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Friday, February 10, 2012

What happened to the voice of the people?

I broke my rule and went to dinner the other night with a focus group. I usually avoid socializing with a group of people I've only known a few hours and in the context of our work and my facilitation. Besides, there's all sorts of stuff I need to catch up on, like email. And the telephone. I also need time to recharge my batteries, and doing more of what discharged them in the first place is not likely to help me much.

So sitting there at the table among the gentlemen with whom I've shared a productive day, the usual sorts of conversation ensue. Politics, especially politics. I quickly learned that I'm dining with a group of very conservative men, and given that I'm moderately addicted to my paycheck, okay, completely addicted, I remained, mostly, quiet, shared a tweet that Santorum had won three state caucuses, and left it at that. At some point, the fellow across the table mentioned that the federal court had overturned Prop 8 in California, leaving the matter to, probably, wind its way to the Supreme Court for resolution. The fellow next to me, and otherwise intelligent and generally well-educated man, chimed in with “What ever happened to the voice of the people?”

Having spent my first 50 years hiding in the closet, I'm generally disinclined to let such statements lie, but in this matter, a lot of people depend on me to do my job, and I diverted the conversation with an expression of my unusual distaste for green beans such as were piled high in the bowl before me. “God, I hate a green bean,” was my statement. Dinner was served, and I leaned into my plate, finished, had dessert, visited the host, and then walked back to the hotel. It seemed imprudent to extend my time in the presence of the on-going conversation, and I wondered if this is how they feel when they're a minority opinion at the table.

Yet, that question left me thinking: What about the voice of the people? On my walk back, as well as the rest of the evening, I processed this. If the voice of the people had held, my dissertation adviser would have been working the cotton fields, not guiding me through a PhD program. He is a black man. If the voice of the people had held, one of my favorite colleagues would not have been born. She is Amerasian. If the voice of the people had held, my family would not exist, what with the blending of indigenous American and European DNA that started over 500 years ago followed by the subsequent and systematic extermination of Indian people that continues to this day. I am not as white as I look.

It is fairly easy to cite a litany of examples where the voice of the people should not hold, and most of these instances arise from the expression of fear felt by a majority that the changes involved with granting civil rights to a minority will lead to the end of civilization. This is why we have a Constitution and a federal court system, at least in part, to prevent the on-going tyranny of frightened cowards and bullies, much of which we see exemplified in the hate-filled political discourse that consumes so much of our public attention this year.

To this end, I must thank my dining companions. They motivated me to see a matter more clearly. When the Supreme Court rules that laws such a Prop 8 deny equal protection under the law to a group of people, they shall have the opportunity to weep, wail, and gnash their teeth, much as many people did, and much as some still do, after the Supreme Court ruled on Loving v. Commonwealth of Virginia and legalized interracial marriage in these United States. I just wonder if I'll live to see it.

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