Action Paralysis
February 10th, 2017 | Posted By

Action Paralysis

Ellen J. Kennedy, Ph.D.

Governor Mark Dayton said recently, “This is a hard time for human rights. Are we going to stand back or are we going to stand up?”

Of course we’re going to stand up. But stand up for what?

Every morning I wonder what the day’s news will bring: which human right will be abridged, which group of people will be increasingly marginalized, which effort at global peace and justice will be at gravest risk of being dismantled. What will I do today, I think; which issue needs attention most desperately?

Lack of access to health care. Poverty. Violence against women. Hunger. Genocides on three continents. Denial of women’s reproductive rights. Child soldiers. Sex trafficking. Corruption, political instability, and widening economic inequality. Climate change. Xenophobia, anti-Semitism, and anti-Muslimism. The worst refugee crisis in world history. Racial inequities in housing, education, and the law. Unequal treatment of those who identify as LGBTQ. Denial of access to voting. The list is endless, and rights that were so hard-won only yesterday might be gone tomorrow.

The problems are local and global, inter-connected and complex.  If we think about that long list, we can become paralyzed in a cycle of rage, despair, fear, and inaction.  So how do we move forward?

For me, it’s simple. I think about William Proxmire, the late senator from Wisconsin.

The Convention on the Punishment and Prevention of the Crime of Genocide was passed in the United Nations in 1945. In the mid-1960s, the US still hadn’t ratified it, a process that requires 67 ‘yes’ votes in the U.S. Senate. Sen. Proxmire took on the task of getting it ratified, something he assumed would be easily accomplished.

He gave 3,211 speeches on the floor of the Senate, a speech a day for 19 years, every one of them unique, until the Convention was finally ratified in 1988 – forty years after its ratification by the UN.

Senator Proxmire kept standing up.

Imagine that. All those speeches, all those years – and he didn’t give up. We can’t give up, either. Pick your issue. Stand up. And keep standing up, just like Senator Proxmire.


Albert Einstein World Destroyed

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