A battle for all of us

By Brenda . . . Today I cancelled a membership for a state member, at his request. Cancellations happen, and we don’t question, grateful for whatever they have been able to give. But this time, we got a little note along with the request.

[Your] actions have never been in accordance with my goals, which is freedom from the burden of lifetime registration. I hope the burden on lifetime registrants will one day come to an end, but since there are no organizations fighting for this cause, there is no need for me to support any organizations.

He’s entitled to his opinion, of course. But this message floored me. He really thinks that our organization, or any affiliates of NARSOL … or indeed any of the many other organizations battling against these insane laws … are not fighting for an end to lifetime registration?

Words failed me for a few days. I got over it.

What I think is really going on is that our erstwhile friend has not heard us constantly shouting about his particular issue. He gave us some money, and he has still not been removed from his registry burden. In other words, he has no concern for anyone but himself. And for that, I can only pity him.

What our friend has clearly missed is the monumental task before us. For lifetime registration to come to an end, there must be a number of deep, systemic changes: changes that begin within each person’s heart and mind. Minds and hearts are changed through a clear, impactful message that reaches beyond those of us “in the choir.” Those changes continue through ACTION in the halls of town and county councils and state and national governments and through a steady barrage of litigation that pushes back against excesses at every level.

It’s NOT all about “ME”

This is a war – arguably one of the largest civil rights battles ever. Indeed, almost certainly rolled into this war are racial and LGBTQ+ disparities that have been fought throughout the entirety of United States history. The groups fighting those issues have become aware of how sexual offense laws are impacting their communities and are beginning to apply some resources to the fight.

Whether on the front lines or waiting at home, in wartime we must all move beyond our personal struggles and focus on the larger goal. For NARSOL, and likely every other advocacy group in our movement, that larger goal is to end public shaming registries. Period. Reaching that goal will require huge efforts by many people: people on the front lines in courtrooms and legislators’ offices, people sending letters and making phone calls demanding change, people “back home” talking to neighbors and offering encouragement and support. The battles we fight may result in small wins or large defeats, but we push forward in the hope that collectively we are moving closer to victory.

We must change hearts and minds

The message that all of us in this movement must constantly present to our neighbors, friends, and family is that persons forced to register are HUMAN BEINGS. They and their families and friends deserve the same opportunities for happiness, love, and success as any other human being. Sometimes a human being is broken or sick, and that person needs to be under more careful supervision. But registries do NOT provide any protection for either the public or for the registered human.

If we stay hidden, our friends, family, and neighbors will never come to see that persons forced to register are human beings. And if we sit around (as our friend did) just hoping for our situation to change… it won’t.

ACTION takes many forms, and it takes TIME

There are many different battle fronts. In addition to humanizing, of course there are many civil rights battles to fight. Some are smaller, such as when law enforcement overreaches in a community or when a town council institutes a distance restriction on all registrants. We can show up at meetings to make a case, speak privately to those in power and encourage change, or respond to inaccurate and misleading news reports and blog posts with facts and a HUMANIZING story.

Sometimes it’s a solitary advocate standing before a legislative committee or town council that will change hearts and prevent a new, worse law. Other times, a legal action in progress results in a change to existing law and a better understanding of the problems with public registration.

Though our erstwhile friend might wish it otherwise, there is no single action that is going to fix everything, nor one single action that can even fix ONE thing (such as lifetime registration). Our big goal of no more public shaming registries will come through hundreds of smaller and larger victories – most simply taking out a piece here, or correcting an excess there. Legal challenges are also accumulating at local and state levels and will continue until sufficient case law is built up to force change at the national level.

It is our hope at NARSOL, echoed I am sure through the entire movement, that someday the war will be won and public shaming registries will be no more. And at that time, we will focus on preventing them from ever returning – because humans always look for a boogeyman to fear. I hope you’ll stay with us.

Brenda Jones

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Brenda is NARSOL's executive director. She serves as affiliate coordinator for our affiliates, contacts, and advocates; serves on the tech team; and oversees special projects such as Fearless, the state law wiki, and Lives on the Registry.