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MLK Today, Legislature Tomorrow

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

A Guest Post by Anthony Fleg

On the eve of the 2011 legislative session in Santa Fe, the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday gives us a moment of pause, a moment to reflect as New Mexicans about what we hope to see come out of the two-month session, and how we will individually and collectively affect the process. Using some thoughts from Dr. King’s vast repertoire of proverbial wisdom, I hope that you will find inspiration today to fuel your service and advocacy tomorrow and beyond.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” – MLK

I often hear friends and colleagues lament that “politics is just not for me,” in the same way they might discuss foods and movies they dislike. The important distinction is that our political system does affect all of us. It can protect our natural resources and sacred places, or it can do just the opposite. It will determine over the next sixty days whether the budgets of our schools and social programs are slashed, or whether we instead decide to go after un-tapped revenue from corporations to solve our state’s deficit.

These are not small, insignificant decisions. We will all live with the effects, good or bad, from decisions over the next two months. Get involved! If you are one of those likely to shrug off politics, my first, simple suggestions would be to check out the very user-friendly NM legislative website where you find your legislators, look up specific bills, and even watch proceedings from the Roundhouse and then to go up to Santa Fe and see the legislative process for yourself. Those who do see quickly that it is not the scary world they had imagined, and that in fact, all of us can make more of an impact than we think.

“Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals. ” – MLK

I had a conversation with a physician yesterday where she relayed a situation in last year’s legislative session that spoke to the need to be organized and strategic in our advocacy. She and a group of physicians were in a room where the tax on sweetened beverages was being debated. She says that the room was almost empty, and that her group of physicians decided that having one of their group speak would be sufficient. As the chair of the committee called for any speakers opposed to the bill, a group of ten men, all dressed in business suits, filed into the room and proceeded to give 30 second, coordinated pitches for how this tax would hurt New Mexico. She had not seen choreography this good since the last time she had been to Popejoy! And the bill was defeated.

It is these situations that make folks that are advocates discouraged, seeing the power and organization that lobbyists carry. (The distinction between the two being that lobbyists are payed to get bills passed, while advocates are usually volunteers who get involved around an issue that they see first-hand in their work). But, speaking to the advocates here, our primary question becomes, “How can we play the game so that our concerns are given equal attention?” We must approach our advocacy with a level of professionalism that allows our voices to be heard as the lobbyists are heard. And if choreography is what it takes, let the acting begin!

“I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.” – MLK

Lastly, let us do the work in a way that does not ultimately make us the victim. Shouting, screaming, and lowering ourselves to the same entities (fear, discrimination, hatred, etc.) that create the injustices we are trying to erase, will only make us suffer. Do the work out of a love for this land, for the people whose voices are forgotten and unheard in the Roundhouse. And then, regardless of what has happened when the session ends on March 17th, use that love to continue the work for a better New Mexico, one person, one block at a time.

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