Friday, January 1, 2010

New Beginnings

Today is January 1st, 2010. The beginning of a new year.

For many, the beginning of a new year marks a kind of milestone, or starting point. We see the first day of the new year as a chance to make changes for the better... to reinvent ourselves, if you will. We make resolutions (some actually kept) to live a healthier lifestyle, or to make a better life for those we love, or sometimes, to leave some kind of positive mark on the world.

As I look back over 55 years of "new beginnings" I am mostly pleased with my progress. I've made some spectacular blunders, to be sure... but I've also achieved some wonderful successes as well. This year, I plan to reinvent myself once again by returning to college to get my degree in Social Work. It will take a few years, yes, but I want it. I will succeed. That's my resolution.

I also plan to become more active in the area of advocacy for my fellow disabled this year. Whereas before I was content to simply write my blog and build an online community, I think this is the year I will ramp things up a bit. (Was that a play on words? {smile})

This is the year I will attend more local government meetings. This is the year I will meet with more of my fellow advocates and become a force for change in our community. We can do this, I am certain, because we have to. With the economy on everyone's mind, it will be easy for us to fall between the cracks. For our essential services to dwindle, or perhaps even vanish. We can not allow this to happen.

Late last year I attended an advocacy meeting hosted by The Ability Center of Greater Toledo. There was good food and music, of course, but there was also a presentation that opened my eyes a bit to the long road we've travelled so far, and the road that still lies ahead of us. At that meeting, I was greatly impressed with a speech given by one of the organizers of the event, Marianne Huff. In it she asks a very important question: Why Speak Up? I think I'll let her answer that question herself. Marianne? Take it away!

Why “Speak Up?”
Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the Grass Roots Advocacy Kick Off event!  We are excited to have the opportunity to talk to you today about the importance of advocacy that begins at the grass roots — which means all of us.  We are examples of the common man and woman who are the building blocks of this society and we are the foundation upon which this Nation is built.  We call it grass roots because our power comes from the raising of our collective voices.  Nothing that has been built in this country was done by a single individual; all that has been accomplished and all that will ever be accomplished is rooted in the knowledge that all of us are inter-connected and that those things that matter, are accomplished collectively.
I remember seeing a film called “Marie: A True Story” about a woman named Marie Raggianti who was the first woman appointed to head the Parole Board for the state of Tennessee. In that film, which was about tremendous corruption in the state’s government and, Mrs. Raggianti, who was one of those who uncovered the corruption and spoke out -- I heard a quote from one of the characters in that  film -- that I will never forget which, I have since discovered, is a paraphrased statement from a well-known English statesman who was influential during the 1700’s named Edmund Burke; the quote went something like this:  “Evil flourishes when good men do nothing.” In all reality, it mattered much less to me “who” made this statement, but I have never forgotten these words as they have settled into my thinking and as they thumped loudly against my beliefs and against my values.
So I ask you today: Why speak up?  To risk the collective slings and arrows of those who rabidly seek to maintain that which is the status quo — it means — talking back to those who, believing in the infallibility of their own “power” — who believe that they are “legends”  — if even in their own minds — have forgotten that their ladder of authority is not sturdy — that they can be toppled by standing on an unstable foundation that is built upon the fragility of the human ego and not upon the bedrock of our common humanity.   
So why speak up?   Because evil and poor judgment based upon service to self DO flourish in the land.  Self-seeking and self-importance can infect and invade the nooks and crannies of the mortar of the consciousness of All when gone — unchallenged — Naysayers can often be soothsayers who are keen observers of the truth — and who risk sharing “what they see” — by asking questions such as “Why?” and “Why not?” 
So, why speak up?  When it is easier to look toward our own lives, to be concerned with our own positions — as lowly or as lofty as we may deem them to be — and set our gaze upon our stuff — and ignore the suffering of others — ignore the bad public policy decisions that will eventually effect us — ignore the injustice — the ugliness — until it happens to us.  Then we pay attention. Then we take notice.  By then we have become those whose plight we have ignored.  Then we are no longer ignorant — we are informed by our own experience. 
So why speak up?  Thomas Jefferson, John Quincy Adams. Jean D’Arc; Ed Roberts; Judy Heumann; Justin Dart; Abraham Lincoln; Gandhi; Mitch Snyder.  Martin Luther King, Jr.  Queen Elizabeth the first.   
All of these ordinary folks and citizens, who did extraordinary things — who spoke up and who observed the wrong and attempted to make it right — by speaking up and by acknowledging that, sometimes, the Emperor has no clothes.  These folks are an example of many others throughout history who spoke out and declared “It is what it is”, without apology and without allowing the fear that they must have felt when doing the right thing to interfere with their actions.
They didn’t ignore it.
They didn’t hope IT would go away.
They didn’t hope that someone else would take care of it for them.
They stood up to it.
They took it on.
They stood alone, often times, and they said “No more”.
They spoke up in the immortal words of Popeye and declared:
It is alls I can stands ‘cuz I can’t stands no more.”
America would not be here today without the collective efforts of a grass roots group of bedraggled farmers, ministers, disillusioned statesmen, and business owners.  America would not be here today if this group had shrugged their collective shoulders and decided, “It’s okay if they tax us to death.”  “It’s okay if we have no voice in the tyranny to which our government has been inflicting upon us.”  “That is okay if they tell us how to worship our Creator.”  “That’s okay if they control us thereafter with martial law and taxes and the threat of treason and eventual death.”
Benjamin Franklin.  Paul Revere.  John Hancock.  George Washington. Alexander Hamilton.  Samuel Adams. And others, many others, including a group of farmers, mill wrights, stone masons, blacksmiths -- all spoke up together.  And acted — with deliberation — with intention — with deliberate intention — to affect change — in spite of the knowledge that Death would be nigh to them all — they spoke up anyway.   
“It’s better to light a candle then to curse the darkness.” Edna St. Vincent Millay.
So again, I ask you, “Why Speak up?”  When your voice may be the only voice of reason— the only voice of clarity — the only voice of dissent amid millions of those who may be assenting to an insane, immoral proposition.  
Why speak up?  Your words may be the only offering of a solution in a whirlwind of indecision and derision and turmoil.  Your way may be the only fire escape from a torrent of irrational acts and brutality.  Your wisdom may be the only enlightened vision that is left unclouded by the passionate, yet misdirected will of one who has corrupted the minds of many.  
So why speak up?  
Bang the drum.
Sound the alarm.
Shout it.
Scream it.
Quietly --  as the life you save may be your own.


Thank you, Marianne, for those powerful words!

And so, this year, I join my voice to the hundreds and thousands already out there, speaking out. I forget sometimes that the "A" in Advocacy stands for "Action" -- and today, at the beginning of a new year, I resolve, strongly, to take more action this year, and speak out for those who may not (as of yet) have found their own voice. Will you join me... no strike that... will you join US? Thank you, as always, for your support.


Marianne Huff is the Advocacy Event Coordinator for The Ability Center of Greater Toledo, and may be reached by contacting them directly. A link is provided to the left.