In order for our democracy to work, there must be a place at the table for everyone. Unfortunately, that is not always the case. Even the Framers of the Bill of Rights left out the slaves, Native Americans, and anyone else who wasn’t white.
“We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal. That they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. That among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”—Barack Obama quoting the Bill of Rights in his speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention
This notion is what makes America great; however, in reality, it has been a tough road for all those who have come before us. We now stand on the shoulders of all those generations of good hard working Americans trying to live the American Dream by doing the right things; and those Americans filled with prejudice, discrimination, and hate. Even with the bad folks, we are still better off every generation. The American Dream works for many; but, not all—yet.
Forty plus years later after Robert Kennedy observed, “In forty years from now, it will be possible for a Negro to be elected President like my brother” in response to the change brought by the brave Freedom Riders of the early 1960’s. Even though it rattled many of the Freedom Riders and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Kennedy’s observation became prophetic. And, as President Obama says, “My story can only happen in America.” Yet, we still have a ways to go.
We have a Black man in the White House; this fact shows we have come a long way since the First Continental Congress, the Civil War, Selma, Birmingham, Memphis, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964; however, we still don’t have everyone at the table. We still deny some Blacks, Asians, Native Americans, Latinos, Women, Gays, and Lesbians.
Personally, to my disappointment, I have no powerful emotion/passion to any of these causes because even though I grew up in a poor neighborhood, my parents still provided what we needed, I was always safe, and I was taught the American work ethic. In the 1950’s though we still had the prevailing feeling was “at least we’re not black.” I have never experienced discrimination. I never bought into that feeling. People are people was my thoughts; however, over the years, I’d catch myself being a product of my environment and caught myself perpetuating prejudice behavior. It took a workshop called the Color of Fear to get down to my innate biases. This started my introspection to change my behavior.
Despite my sheltered upbringing in a “white” world, I do have a powerful passion for justice. I just didn’t know how to channel it. The terms “Liberty” and “Justice” mean different things to different races and ethnicities. However, the Bill of Rights says, “All men are created equal.”
As I experience and observe racism and hate in our beautiful Country, I wonder, where is the justice? When I see a Black man go to jail for life over petty crimes because of three strikes laws, then I see a 20 year old white male blast the life out of 4 adults by running a red light because he is high on marijuana even admitting to the police that “I am pretty high” and he receives less than eight years, I wonder, “It’s 2011! Where is the justice?”
Game Change for Me
Because of this passion for justice in our society, I decided to teach people to stand up and speak so they can take their rightful place at the table. I was always afraid to stand up and speak because of stage fright and a reluctance to “get involved.” However, when I read the Letters from the Birmingham Jail written by Martin Luther King Jr., combined with my education and observations, my energy and passion began to come together for my cause—a cause that was lacking in my life: Teach others to speak up speak out for justice.
Those words paraphrased here are part of what has driven me since 1990 to do something to make a difference. The meaning I understood from King follows: “I’m not concerned with the bad people who do bad things, I am concerned about the good people who witness bad things and do nothing.” (Again, these words are paraphrased because they stick in my mind better.)
I looked for a way I could get involved with passion. Since I had no passion for any societal issues—sure I had opinions and feelings about abortion, the death penalty, drunken drivers, seatbelts, a clean environment, battered women, elderly care, the U.S. Budget, notions of Republicans and Democrats being enemies, red states, blue states, divisive rhetoric, campaign contribution laws, Unions, the Supreme Court, gay marriages, wars, crime, etc; however, I never did anything about them. Since there was no tragedy in my life or in the lives of anyone close, I didn’t have that fire to stand up and do something. My life has been blessed with relative peace since I was born. I can’t remember a time when the people around me didn’t have my best interests in mind. I was a good person who did nothing!
The bad people have shown themselves to me. The people who tell others there is no place at the table for them are exposed. The Church that tells my Mom they don’t have a place for her gay relative, the people in Tennessee who tell the Muslims there is no place for them in their town, the bureaucrats who tell the Native Americans we didn’t really mean it when we signed those treaties—“we thought you knew that,” the jock sniffer who hands out wads of cash to hang with a black athlete then shuns him when his playing days are over, the young black, Latino, and Asian kids that get stopped by the police because “they must be up to something bad,” and the Latino’s who get asked for their “papers” to prove they are Americans. Even our President was forced to show “his papers.” Liberty and Justice for all? I don’t see it yet.
I teach people to stand up and speak up speak out for their place at the table. I have found that demanding doesn’t often work; however, in the style of President Obama, persuasion does work. Demanding respect, justice, input, being part of decision making, understanding, etc does not work. We have to learn to persuade the people at the table to give everyone her/his rightful place. America has a place for everyone—no exceptions.
This skill I teach is public speaking. I know a lot of people are afraid of public speaking; but, our ideas, input, innovation, critical thinking, etc are too important to hold back because of our personal fear of public speaking. We have to take the focus off ourselves and place it on others that need our help. Everyone must take their place at the table for his/her cause.
I teach people to manage the fear, to analyze the others at the table, and persuade those others to offer everyone his/her rightful place.
We need all of you to step up. Don’t stand around and stay uninvolved. If you do, then you have to take what you get. If you get involved, speak up speak out, then the ideals of the Bill of Rights will become reality. It can’t happen without all of us. I can help you.