Letters from Birdland: Taking steps to promote rights

2017-02-01 13:16:44 by T4N
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Sun, 01/29/2017 - 7:00am | Mary Lucille Hays Birdland is chilly and overcast, but unseasonably warm. I'm walking the dogs, and the wind rises across the field. Cullen, the brown dog, gets sidetracked with an intriguing scent, but Ursula, the black dog, pulls us forward. I hear a muted call behind me and look over my shoulder. It is an arrow of geese, their honking strangely telescoped by the distance and the fog. They fly fast, their strong wings cutting through the wind, and soon they are over the next field. But then I hear another call behind me, and a smaller V pulls toward me, going in the same direction. Waves upon waves of geese fly over, some groups large, some smaller, all heading the same way. I wonder why they are flying south in January. Shouldn't they be there by now? And why in such mild weather? Do they know something we don't know? Are things about to get worse? The dogs and I reach the fence line, and I am thinking of the march last Saturday. When my mother heard about the Women's March on Washington, she asked me if we could go together, and I thought we would. But when we heard about a march in Champaign, we decided that would be the best plan — marching at home, in our own community. My stepfather drove us to the park, where women, men and children were already gathering, though we were about a half an hour early. I had knit my mom's hat in various shades of red, purple and pink, but wove in some fuzzy, sparkly blue yarn. My own hat was not quite finished, and I stood there knitting and listening to speeches, hoping to finish before march time. Soon we were joined by my friend, Charis Washington, who found us in the crowd through the magic of text messaging. I knitted as fast as I could, but when it became apparent that I wasn't going to finish, I just put the hat on my head, needles dangling, and walked alongside my mom and my friend. Why was I demonstrating? Well, it might be easier to list the reasons I don't have for joining this march. We live in dangerous times, and really, all we have is each other. I wanted to walk alongside my fellow citizens and raise my voice with theirs to say that everyone has a right to health care, education and equal protections under the law. For me, many of these issues are personal. For instance, I know I've told you before about our middle boy, Dylan, who cooks in a rustic French bistro in Chicago. After graduating in journalism, many of the larger papers folded or downsized, and the job market for cub reporters was pretty thin. He didn't whine about it, just pursued his second love, delicious food. He's cooked at several fine restaurants in Chicago, hungrily absorbing all the knowledge he can. He loves that life, but, you probably realize that that industry does not often supply benefits to its workers. He only has insurance now through Obamacare, or the ACA. I don't know how he will be insured if the legislators take that away from us. Ellis, our youngest, like me, is hard of hearing, and I know for sure that if he did not have the benefit of inclusion in a hearing classroom with hearing kids, he would not be doing as well as he is now, a junior in the College of Engineering at the University of Illinois. Also, many years ago now, I worked in a special ed classroom, helping children with disabilities participate for part of the day in inclusive classrooms. I saw firsthand how this practice was not only helping my students learn and to feel part of a community, but it enriched the classroom and helped the other students grow in humanity and civility. Having my students join their classroom activities became business-as-usual for the rest of the class, and they would glow with confidence as they learned to interact and communicate using slightly different systems. (Many of the children I worked with used modified sign language and sometimes technology to communicate.) Tara Halle reports in Forbes.com that Jeff Sessions, President Trump's pick for attorney general, "'very sincerely' suggested that accommodations for students with disabilities are 'a big factor in accelerating the decline in civility and discipline in classrooms all over America.'" However, my experience was the opposite. Sessions, like Betsy DeVos, the president's pick for education secretary, doesn't seem to value the rights of students with disabilities to a free and appropriate education. The Washington Post reported that DeVos said she "may have confused" the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which guarantees these rights. Here are only two reasons I march, my voice rising as I walk, chanting, with Charis on one side and my mom on the other, amongst 5,000 of our closest friends. The brown dog hears something and looks at the sky. Another flock is fighting the wind, to follow their brothers and sisters. Their calls get louder as they fly almost directly overhead. We stand there for another moment, and then we turn toward home. March in beauty; chant in peace; blessed be. Mary Lucille Hays lives in Birdland near White Heath. She is interested in justice for everyone. Now is the time to call your legislators, and so is tomorrow and the next day. Also, happy birthday, Mom.

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