Kristine Kaiser: We derive rights from laws that protect them
Calvin Coolidge was the Republican nominee for the presidency in 1920. He says in his acceptance speech: “Men speak of natural rights, but I challenge anyone to show where in nature any rights existed or were recognized until there was established for their declaration and protection a body of corresponding laws.” Calvin Coolidge suggests that rights exist because of law. His words are worth remembering today.
Every winter, we discuss the work of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and his contribution to African-Americans. We credit King for the progress that has been made for an entire people. Yet, I note from my years of working in politics that the marginalized can never rest. Minorities must always be vigilant; they must be on guard. Eyes must be opened to the reality of the public sphere. If people’s rights aren’t tied down, they are so often stolen; they are wrested away, they are awarded to others in no time.
Rights are at the center of politics. Political activity is a constant power struggle, a struggle to acquire rights. Many well-intended statutes are made for the purpose of safeguarding rights. Over time, laws are eroded; they are dulled from the dynamics of current events, trends, and movements. Everyone would have more rights, not less, not just always one’s own rights either, but others’ rights as well. The political sphere is always moving, is always in motion, to take rights; the more rights that are claimed, the more powerful an agent becomes. The taking of rights simply increases power.
Marginalized people see their rights slipping away from being lax. The feminists of the 1960s are elderly now. They have long put down their banners for equal rights. The new generation of women has not stepped up to the plate. Hillary Clinton’s rise in the political world suggests that everything is swell with women’s rights. Women have their superstar and should not worry about the plight of the average woman. Today’s woman couldn’t be more wrong. Every political effort is being made to take women’s rights and transfer them to others. Male legislators across the country are making decisions about abortion and birth control. Women’s rights are being taken away.
Blacks fought for voting rights. Now, the African-Americans are having their voting rights stripped away with the legislative trend to require photo IDs. The GOP plans to hurt the Democrats, who are known to make electoral gains with voter turnout. But instead it becomes a true racial matter. African-Americans are the most likely to be affected by the so-called “integrity” voter laws. They are most likely not to have the required documentation to vote. Again, blacks have Barack Obama, a superstar. African-Americans assume that they have come a long way and that their rights are now settled. How wrong. They must be watchful. The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to gut the Voting Rights Act is an ominous sign; African Americans are not assured of much.
Marginalized individuals must now join groups. Let all African-Americans join the NAACP. Let women join NOW. Let gay and lesbian people not too heartily celebrate their rights victory, even with the demise of DOMA. Let them continue to work and organize. The lone protester is no match for the workings of power or those people who would willingly take vital rights away to magnify their own clout.
Finally, our rights exist because of the law. Let’s support laws that protect the rights of marginalized people. Let us join together to ensure that people have the rights they need to enjoy dignity and happiness. We are a better nation for securing rights.
Kristine Kaiser is a writer living in Kernersville. Contact her for comments at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Representations of fact and opinions are solely those of the author.