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“I Shall Go Wherever I Am Asked to Participate for Freedom!”

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In today’s America, there is a serious divide between the wealthy and the rest of us. This is shown by the vast disparity between the income of those at the top and the struggle to make ends meet that the rest of us face. But personal income is hardly the extent of these differences. There is a difference in respect, both for the law and for those the law is intended to protect.

Remember back when Paris Hilton had to spend a brief respite away from the paparazzi in the LA county Jail? She wailed loudly that it was “so unfair” until her mother – who seems to remember just how fortunate they truly are – told her to shut up and do her time.

Now we have Lindsey Lohan, whose mother Dina should be sentenced to share her daughter’s jail cell (too late now!) and her locked-down rehab until she gets what Kathy Hilton has publicly expressed: an awareness that the laws apply to them in spite of their privilege.

In today’s New York Times, columnist Frank Rich eulogizes one of the “American angels”, Judith Dunnington Peabody, who, despite her familial wealth and personal fame as a socialite and contemporary of Jaqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis, served those shunned as the lowest caste in our society – the gay male with AIDS – as a hands-on caretaker. Who among us would risk so much to serve our fellow man?

Rich postulates that this call to public service by one who benefited the most from our national commerce was due to the actions of her mother-in-law, Mary Peabody. The elder Mrs. Peabody issued the quote I used in the title when she was arrested at age 72 for participating in a sit-in for equal rights in Florida. She was asked why a wealthy New York resident would travel so far to endure two nights in jail in the service of a controversial cause opposed by so many. “I shall go wherever I am asked to participate for freedom,” she retorted.

Never in our history, with today’s rampant greed and widespread selfishness, do we need more of the likes of Mary and Judith Dunnington Peabody to provide, as Frank Rich writes, “…testimony to the courage, big-heartedness and sense of fundamental fairness that can flower in our country…”

May someone from their economic elite caste decide to take up the cause in their memories.

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