The first days of the Trump administration have been bewildering. “Alternative facts” have been presented with a straight face. The media has been told to shut up and listen. Muslims have been turned away at our airports. Refugees’ travel plans have been revoked. People, including very young children, have been detained for hours, handcuffed, stripped-searched, and treated like criminals. Children have been separated from their mothers. People have been coerced into signing away their visas and then not allowed entry into the United States.
The list goes on.
For many, these actions make us feel like the United States is in freefall.
But we have a clear road map for the days ahead. The human rights principles which emerged in 1948 set out a simple benchmark: dignity. Every single person in the United States – no matter who we are, that we believe, how we look, or where we were born – has a right to live with basic human dignity.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides non-negotiable standards which we, as human beings, have a right to expect and to demand. Freedom of speech. Freedom of religion. Freedom of torture. Freedom from arbitrary detention. The right to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution. Freedom from violence.
The human rights framework does more than provide a list of rights we can check off as they are violated. It provides an approach to organizing and action.
Protect those who are marginalized. The 1st Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, with its unequivocal protection of peaceful dissent and protection against the tyranny of the majority, is but one of the ways in which the power of majority rule is balanced.
Ensure those affected by decisions can participate in making them. The right to vote is at the heart of American democracy, yet millions of people – primarily American Indians and African Americans – have had this fundamental right stripped from them.
Address the root causes of injustice. Eradicate the conditions which perpetuate human rights violations.
Hold people accountable for human rights violations and abuses. Tyranny thrives in a climate of impunity. A strong judiciary and independent media are hallmarks of free societies.
Last week I spoke with a new volunteer who’d just retired from a successful corporate career. She shared that she took part in the Women’s March – the first time in her life she’s ever turned out for such an action. She’s ready to act.
The human rights framework gives us clarity of demands and of action. We are advocates.
We can do this.
By Michele Garnett McKenzie, Deputy Director of The Advocates for Human Rights
Featured photo: Jenna Schulman (left), The Advocates for Human Rights’ youth blogger, and two of her friends at the Women’s March on Washington.