Monday, April 18, 2011

A Single Voice Can Make a Difference

In many areas of the world today, citizens are taking serious risks to speak out against their government. People have been imprisoned, even killed, for daring to speak up. Despite the danger, the protests continue.

In the United States, it can be easy to take our right to freedom of speech for granted. The US constitution guarantees our rights. Oregon's sometimes controversial constitution is even more liberal when it comes to freedom of expression.

It's safe and legal to express yourself in public in Oregon, but that doesn't mean it's easy. And it's not just the big political arena where this is true. It's also true within our professional organization, the Oregon Library Association.

At the annual OLA conference a couple of weeks ago, the membership voted on a number of changes to the by-laws.
The changes, while not unimportant, were mostly to make the by-laws read more consistently, and to remove procedures that belonged elsewhere. I'm sure I'm not the only OLA member whose good intentions got away from her; I didn't read the proposed changes before the OLA business meeting.

The Executive Board was nearly unanimous in approving the by-laws changes for a vote by the membership. But one Exec Board member, OLA secretary Emily Papagni, didn't agree with one thing. One of the proposed changes would have made it permissible to have only one candidate for OLA president if an additional candidate couldn't be found. The idea was to avoid holding up the entire election process if two candidates for the admittedly daunting position of president weren't available. Seemed quite reasonable on the surface. But Emily felt strongly that having only one candidate would weaken the democratic nature of OLA. A democracy, after all, is about choice. Although she was obviously nervous, Emily spoke eloquently and passionately on the issue to the assembled OLA members. In the vote directly afterwards, although there were slightly more votes for the by-laws changes, there weren't enough for the motion to pass. This led to an amendment, deleting the one-candidate-for-president possibility, and that motion passed.

Everyone I talked to later admires Emily for having spoken out, and many changed their vote as a result of what she said.

The fact is that, even when you feel you're the only one who disagrees, it's frequently true that others also disagree, but don't want to speak up. It's scary, but saying "I don't agree, and here's why" is important, even if you voice shakes. It's important to learn to get along and compromise, but it's equally important to speak out on issues that really matter.

If you don't, who will?

1 comment:

  1. This is a really great post! It is hard to speak up sometimes, but definitely worth it.