Why Aren't We There Yet?
Before I hit publish, I read a completed and edited manuscript several times, probably many more than ten, but sometimes the readings are weeks or months apart. My latest novel, The Ember Months recently returned from two edits and the beta readers. Beta readers are people, unknown to me, who read the copy and give me feedback on holes or gaps in the story, but they also note punctuation and grammar when they notice. After all those readings, sometimes we continue to find errors.
As I'm doing the final read I see things in my protagonist I hadn't noticed before, things that clearly have weighed on me. In the Ember Months, Lucy, a young social worker, is bothered about situations in her community involving a woman burdened with the care of three relatives with Huntington's Chorea. The story was inspired by a real situation I encountered. Bessie, the caretaker was misunderstood in the community, however she provided the best of care to those in her charge. The community judgment infuriates Lucy. The story begins in the early 1970's. There was little effort to make accommodations for handicapped mobility. In fact, IDEA, Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, wasn't enacted until 1975. It was passed by the United States Congress in response to discriminatory treatment by public education agencies against students with disabilities. IDEA entitles every student to a free and appropriate education.
I know that many parents of children with disabilities had to petition and protest for this legislation to pass. Those protests resulted in the current law. I was surprised when I looked up the law on accessibility for the handicapped. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 is a civil rights law prohibiting discrimination based on disability. Uh, 1990? Is this surprising to anyone else? I must not have been paying attention, and that was probably because my own child wasn't seeking employment until 1995. Trust me, I would have been dancing on some heads otherwise. I guarantee you this act resulted from parents and advocates protesting and petitioning Congress for equal treatment under the law.
In The Ember Months, Lucy is equally irate about accessibility, maintenance on public streets, especially around more impoverished areas, and environmental concerns. One of the major issues in the story is access to specialized health care for Bessie's family members who suffer from a chronic, degenerative disease. There are no answers for this pressing problem in 1970 or 2017. Bessie didn't protest, but she did take matters into her own hands, and it forced Lucy to reexamine her own life. People are resourceful, just look at the mentally ill who stockpile assault weapons and express their rage on the public. Extreme, but it's a terrorist's protest. Now's not the time to talk about that. When?
The legislation noted above has nothing to do with race and everything to do with ability. Although I would argue "white privilege" exists within these confines, also. So, what takes us so long to respond to a need of people who have little or no voice. I know accessibility is tied directly to money and so are educational accommodations, but what about mistreatment of minorities by law enforcement? What about incarcerating people unjustly? That costs us money. Wouldn't it be easier to insist officers and other law enforcement, such as district attorneys do their jobs? Wouldn't that save money?
Another issue Lucy faces when she returns to the town where her career began, are encounters with two men who sexually harassed her when she was newly employed. In light of the recent news about Harvey Weinstein, Bill Cosby, Bill O'Reilly, Roger Ailes, and the examples of our own president (I don't capitalize p on Purpose or use his name. It gets stuck in my mouth), this is particularly disturbing. Sexual harassment has been illegal in the United States since the 1964 Civil Rights Act, but the first sexual harassment cases weren't brought until the 1970's, and the Supreme Court didn't hear sexual harassment cases until the 1980's. I can give blatant examples in the early '70's of complicit acceptance of these practices in the workplace and the older females in the office seemed to be nonplussed about the situation. My impression was they thought men had no control and we just had to accept it. In the Civil Rights Act of 1991, Congress modified Title VII to add more protection against discrimination in the work place, and still in 2017, we continue to have horrendous examples of sexual harassment.
The group really suffering a set back in our present climate are those LBGTQ, who were granted rights and now they are threatened. While The Ember Months, does not address these specific issues, it is a wait and see on a daily basis with LBGTQ rights. My novel, Opal's Story addresses the consequences of individuals not being free to live their authentic lives. My friend, Mark David Gibson has a new book coming out on living authentically. Watch for the release. Visit his Facebook page. Check out his web site and be on the look out for his new book, Served in Silence. Mark does not necessarily endorse this blog. He's a much cooler head than your's truly, a voice of reason.
Who are the people who continue to believe it is okay to deny basic rights to others? What is it about our society that encourages this or makes an individual think it's okay and they won't get "caught" or charged? Some would say don't talk about this, it just causes an argument or division. Well, that's all well and good unless you happen to be a woman who has endured it, an individual in a wheelchair who cannot access a building, a mother who has lost a child to police brutality based on race, or a hearing impaired worker unable to get employment because of lack of accommodation. I personally think it's obscene that we have to have such legislation in the first place. Can't we all just get along? The answer to that is "No", we can't. We have to be prodded, and we have to protest to get attention.
So, Bessie's story is an example and a reminder of legislation that didn't exist in the '70's. I find it a little depressing, maybe a lot depressing that in 2017 we've not evolved much. However, Lucy evolves and there is happily ever after. I wish that for everyone, the kneelers, the standers, those in chairs, those grabbed by the p, parents standing by children's caskets, and on and on. But if we think Congress can fix anything, we only have to look at our history. Even legislators doing their jobs haven't been effective. We have to pay attention to the people, the ones speaking out. One of these days, I hope to answer my own questions. Peace. Out.