By Robert Kesten
Last week’s Examiner editorial “Forum on Combating Hate…” and its front-page article point out the need for action as divisions around the world, across the nation and here at home have led to many acts of hate. They have been seen on school campuses, scrawled on religious buildings and etched in blood, shooting after shooting.
Panels and discussions allow people to feel they are doing something, proposing legislation addressing one or two elements of a crisis that dehumanize us all, but they will not make the difference we need in time to stem this avalanche from crushing civil society and our democracy.
Those paying attention to these discussions and the editorials in this and other publications are self-selecting individuals horrified by the direction we are headed. They are not the people whose cages need to be rattled.
We are right to be incensed that 75 years since World War II and the lessons of the Holocaust were learned, 51 years since the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the push for equality of the Civil Rights movement, the significant transformations of both the women’s and LGBTQ movements that we have already forgotten what it means to welcome the stranger, clothe the naked and feed the hungry. From a world forced to see just how cruel human beings can be to one another, to a world that again uses might and fear as a tool to destroy all that is good within us.
As both Easter and Passover near, we are reminded that there is something bigger than any of us. Both holidays call on people everywhere to be generous to think of the bigger picture, to consider the planet and all its inhabitants. These holidays call on us to put aside our differences, remember what it was like to be a slave and seek freedom, to carry the sins of others in a quest for redemption, to be our brother’s keeper. Have we truly forgotten all this?
On Dec. 10, 1948, Eleanor Roosevelt presented the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to the United Nations, where it was approved unanimously. Those 30 articles are the bedrock of our understanding of human rights, rights bestowed upon every human being – not by law, not by government but because we are human. Government and all other institutions are responsible to protect and defend these human rights, yet instead they ask us to sacrifice our dignity for survival.
It is this act of relinquishing our rights that has led us to the crumbling of our civil structures. It creates fear of the stranger, it sows distrust, it encourages the “haves” to take more and disparage the “have-nots.” When we relinquish our human rights, we again become the slave master of the Old South, the Nazi, KKK member and others who believe in master races and divine privilege.
Like with climate change and other catastrophic crises, we are asked to accept incremental change. This will leave too many dead and too many wounded. Our rudderless ship careens from crisis to crisis, looking for someone to fix the problems. We have tools to fix these problems, but we cannot fear being bold, we cannot fear change. It is how we address and channel that change that matters.
Eleanor Roosevelt, 70 years ago, gave us the roadmap of how peoples and nations can live together and prosper. Shortly after World War II, the Declaration was accepted, then, as the world adjusted to an uneasy peace and the Cold War, those same articles would be challenged by governments, businesses and large institutions with vested interests in dividing people as they accrued power.
If we are serious about taking hate head on, challenging the fundamentals that divide us and coming together, our communities, our counties, state and nation can look to Gratz, Austria and Rosario, Argentina and other cities and regions around the world that have become Human Rights Cities. It is a holistic approach to transformation, it provides a way for a community or region to reach a tipping point that changes the mindset of the community and does it with or without government involvement, because human rights is a people’s movement, as human rights belong to all those who claim them. They are not a gift from the government, they transcend law, unless we, ourselves, sacrifice them.
Take a moment and read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, read about Human Rights Cities, then make a difference and claim your human rights as you face down hate and disunion by making your world, town, village the way you want it to be. We certainly don’t need any more thoughts and prayers. The action we need is in our grasp.
Lewisboro resident Robert Kesten is a human rights activist. He ran for state Senate in the 40th District last year.