m sure they will, and have. But it buckles me into tears sometimes when I hear of how inhumanely people are treated.

When I hear people have taken my efforts personally, I always think of a scenario along the lines of the following: A husband and wife are home one evening.

The husband says, “Some sonuvabitch cop gave me a speeding ticket!”

His wife says, “What was the speed limit?”


“How fast were you going?”


I very much doubt the cop wrote out the ticket as part of some personal vendetta.

And so what’s the moral of this story? Don’t speed. And if you do, and you get caught, don’t blame the one who caught you. If you weren’t speeding, if weren’t discriminating, if you weren’t trying to beat the rules, the laws, you wouldn’t be in the position you’re in now, would you?

My advice? Don’t speed. If you do, you’re likely to be held accountable. And that is as it should be.

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.


Many pretend greatness, few live it. Nelson Mandela lived it, and lives it. As a human rights advocate there are not many to look up to, to emulate, and for me, Mandela, or Madiba, as he is called by many in South Africa, Madiba being an honorary title adopted by elders of Mandela’s clan, is right their with Ghandi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and a mere handful of others.

Mandela celebrated his 91st birthday today and seeing him brought tears to my eyes. The man right-sizes me on those days I am feeling wounded or walked on by those who wish I would cease my human rights activities. Who am I to complain? Who am I to moan when this man spent 27 years of his life in prison because he would not flinch in his fight for equal rights for all.

Lest any be foolish enough to believe Mandela is somehow a fearless being, let me enlighten you by giving you some of his words. On fear he said, “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

For those foolish enough to think the making of money is the true measure of success, he said, “Money won’t create success, the freedom to make it will.” Now I know a couple of folks who read this blog who would nod their heads in agreement like this like bobble-head dolls and not a single word or tone of their phrasing would be remotely linked to honesty, much less integrity.

For those of you who read this blog who give your heart and soul to assuring that all people are given their equal rights in the world, let me give you the gift of Mandela’s words, “There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires.”

For those of you are struggle for the rights of others, you are my brothers and sisters. For those of you who do not, who feed of others and use others for you material gain, guess what, you are my brothers and sisters too. May you get healthy and grow in that newfound healthiness for you are the ones who are truly enslaved.

For freedom brings with it some glorious realities, as Mandela said, “…to be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.”

Happy Birthday, Mr. Mandela. Thank you for keeping me and so many others right-sized, for reminding us that what feels impossible may not be impossible all.


Some time early in the new year I will be rolling out the Life Growth Blog. It will be devoted to addressing human rights and hopefully provide a forum for you to write in and talk about what you feel are some of the injustices you and or others are dealing with.

In my lifetime I have seen the poison hands of injustice damage and in some cases destroy the lives of far too many good and decent people, including me. And while I am willing and ready to write about the injustices done to me (there has been a plethora of them over the past two years or so) this blog is for you too.

While I cannot save and rescue everyone, while I cannot right every wrong or straighten every distorted and dysfunctional bend in our culture, I can do my best to add my voice to the mix on behalf of others.

On this day in my country’s history, there are laws that seek to protect the rights of the disabled, people who are gay, lesbian, black, Latino, Asian, etc. But too often the laws lack bite, lack the necessary mechanisms to right the injustices they were meant to confront and address. I am firm believer that injustice brought into the light will ultimately perish.

I have worked in the field of brain injury for more than 13 years, and I have seen good programs go bad, struggling programs do good, and, in some instances, people in leadership positions who have everything on their minds but the rights of those they serve, the survivors and their families. What people with brain injuries face is an example of what too many people with disabilities face.

Hopefully, in this coming year, the Life Growth Blog will shed some light onto these things, and perhaps be a voice for all. Even those who provide services deserve to get well. If they don’t, then they deserve to get out.

The blog address will be: http://lifegrowth1.blogspot.com/

(Please note numeric 1 after the word lifegrowth)

Happy New Year to you all.

Peter S. Kahrmann