Silence – Not Consent

I hate being silent. I know there are times it is the right thing to do, but it can be so dang aggravating. Last night a person I know who runs a non-profit spoke to me of the antics of one of their active members. I wish she hadn’t.

The member has run more people away from that organization than I can mention. Rumours abound about why this person is even still a part of the group. Perhaps they provide funding or are some way personally related to someone. Frankly, I have no idea, except they have been there a long time and despite all the complaints and concerns they are, apparently, there to stay.

I continue to provide some service to this organization, but have stepped back from participating in major events or providing major service. Ethically, it’s all I know to do. When an organization has someone who ‘acts out’, offends, and even crosses lines of racism, it’s hard to me to participate comfortably.

Yet, the organization provides a place for some. If the organization failed, those folks would be negatively impacted. But the primary focus these days seems to be organizational survival, which is based on funding which the organization must continually chase. Once received, the community served must sit on the sidelines while the organization fulfills their responsibilities to the funders.

It, inherently, creates an attentive-then-absent environment which is hardly healthy mentally or otherwise. But, as we know, we are all in different phases of developing our wings, and those who haven’t got them, well, at the moment, there are many options. So until there are, I feel I must be silent.

In the background I can work, and I do, with others who see the same issues, and some who see even more. We work to create viable options for those who might feel, if this organization’s issues were ever revealed, the upheaval that would come with it.

It is important we all work to ensure we can speak out against those who, even within our community, would do harm to others in our community. In this case, I hardly care what minority group you belong to, this is as true for the communities I belong to as any other. The only community I belong to, for which I hesitate to advocate this line of thinking, is the white one. I am white, and I benefit daily as a white person in America. Even as a member of the disabled, lesbian, female, Jewish community, being white and all those things is better than not being white and all those things. I try never to forget that.

I remember years ago, as part of the LGBTT community (and let me be honest, I’m going so far back it was really more the LG, and B if we have to, community), we faced issues of closeted politicians passing anti-gay legislation to preserve their position and telling us it was better to have them in office than a heterosexual representative, despite some of the negative legislation they had to pass, or positive legislation they had to vote “NO” on.

What were we to do? They were a part of the community, under societal pressures none of us could comprehend. If we outed them, we’d have no voice in government at all. So for years we were silently offended by their scandalous efforts to maintain their position on the backs of their community.

Then a new group formed. Queer Nation. What a scary bunch of gays and lesbians (whoops, I mean queers) they were! They broke the silence and booted those politicians out. It was the right thing to do. Politicians, unlike some people with disabilities, have a job, an income and generally other opportunities through which they can fund their lives should they not get re-elected. One might argue that was not so true for some of the closeted gay politicians who were passing anti-gay legislation on a regular basis, but as I recall, Queer Nation really provides quite a bit of warning before acting back then. Their voice was quite clear, ‘This must stop or we will out you!’. I consider that fair warning. Those who were outed had a decision to make, a difficult one for sure, but fair warning was provided.

But for some in the disabled community, society has taken all and the few things they have are precious indeed. Interrupting services, however good the cause, must wait until we have a net in place.

When organizations fail to focus on those most in need within the community, and support those who would do harm, they also tend to know what they are doing. They may rationalize and justify it, as my friend appears to, but the reality, given their understanding of the situation, must be clear.

Regardless, often these organizations work hard to prevent the existence of secondary safety nets – it’s ‘not’ in their interest for for them to exist. It means there are options, and suddenly doing whatever is most ‘comfortable’ for the leadership financially or socially doesn’t work anymore.

For this reason, within the disability community, a duplicity of services, however financially unflattering, is critical to the integrity of our non-profits who start with the goal of serving the community and find themselves addicted to the funding regardless of the impact to the community they serve.

So, early in the conversation, I suggested to my friend, as I have discussed my concerns regarding this person many times with them, that nothing good could from this line of conversation. That I had remove myself from this person by, essentially, removing most of my participation from the organization. My friend applauded my decision to do nothing. It preserved both our dignity she rallied.

Hardly. There is no dignity in looking the other way while someone harms others with the blessing of an organization which claims to serve them.

