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Karen Mayer commentary

Guest commentary by Karen Ott Mayer

‘The way it’s always been’ becomes rationale for resignation

When Eleanor Roosevelt followed her husband into the White House in 1932, she could have chosen to leave her previous life pursuits behind and adhere to the traditional role of a First Lady.  As it was, however, she turned to her husband and simply asked…  “Do you mind if I get involved?”  

Equally matched as far as their passion for politics and social reform, President Roosevelt gave his wife free reign to pursue her interests.  And pursue she did, both during the presidency and long after his death.  She ventured into areas a First Lady had never dared, but more importantly, wielded her power and position for the benefit of many.

In a decidedly male dominated world, Roosevelt gained the respect of fellow men and women, eventually filling an important and crucial role within the United Nations as a member of the UN’s Commission on Human Rights, eventually helping to craft the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  It was she who saved the first U.N. convention from near collapse with a simple speech delivered with a calm certitude.

When I think of Eleanor Roosevelt and her desire for change, I can’t help but wonder how much resistance did she encounter from the established politico?  Do I think she heard the phrase, “but it’s always been this way” like I hear echoing repeatedly around Panola County when a change is proposed?  Absolutely.

At a recent meeting with citizens over the deplorable state of education in our county, one voice interrupted.  “Nothing will ever change.  It’s always been this way.  You’ll never get anywhere.”  Understanding this opinion fully, I nonetheless, can’t abide that statement—then or now.  Our children can’t abide it.  Not only does this opinion totally accept the status quo, it is the voice of resignation that believes we as an electorate have no power over those in leadership positions.  Bad leaders can continue to be bad leaders as long as people silently follow.  When enough voices demand real change, leaders have to take notice—or lose their constituency.  

In case all of our history books have long ago been shelved to collect dust, it seems that we need to remind ourselves that discontent and a demand for a different way is the basis of every revolution, coup, or grassroots movement.  “The way it’s always been” is a cop out for doing nothing and believing that things change themselves.

When Martin Luther King proclaimed that he had a dream, I’m certain a man of his courage, intellect and vision didn’t sit around the house saying, “You know, y’all, I have a dream, but things have always been this way, so just forget it.”  

Nurturing and growing a vision takes the intellect to actually see that new vision, but beyond that, it takes courage to stand up for that vision when detractors use words or violence to destroy it.

The newly formed group in Como with the working title Caring For Children has decidedly taken a new course of direction—not because of money, not because of self-recognition, not because power.  Because it’s the right thing to do for the children of Panola County.  Our greatest challenges and greatest success can be found right in our own backyard, and if change is needed, then let our voices be heard.

I could never approach Eleanor Roosevelt’s eloquence, so perhaps her words can explain it best and help us leave the past and move towards a new place.

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”  Eleanor Roosevelt

(Editor’s note: Karen Ott Mayer is a freelance publication writer and commercial copywriter who lives and writes from her farm in Panola County.)