Waiting to be Heard … Waiting No Longer

It’s nice to know that sometimes the previously powerless figure out a way to become, well, less so. This is not, necessarily, about sympathy for the cause. Rather it’s about cheering on those who in the past were entirely silent – but who in the present are making themselves heard.

Generally these are small stories, not to be seen on the front page or home page of any of the leading papers, buried instead somewhere inside, on the literal or virtual equivalent of, say, page 12.

Still, here are two examples. Both came to light in recent days and both testify to how even the most marginalized among us can, under certain circumstances, stake their claim to their share.

The first is the United We Dream Network. Never heard of it? Well, you will, if not directly then indirectly, for this largest organization of young, illegal immigrants is determined to push Washington to clear a path for citizenship for them and their families. After the November elections, both Republicans and Democrats agreed, each for their own reasons, that immigration reform was one of the nation’s top priorities. But we know all too well that even the best of political intentions are sometimes sidelined, pushed aside by other events that seem in the moment to be more pressing. It matters then that on this issue young people (who stand most obviously to benefit) have organized, vowing at their recent three-day meeting in Kansas City (some 600 were in attendance), to hang together and fight together until the deed is done – until new immigration legislation is passed.

The second is the emergence of an even more marginal group: Vietnam veterans who were given something other than an honorable discharge, but who now argue that whatever the errors of their ways, they were the result of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). I will not here delve into the legitimacy of their claim, nor into the questions it raises, such as can PTSD be diagnosed retroactively? The point I make is that the issue has come apparently out of nowhere to morph into a major class action lawsuit against the U.S. military. (The Secretaries of the Army, Navy, and Air Force were named as defendants.) The cause is being carried forward by the Veterans Legal Services Clinic at Yale Law School – which together with the vets themselves gives additional evidence of the law as possible recourse, and of the ways in which those in the distance can sometimes be heard, even in spite of the din.

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