Skip to main content

'Stopping bullying means liberation'

By Mike Honda, Special to CNN
June 27, 2012 -- Updated 1356 GMT (2156 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Rep. Mike Honda says he was bullied as a young Japanese-American in the 1940s
  • He said experience left him shy, struggling as student. Today, bullying is epidemic, he says
  • He announces Congress Anti-Bullying Caucus to seek tools to fight bullying
  • Honda: Everyone deserves to feel they have power, are safe, can pursue life goals

Editor's note: Congressman Mike Honda represents Silicon Valley, California, in Congress. He is an educator of more than 30 years, the author of the landmark Commission on Equity and Excellence in Education now housed in the Department of Education and the Chair of the Congressional Anti-Bully Caucus.

(CNN) -- My experience with bullying began with a presidential order.

At the height of World War II, on February 19, 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, incarcerating more than 120,000 Japanese Americans. My family and I were imprisoned behind barbed wire at the Amache internment camp in southeast Colorado. I was less than a year old.

Sadly, the internment of Japanese Americans spread fear and intolerance far beyond the wire and towers of the camps. After the war, during my early years of public school, I was often confronted and insulted because of my appearance and ethnic origin. As a result, I struggled as a student. I was shy to speak up. I lacked self-esteem.

Rep. Mike Honda
Rep. Mike Honda

In the 70 years since internment, our nation has made great leaps in providing reparations for the internment and ostracizing of Japanese Americans. But the mistreatment of people thought of as "outsiders" or "different" is a problem that has not gone away.

Today the health, safety, competitiveness and moral fiber of America is threatened by an epidemic that affects more than 13 million children each year.

These kids are teased, taunted and physically assaulted by their peers — reflecting racism, xenophobia, homophobia and sexism. This bullying epidemic also spreads far beyond classroom walls to strike countless communities from coast to coast in different social environments. Bullying is particularly acute in the elderly community. It is reported that one in 10 elders in America has experienced mistreatment in the past year. It has also been reported that for every case of elder abuse, neglect, exploitation or self-neglect reported to authorities, five more go unreported.

Community reacts to bus monitor bullying
Bullied woman: Kids not bad 'deep down'
Kids develop app to fight bullying

The fear and hurt that so many Americans experience demands fierce and urgent action.

Today, as founder and chair, I am humbled and honored to launch the bipartisan Congressional Anti-Bullying Caucus, a historic convening on Capitol Hill of dozens of members of Congress and partner organizations, as well as visionary film director Lee Hirsch and the Assistant Secretary of Education Russlynn Ali.

The caucus will seek to engage and empower each constituency involved in the anti-bullying movement, including but not limited to youth, seniors, religious communities and LGBT-identifying individuals. The purpose is to focus the energy and effort of the movement to forge a path forward to stop bullying -- both offline and online.

This convening aims to identify the improvements needed in existing anti-bullying measures at the federal, state and local levels, and to provide a forum for the voice and visibility for all constituencies in the anti-bullying effort. This could mean increased funding and anti-bullying training for bus drivers, school nurses, teachers and administrators; vastly improved workplace diversity trainings; and revolutionizing data collection on elder abuse.

It's hard to change our laws, the way we think and ultimately our behavioral and cultural norms, yet that is the challenge ahead of us. We need new and innovative solutions to combat bullying, ones that protect our children, our peers, our seniors by empowering leaders in communities everywhere to create safe environments for everyone.

Years ago, I was marginalized by my bullying experience. I struggled to see past my fear and hurt to embrace who I truly was, to embrace my place in America. Luckily, my father painstakingly began to teach me a powerful and liberating truth: Japanese-Americans had been treated unjustly — had been bullied — because of "war hysteria, racial prejudice and a failure of political leadership."

Through my father, I came to understand that the truth of America is that we all truly belong in America, regardless of race, gender, ethnicity, ability, sexual orientation, political philosophy or age.

Over time, my father's lessons empowered me to do better in school, to join the Peace Corps, to become a schoolteacher and to serve my community. This journey brought me to Congress in 2001, dedicated to fight for the voices of the underserved and underrepresented.

Stopping bullying means liberation. It means activating the power and strength within. Everyone deserves to live that moment of empowerment, to feel safe, ready and able to pursue their greatest hopes in life. I hope each and every member of Congress will join the Congressional Anti-Bullying Caucus on a tireless mission to help guarantee that each and every member of the great American family has an opportunity to embrace such a moment.

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Mike Honda.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1952 GMT (0352 HKT)
Danny Cevallos says the legislature didn't have to get involved in regulating how people greet each other
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Marc Harrold suggests a way to move forward after the deaths of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1336 GMT (2136 HKT)
Simon Moya-Smith says Mah-hi-vist Goodblanket, who was killed by law enforcement officers, deserves justice.
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 1914 GMT (0314 HKT)
Val Lauder says that for 1,700 years, people have been debating when, and how, to celebrate Christmas
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2027 GMT (0427 HKT)
Raphael Sperry says architects should change their ethics code to ban involvement in designing torture chambers
December 24, 2014 -- Updated 0335 GMT (1135 HKT)
Paul Callan says Sony is right to call for blocking the tweeting of private emails stolen by hackers
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1257 GMT (2057 HKT)
As Christmas arrives, eyes turn naturally toward Bethlehem. But have we got our history of Christmas right? Jay Parini explores.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 0429 GMT (1229 HKT)
The late Joe Cocker somehow found himself among the rock 'n' roll aristocracy who showed up in Woodstock to help administer a collective blessing upon a generation.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 2115 GMT (0515 HKT)
History may not judge Obama kindly on Syria or even Iraq. But for a lame duck president, he seems to have quacking left to do, says Aaron Miller.
December 23, 2014 -- Updated 1811 GMT (0211 HKT)
Terrorism and WMD -- it's easy to understand why these consistently make the headlines. But small arms can be devastating too, says Rachel Stohl.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 1808 GMT (0208 HKT)
Ever since "Bridge-gate" threatened to derail Chris Christie's chances for 2016, Jeb Bush has been hinting he might run. Julian Zelizer looks at why he could win.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 1853 GMT (0253 HKT)
New York's decision to ban hydraulic fracturing was more about politics than good environmental policy, argues Jeremy Carl.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 2019 GMT (0419 HKT)
On perhaps this year's most compelling drama, the credits have yet to roll. But we still need to learn some cyber lessons to protect America, suggest John McCain.
December 22, 2014 -- Updated 2239 GMT (0639 HKT)
Conservatives know easing the trade embargo with Cuba is good for America. They should just admit it, says Fareed Zakaria.
December 20, 2014 -- Updated 0112 GMT (0912 HKT)
We're a world away from Pakistan in geography, but not in sentiment, writes Donna Brazile.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 1709 GMT (0109 HKT)
How about a world where we have murderers but no murders? The police still chase down criminals who commit murder, we have trials and justice is handed out...but no one dies.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2345 GMT (0745 HKT)
The U.S. must respond to North Korea's alleged hacking of Sony, says Christian Whiton. Failing to do so will only embolden it.
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
ADVERTISEMENT