By Dr. E. Faye Williams, Esq.
August -2013 — I have always had a passing interest in Greek mythology. I have found Greek mythology useful for illustrating easily understood analogies of contemporary events. This isn’t much of a stretch because the ancients used myths to explain events that, otherwise, seemed to have no practical explanations. These stories have become so infused in our culture that we have many commonly used idiomatic expressions that are derived from Greek mythology.
The idiom “Herculean Tasks” seems descriptive of current challenges facing communities of the so-called disadvantaged. For those needing a refresher, the hero, Hercules, had to perform twelve tasks that were thought to be impossible. Among them was the task to slay the Hydra, a vicious serpent-like creature that had many heads and poisonous breath and blood. This guardian of the Underworld had the ability to grow two heads for each one that was cut off.
It’s not difficult to compare achieving social justice and equality to the task of battling the Hydra. Despite the “Herculean” efforts of the heroes and sheroes of civil and human rights, each victory has been met with a doubling of resistance to social progress and the resurgence of mean-spirited, reactionary words and deeds. Those in the progressive community who have allowed success and achievement to engender complacency have been met with the ugly reality that those who resist their efforts have just begun to fight.
I suggest that there were only a cynical few among us who believed that we would, again in 2013, be fighting the battle for voting rights we won in 1965. The cynics have prevailed. When large numbers of voters ignored their responsibility to vote, there were few appeals for new laws to regulate the voting process. However, in response to the two elections that put a Black man in the White House, the proponents of the “way things were” have invented the problem of voter fraud to justify instituting new laws to control who has the right to vote. We no longer have to guess the number of beans in a jar or the number of bubbles in a bar of soap, but we must now face the challenge of being able to prove that we are who we say we are or face hours in line to spend the few moments it takes to exercise our civic responsibility.
In January 1973, when the Roe v. Wade decision was delivered, millions across the nation celebrated the Supreme Court’s affirmation that, within the limits of fetal viability, a woman’s reproductive rights were a matter of her choice. In 2013, avalanches of new laws throughout the U.S. have limited the right of choice or they have limited the operational capability of clinics to provide chosen necessary abortion services. Many of these new laws have substituted legislative interference for medical efficacy by requiring unnecessary invasive procedures or psychological warfare against those choosing abortions. These same legislative impostors claim that the manner of impregnation or health of the mother has no bearing upon her decision to abort, yet support laws that reduce or eliminate nutritional assistance to single-mothers and their children.
Under the influence of the American Legislative Exchange Council, many states have instituted “Stand Your Ground” laws, or as they’re called in one state a “Make My Day” law. Self-protection is a God-given right, but, when persons of ill-will and intent assume the right to perform legal lynching under the color of law, we have taken a step backward too far.
Those who willingly oppress others do not surrender power willingly. Like Hercules facing the Hydra, for each victory, we must prepare to face even greater challenge. Fortunately, unlike Hercules, we are not alone and we must unite with a common strength to achieve common progressive objectives.
(Dr. E. Faye Williams is National Chair of the National Congress of Black Women. 202/678-6788 www.nationalcongressbw.org.)