We are advocates. We can do this.

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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 Refugees’ travel plans have been revoked.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.

 

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Marching for a bridge forward

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Living halfway across the country from one another, Erin Banovetz Lake and Nick Banovetz are like many siblings and families: The geographical distance that divides them presents its challenges – like their children not seeing each other as much as they’d like or not always celebrating holidays together – but they find ways to stay connected. Participating in the Women’s March on January 21 was something they shared, even if from cities afar. Here are a few reflections from them.

From Erin Banovetz Lake, Washington, D.C. (pictured above on right)
Prior to the march, I was disheartened by the status of human rights and equality held by some of the members of this great country. I am a white, middle class, 30-something female. I consider myself very fortunate in life. My upbringing was safe, secure, and predictable. I was well taken care of, both physically and emotionally.

I have spent my career working with and endeavoring to help troubled and marginalized youth in one of Virginia’s poorest counties. I see first hand some of the hardships others have to endure in life. This exposure has increased my level of understanding about challenges people face as well as my cultural awareness and sensitivity.

Recently, it has become evident that many, especially elected officials, do not possess this same awareness – the awareness of how important human rights and equality are to the survival of a community, of a country. Is it a willful ignorance? A lack of emotional intelligence and exposure to different cultures and populations? Or a lack of sensitivity and an overwhelming need to further oneself over the good of the community? It is with this awareness that I chose to participate in the January 21 March on Washington, hoping to demonstrate how important these issues are for the people of our nation.

Stepping onto the streets of our capital immediately gave me a sense of hope. Actually, it began when I picked up my mom and two of her best friends from the Richmond, Virginia airport the night before the march. The excitement we had in the anticipation of standing together with others who shared these values was evident from the beginning.

This hope continued as we boarded the bus that would take us to DC. While a commercial express bus, it was a “March on Washington bus” nonetheless because it was crammed with riders donning pink pussy-cat hats and discussing social issues and human rights with one another.

The march was peaceful. Not one arrest. Everybody we encountered throughout the day was kind, thoughtful, and had a light in their eyes. There was a strong sense of camaraderie. Stepping off the bus onto the street that day was energetic, like stepping into a pink pussy-cat hat/poster-carrying human rights parade. The number of people there was mind blowing, awe inspiring, and heart warming. The feeling in the air was one of a grass roots effort filled with hope and an excitement to finally be heard.

And heard we were. Along with the hundreds of other sister marches across the nation and globe, we raised our voices. The collective energy and voice showed us that we are stronger together. I live in a conservative part of Virginia, and just the sheer fact of being surrounded by people who value human rights and equality lifted me up. Knowing that there are so many others out there who share similar values, thoughts, hopes, and fears empowers me. (My experience is mirrored by millions of other marchers across the world. Is it strange how the overarching tone and feeling at these marches was energetic and a demand for acceptance? Independently, the hundreds of marches on each of the seven continents conveyed peace, acceptance, and a demand to be heard.)

The people I stood beside were there not solely to promote women’s issues. Rather, they promoted human rights for all. Those in attendance were of all ages, skin color, cultural background, religion, and from all walks of life. But in the message, we all shared a common belief in the necessity of human rights and equality.

Soon, my children will both be in school and I will return to the workforce. I already had plans to use my career as a conduit to channel my values. My march experience will serve as a catalyst to my vision of helping to create a stronger, healthier community for all. Thank you to the organizers of the march. It is through your hard work, determination, and vision that people of our world have stood together to make a statement. If we maintain this momentum, the people of this beautiful nation and around the globe will reap the benefits.

From Nick Banovetz, St. Paul, Minnesota (pictured below, right)
nickOn Election Day 2016, I left the polls telling my daughter – a 1.5-year-old strapped to my back  – “Thanks for helping Dada vote.” It was the first time I had cast a ballot with a child of my own. I relished participating in this part of our democracy; bringing my daughter with me – like my parents did with me – was memorable.

For many, the 2016 election has disrupted our communities and our own senses of self. The elevated and prolonged discourse surrounding systemic racism, income disparities, sexism, and immigration during the 2016 presidential campaign and election will hopefully result in the long term in a more prosperous, inclusive nation. The adage “Democracy is a not a spectator sport” is a rallying cry and a call to unite, regardless of one’s political leanings.

To stretch our lungs and lead by example, my dad, my wife, and I – with our daughter strapped in her stroller – participated in the Women’s March in St. Paul. Our experience was like thousands, millions, of others – a rush of adrenaline over the sheer mass of the crowds, a healing experience from the positive and inclusive vibes permeating these open, crowded spaces.

I felt part of a community again. And as a newish dad, I’ve been reflecting. I keep coming back to my grandmothers, partly because of the obvious (their gender, their generation), but also because of subtle lessons they taught me.

Several years ago, on my Grandma Ilona’s birthday, my wife solicited words of wisdom from her. Without any hesitation, Ilona said resolutely, “All people are people.” These words are simple, yet relevant. I think of them often. Ilona was a life-long learner, never short of an opinion. She cherished her time in college, which I believe fueled her confidence. When someone was full of bologna, Ilona would throw her hand out, slap the air, shake her head, and say, “Oh, honestly!” I’ve envisioned her doing such dozens of times as of late. There’s something to be said about keeping it real, being authentic, and offering a polite reality check when others aren’t.

My other grandma, Vi, read the St. Paul Pioneer Press every a.m. – from poring over the front page to completing the crossword puzzle. Those who knew her saw a witty – even sassy – woman who found some of her own independence by working outside of the home and belonging to her social service club. I visited her often. Over breakfast we’d study the newspaper together. She taught me to be informed. And Grandma Vi was empowered because she was well informed. (Vi, in jest, would often remark on First Lady Hillary Clinton, saying with hope in her voice, “Who does she think she is, President?” One time she looked up and said something to the effect of “Imagine that”; the exact words escape me, but it was her disbelief and wonder over a female leading our nation that I remember.)

My hope for our nation is that people from all sides can engage with one another outside of social media platforms, choose to arrive at opinions that are both diverse and well-informed. We each need to appreciate that all people are people.

By Erin Lake Banovetz, Dillwyn, Virginia; and Nick Banovetz, Mendota Heights, Minnesota. They are the daughter and son of The Advocates’ Communications Director, Sue Banovetz.