This week commemorates two anniversaries: August 26, 1920 the day that the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was ratified granting women suffrage or the right to vote and August 28, 1963 when more than 200,000 people convened the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.
Commemoration is the act of co-remembering, to publicly share and memorialize some historic event. As a student of history, I love commemorations and the many ways that they influence the present and subsequently, our perceptions of the past.
“You cannot know where you are going, until you know where you have been.”
My mouse pad, a gift that a friend brought me from the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, has “History” (1962) written across the top and a photo depicting three doors. The first door has the word “Women” on it, the second door has the word “Men” on it and third door has the word “Colored” on it. Under the photo is the caption: “You cannot know where you are going, until you know where you have been.”
I love this mouse pad! Every day it reminds me why I do the work that I do. Every day it reminds me of Emma Lazarus’ words: “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.” Ms. Lazarus, the poet famous for “The New Colossus” which is etched at the base of the Statue of Liberty was born in New York City but was never able to vote because of her gender.
A Lifetime of Voting
My mother was born eight years after women earned the right to vote in the U.S. and brought me to the voting booth for as far back as I can remember. I remember being in the booth with her, fascinated as she clicked the levers and finally slid the metal bar across that registered her vote and opened the curtain. The Wizard of Oz had nothing on her! I remember entertaining myself while she volunteered at the polls. I remember registering to vote immediately after my eighteenth birthday and counting the months that I had to wait for the first election that I would vote in. It was the 1976 Presidential election and being the nation’s bicentennial made it all even more exciting.
The Women’s Suffrage movement was launched officially in 1848 at a convention in Seneca Falls, NY, where Frederick Douglass, the only African American to attend the event, gave an inspirational pro-vote speech. (There were many women present who were anti-suffrage.) In 1851 at the Women’s Convention in Akron, OH, Sojourner Truth, another former slave delivered her famous “Ain’t I a Woman?” speech which poignantly argues for women’s equality. The women’s suffrage movement had its up and downs over its 72 year span including some deplorably racist tenets held by Susan B. Anthony and others. One might argue that white women competing against African American men for the vote exemplified a successful campaign to ‘divide and conquer’, but it was not and is not that simple. There were some lighter moments as well such as when Alice Duer Miller turned the tables in 1915:
Why We Don’t Want Men to Vote
Because man’s place is in the army.
Because no really manly man wants to settle any question otherwise than by fighting about it.
Because if men should adopt peaceable methods women will no longer look up to them.
Because men will lose their charm if they step out of their natural sphere and interest themselves in other matters than feats of arms, uniforms, and drums.
Because men are too emotional to vote. Their conduct at baseball games and political conventions shows this, while their innate tendency to appeal to force renders them unfit for government.
Yesterday marked the 50th Anniversary of the Great March on Washington. In 1963 I watched the historic event on television, awe struck by the vast range of humanity out en masse. The words of hope and inspiration from one speaker and performer after another were incredible, even to a little 5 year old girl. I did not understand the significance of the event nor how it would impact our world, but the message – We all deserve to be free and to be able to make a decent living wage – made its way from the Lincoln Memorial to our living room and has been motivating me ever since.
What is your story?
History – our story – is comprised of people who make a difference every day by marching, walking, talking, sharing, teaching and remembering! How have these historic events affected you and those you love? What is your story? How may we commemorate it?
Last week I came across an essay that I wrote in 1996 examining the role that a city’s inhabitants play on transforming their space and how they are the architects of the future, especially through their diversity of thought. This essay is as relevant today as it was when I wrote it. I asserted that cities are comprised of people whose lives, experiences and perspectives are the pulse of any community. I contended that the diversity of human thought and experience breathes life into every city’s skyscrapers, tenements and developments. Though ever-changing skylines may reveal the physical history of cities, it is the people themselves who define the culture of cities. As Lewis Mumford, observed in The City in History, the common denominator of all cities is that they bring together “not only the physical means but the human agents needed to pass on and enlarge.. [our cultural] heritage.” Consequently, multifarious voices of city dwellers speak to us from the past and inform our future, enabling us to recognize diversity as a vital, rejuvenating element rather than a reason for urban demise.
The recent developments in Turkey and Brazil are powerful illustrations of the capacity of diverse people to act inclusively when they share common goals. Like many of you I have been paying close attention to these events. I have been observing how people respond when they believe that they have been excluded. The people who have been filling streets and plazas in Turkish and Brazilian cities represent a diverse range of class, race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, age, education level, profession, parental status, marital status, and political affiliation. They have come to send a message to the leaders of their nations: “We matter! What we think matters! Listen to us!”
