The Desk

January 15, 2010

Where Voices Ring

It seemed like just another day. But the someone punched a hole into the dark morning sky and a streak of light tore across the landscape announcing that this was not going to be just another ordinary day. The scene was glorious and people in the building stopped their work in order to take in the amazing sight of that broad shaft of light stretching across the land.

The busi-ness of the mundane suffocated the morning. And then minds began to awaken to take cognizance of the actual date. January 15. Just a minute! There’s significance to this date. It’s the birth date of Martin Luther King, Jr., the Nobel Laureate, the civil rights leader, the champion of freedom, the advocate for change through nonviolent means.

The impact of the quietude regarding the date also has an impression. Not only is it eclipsed by the disastrous earthquake that has leveled Port au Prince, Haiti, the hurry scurry of being in our small spaces of our small worlds also eclipse the date. No longer do we have the stalwart civil rights leaders who champion equality and equal rights for the oppressed and downtrodden. No more do we have the voices being lifted up to speak against unfair practices that suppress those who would be qualified but for. No more do we have civil rights leaders.

My belief used to be that those who could have carried the Civil Rights torch became afraid after King’s assassination in 1968. They feared that they too would suffer the martyrdom and have little to show for it. “Cowards!” I growled to myself. Few inroads were made in the civil rights arena after that historic occurrence. There were occasional skirmishes such as Shannon Faulkner. There was the astounding victory of having a Black man elected as the President of the United States without having overt attention drawn to his race. It could be argued that these two meager examples are the present-day torch bearers of the Civil Rights movement. But I think not.

Where are those voices that used to cry out for justice, admission, and equal rights? The ones that were so prevalent and effective in the 1960s, where are they? I don’t hear them any more.

I stop to examine my circumstances as these seven years have stretched into an eternity and my strength and endurance have begun to fade (but not the desire nor the willingness to speak). Finally, like that hole punched into this day’s dawn, realization and appreciation of why the voices are stilled comes to me. It isn’t because of fear and cowardice. As with Faulkner’s epiphany, mine comes from the appreciation of the rigorous path that I have personally traveled, alone, and that many others have endured as well as those who are also enduring it.

The staggering preparation to become qualified has been there for each voice singing the song of freedom and equality. Look at our newest women who have succeeded in breaking that iceberg of the glass ceiling. The strong logic contained in the arguments and advocacy in favor of admission and access has been there. The humble words to encourage the adversaries to change their positions or merely open their ears to hear the message have been appropriate. The consistency of the message was in place. The urgency of the need was properly emphasized.

The trouble was the perversity of the opposition. Unbeknownst to the general public were the many overwhelming distractions that plagued the advocates. Accomplishments can be forgotten. They can be erased and no sign of them recoverable. In these days of electronic media, the mere click of a mouse button on the “Delete” key can wipe out years and decades of work. Thievery can destroy back-up copies.

Best laid plans and agendas can be overturned and toppled. All it takes, even with the most disciplined, is to have some type of urgent disruption on the order of financial or health matters that simply cannot be put off to a later or a more convenient time. Somehow, those urgent, single-factor disruptions grow in proportion and complexity. What should have taken half an hour or an hour, becomes several days. Those people who are pivotal in reaching a solution are not available; they don’t return phone calls or emails. The details and the requirements grow. The original agenda is lost.

The original advocate begins to appear to be ineffective and not worth the time to hear or read what they have to say. In many instances, finances become scant. With that loss also comes deterioration of appearance and lack of ability to be in the right company and places. The voices become hoarse and weak. The clarity of their ringing tones becomes a whisper, an occasional feeble squeak. It’s easily brushed off as something not very important and low on the priority list. And then the entire entity is forgotten because the person is dying or dead. As one person observed, the advocate has been so marginalized that they are no longer.

Today is the birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr. In his words at the Lincoln Memorial, he urged us to let freedom ring. Today we need to partner with those who would let their voices ring on behalf of those who are still oppressed and repressed to our social detriment. We need to do whatever we can to allow those voices to ring with the message that causes the positive change and empowerment so vital to our survival and a thriving and healthy society and economy.

According to today’s E-Alert from California Employment Advisor, The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission reports that 2009 witnessed the second highest number of nationwide bias claims against private-sector employers in its history, amounting to 95,277 and edging out above the previous record set in 2008. The filings show a steady stream of age and race claims while the number of claims of disability, retaliation, national origin, and religion increased. According to the CEA, “Overall, continuing a decade-long trend, the most frequently filed charges with the EEOC in 2009 were those alleging discrimination based on race (36%), retaliation (36%), and sex-based discrimination (30%).” Could it be that the lack of those voices of protest is part of the reason that the claims are growing and the lackadaisical attitude that conscious deterence of discrimination is flippantly disregarded? No doubt it’s part of the reason.

It’s time for a change. We need to have those voices ringing everywhere we go. It’s time to stop their suppression. It’s time to stop the disruptions and obstructions. Those voices must be heard again. They must be heard today.

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