What Happens When We Stand Up For Ourselves

Henrietta HughesWhat happens when we stand up for our own human rights to the government? Lately we’ve had some interesting examples of how powerful people respond to we commoners when we stand up to advocate for ourselves.

Case study 1: Henrietta Hughes, an elderly black woman living out of her car, spoke up at an Obama rally in Florida about her unmet housing needs. Donors and government officials, including the wife of Republican State Rep Nick Thompson, stepped in and she now has a roof over her head.

Ty'sheoma BetheaCase study 2: Ty’Sheoma Bethea wrote a letter to lawmakers about the wretched and shameful condition of her school. It eventually made it to the Oval Office, and Obama invited Ty-Sheoma to his “state of the nation” address to Congress in February.

More details from CNN:

…Mark Sanford, announced he wouldn’t use his share of the stimulus money on projects like rebuilding her school. “It’s easy to fall into the trap of we need to fix this one school,” said Sanford, a Republican.

…Taking a stand against government spending, Sanford said he would be willing to use the $700 million in the stimulus bill only if he believes he has discretion to control paying down the state’s debt.

That means Ty’Sheoma’s community is left with its school, whose condition is astonishing.

“The auditorium is condemned,” she said on the tour through the crumbling structure. “They use the stage for storage.”

She looked around and said the walls are peeling off and debris has fallen from the ceiling. The gymnasium is in such bad shape, the basketball coach has to cancel games when it rains.

…Many classes are taught in trailers on the school grounds. But the walls are so thin, teachers have to pause when trains roll by, which happens about five times a day.

The school lies in what’s been called the Corridor of Shame, a stretch of highway with enormously poor neighborhoods that are mostly African-American. Some critics say the state doesn’t want to spend money on black kids.

Ty’sheoma’s got something important to advocate for here. Her basic right to quality education is clearly going unmet. Yet Sanford doesn’t care, because he finds it more politically expedient to stick to his amoral conservative ideology. What does government exist for if not to guarantee the rights of the public? For people like Sanford to get and keep power?

What do you notice about these photos? These two individuals advocating for themselves and others like them, Americans who lack access to reasonable housing and education, are both black women. They are ridiculed and rebuffed by plenty on the right, but yet they risk that to raise their voices against injustice. It isn’t surprising that black women would be the ones to step out and take the lead here. Black women have a long history of advocating for human rights, and feel very acutely the lack thereof. Here are two more such women coming forward and speaking out to power.

I’m glad Obama is listening.


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