When developers or politicians make decisions that result in an altered public landscape without the informed consent of the public they risk the wrath of that body. Few people who grew up in New York in the 1950s and 1960s hear the name of Robert Moses without thinking about the neighborhoods in New York City that were destroyed as a result of his arbitrary decisions to build highways that cut off the life blood of those communities by separating residences from shops and schools and services. The South Bronx suffered the most critical damage as a result of Mr. Moses’ actions and the urban blight that became synonymous with that borough has yet to be completely cured.
The people of Turkey and Brazil have spoken up and reasserted their right to decide the fate of their cities, neighborhoods, and public spaces. This is not just a response to the use of their hard earned tax dollars, but an expression of revulsion that they have been told, by the actions of their nations’ leaders that they have no voice, no opinion that matters, no stake in the outcome of decisions.
Never Say “Just A Housewife!”
People matter, not just in an abstract way, but in a very real way. As the personal stories of those who are risking a great deal to raise their voices begin to emerge, I hear what can be described as spontaneous harmony. One voice is that of Ayse Diskaya, a 48-year-old housewife who Murad Sezer wrote about for Reuters: http://blogs.reuters.com/photographers-blog/2013/06/12/taksim-square-one-womans-protest/ Ms. Diskaya’s story is a poignant one of a women who has risen above adversity.
As I stated above the protestors represent a diverse range of people, thoughts, ideas and issues. People are also protesting for various reasons and causes. That is the beauty of democracy, we can really agree to disagree and still stand side-by-side in opposition to being excluded. You were wondering when I would get to the word inclusion, weren’t you? Well, people need to be included. It really is quite simple. As a result of the protests in Turkey the demolition of Gezi Park has been halted, at least temporarily. In Brazil, the bus fare increase that sparked the protest has been rescinded. The protesters in both nations have cited many issues as the reason for their outrage.
Datafolha 18 June 2013
The New Public Arena
One way that people are speaking up all over the world is via social media, Twitter and Facebook, in particular. Those who formerly gathered in the public arena, the local plaza, and the corner pub, have all convened on the internet with access to all in unprecedented and unpredictable ways. The diversity of opinion that is exchanged in the span of one hour of any event is mind boggling! People are free to say whatever they want about any subject and to get feedback from a huge number of other people. This may seemed chaotic at first, but order really does emerge and people really do let each other know when they are being rude or ignorant or anti-social. The democracy and inclusion of their diversity is what makes social media so astronomically successful.
When people sing in harmony, the sky is the limit!
W. Wark, 2011
People need to be included in decision making whether those decisions are about the alteration of public space, their access to health care and education, their right to free speech, or their right to assembly. Demos, after all means “the people” in ancient Greek. We cannot have democracy without the people. Just as we cannot have cities without the people.
The Invitation Many of you live what would be considered multicultural or intercultural lives as people who love to travel the world; eating foods of all types; soaking in the wonders of cultural institutions providing bridges to other worlds, often within our own neighborhoods; and of course, having relationships with many people from many cultures. So, your responses to my invitation to “Do One Thing” in celebration of World Day for Cultural Diversity and Dialogue Development, which is today, May 21st have been very interesting.
A few of you thanked me for the reminder to be mindful and intentional in your quest to do one thing for diversity and inclusion today; a few of you committed to doing one thing today or this week and letting me know what that thing is after it is done; and a few of you shared recent experiences:
Some Responses “I have been meaning to pick up Chaim Potok’s The Chosen forever, and started last night.”
“I have a letter that I will scan to you when I get a chance. Our Muslim neighbor sent it to their neighbors, very well written, explaining who they are (in detail), about their religion and their attitude about the Boston bombings, etc., and their concern about what our attitude might be. I haven’t responded yet, but intend to do so.”
” … a Chinese artist visiting and we struck up a conversation. His English was far better than my Mandarin. We talked about a Chinese artist I had seen in Washington, D.C. at a Hershorn exhibit, about a Korean artist I had seen in Seattle, about the differences between how English and Chinese poetry is conceptualized, about the proper way to prepare a Chicago hot dog. I was reading a book on the history of Chicago and he compared it with the history of Shanghai. A large unknowable world became smaller and grew handles. The skin around my uniqueness began to breathe.”
