Freedom of All Diminished When Opportunity Is Denied to Some, Former Senate Leader Says

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

George J. Mitchell, the former Majority Leader of United States Senate (1989-95), was the guest speaker, the draw, at a fundraiser for the Maine Democratic State Party I attended last Thursday at the Park Plaza Hotel, Boston.
During some brief remarks, Mitchell said the U.S. is an incredibly large and diverse nation, but that, fundamentally, our country is about just two things: freedom and opportunity.  Unless every American has an opportunity to succeed in life, the freedom of every other American is diminished, he said.
“We want to guarantee opportunity for all – opportunity, not results.  Success has to be earned, not granted,” he said.
 “One hundred years ago, in the cities of Lowell and Lawrence, eight-year-old girls worked in textile mills,” he pointed out. “Our party didn’t think it was right that kids should have to work like that, so it fought for child labor laws.  The opposition said we couldn’t have that.  Said they’d interfere with the rights of the mill owners to engage in contracts with their workers.  Said it would be too much regulation and would kill business.  They said those laws would amount to socialism.  Sound familiar?  Well, today, we take the prohibition of child labor for granted, and eight-year-old girls are in school, where they belong.”
Some speakers impress you with their stage presence and soaring rhetoric, others with their quiet poise and restrained way of addressing a difficult subject, which paradoxically intensifies their presentation.  Mitchell falls into the latter category, I believe.
There have probably been many occasions when he has spoken of his notion that the denial of opportunity to one citizen is a blow to the freedom of all others.  Yet he managed to speak of it again last Thursday with sincerity and force.  His talk was still on my mind this morning when I came across an old State House News Service article on Governor Deval Patrick’s reactions to the Urban League of Eastern Massachusetts’s 2011 State of Black Boston report.
The report in question was discouraging, but not bleak.  At its beginning, for instance, it listed five “good news” indicators:
·         Social progress and increased amity between racial and ethnic groups
·         Educational gains
·         Significant increase in the number of Black-owned businesses and associated sales
·         Inclusive city governance led by Mayor Thomas Menino
·         Increasing numbers of notable and influential Black leaders in elected office and a range of professional fields.
On the downside, however, the report found that:
·         More than one-fifth (22.5%) of all Black families, and 25.2% of all Black persons are impoverished.  This compares to 7.1% for White families, and 13.8% for White persons.
·         High proportions of Black and Latino children attending all levels of Boston Public Schools are impoverished, and depend on food stamps for food.
·         Current graduation and dropout rates for Black students in Boston are dismal.  Progress has been slow, and gaps between Black and White students have narrowed only slightly.
·         While more than half (51.8%) of all White persons 16 years and over work in management, professional and related occupations, the figure for Blacks is 26.9%.
That old article, (“Patrick Sees ‘Very Different Boston’ for Minorities”), which fell to the floor from a pile of papers I was moving around, in an unconvincing imitation of work, was based on a speech Patrick had given on July 24, 2011, during the National Urban League’s national conference in Boston. 
He compared, favorably, race relations in Boston in 2011 to those of 1976, the last time the League held its national conference in Boston, a time when Patrick was studying at Harvard University.
 “The campus was a relatively safe and comfortable place to be, friendly enough,” Patrick said. “But you never knew then what you were going to get when you went off campus.”
The city then was “totally engrossed, involved and riven over the question of public school busing,” he reminded the audience, observing that “Today, Boston is smarter, more diverse, younger, more dynamic, prettier in many respects.  There are places that my niece and her pals hang out in the city that were just totally off limits in 1976.” 
Patrick was right.  Boston in the Sixties and Seventies was a much more polarized place, and a more dangerous place, overall, for its citizens than it is today.  Also, Boston was not nearly as wealthy a city as it is today. 
Unfortunately, Boston’s growing affluence and improving civic life have not produced a city with equal opportunities for everyone, as the 23.6% of Bostonians who are Black can attest. 
To paraphrase Senator Mitchell, if we cherish our freedom, and if we want our grandchildren to be as free as we are, we have to correct that situation.  It won’t be easy, but we have no choice.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

An outstanding share! I've just forwarded this onto a colleague who has been conducting a little research on this. And he in fact bought me breakfast due to the fact that I stumbled upon it for him... lol. So let me reword this.... Thank YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending some time to talk about this issue here on your blog.
my site > cloud

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