Change what and by what means? Both of the presidential candidates in this most historic election focused on the word 'change'. President Elect Obama used the single word to confer a hope we have yet to see realized. The truth of the matter is, save for his being voted into office, not much has changed-yet. Perhaps I'm a tired cranky cynic, but I see little change coming that will affect this nation for good. The good I do see is what has been realized already: a man of color, a man whose heritage is different from my own has risen to a place of leadership not seen in my lifetime-that, in itself, is good.
When I ponder change and change for the better, I think of laws enacted for the good of many. One such example is the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). In a nutshell, it is broad federal legislation that prohibits, under certain circumstances, discrimination based on disability. Wikipedia gives a general description of what is covered, here. Its passage would not have been possible without the prior Civil Rights Act of 1964. And, following the same line of thinking, neither would the Civil Rights Act have been possible without the Emancipation Proclamation or the 13th amendment to the U.S. Constitution. There is a pattern, and a good one. Laws enacted that seek to do the right thing, are necessary. It's vital for us to consider then, what change is good, or right change?
I submit to you, passage of legislation does not effect change in itself. Not the type of change that has an impact for good. Let's revisit the ADA again. Joni Eareckson-Tada is a quadriplegic woman whose life was unalterably changed when, as an adolescent, she was paralyzed due to a diving 'accident'. Recently, she was interviewed by CNN's Larry King on his program, Larry King Live. King, obviously moved by Eareckson-Tada's committment to her faith and the helping of others like her who suffer physically, asked her about her involvement with the passage of the ADA.
KING: We're back with Joni Eareckson Tada, who was appointed by then President Reagan to the 15-member council instrumental in the design of the American with Disabilities Act.You were there it was -- the day it was signed, right?
EARECKSON TADA: Oh, it was a wonderful day. I was on the White House lawn and watched President Bush sign the Americans with Disabilities Act into law. It was a grand day for disabled people.And I'll never forget, our executive director at that time, Paul Hearne -- a man with brittle bone disease who was in a wheelchair -- he welcomed us all back to the hotel for a brief reception.And I'll never forget what he said. This bill had just become law, and he had helped champion it. And he[ HEARNE ]said,
"You know, this law will mean that we'll have more mechanical lifts on buses. It'll mean that there'll be more open doors of opportunity for people to be employed. It'll mean that there'll be better access in restaurants and public accommodations."And then he paused for a moment, looking at his drink and kind of fingering the lip of it, and he said, "But that's not going to change the heart of the bus driver. It's not going to change the heart of the employer or the maitre'd of the restaurant." And then, he lifted his drink and said, "Here's to changed hearts."
And when he said that, it struck me that state proclamations and declarations and even something like the Americans with Disabilities Act is not necessarily going to jerk people's attitudes here in America right side up.
KING: But at least you can get on a bus and at least there's a ramp.
EARECKSON TADA: At least there is a ramp. Now, sometimes the bus driver has been known to pass you by.
Now, that's the best illustration I can come up with to posit that the enactment of laws do not good men make. As we embark on four years under leadership of a man enamored by the prospect of change, I urge you to remember Paul Hearne's words. Change is coming....