Last December as part of the annual Kwanzaa celebration, Hosted by the Athens Kwanzaa Alliance, I was invited to facilitate a community teach-in which focused on the theme “Human Rights and Responsibilities.” As in the case of all community driven teach ins, we were building bridges with each other by teaching each other about how we each see the inter-connection between social justice, civil rights and human rights. While this blog cannot do justice to what became a vibrant three hour teach in, the key points are summarized below.

The Common Civil Rights, Human Rights and Social Justice thread: The U.N. Declaration of Human Rights

We started by using the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights that was ratified by the United Nations in 1948 (http://www.ohchr.org/EN/UDHR/Documents/UDHR_Translations/eng.pdf ) as the common thread for our evening discussion. The rights in this declaration includes:
  • Not being be held in slavery or servitude
  • Not being tortured or treated inhumanely
  • Not being subjected to arbitrary arrest -rights to liberty, security
  • Not being discriminated against
  • Being allowed the right to due legal process
  • Being allowed the right to freedom of thought and religious beliefs
  • Being allowed the right to participate in the governance of his/her country
  • Being allowed the right of equal access to public services
  • Being allowed the right to social security
  • Being allowed the right just and favorable work conditions
  • Being allowed the right to unionize
  • Being allowed the right of access to education
  • Being allowed the right of a standard of health and well-being
In our discussion we talked about how the African American Civil Rights movement moved to economic, social and human right, as reflected in the activities of key civil rights leaders and thus how contemporary discussions need to focus on the continuum of civil and human rights.

Connecting the African American Civil Rights Movement to contemporary global human rights movements

One of the issues we talked about is how there is a lack of ongoing coverage of the historical legacy of the civil and human rights, both in the school system and in the media. We also talked about the tendency to minimize the importance of civil and human rights by presenting the events more as isolated “coincidences” in the human timeline, as opposed to reflecting an inter-connected legacy. In the discussion which followed, we talked about how the contemporary global human rights struggles are connected to the African American civil rights movement in the United States. Examples of these interconnections include: the United Farm Workers Movement, led by Cesar Chavez; the Disability Rights movement; the Gay Rights movement; The Australian Aboriginal Civil Rights; the United Kingdom Civil Rights Movement; the Anti-Apartheid Movement in South Africa and the Burma Peace and Civil Rights Movement. These movements used methods of social action that were fine-tuned during the African American Civil Rights movement as part of their struggle. These methods including: engaging in nonviolent social protests, community advocacy, court litigation and policy making. During the teach in, we noted that we needed to have this discussion for us all to see the ripple effects of the African American Civil Rights movement around the world. By engaging in this discussion we were able to amplify the point that the quest to pursue social justice, civil and human rights is a long standing struggle As such, in order to continue the quest in the future, communities need to need to build connections between the legacy foot soldiers who have participated in these struggles and the new foot soldiers who aspired to join this quest in the future.

The African American Social Activism Legacy- Past and Present

One example of such a long term legacy is long standing commitment to social activism in the African American community, which pre-dates the 20th Century Civil Rights movement. Within this context, we noted that in order to appreciate the social action activities of the current Black Lives Matter Movement, one has understand the Marcus Garvey/Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) rallies in the 1920s, the “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work” Campaigns” in Chicago/New York in the 1930s and 1940s; the proposed 1941 March on Washington DC by A. Phillip Randolph; the 1963/2013 Marches on Washington; and the 1995/2015 Million Man Marches on Washington DC. These movements are all inter-connected based on the importance of improving the economic and social well-being of African Americans as well as the need to using the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights to determine whether the rights of African Americans are being met today. This discussion suggested that we already have in place standards that can be used to determine where we should go to continue the next steps in the U.S. African American civil /human rights struggle

What Does the African American Civil Rights Movement Teach us as we think about future civil and human rights movements?

In the last part of the teach-in, we talked extensively about the journey ahead and what we learned from the past that can help us in the future. In particular, we highlighted three key take away points, for the road ahead, based on these discussions. People interpret civil and human rights differently if they do not have any rights then if they already have rights and privileges. Civil and human rights priorities are reflective of our multi-cultural journey- so civil/human rights social action activities that focus on the needs of Latino migrant farmers may emphasize a different order of priorities than civil/human rights social action activities that focus on eliminating discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation or sexual identity. Integration of schools is not the same as ensuring access to quality of schools. .

Questions for further discussion

What is your take on the suggestion that future human rights struggles should be reflective of our multi-cultural journey? Do you agree or disagree with comment that individuals see human rights differently if they do not have any rights (e.g. they are poor and hungry) then if they already have rights and privileges (e.g. they are born in a well to do family)?