My dignity takes a hit every time I meet another person negatively impacted by the organization. I am on the sidelines hearing far to regularly about how someone (and in this organization’s case, more than one someone) humiliated, was condescending toward and, worst of all, disenfranchising members of our larger community.

But I say nothing too loudly for now. It is not as if most people don’t know what is happening. It’s only a secret, I suspect, to folks new to the organization and its funders. I have certainly had plenty of conversations with the leadership about it, and their lack of action makes it clear there is no interest to change what has become the status quo.

Instead, I listen to those offended and offer them options. I do interviews with publications, not speaking badly of any organization, but reassuring them there are many options for folks, and naming those other options. Larger organizations often like to pretend they are the only organization, or the only organization making a ‘real’ impact. They are the ‘experts’.

Michael Graves, a disabled architect who passed in 2015, loved ‘experts’ (read that sarcastically please…). Listening to him speak I realize that the status of ‘expert’ is often self-applied by those who have done things for our community without any real understanding of how helpful (or unhelpful) they were.

In Michael’s case, he spoke about ‘architectural’ experts who built beautifully accessible buildings, but once inside they were cramped and logistically useless for our community. But they built a few of these ‘state-of-the-art’ buildings, and as a result, were now labeled ‘experts’ in the field. Not a disabled person on their staff. I like Michael because he took them on and worked to build truly accessible buildings.

He didn’t seem overly bothered about whether he would get rich or win the bid. He jokes in lectures that he was far from rich, and that good architecture wouldn’t get anyone rich these days. In a world of ‘build it on the cheap’, Micheal chose to maintain the integrity of true architectural standards regardless of whether he would financially succeed by doing so.

Is this not a true course of faith? One that suggests we do the ‘right thing’ over the thing which seems to provide more stability, more security. Is it not ‘faith’ to choose that which offers no guarantee except that we have done the ‘right thing’. We may end up homeless, but we will sleep well on the street at night knowing we are right with whatever Power drives us to do good in life.

 

I won’t argue this point, it is my truth at the moment. You won’t convince me otherwise. When we find truths, we are fairly stubborn about them, I’m no different. (smiles)

I believe we left off at I find no dignity in silence.

Silence rarely preserves my ‘true’ dignity in the present. When I find myself in a position where ‘silence’ is necessary for the ‘greater good’ or ‘long-term good’, it always leaves a pungent odor and sour taste in my mouth. It is a necessity I must succumb to given the unwillingness of those in power to actually address the issues they are in charge of. Given I do not have that power, at least not directly within that organization, I accept silence and go to work in the background.

I go spreading a message of hope and spearheading projects to quietly build a safety net about which no one can overtly complain without appearing more concerned with their own security than the community they serve. It is part of a complicated game of chess. It is strategic, quiet and drawn-out. In the end, hopefully, a state of tyranny (the levels of which vary) ends and a new way of interacting, contributing, participating and truly supporting one another is made possible.

 

It doesn’t always work out that way. The reasons vary, but sometimes the whole effort fails miserably. So I do my best to maintain an addiction to doing the next right thing. Then, even in failure, I can feel the path was okay, that I am good with the Powers that be in the universe. If a list of judgments are read upon my passing, hopefully the worst of them will be called from far in my past and less from the present (though I am no saint).

Though pain wakes me throughout the night, I want to know that if there were no pain waking me, I would sleep well, at peace, despite the pains of the world and the digressions of a few, because I am working for the greater the good, doing the best I can with the tools I have and the understanding available to me today, however limited any of it may be.

That I may continue this journey is as a good a resolution for the upcoming year as any. As it is the New Year, I will leave you with this blessing:

Peace to you this coming year –
May those we harmed find forgiveness –
May we do the same for our harms.

May we walk upright in spirit
With a posture of humility;
A tendency for restraint.

May we ask for guidance
In our actions as we wake –
In all the steps we take.

When the year we have comes to a close
May we look back and feel
There is little we would oppose,
Little we added to the pile of regret;
Our street is a bit cleaner than when we began –
And we offered service by outstretched hand.

What a world this would be –
No guarantees –
Let it start with me –
Then you –
Then we.

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