We Shall Overcome

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Not for the first time I find myself thinking about the strength of character displayed by Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr and others who rejected all forms of violence and embraced nonviolence. And did so in the face of those who, unlike the Trump-McConnell White Power Movement, openly admitted that, Hell yeah, blacks have no business mixing with whites. Jews and Puerto Ricans and any black or brown folk, Native Americans, have no place mixing with the White Race. 

The White race. Please. There is only one race. Humanity. The human race. And in the human race, there are all kinds of hair color and skin color and eye color, and there are freckles and those with no freckles. Bestowing decision-making power on skin pigmentation (color), is like sitting in front of a large rock, waiting for it to give you guidance on how best to manage your life. Rocks aren’t in the guidance business anymore than color is in the decision-making business.

Think of the human race as a library. No two books are alike, but they’re all books!

Dr. King said: “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends”

We cannot remain silent when others are having their rights (including their voting rights) threatened or denied. We must all speak up in our own way, and do so nonviolently.

We shall overcome.



Donald Trump: White Power’s new leader

The white-power movement has found its leader in president-elect Donald J. Trump. Our democracy is in danger. If it is to survive, if we are to survive as our founding fathers intended, we need recognize the dangerous reality we are facing, and we can’t blink. If we do, our democracy is lost. We are fools to think otherwise.

Trump is an all-around bigot with facist leanings and the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party are thrilled. Every individual he is considering for his cabinet has pronoucned racist-bigot. By definition, a bigot believes some segments of the population as less worthy of rights than other segments of the population.

Doubling this danger, of course, is Putin-Trump bromance.

You don’t need a cornflake’s imagination to envision Trump and his Drumpfian Klan trying to overthrow our democracy by selling pie-in-the-sky promises to white racists while shattering our declaration of independence and constitution along the way.

Now is the time for all of us, young and old, to stand up for every individual’s right – including the individuals who are illegal immigrants – to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. If you really want to be kind of country that says they don’t have these rights, and or, it is not our problem, so sorry they might suffer, and in many cases, die, then don’t tell me you’re a practicing Christian and don’t tell me you’re an American.

The very rights that some are so quick to deny others, the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, are rights memorialized in both our Declaration of Independence and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The latter includes illegal immigrants, people who are not the evil, slinking, shadowy enemy the newly empowered white-power movement would have you believe. The white-power movement is in part rooted in the culturally-fabricated belief that the darker the skin, the less valuable the life.

It is by no means a stretch to say the Pilgrims — white people — were the beginning of the white-power movment. White settlers were essentially illegal immigrants who went on to enslave, slaughter, imprison, and steal the land from American Indians and, as if that weren’t enough, claimed to be Christians in the process.

Any of this ring a bell, people?

The only ones that slaughtered innocents were the whites. For those inclined to cite American Indian raids let me reintroduce you to reality, we attacked them, they fought back, so get a grip. Many of our black brothers and sisters, as you know, are descended from those who did not come here voluntarily: slaves. White people are the ones who stormed this land.

Now, we have elected a president, praised by the Ku Klux Klan and Nazi Party members, who is making cabinet appointments that increases, not decreases, the roar of approval from white-power leaders. We have elected a facist who is just as willing to trample and slaughter as many white settlers were. This cretin doesn’t want to make America great, he wants to make it bigoted, white racist nation once again.

My father and uncle fought the Nazis in World War II. I grew up with a minister who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I’ve got good role models. I will fight, through nonviolent means, the newly empowered white power movement with all my heart and soul.

How could it happen?

After reading a recent blog piece about a New York State brain injury council being in total disarray a friend of mine asked, “How could it happen?”

Good question.

How could a council, formed by an act of a state legislature, drift so glaringly far from its mandated purpose? The New York State Traumatic Brain Injury Council (TBISCC) is, “Under Article 27-CC of the New York State Public Health Law…mandated to recommend long-range objectives, goals and priorities, as well as provide advice on the planning, development and coordination of a comprehensive, statewide TBI program.” Yet, as readers of this blog already know, nothing has happened.

