May 8, 2006 STC Las Vegas

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Fear And Labeling In Las Vegas

A woman slapped a label on me, and walked away. I learned something that night.

It was a Saturday night in Vegas and the party was in full swing. I was staying in a suite that was bigger than most houses. Out the window, a Stalin-sized picture of Wayne Newton stared in. Inside, people from all over were eating, drinking and laughing. They moved freely from one group to another making connections and deals. The more people showed up, the more fun we had. Just another night in the life as I bounced around the globe.

They tried issuing nametags as people arrived, so that people could identify each other. You know, those “Hello, My Name is” labels. As the party got going, people started trading labels, or even wearing more than one. It was at that point that the woman slapped a label on me. It was not my name or where I was from. It was completely inaccurate, and that was what made it so funny. I could take it off anytime.

Unfortunately, that is getting harder to do. In the Sunday May, 7, 2006 Las Vegas Sun, Karin Anderson wrote an article about how hard it was for her to change back to her maiden name after a divorce. She said the Patriot Act and the current obsession with bureaucratic paperwork make it nearly impossible. There is a certain irony that the Patriot Act supporters who cherish their ability to be born again deny others that same right.

Back on May 1st people tried to overcome the labels assigned them by the same bunch. Congress wants to turn immigrants into criminals. Full Disclosure: My life is has been measurably improved by people from other countries. I got a call from a friend in San Francisco’s financial district. He was on the 25th floor of a building and could hear the roar of demonstrators for immigration in the streets. I told him I could hardly hear his voice over my cell phone. Why? Because I with my friends in that crowd.

Over the years I covered a lot of events at hotels or convention centers. You get to know the staff as friends and not outlaws. They recognize me, we help each other, and get through the day. Criminals menace and attack me, they do not help me find the elevator or the restroom. The people I know who are immigrants are trying to improve themselves. The right to choose your own identity, to reinvent yourself, and make a living was a great incentive to come here. Often they are escaping places where labels do not come off.

I thought about that on this Sunday morning in Vegas, as there was a knock on the door. The housekeeper came into clean the room. I tried to pick up all the labels scattered about the room. I asked her if she wanted one. She laughed and said no, she did not need another one.

Later, downstairs to the convention, I met some activists trying to get rid of another set of labels. They won an award for making it easier for the handicapped, disabled or augmented to attend public events. The days of the disabled being invisible are over. They want to fully participate and contribute to society. Disabled people do not like being labeled as people who are “problems”. They are people solving problems. Like most human rights activists, when they encounter prejudice or resistance, it just drives them to redouble their efforts.

According to people I talked to, denying access to an event because someone is disabled is illegal. It does not matter what the event is. If it is in a convention center funded by tax dollars or a private hotel, you have to give them access. They quoted the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the American With Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Fourteenth Amendment. Not only that, denying a disabled person’s right to assemble or report on events is clearly a violation of the First Amendment.

I asked them if they had heard of anyone being denied access recently. They wanted to know who would do that? Did they base their views on James Bond villains, who are always disabled in some way? Do they have some sort of pathological fear of people who are different? At which time, a friend of mine from hotel security looked up from his lunch. He said that where he comes from, mistreating or menacing the disabled is very bad luck.

So then I asked him, what if the company handling the event is worried about revealing company secrets? He laughed and said they should not have an event in public if they wanted something to be kept secret.

He was right. As I cover these events, I am reminded that sunshine is the best disinfectant. If a company is in trouble, losing money or has something else to hide, customers and investors need to know about it. I also believe that sunshine can help things grow. Sometimes I find out something great that people should know about. It is hypocritical for a high-tech company to brag about how they can improve the flow of information between people and then try to restrict it. When someone denies you an opportunity, they deny opportunities to themselves.

DJ Cline
Copyright 2006 All rights reserved.