Friday, May 5, 2017

Famous Speech Friday: Hawaii Rep. Fukumoto at the Women's March

We've seen some prominent silencing of women speakers lately, and women legislators in particular. But here's a recent example of one state legislator who took a silencing move--her removal as minority leader in the Hawaii house of representatives--and turned it into a speech that let her have the last word.

That's what happened to Hawaii State Rep. Beth Fukumoto Chang, a Republican who first expressed her disagreement with the policies of Donald Trump at her state's Republican party convention, getting boos and catcalls in that forum. Republicans, who hold just a handful of seats in the Hawaii legislature, soon voted her out of her role as their minority leader. She had been the youngest person to serve in that role in the state and the United States as a whole. Fukumoto Chang, 33 years old, had been celebrated at one time as the face of the "new right:" female, Asian-American, and young. But now, she was persona non grata for speaking her mind.

As Daily Kos reported, it was actually a case of Fukumoto Chang being asked to stay silent about her views. Here's her reaction in the House: "They told me they would keep me in this position if I would commit to not disagreeing with our president for the remainder of his term. Mr. Speaker, I'm being removed because I refused to make that commitment, because I believe it's our job as Americans and as leaders in this body to criticize power when power is wrong."

And she didn't stop speaking out. On January 21, during Hawaii's Women's March, she gave this short but powerful speech:
Today I'd like to talk to you about my niece. She's eight years old, and she's campaigned with me since she was two. She's come with me to all sorts of events. And, last summer when I stood up at my party's convention she watched as a ballroom full of a men and women tossed insults and booed me because instead of pledging to support my party's nominee I said I thought his remarks were racist and sexist and that they had no place in the Republican Party. 
Now, to that room full of people, I was a traitor, or a fake, or one of the many derogatory words I was called on social media afterward. To my niece, I had told the truth. Because little kids know right and wrong. 
We teach them that they're supposed to be nice and kind to everyone even when they're different. So, she didn't understand why people would be so mean to her aunt who stood on stage and said Donald Trump shouldn't say the things he says. 
We had to explain to her later, that sometimes people are angry and they don't know how to express it so they treat other people badly. We explained that sometimes people are bullies, but that you should insist that they treat people with respect. We told her that you always stand up to bullies no matter who they are. 
Then she watched a bully win the presidency of the United States. 
It doesn't matter to me who you voted for. People cast their votes for a lot of different reasons. But, no matter who your choice was, the fact remains the same. A man won the White House with anger and hate, and our kids watched it happen. Now, it's our jobs to make sure they watch us fight back. 
So what I'm going to ask you to do today is get involved. Testify at the Legislature, run for office, help on a campaign, but do it with kindness. Show our kids that everyone's voice matters, even when they believe the opposite thing you do. Teach them that everyone deserves respect. In the end, LOVE will always win!
In addition to being removed from her leadership post in the Republican party, she formally left the party after surveying her constituents. She has received enormous positive reaction to her speech from around the United States. What can you learn from this famous speech?
  • Don't give up your right to speak your mind: Free speech is guaranteed to all U.S. citizens, but in many jobs, you're asked not to speak out about certain issues. You've got to decide for yourself when that becomes too much of a burden to bear, of course. But be wary of offers like this one: "You can keep the leadership slot if you don't disagree publicly." Don't let yourself be silenced in advance.
  • Do take your views public: The state's women's march was the perfect forum for Fukumoto Chang, who also announced she wanted to hear from her constituents about her thoughts on leaving the party, since they'd elected her as a Republican. A public forum made her views clear to a wider audience, and established a record of her own making. There's great agency in taking the microphone to speak. No wonder they wanted to silence her.
  • Make it about something bigger than yourself: It's not just that she disagreed with the candidate, and then President. That's why her speech signaled what any citizen could do in the call to action, which included this ringing sentence, "Show our kids that everyone's voice matters, even when they believe the opposite thing you do." That line makes her just one example of a larger, more pervasive problem--and made it understandable and real to a wider audience.
Watch this short and principled speech in the video below:


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