Perhaps one hundred people came together at the downtown First United Methodist Church this evening to mark Human Rights Day. These observances have been going on since 1992 and they come with proclamations from the governor and the mayor. Janet Taylor, Salem's mayor, makes a point of attending with some City Council members and ranking police officials.
The evening opened with a good role play done with young people from the Luz group, which works with Mano a Mano. The youth did a skit and asked audience members to point out the details of oppression we observed in the skit. The role play dealt with sexism, forms of privilege, education, legal presence and the DREAM Act. Many of the audience members understood the issues, but some clearly did not and saw it as a play about kids who hope to one day become mayor. Norma Sanchez spoke spontaneously on he DREAM Act.
A singing group who refer to themselves as the Awesome Aunties did some satirical songs on human rights. Their last song, "I'm Dreaming of a New City," sung to the tune of "I'm Dreaming of a White Christmas," should have given Mayor Taylor apoplexy.
The open mic, or speak out, part of the agenda was covered by middle-class and working-class people who talked about racism, the NAACP, bullying, the death penalty, the unemployment compensation system, Micronesian rights and transgender issues. Two people from the labor movement spoke. Many of us arrived thinking that there would be some emphasis or news on the police department and racial profiling, but none came up. This may be less about community satisfaction with the police department overall, and more about who was in the room.
The youth left early, probably bored and confused by so many older white people talking about youth and racism. The gang kids and their families stayed away. If rank-and-file union members were there, they did not speak. It's good to know that so many people like living here, and that leading African-Americans in the community say they feel safe and also note an absence of overt racism, but I wondered as I listened how matters might go if the police were not present, if the room had more Latinos and African-Americans and if action plans to take on problems were being discussed.
The people that most needed to be there were absent. The whackos gathered around Bill Post & Co. could have shown up and learned something, spoken up themselves and been exposed as the frauds they are. The kids most likely to be targeted by the police or pushed aside in the classrooms or denied employment opportunities could have--should have--overcome their alienation for an evening and turned out. An organized left could have used the opportunity to layout an understanding of racism and the prisons. We don't want Janet Taylor and liberal Salem walking away from these events feeling that all is well.