Multicultural I am always thinking about how our cultures rub off on each other, how we cannot undo the impact that others have on us, how indelibly we are marked by the sound of unfamiliar music, the taste of unusual cuisine, the colors of unexplored terrains, the scent of new places, the challenge of speaking a foreign language, the feeling of exotic fabric on our skin. That is what makes this day so wonderful! This invitation to do something that for me, at least, is so much fun. I must admit, it is a challenge to do one thing today as I usually do multiple things for diversity and inclusion. So, I thought, ‘how can I convey my message of being multicultural to you?’ I have decided to share one of my favorite poems. This poem is one that I have shared with some of you before as it is an excellent expression of what many people like me experience being members of multiple cultures. Please let me know what you think and what you have done on this special day!
Child of the Americas
I am a child of the Americas,
a light-skinned mestiza of the Caribbean,
a child of many diaspora, born into this continent at a crossroads.
I am a U.S. Puerto Rican Jew,
a product of the ghettos of New York I have never known.
An immigrant and the daughter and granddaughter of immigrants.
I speak English with passion: it’s the tongue of my consciousness,
a flashing knife blade of cristal, my tool, my craft.
I am Caribeña, island grown. Spanish is my flesh,
Ripples from my tongue, lodges in my hips:
the language of garlic and mangoes,
the singing of poetry, the flying gestures of my hands.
I am of Latinoamerica, rooted in the history of my continent:
I speak from that body.
I am not African. Africa is in me, but I cannot return.
I am not taína. Taíno is in me, but there is no way back.
I am not European. Europe lives in me, but I have no home there.
I am new. History made me. My first language was Spanglish.
I was born at the crossroads
and I am whole.
Taino Cemi del Mar Indigenous Puerto Rican People Deity of the Sea
Aurora Levins Morales 1986
[Please enter your comments below so that others can benefit by them, not just me. ;-)]
When people ask me what the difference is between the words diversity and inclusion I explain that diversity is a statement of fact, (think of the diverse group of objects on your desk.), while inclusion is an action (placing the objects on the desk is necessary if they are to be included). We may be included in a group without being invited, but the most successful groups are those that are comprised of people who have been invited to participate because of what they potentially offer the group and who accepted the invitation because of what the group potentially offers them. (See my May 2nd blog entry, “Interdependence”) Think of the value an “A List” guest speaker brings to a conference or event.
We all want to be invited to the party, to the table, to the adventure! Once the invitation or job offer is accepted however, many organizational leaders fail to invite employees to make the most of their group membership. Think of the thousands of gym memberships that have gone virtually unused because the owners of the gyms failed to motivate their members to attend the gym regularly. The most successful leaders invite employees to contribute to their organization’s success on a continual basis and acknowledge those contributions publicly. This does not mean that every idea dropped in the ‘employee suggestion box’ has to be implemented. Those ideas need to be acknowledged, however, and if they are implemented, rewarded. When employees are invited to contribute to an organization’s innovation and success both the individual and the group can reach their full potential.
There have been many invitations asking us to contribute to one cause or another. Uncle Sam, for example, was first used as a recruitment tool for World War I in 1916. This image is still quite familiar to most Americans. The message is personal, pointing directly at YOU. A different call to action was when Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” Dr. King invited us to participate in the greatest non-violent revolution in our nation’s history. His was not an exclusive invitation. He did not invite only the oppressed to stand up for their rights, as they had the most to directly gain by acquiring historically denied civil rights, but he invited all of us to contribute to creating a healthier, more productive, more peaceful nation regardless of the color of our skin or our abilities. What other invitations have inspired you to act?
An Invitation to ‘Do One Thing for Diversity and Inclusion’
Tuesday, May 21stis the World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development and we are all invited to ‘Do One Thing for Diversity and Inclusion!
The 2013 campaign, by encouraging people and organizations from around the world to take concrete action to support diversity, aims:
To raise awareness worldwide about the importance of intercultural dialogue, diversity and inclusion.
To build a world community of individuals committed to support diversity with real and every day-life gestures.
To combat polarization and stereotypes to improve understanding and cooperation among people from different cultures.
The campaign works through a dedicated Facebook page, serving as a platform for people around the world to share their experiences through posts and videos.
Here are some things that you can do in response to this invite:
Invite people from another culture to share a meal with you & exchange views on life.
Visit an art exhibit or a museum dedicated to other cultures.
Watch a movie, listen to music or read a book from another country or religion.
Read works by the great thinkers of other cultures (e.g. Confucius, Socrates, Avicenna,
Ibn Khaldun, Aristotle, Ganesh, Rumi, or Frances Wright).
I look forward to learning about your adventures in diversity and inclusion. Please let us know what you think about this subject in the comments section below and of course, if you are planning to do one thing we would love to know about it.