Tuesday, March 14, 2017

WAYS TO SPEAK UP


It seems almost frivolous, in these turbulent times, to think about or do anything that doesn’t directly contribute to the healing and health of our communities, our country, our world. 

I’d planned this post before the inauguration, as a natural sequel to SHOULD I HAVE SAID SOMETHING? Despite near-paralysis over the ceaseless cascade of unthinkable political disastrophes we are all witnessing, I am following through, largely because the topic - ideas on how to safely and effectively stand up to discrimination, injustice, even unintentional/unconscious/well-meaning bias - is more relevant now than ever in our lifetimes. Worse, children today are more vulnerable than they have been in decades due to this administration’s stances on special education, transgender bathrooms in schools, environmental protections, etc. 

In other words, there are now very real risks to not speaking up.

We ALL can do better. In our words, in our actions - and in our responses to the words and actions of others. I myself got schooled after the above post by a wonderful elder who informed me I was guilty of ageism! I’d avoided responding to my neighbor’s ableist slur partly out of “respect” for her being “elderly.” I was told in no uncertain terms that I’d been biased, and that, in addition, “We are much, much younger than you think we are!”

….RIGHT? Right! Good news for those of us who aren't getting any younger…



Now, you know I love a list….So here goes:

WAYS TO SPEAK UP



  1. The Make Up Speak Up:
Let’s say you, like me, find yourself ruminating on a situation in which you did not speak up, for whatever reason. You’re still alive, right? How about speaking up now, now that you’ve had time to really figure out what you need to express?

Here’s what I did in just such a context: I wrote my neighbor from the incident described in SHOULD I HAVE SAID SOMETHING?(Speaking up doesn’t have to be verbal or even face to face - there are many, many ways to speak up, as I explore below!)

        Dear [Neighbor],

I hope you are well. This is your neighbor at  ___, [Full Spectrum Mama], writing. We had a conversation a few months ago in which you told me that your granddaughter works with autistic kids . You talked about how hard it is for her, and said she’d have been better off working with animals. 

I should have mentioned at the time that my son is autistic and I myself am also neurodiverse. This means that both of our brains are wired a bit differently than those of the “average” person. But we are still human beings, with feelings and dreams and a lot to offer the world.

As hard as it is for your daughter to work with those children, I can guarantee you that life in a world that was designed entirely for “normal” people is harder for them. I hope that despite these difficulties for all concerned she can see the good in each child as an individual. 

Sometimes, sadly, people who are “different” from us might seem not quite as human as the people we know or more closely resemble. So I hope, also, that now that you know that [G] and I have something in common with those students you will be able to see a little bit, through knowing us, that autistic people are equal and worthy human beings - just like anyone else. 

Thank you for reading, and hope to see you around soon,

[Full Spectrum Mama]

Something wonderful happened after this: my neighbor called me and we had a great talk! She explained that as hard as her granddaughter’s work is, she loves it - and even plans to pursue a higher degree in the profession. I am so glad I “spoke up” as best I could.


2. Speaking Up Directly:  Some people are able to come up with eloquent, convincing, strong-yet-not-confrontational ways to respond to discriminatory statements and actions as they occur. If you are one of those people, have to it! (Just be sure, dear reader, that you keep yourself safe in the interaction. Are there other people around? Does this person/do these people seem threatening? Sometimes - just sometimes! - it can be wiser to be indirect.)


3. Speaking Up Indirectly: Know your rights and the rights of your loved ones. NO ONE deserves discrimination; we ALL deserve to be treated fairly and recognized as human beings of equal value. Here are some ways to indirectly speak up and enact progress toward justice.

a. For Justice in Education: When you encounter discrimination in a school (or school district), or think a school could be doing better in some area(s), write, fax, call, or email (we all have different strengths and comfort levels with forms of communication: choose your medium!) school administrators (consider a variety of levels here - state, district, local, individual school), teachers, and helpers, as well as fellow parents and/or students. Here’s something to get you fired up about education: http://www.loevy.com/blog/education-part-special-education/. Most people get into education because they care about children and students - so, chances are, members of your school community may be receptive. Even if they are not, or if their hands are tied in the matter at hand, at least you’ll know you’ve done your part - and there may be less-obvious or more long-term positive repercussions that result from your efforts. 
b. In Your Community: Write, fax, call, or email local and national organizations to speak up on issues and situations you care about. Join a community group. Heck, form or host a community group. What’s your issue? What do you most care about? 
c. For Political Justice: Write, call, fax, or email your local, state, and national political representatives. As a highly phone phobic individual, I’ve found a sort of speaking-up niche in editing this weekly publication which tells you how to do just that: https://jenniferhofmann.com/home/weekly-action-checklist-democrats-independents-republicans-conscience/
d. Participate in Other Ways:  volunteer, make art, write (call, fax, email…) your local newspapers and beyond, march, protest, discuss the issues you care about, share your personal experience(s) with loved ones and others you encounter who might be receptive…
You never know how much your positive, proactive acts - however small they may seem - may impact others. I promise you, we are - sometimes very quietly, often slowly but surely - moving mountains, together. 


