Commemorating the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights

These are my opening comments, with a couple of additions, for the Indiana Center for Middle East Peace’s annual Commemoration of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The Keynote Speaker for this year’s program was US Congressman, the Honorable Andre Carson, Indiana’s 7th District.

On January 6, 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt spoke before Congress, presenting a simple and eloquent vision of a nation dedicated to what he called “The Four Freedoms”:

  • Freedom of speech and expression, the best defense against the corruption of democracy;
  • Freedom of worship, our shield against the forces of bigotry, intolerance, and fanaticism;
  • Freedom from want, a commitment to erasing hunger, poverty, and pestilence from the earth;
  • Freedom from fear, a freedom dependent on collective security with the creation of the United Nations.

In 1946, appointed as a delegate to the United Nations by Harry Truman after her husband’s death, elected chair of the UN’s Human Rights Commission, and primary author of Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Eleanor Roosevelt believed it hypocritical that Americans would commit themselves to fighting overseas for the Four Freedoms while not dealing with racial discrimination in the United States.

She had committed her life advocating for equal rights for African-Americans, women, and labor. For Eleanor Roosevelt, human rights meant civil rights, those fundamental rights to food and shelter and an education, as well as the right to vote. Because this was the 1940’s, she had to first convince her own country that economic and social and cultural rights were included in universal human rights. Even after the Universal Declaration was passed, she had to debate with the American Bar Association and critics in the South that civil rights are human rights. None of this happened without a fight – that’s my point. Because even now 73 years later, we are fighting the same fight:

  • If there’s a fundamental right to food, that means that the United States has a moral responsibility to feed every person; and
  • If it’s a fundamental right to be treated freely without discrimination, then what about voter suppression and other Jim Crow laws?
  • And if there is a right to education, then what about the government’s commitment to free and equal education for every child, every child in America?

Each religious faith will have their own understanding based in their own theologies and philosophies. But the Universal Declaration is exactly what it says it is – “universal.” It understands the inherent dignity of every human being simply because of their humanity.

So, in addition to the Universal Declaration, I’m also mindful that:

  • on December 4, just a week ago, was the 54th anniversary of Martin Luther King announcing the Poor People’s Campaign;
  • on November 29, just a couple of weeks ago, the United Nations also commemorated The International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People;
  • the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, passed the House of Representatives by a slim 7 votes, failed in the Senate, so still needs our advocacy;
  • and today, over 80,000 Afghan refugees are being resettled around the country, 700+ in Indiana, 75 in Fort Wayne;

We’re in this together. So, as our friends at the Committee for a Just Peace in Israel and Palestine, based in Chicago, put it, we must build on our intersectional identities:

 I am an anti-racist, so I support Palestinian rights.

 I am a feminist, so I support Palestinian rights.

 I am pro-labor, so I support Palestinian rights.

 I am queer, so I support Palestinian rights.

 I am an environmentalist, so I support Palestinian rights.

The work continues. Our work continues. Our work continues together.

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