Marshall Mend has seen North Idaho make great strides with human rights, he says.
But there’s always more to do.
“Some people think human rights is for everybody, ‘except.’ They always have an ‘except’ in there,” he said Monday. “But human rights is for human beings, that’s why it’s called human rights. It’s doesn’t matter whether you’re Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, gay or straight. It’s for everybody.”
He’s still working to get the word out.
Mend, a longtime human rights activist in Kootenai County, has been tapped to provide guidance on civil rights legislation and enforcement.
The Coeur d’Alene Realtor was appointed in December to the state advisory committee for the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. The uncompensated advisory group discusses regional discrimination issues and reports on those matters to the federal government.
Fixing the problems “is what they are supposed to do,” he said of the government. “What we’re doing is advising them on what, why and how.”
Mend, who co-founded the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations in 1981, already has ideas of what he’ll bring to the table, such as advocating for bilingual education to help the children of Hispanic immigrants in their education, he said.
“Hispanics lag behind English-speaking kids. They need to learn English first just to catch up,” the 71-year-old said. “A bilingual education would help them catch up a whole lot faster.”
He would also like to see more efforts to give equal rights to gays and lesbians, he said.
“Some folks say, ‘We don’t have to give them special rights,’ ” he said. “Well, they should have no special rights, just equal rights. Homosexuals and heterosexuals should be treated the same. If they’re not bothering you, what difference does it make?”
Mend will be a useful addition to the committee, said Tony Stewart, another co-founder of the task force.
Mend’s experience as a Realtor will allow him to lend advice on discrimination in housing, Stewart said.
“He’s dedicated to this wonderful cause. He is not only persistent; he has got tremendous passion and energy for what we do,” Stewart said. “He’s given it total commitment.”
Mend previously served on the advisory council from 1993 to 2004, when, he said, the federal administration cut its budget and it stopped meeting. He admitted that in much of that time the council wasn’t very active, some years not even having a single meeting.
“When they asked me (to join again), I asked, ‘Are we going to do anything this time?’ ” Mend said.
But after speaking with the new regional director, Peter Minarik, Mend said he was optimistic the committee would strive to get more accomplished.
In his 30 years of involvement with the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Rights, Mend was key in developing hate crime legislation in Idaho.
Mend and the task force also played an instrumental role in the lawsuit against the Aryan Nations that eventually bankrupted the white supremacist group and drove it out of the region.
Himself Jewish, Mend said he became interested in human rights when he encountered racism after moving to Coeur d’Alene from Los Angeles in 1980.
That fanned into a lifelong commitment, he said, when a member of the Aryan Nations started harassing a biracial family in Kootenai County.
“It was that incident that really turned my life around,” Mend said. “I thought what he was doing was criminal, and that guy needed to be put away for a long time.”
He still encounters bigots in Kootenai County, he said. When he does, he tries to nudge them toward keeping an open mind.
“Hate is bad for you. It poisons your mind, it makes you unhappy and ruins your life,” he said. “Why work so hard to be mean, when it’s so easy to be nice? Everybody deserves the same rights to go out and succeed, to go out and fail. That’s what human rights are all about.”