Scene 1, 1957
As a newly hired radio newsman in Holland, I was appalled to learn that the City Council met in secret session, over dinner, prior to each scheduled public meeting. The regular sessions were aired live on local radio, and council members didn’t want the public to see and hear any argument and/or disagreement. Those were the days before open meetings became law. The city picked up the dinner tab.
To protest this shameful practice, I would obtain the dinner total the next morning, then report to my listeners: “Your city council met in secret last night to prepare its official meeting for tonight’s broadcast. It cost you $xxx.xx!
My little protest, along with those of many other responsible journalists, eventually resulted in open meeting legislation that prohibits that kind of practice these days.
Scene 2, 1976
I considered it a violation of journalism ethics when the Grand Haven Tribune repeatedly published the name of a black truck driver jailed in our town for the alleged rape of a white woman in a truck stop. As it turns out, the driver was the victim. The woman was charged with filing a false report. My editorial was selected by judges at the State Bar of Michigan over all entries from all media, for their Advancement of Justice Award.
Scene 3, 2004
When Governor Jennifer Granholm took her sweet time responding to our appeals for a compassionate release for my ailing prisoner friend Maurice Carter, I chose to take another step. We placed a large billboard truck directly across the street from the Governor’s office window. The message: Show Compassion. Commute the Sentence of Carter. On the billboard was a photo of Maurice looking at her.
Scene 4, 2008
As the founder of HUMANITY FOR PRISONERS, my cousin, who admitted to being a “computer nerd,” persuaded me to start a blog site. “People will read your messages,” he assured me. So, we started verbal protests in the form of blog entries, a practice that continues to this day, reviewed by a couple thousand readers each month.
Am I trying to picture myself as a hero? Those who know me know better than that. I’m simply using these examples to insist that, no matter who you are, no matter your role in life, you must protest when you see wrong.
“It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
-Robert F. Kennedy