Giving a Voice to the Voiceless
Posted on October 27, 2014

It didn’t take long, less than 24 hours, for the critical voices to be raised when the Nobel Committee awarded its Peace Prize to two champions of children’s rights, to a Muslim and a Hindu, to a child and an adult.

One critic assailed the choice because these recipients head no movement nor any army. How, he wondered, can they be working for peace?

No, Malala Yousafzai only wants girls to have the chance for an education and Kailash Satyarthi wants to rescue trafficked children from slavery. Their armies are missing.

I recalled my own small efforts as a volunteer heading the Youth Bureau of our county which allocated state funds to drug prevention programs, teen parenting, after-school tutoring…If you could name it we had people doing it. Then word came that a county official had decided to end it all by merging youth services with those for the elderly since, as he put it: "Their needs are identical.”

When we caught our breath, we on the Board knew that he had to be challenged and I was delegated to meet with him. By pure chance, on the day of my appointment, the head of N Y State Youth Services was visiting in Kingston that day and offered to accompany me.

It was one of the few times in my life that I faced naked political power and felt its force. We met in his office where he had filled his desk with piles of documents so that he peered out from behind them. He had also filled a side table with 6 cohorts who were taking assiduous notes.

I began by thanking the official for seeing me, but I had no chance to introduce my companion since he boomed at me: “I speak first and when I finish you can say something.” I had no choice but to allow him to offer a long tirade on what he proposed youth programming should do. Everything he was saying was already being done by us, and he hadn’t a clue! I realized then that he knew nothing about the group he was planning to merge out of existence.

When he finally drew a breath and said, “Well, what have you to say?” I invited him to visit any of our youth centers to see them in action. I added that we were already doing what he was proposing and he should see it for himself.

When he reiterated his merger plan, my companion spoke up to say that the State would never permit those funds to be mingled and the county would lose them completely. The opposition collapsed immediately.

I left that meeting shaken but enlightened. I had made a political enemy who had no real clue as to what he was attacking or eliminating. Thinking of this today, I thought about the vocal enemies of two very brave Nobelists who are giving a voice to the voiceless, speaking for more than half of the world’s population. If ever there was a deserving cause, this is it. “Whatsover you do to the least of my brothers, that you do unto me.”


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