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.