There are two people claiming to be chair and vice-chair who aren’t. If the council were to abide by its by-laws, one of the two hasn’t been a member of the council for more than nine years.

What is it that leads people to turn a blind eye, remain silent, including other council members, when others blatantly break the rules? That, and what leads those who break the rules to do so knowing their actions will damage the lives of people with disabilities, in this case New Yorkers with brain injuries? It is not a coincidence that several of the current vacancies on the council are meant for people with brain injuries, yet the agenda for the upcoming December 10 meeting doesn’t mention this.

Back to, how could this happen?

When my friend first asked the question the first thing that came to mind was Abraham Lincoln’s quote: “Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.” 

Sit in on a few meetings with Michael Kaplen ( he still insists he is the council’s chair) and you’ll quickly learn he is a bully. I’ve been in meetings with him as participant and observer and witnessed him yelling at people and threatening people. Judith Avner, whose term on the council has been over for more than nine years yet still claims to be the council’s vice-chair, is another kettle of fish entirely. She charms, cajoles, and, were there awards for lip-service skill, would win gold or silver every time.

Having said all this, Avner and Kaplen are not hard to understand. Both strike me as being rather weak and insecure people who, by inflicting their will on others are able to feel some sense of control in life and some sense of, well, power. But what’s the cost? New Yorkers with brain injuries and their loved ones suffer as a result. The fact Kaplen and Avner, both attorneys, know their behavior leaves New Yorkers with brain injuries in the lurch reveals a lack of character.

The real question is, what empowers the enablers? The New York State Department of Health knows full well the council is a mess. Thus far it has said and done nothing. In fact, it sends high-ranking staff to council meetings and answers some council questions.  Perhaps one reason for the lack of DOH oversight can gleaned by  considering a July 5, 2011 blog post: “Minutes from a September 9, 2003 meeting say the council drafted a letter to then DOH official Betty Rice expressing the council’s dissatisfaction “with not being allowed to review (TBI Waiver Manual’s) revisions.”  This underscores what has been an ongoing pattern with the DOH for years; they are not interested in outside input. An ineffective council is to its liking.

But why the silence from other council members? Why the silence from members of the NY State Legislature? What are people afraid of, if, in fact, it is fear that gets in their way?

Perhaps, if council members, and others, listened to and heeded the advice of two heroes of mine (and many others) things might take a turn for the better.

  • Elie Wiesel: “Take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
  • Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr:  “Our lives begin to end the day we become  silent about things that matter.”

This writer did send an email along with information about the council to Dr. Nirav Shah, the New York State Commissioner for the Department of Health.

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.

Memo to OWS: More water and more water still

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once accurately compared the use of non-violent protest in response to injustice to putting water on fire. He said if you throw a bucket of water on a fire and the fire doesn’t go out, it doesn’t mean water doesn’t put out fire. It means you need more water.

It seems to me more and more of this water is being used by the nationwide-and-beyond Occupy Wall Street movement. Some of these actions are achieved in stunningly creative and effective ways. One example would be the  emotionally powerful response exhibited by hundreds of students from the University of California, Davis  after police pepper sprayed students who were doing nothing more than sitting on the ground in support of OWS. The video of this brutality has been viewed  well over half a million times at this writing. University Chancellor Linda P.B.Katehi’s authorization to use police force in response to this non-violent student protest has resulted in justifiable calls for her resignation. You can’t call in law enforcement in full riot gear and then act surprised when they use pepper spray which is essentially what she is doing.

Hundreds of students inflicted a breathtaking display of the power of silence when Katehi walked three blocks to her car after her press conference.

What is becoming increasingly clear is the fact that this movement will not be stopped by pepper-spray or by any other acts of authority-sanctioned violence. The OWS movement is not running out of water. Civil rights movements like this never run out of water. In this case, this truth is stronger than ever. 99% is far bigger than 1%. In other words, the numbers and the water supply are on our side. After all, they’re always on the side of justice.