Archive for January, 2010

A Tribute to Howard Zinn

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

Howard ZinnYesterday, the world lost one of its bravest champions of peace and social justice: Howard Zinn. In December of 2008, The Center for Civil and Human Rights was honored to host Dr. Howard Zinn as part of its 60th Anniversary celebration of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Zinn, along with his colleagues, spoke to a packed auditorium after a preview of “The People Speak,” a documentary inspired by his work “A People’s History of the United States,” which captures the lives and speeches of ordinary people who made history from the bottom-up, fighting for justice and democracy. From his advising of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee during the Civil Rights Movement, to his active participation in the Peace Movement against the Vietnam War, to his unwavering commitment to speaking truth to power as a citizen, intellectual, and teacher, Howard Zinn, above all, was a man that dedicated his long and vibrant life to the building of a world safe for human compassion and love. For this, he will be greatly missed.

“I wanted students to leave my classes not just better informed, but more prepared to relinquish the safety of silence, more prepared to speak up, to act against injustice wherever they saw it. This, of course, was a recipe for trouble.” -Howard Zinn

“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness… And if we do act, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents.” -Howard Zinn

First UN Report on the State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

Last week, the United Nations released its first report on “The State of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.” The report finds significant disparities in basic human rights and development standards for indigenous peoples as compared to non-indigenous populations. For instance, in terms of economic rights in the United States, more than twice the percentage of Native Americans and Alaska Natives were found to live below the poverty line as compared to the total U.S. population. And women’s rights standards are even more disconcerting: Native American women are 2.5 times more likely to be raped or experience sexual violence than other women in the United States. Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International are working to pass several bills in Congress this upcoming year to address these severe and pervasive human rights disparities. Of course, Native American communities have long been aware of these injustices, and groups such as the Alaska Native Justice Center and the Native American Rights Fund have worked to promote and defend Native American human rights.

Native Am Woman

Earthquake in Haiti: Natural Disaster and Manmade Devastation

Monday, January 18th, 2010

HaitiMy thoughts and prayers are with the millions of people impacted by the devastating earthquake that struck Haiti on Tuesday January 13. Print and online media is awash with stories and images of “one of the worst ever natural disasters in the western hemisphere.” No matter how many articles I read or how much live footage I watch the utter devastation, pain, and suffering are difficult to comprehend.

Amidst the endless stream of information detailing the destruction and tireless relief efforts there is also a plethora of suggestions of how and where to send donations, including information about the largest text-based fundraising campaign in history. As with most life-threatening emergencies there has been an immediate outpouring of support (an article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review discusses why sudden crises pull heartstrings and loosen purse strings more than persistent, chronic conditions).

The media coverage is focused, in large part, on the current conditions, with only occasional reference to the historical and structural injustices that magnified the earthquake’s devastating impact. A provocative audio slideshow, published online in the July 2009 issue of Guernica Magazine, captures the reality that the current devastation is best understood as the manmade outcome of a long and ugly historical sequence. A May 2009 Times of London article points to the degree to which Haiti’s status as the poorest country in the western hemisphere – mired in historic debt, stricken by flood and famine, and rife with violence and abuse – was simply accepted.

It is critical that the international community confronts these historical and structural injustices as it considers the help that Haiti needs. An online post in Foreign Policy magazine calls on the international community to cancel Haiti’s debt. The Association for Women’s Rights in Development highlights the specific experiences and needs of Haitian women during this humanitarian catastrophe. If we are serious about Haiti’s recovery, we need to be as committed to addressing the country’s systematic injustices and inequalities as we are to emergency relief.

American Law Institute Abandons Death Penalty Justification

Friday, January 8th, 2010

In a recent move that went largely undetected by mainstream media and advocacy groups, the American Law Institute decided to abandon its legal support and justifications for the death penalty. In a study conducted by the Institute, it was found that the current system of capital punishment can not provide systemic fairness, that it risks executing innocent people, and that it is plagued by racial disparities. An article in the New York Times explores what this move means in the long-term for the future of the death penalty in the United States.

The Gay Rights Debate in Africa

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

An article in January 4th’s New York Times presents Uganda as the epicenter of the debate on homosexuality in Africa, with American groups on both sides – the Christian right and gay activists – directing support and money to the country. This article comes in the wake of the proposed Anti-Homosexuality Bill which mandates death for homosexuals, and the imprisonment of anyone who fails to report within 24 hours the identities of everyone they know who is lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender, or who supports human rights for people who are. Since the bill was first introduced on October 14 there has been widespread debate about the role that American evangelicals played in its drafting, and the influence they wield in the general debate over homosexuality in Africa. A recent report by Rev. Kapya Kaoma, a Zambian who went undercover for six months to chronicle the relationship between the African anti-homosexual movement and American evangelicals, argues that conservative evangelicals have been immensely successful in depicting the movement for gay equality as the neocolonialist agenda of an imperial West that seeks to undermine African values. Religious and political leaders quote American evangelicals like Rick Warren – saying that “homosexuality is not a natural way of life and thus not a human right” – to justify discriminatory policies and practices. Warren only recently publicly condemned the proposed legislation through an “encylical video” to the Pastors of Uganda. Meanwhile, on December 16 the BBC launched an online debate: “Should homosexuals face execution?” A senior BBC executive later apologized for treating the execution of gays as a legitimate topic for debate. Personally, as I attempt to discern the growing number of voices in the current debate over gay rights in Uganda, and Africa more broadly, I am particularly struck by this New York Times quote by a gay man at a club in Uganda: “It’s not homosexuality that it is imported. It’s homophobia.”

(Photo credit: Marc Hofer for The New York Times)

(Photo credit: Marc Hofer for The New York Times)

Students Begin 1,500 Mile March for Immigrant Rights

Friday, January 1st, 2010

As many of us were preparing for festive celebrations on New Years Eve, a group of college students in Miami were preparing for a different kind of celebration: a 1,500 mile march from Miami to Washington, DC to highlight the dignity and rights of immigrant families in the United States. Inspired by the great marches of the Black Freedom Movement, such as the Selma to Montgomery marches in 1965, and the Farm Workers movement, which included a 340-mile march from Delano to Sacramento in 1966, these students are hoping to bring attention to the discrimination and human rights struggles faced by immigrants today. In reading an article in the LA Times, I was struck by a quote by the students’ legal counsel, who stated: “They really believe they can make a difference and are willing to put their lives on the line, but they are going to be walking through some very unfriendly places for immigrants.” The determination of these students to march for four months in the name of social justice (despite the very real risk of violence) is reminiscent of the courage held by the students of the 1961 Freedom Rides. This march may in fact demonstrate for this generation the power that youth have always had, however idealistic or naive they may first appear, in shaping the moral convictions of a nation.

AP Student March

(Photo: Jeffrey Boan, AP)