Some New Year’s Resolutions — for Maria

Because it’s the time of year when we all make New Year’s resolutions (at least those who have not already sworn never to do so), I had planned to write this blog entry about some resolutions that will help ensure that 2007 becomes known as the year of the American worker. But then I learned of the untimely death of one of our colleagues, Maria Leavey. She was going to help Workplace Fairness do the best that it could to keep these issues live and well before the American public. So I propose these resolutions in her memory, knowing that we will greatly miss the particular resolve she would have contributed, but also knowing that any success that we achieve is what she would have wanted.

I was originally inspired to do this resolution post by one that I had read from the Huffington Post. If you’re a regular reader, then you know that Arianna Huffington really has a knack for keeping progressives motivated — and intellectually honest. But before I could locate the post that originally inspired me when I read it on New Year’s Day, I saw this post from today: A Quiet American Hero. That’s how I learned Maria was gone, which is probably appropriate, considering how connected she was with the blogging community, and the work she did to bring progressive bloggers together even more closely.

If you don’t know her — and you probably don’t — Maria was the kind of person behind the scenes that makes Washington work (in the most positive way, that is). She knew everyone that had the right values, and could also tell you about those who talked the talk, but weren’t sincerely walking the walk. I met her when she applied to become the Executive Director of Workplace Fairness. She realized just a few minutes into the interview that her talents could best benefit WF in another capacity.

We then spent the rest of the interview talking about what kind of work she could do with us that would benefit our mission — a mission in which she passionately believed. That could have been awkward, but it absolutely wasn’t. The very next day, we engaged her as a consultant, but unlike some consultants that you encounter in the nonprofit world, she wasn’t out to promote herself or make a buck — she simply wanted to help and believed she had some skills and some contacts that would benefit us.

So as I erase the appointment with her for next week from my calendar, and mentally uncheck the several tasks that I knew were going to get done with her capable assistance, I started to think about how she would have wanted us to carry on. I don’t presume to have known her well, but she was one of those people that you could understand and relate to immediately — no artifice, no false modesty, although the modesty she exemplified was misplaced. As my colleagues and I discussed, if we were talking about anyone else, we would think they were a real namedropper. With Maria, however, she really did know and have substantive relationships with powerful people — because she earned their respect through her hard work.

And so I propose these resolutions, based upon the few conversations with her I was privileged to have, and just wish that she were here to help us achieve them, as we had hoped and planned.

1. Adequate healthcare coverage for everyone that doesn’t have it. This was one of the issues about which Maria cared passionately, as it affected her personally. As we attempt to learn the cause of her death, we may never know just how much being one of the millions of Americans without health insurance affected her. But I do know that if we can finally make some real progress this year — and it seems like we might — then maybe we can worry less about all the people we know who don’t get the healthcare they need, and whether the consequences will one day be unthinkable.

2. Improving conditions for disabled workers by strengthening the ADA. Again, from personal experience (a disabled family member), Maria believed passionately in empowering people with disabilities, and we spoke often of how the ADA does not do enough to ensure that disabled workers can work instead of being consigned to the fringes of society. There’s a proposal kicking around called the “ADA Restoration Act,” that would repair many of the weaknesses of the current Americans with Disabilities Act, and I’d like to think that if something like this bill is passed in 2007, Maria would consider it significant progress.

3. Sharing information with immigrant and low-income workers. Maria had planned to help us with our efforts to translate the Workplace Fairness website into Spanish and other languages, and believed strongly in ensuring that all workers have the ability to learn about their rights and protect themselves. Workplace Fairness intends to make that project reality in 2007, and her spirit will live on through that project as well.

If I had not heard about Maria’s death today, this list would probably have contained some more resolutions. Not only was I reeling from learning about her being gone, but it’s going to be harder for us to make as much significant progress without her work. But I know that our success, on these and other issues, is what she would have wanted. And as I celebrate the inauguration of the 110th Congress tonight here in Washington, I know she’s celebrating too — not because some of the political campaigns on which she recently worked were successful, but because we now have the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of real people. Like Maria did during her all-too-short lifetime.

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Madeline Messa

Madeline Messa is a 3L at Syracuse University College of Law. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in journalism. With her legal research and writing for Workplace Fairness, she strives to equip people with the information they need to be their own best advocate.