When we look back, few of us would want to be associated with opposition to our country’s efforts to end discrimination. Yet, today, as we did then, we all too quickly close our eyes to the mistreatment of others, and all too readily harden our hearts against the suffering of those we call “other”. As we try to imagine the challenges and opportunities of the next fifty years, an appreciation of how far we have come may help us choose progress and compassion over misplaced caution and over “all deliberate speed”. We have a chance to think big.
Looking Ahead — Part 2
We can draw a two part lesson from the changes which followed the 1964 Civil Rights Act.
First, we have learned to appreciate diversity and inclusion. People once excluded by law and by custom, when given a chance, contribute to our communities. They become our co-workers, our business partners, our friends, our loved ones. We share celebrations, food, holidays, life’s passages.
Our work becomes more productive. Our art, our writing, our music, the entirety of human expressive effort becomes more creative. Our lives are enriched beyond measure.
Second, we have learned that we often fail to see or to appreciate discrimination inherent in our daily lives. In the mid-twentieth century, we failed to appreciate the extent to which our laws and customs abused and marginalized women, minorities, members of the LGBT community, immigrants, people with physical and mental challenges, and older people.
Today, we fail to recognize the ways in which we abuse and marginalize people without money, people with limited education, and people whose religions we do not understand. We fail to recognize the ways in which we deny the humanity of working men and women and degrade their lives. What we don’t see, we can’t acknowledge: the more subtle and hidden forms that traditional discrimination now takes.
Our work is not done. Imagine how our communities might look fifty years from now at the one hundredth anniversary of the Civil Rights Act. Imagining the future gives us a sense of the struggles ahead, but at the same time, it acknowledges changes already underway, and it provides hope to sustain our efforts. Here is my personal wish list for 2064:
- Employers must have good cause before firing a worker. Job security will be a fundamental right for all.
- Countries participating in the global economy will develop and enforce international standards for treatment of working men and women. Participating countries will require that goods and services sold in their domestic markets be produced in safe facilities, by workers who are paid a living wage, enough to provide food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and education for their families.
- The countries of the world will develop and enforce international standards for environmentally sustainable production. No business will be allowed to operate without systems and processes to prevent environmental damage. Participating countries will no longer permit the degradation of land, water, and air as a part of doing business.
- The right to free movement of all people among the countries of the world will be guaranteed in the same way that the right to free movement of all people among the states of the United States is guaranteed by our Constitution. How we treat a person will not depend on where he or she was born. We will recognize that laws which restrict immigrants are fundamentally unfair. We will provide sufficient support and services to fully integrate newcomers into our communities.
- In the United States, we will expand Social Security to develop an effective and financially sound workplace benefit system, including unemployment stipends, paid medical and family leave, disability insurance and retirement pensions which support a decent life.
- Both here and abroad, we will find ways to reduce inequality of income and wealth, making sure that all people can earn enough to provide a decent life for themselves and for their families.
- Workplaces will follow the model of union grievances, and will provide informal, effective, and speedy dispute resolution mechanisms to address claims of unfair treatment, and to serve as a check on unilateral management actions.
- We will reaffirm and guarantee the rights of working people and consumers to present discrimination and workplace fairness claims to juries.
- Workplaces will provide support for family obligations, including decent childcare, and paid leave for medical and newborn care.
- Successful businesses will develop mechanisms to involve workers in decisions affecting the operation of the workplace. In the unionized sector of the economy, an expansion of the mandatory subjects of collective bargaining may support that change. In every workplace, we will protect working men and women who speak out about issues at work, safety, pay, discrimination, illegal conduct. Even in the absence of legal requirements, the economic advantages realized by fully engaging working men and women will provide a competitive advantage to businesses which seize the initiative.
- We will surrender the illusion of superiority. The mistreatment of others, including all forms of discrimination and retaliation, rests on the often unacknowledged assumption that the person in power is better than the person oppressed. It is possible, however, to affirm our own needs and desires without denigrating the humanity of others.
- This item left blank. It will be filled in by the struggles of ordinary people. It will amaze us!