I love to sing, always have. I especially love to sing a good alto line, listening to the harmonies working together with the other choral lines. Last week I had an odd experience, though. I was singing during worship but couldn’t hear my voice at all.
How could that be? No, I hadn’t lost my hearing. I was worshiping with the Conference of Bishops, all but five of whom are men. Despite my strong voice, I couldn’t hear myself at all in the midst of the bishops. Don’t get me wrong–the bishops could form a great male chorus, and it’s fun to listen to them sing a rousing hymn. It was quite disconcerting, nonetheless. And it got me thinking about what it must be like to regularly not have your voice heard.
Because of my upbringing, education, experience and positions, I’ve always been able to speak my mind and have my voice be heard. Granted, there were times in the 1980s when as a female lawyer in what had been a male-dominated field I found it challenging to make my voice be heard. But I was tenacious enough to make it happen.
Some will say that when we engage in advocacy we are working on behalf of those who have no voice. I disagree. Everyone has a voice. Some have not yet learned how to use that voice. Others are using their voice (or their actions or words) but for any number of reasons (most of which have more to do with the potential listener than they do with the speaker) their voices are not heard.
I think that when we engage in advocacy we are working on behalf of those whose voices are not being heard.
Right now there are so many whose voices are not being heard. Gay teenagers who are driven to take their own lives. Women forced into the modern-day slavery of human trafficking. Children who will go to bed hungry tonight. Seniors who have to choose between prescription medicine and paying the rent. All of this right here in America, the fabled land of opportunity. If I experienced even just a minute fraction of their frustration when singing with the bishops last week, I got a glimpse of how emasculated our sisters and brothers feel when their voices are not heard. It’s time we all started listening.
Linda Post Bushkofsky, once a first soprano and now a relaxed contralto, is executive director of Women of the ELCA.