Another rights movement with ’60s roots

Newton’s first law can apply to thought, too. It often doesn’t want to move until it gets a strong push.

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Activists for disability rights protest outside then-New York Gov. Nelson Rockefeller's office in New York City, March 27, 1969.

This week’s cover story about employing people with a disability sent me scurrying to Wikipedia. I knew about the activism for disability rights in the 1960s and ’70s, but when did the disability-rights movement begin? As with women and minorities, those with disabilities had been discriminated against for millennia. How far back did the battle for equal treatment go?

The answer, it turned out, was that those sit-ins and protests of the 1960s launched the movement. And something in particular stuck out to me. The movement for disability rights was inspired by the push for civil rights and women’s rights. That advocacy on behalf of minorities and women gave those with disabilities hope that they could make the same gains.

As ordinary as that statement might sound, it is extraordinary. Far too often, we hear about the supposed downward spiral of the news. To be honest, the late ’60s felt very much like one of those times, with the world in upheaval. How often do we think about the virtuous cycle of the news? It was present, right there in the ’60s.

Freedom begets freedom. Hope begets hope. But change is hard. Newton’s first law can apply to thought, too. It often doesn’t want to move until it gets a strong push.

Now let’s apply that same test today. Is a virtuous cycle being missed amid all the upheaval? The cover story suggests the answer might be yes. The shift in thought about people with disabilities is leading to substantial gains in employment – to a fundamental reconsideration of what is possible. #MeToo and more-nuanced conversations around concepts like white supremacy suggest thought is stirring in other new directions, too. They speak to a shifting of foundation in ways that undergird new cycles of progress.

*             *             *

The Monitor’s beloved deputy editor of the Weekly, Marjorie Kehe, whose grace and generosity exemplified the best of the Monitor, passed away last month.

Marjorie’s Monitor career saw her travel far and wide as an education reporter before she returned to Boston to become Books editor and run our internship program. Two years ago she stepped into the role of Weekly deputy editor. Earlier, her innovative spirit had led her to launch the Monitor’s first blog (“Chapter & Verse”) and its first podcast – with former President Jimmy Carter as the first guest. Her energy was reflected in the fact that she walked four miles to work each day and in her tireless advocacy for the interns she hired, many of whom now make up our next generation of reporters and editors. Her fearlessness led her to walk Boston streets in New York Yankee pinstripes more often than was probably wise.

More than all else was the love she expressed in the stories she wrote and the cookies she baked for the newsroom. That love embraced the Monitor and most especially her pets and her husband, John, the Monitor’s former art director. A frequent collaborator with Marjorie, Monitor photographer Melanie Stetson Freeman noted, “If I could write exactly what I felt, it would be what Marjorie wrote.”

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