4. Advocacy: Advocacy is a slightly different way to speak up, in that what we are usually doing is trying to get something specific out of an organization  (usually a school, but not always) that already claims to be “doing its best.” I’ve written quite a lot about advocacy over the years here and here and here and here. You can also search for other posts that include references to advocacy on the search button at right. Here, I discuss some tricky issues around wanting people to change - and how one might speak up about that, too.


5. Speaking Up about Harassment: If you see someone being harassed and want to help, this cartoon, which happens to be about anti-Muslim harassment,  offers the best advice I have ever seen: https://www.facebook.com/themiddleeasternfeminist/photos/a.565332650209980.1073741828.565316806878231/1117370921672814/?type=3&theater; if you don’t do Facebook, here’s a link through HuffPo: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/entry/islamophobic-abuse-advice-bystander-hate-crime_uk_57c83652e4b09f5b5e3596fb.  Imagine finding safe ways to just be by the side of every person we ever saw being hurt. Imagine!


6. Speaking Up With Forethought: I’ve thought about how I might’ve spoken up in several situations where, if I’d had the words ready to go in my head, I might have been able to do so. Finding the common thread of humanity that runs through all interactions - yes, even those where we encounter those who bully, discriminate, belittle… - seems key. Working on the above letter gave me a little bit of a template for what a pre-planned response might look like. For starters, I’d include a gentle appeal to the inherent, perhaps very “underlying” or “subtle” good nature of the person(s) I was addressing. Then I’d be sure to draw their attention to the humanity and inherent worth of the person(s) being discriminated against. Some people don’t think everyone is equal. We are probably not going to convince those people in one interaction. But if we don’t speak up somehow, we haven’t tried. Our words might just be the turning point from discrimination to awareness and acceptance.


7. Paralyzed? Oh…that’s just me? When you don’t feel up to speaking up, but know you truly should, try this: IMPROVE/APPRECIATE/CONNECT/PROTECT.

If you google that phrase, you will get a whole lot of different links, but it’s really just a very simple concept that doesn’t need a ton of padding or explanation. Doing one of these things will help! I am not sure where I first saw this suggestion for healing and presence, but I wrote it down on an index card that I keep around as a reminder. The practice has stayed with me because it is truly effective. When you feel paralyzed (whether from depression, rage, sadness, horror, feeling overwhelmed, procrastination, helplessness, hopelessness [I could go on…]…), try taking just one of these words and find even a very small project which engages with that sort of action. For example, looking just in my immediate vicinity, right now, I might IMPROVE by putting away the scattered dog toys, APPRECIATE by looking out the window at the melting patches of snow and tiny bulb shoots, CONNECT by petting my cat, or PROTECT by taking my dark chocolate stash further away from the edge of the desk to be sure my puppy doesn’t get his paws on it.  

In these ways, bit by bit, we gain the steadiness and strength to speak up and do what needs to be done. 


Hope this helps.

Thanks and Love,
Full Spectrum Mama



Welcome to Voices of Special Needs Blog Hop -- a monthly gathering of posts from special needs bloggers hosted by The Sensory Spectrum and The Jenny Evolution. Click on the links below to read stories from other bloggers about having a special needs kiddo -- from Sensory Processing Disorder to ADHD, from Autism to Dyslexia! Want to join in on next month's Voices of Special Needs Hop? Click here!

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8 comments:

  1. Wow. This post is tremendous - full of wisdom, understanding, and practical, useful advice on executing. I get paralyzed sometimes - it's helpful to hear that you can relate and read your tips on where to go from there. Thank you.
    mf

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, dear MF.

      I've given this a lot of thought because, hey, LOTS of opportunities, unfortunately...

      Thanks and love,
      FSM

      Delete
  2. Thank you, once again, for your deep insight and very practical ways to make a change. I love how you followed up with a letter to your neighbor. That is SO me. I get paralyzed in the moment with words, but after reflecting, I am much more able to express myself in writing. I want to be you when I grow up.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Cracking up here because...really? I=Major Goofball!!
      But thank you so much for reading and for your kind words,
      Love,
      FSM

      Delete
  3. This post is excellent, thanks for giving me the kick in the ass to do something again. Appreciate this!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Speaking up and advocacy are absolutely the best tools we have at hand. I've never regretted the things I've said -- instead I've regretted the things that I let slide by instead of speaking up.

    Jennifer @ The Jenny Evolution

    ReplyDelete

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