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The Plain English Attorney

As a ten year old, I sat in front of the television watching a news program my aunt had put on. I had just watched one of my favorite Japanese animation cartoons (yes, even in the 1970s they had them), and, as usual, when the moment seemed darkest, the proverbial cavalry came to save the day. Now we turned to one of the major network stations since that was the deal… I had my hour of watching my show on the UHF station out of Boston, and now my aunt got to watch her news. One of the national newscasters was going on about how it was the 15 year anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and how prejudice and violence in the South had ripped communities apart. Archived images of people being beaten by other people over the right to vote, or eat at the same restaurants as others, just confused me. Weren’t all grown ups allowed to vote? Couldn’t anyone go and eat in any restaurant they wanted if they could pay for it? It didn’t make sense. My mind was still reeling from the hours of cartoons I watched, so it didn’t hit me right away… all of the people being beaten were dark-skinned and all of the people doing the beating were light-skinned. Oh.
Then I asked my aunt about it, and she told me a little about the Civil Rights Movement, and how there was a big struggle in our country over whether or not African Americans should have the same rights as whites. And it was as recent as fifteen years ago. As a naïve ten year old, I thought that was settled in 1776. Apparently not. And the more I asked my aunt about it, and the more I asked her what she did about it, the more withdrawn she became. It became clear even to a ten-year old that she had stood by, watched events happen, and didn’t do anything to help. She was embarrassed. She had been a witness to history, but not a part of it.

History comes down to moments in time, often when horrible things happen. And in those times, heroes can emerge. Sometimes they come forth in reaction to horrible tragedies when nature comes crashing down and people need to be rescued from floods or fire. Sometimes there are horrible attacks like Pearl Harbor and 9/11, and heroes rush into burning buildings to help get people out. And sometimes it is more subtle than that. Sometimes it comes down to a loud minority of people trying to destroy the equal rights of people they don’t like.

It as at these times that history is made by those who stand up and have their voices heard, not just on their own behalf but for others. It is these rare times when there is an absolute right and an absolute wrong in a country where everyone is supposed to be equal. And it is at these times that well-considered courage is drastically needed rather than the courage of the moment—in a split second, bravery can overcome instinct and we will put ourselves in danger to help a fellow human being. At other times, a truer courage is needed because we have time to consider all of the consequences and we do what is right anyway… no matter what others may think, no matter how much the needed actions are outside our comfort zones, and no matter how much the everyday calls to us.

This is one of those times. This is a time for heroes to come to the rescue, and that means us. Every single one of us. In May 2012, North Carolina voters may enshrine hatred, discrimination, and inequality into our state Constitution by voting on a ballot initiative that not only constitutionally bar same-gender couples from marriage rights but also bans the rights of municipalities to provide partner pension benefits, health insurance, and create workplaces free of discrimination.

It is easy to do nothing, remain comfortable in our daily routines, and wait and “see what they’ll do.” But the time to simply watch is over. The time has come when agreeing just to vote against the amendment a year from now is not enough. The time to stand still and ask “others must be handling this, aren’t they?” is done. We have a few short months to set history right and stop this hateful measure in its tracks. A few months to turn the tide of tyranny, injustice, and bigotry in our State. A few months to do something to help. When your children, or your children’s children, ask you “what did you do?” will you have stories to tell or will their questions be met with embarrassed silence? Who do you want to be ten, fifteen, or twenty years from now? It depends on who you want to be now.

While I have been active in the Human Rights Campaign for some time now, it is our colleagues at Equality NC who have our full support and who are leading this fight. They need all of the help they can get, and I am asking for everyone who believes in equality to become involved even if it means moving outside your comfort zone for a little while. Set aside May 8, 2012 on your calendar two or three weekends before that. Be prepared to help Equality NC make phone calls. Get your friends and family members to contact their elected representatives in the North Carolina legislature… especially if they are not members of the LGBT community and believe the anti-marriage amendment should be defeated. Even helping with data entry work would be a great help to the cause. Please, please, please, find out more at . As the campaign the defeat the amendment grows, more work will need to be done, so please give of your time willingly.

Even today, my favorite movies and television episodes show the absolute darkest of situations, when beloved characters are put in mortal danger… until help arrives to save the day. This time, we are the ones who can save the day. This time, simple acts like phone calls, letters, attending rallies and handing out information at the polls will save the day. This time, we need thousands of heroes to step forward across North Carolina. Twenty years from now when asked what I did, I’ll have stories to tell. Will you? Who do you want to be?

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