Words are not enough. The front page of the anti-bullying task force report quoted from a listening session participant who said, “There needs to be more behind the posters than just tape.” The task force recommendations agree, calling for a new Minnesota law and school policies to prevent bullying. The report opens with a summary of the problem:
The issues around bullying are varied, complex and contextual. The Task Force heard numerous accounts of bullying behaviors directed at students from vulnerable groups such as students with disabilities and racial, ethnic, sexual and religious minorities:
“There’s gossip, swearing, using ‘retarded’ and ‘gay’ as synonyms for stupid.”
“My daughter has learning and physical disabilities and was bullied. I couldn’t find help anywhere.”
“Native American people, folks in poverty, LGBT are all targeted. It’s more than in schools, it’s throughout the community.”
Testimony also emphasized that students beyond these groups are targeted:
“My child was harassed because she was a good student.”
“We were new to the neighborhood and so we were considered outsiders. Our children were shunned and picked on.”
“It was the way I dressed…I was ridiculed.”
In all cases these behaviors have far-reaching and devastating effects on the whole school community.
As Beth Hawkins notes in MinnPost, it’s unlikely that the legislature will actually pass a strong law, but the Minnesota Department of Education and individual school districts can move ahead on their own, using the report (see pdf below) as a guide.
With nastiness running rampant in the national and state political scenes, it’s time for leadership to come from below. That means individual and community action to defang the haters, from schoolyard bullies to right-wing terrorists. Two more calls to action come from local voices.
Robin Phillips of Advocates for Human Rights, reflecting on the attack in Milwaukee, wrote:
If public policy purposefully creates hostile communities, should we be surprised by the type of domestic terrorism we saw at the Sikh temple? We need to work together to counter the flood of hateful speech from individuals, the media, institutions, and policy makers with language of tolerance, mutual respect, and responsibility to promote and protect the human rights of every person in our country.
She’s right. WE need to work together … you and me and all of us.
The policy decisions are hugely important, and we need to keep on working on those, despite the foot-dragging, back-stabbing and obstructionism that meet every call for changing laws to protect the vulnerable and to move toward equity.
The political arena, important as it is, is not the only arena. Tracy Babler, reporting on work on an equity agenda for the Twin Cities, pointed to an example of how individuals can have an impact:
Levy-Pounds has been part of an effort called Brotherhood Inc., which provides direct employment opportunities to young African American males with criminal records as a way to circumvent those legal barriers. This unique St. Paul-based program recently started a coffee shop to generate funds and create jobs. Chris Stewart, the executive director of the African American Leadership Forum, said that programs like Brotherhood Inc. demonstrate how every decision we make can either reinforce the status quo or make real change.
“We’ve been talking about policy solutions all day,” he said. “But the reality is, even where you buy your coffee can make a difference.”
He’s right, too. We can make a difference.