“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without the thunder or lightning. They want the ocean without the mighty roar of its many waters. This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be a physical one; or it may be both moral and physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without demand. It never did and never will.”
Frederick Douglass’ oft-quoted words are as true today as when he uttered them over 150 years ago. During his time, the progress he sought was the end of the scourge of human bondage, with its attendant discrimination and barbarous violence. The vehicles that Douglass used in this struggle – agitation through oration, autobiography, journalism and building alliances – were key in not only sparking debate amongst the larger society, but also in affirming and validating the self-agency of millions of African-Americans who were part of that struggle.
Regardless of the particular phase of the African-American struggle (slavery, Jim Crow, lynching, segregation, police and citizen violence) the overall rubric has been to establish our rights as human beings. In the 1950s and 1960s it was Malcolm X who became the foremost symbol and spokesperson of the call for African-Americans to identify our struggle as one of human rights and to internationalize it.
Malcolm X was by no means the first to make this call but he was the loudest. “So long as the movement remains a fight for civil rights it will remain a domestic issue, but by framing the struggle as a fight for human rights, it will become an international issue, and the movement can bring its complaint against the United States before the United Nations.”
Internationalizing the human rights struggle of African-Americans remains a viable vehicle. All oppressed, exploited, and marginalized peoples and communities in the United States are limited in the full expression of their humanity and the comprehensive exercise of their human rights by a set of overlapping systems which are also interdependent. As such, our oppression is masked. For example, when the US government only considers discrimination to exist where there is a stated intent to exclude, treat unfairly or in any way harm or impair certain populations and sectors of society, it enables the institutionalization of legislation that may not explicitly state that it intended to discriminate, but the outcomes are clearly discriminatory in regards to the treatment of people of color and other marginalized groups.
The U.S. constitution is an imperfect document. Fundamental economic, social, and cultural rights such as the right to food, water, housing, health care, education, and employment are not guaranteed. This is a convenient way to escape culpability but it is also a restricted view: human rights are those rights you have by virtue of being born.; they are not trinkets to be sold or passed out. But as Malcolm X highlighted, one viable avenue by which we can attain and protect our human rights remains internationalizing our struggle and utilizing the United Nations. And one example of a viable vehicle to utilize in this struggle is CERD – the Committee on the Elimination for all forms of Racial Discrimination.
CERD exists as an international body to monitor the Convention on the Elimination for all forms of Racial Discrimination, adopted in Dec. 1965 as a result of the United Nations being “alarmed by manifestations of racial discrimination still in evidence in some areas of the world and by governmental policies based on racial superiority or hatred, such as policies of apartheid, segregation or separation.” Adopted as an international treaty, the United States signed on to the convention in 1966, but did not ratify it until 1994, less than 20 years ago.
According to Kali Akuno, a longtime community organizer and current co-director of the United States Human Rights Network (USHRN), “Activists within the U.S. must press the US government to fully implement CERD and comply with the international definition and understanding of racial discrimination and its effects by being prepared to engage in organizing and direct action to force the government to meet its obligations under CERD and do all it can to eradicate racial oppression in all its varied forms, but particularly in its institutional and systemic forms.”
Members of the USHRN will be mapping out ways to do exactly that when they hold their National Conference and Membership Meeting during “Human Rights Weekend,” Dec. 9-11, 2011, in Los Angeles, CA.
Dec. 10, 2011, marks the 63rd anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948 and created “to complement the UN Charter with a road map to guarantee the rights of every individual everywhere” and is characterized as “a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations...”.
In the midst of the worst economic climate since the Great Depression of the 1930s; staggering job losses and home foreclosures at record numbers; an incarceration rate that leads the planet; reactionary violence and legislation aimed at women, sexual and ethnic minorities; massive deportations of undocumented immigrants and an “occupation” movement of disgruntled citizens that has managed to strike a deep chord, the USHRN conference is a unique and welcomed opportunity to provide a platform for the next phase of the struggle – moral, physical, or both – that must come in order for human rights for all to be realized.
The United States Human Rights Network is an Atlanta, GA-based National Coalition of more than 300 organizations whose founding dates back to 2002. Its primary goal is to increase the visibility of the US human rights movement and link U.S.-based human rights activists with the global human rights movement. Its National Conference and Members Meeting will be held Dec. 9 - 11, 2011, at the Radisson LAX Hotel, 6225 W. Century Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90045. For more information, visit www.ushrnetwork.org