The Human Rights movement has been a primary interest of this blogger ever since the late 1960s. It was during my high school years that I realized that authorities frequently fail to uphold basic human liberties. Also, quite often, they support those who claim that they have a right to restrict the human rights of other people. This fact not only seemed absurd, but terribly unjust.
There are several reasons why my high school best friend and I had developed such an interest in human rights. The major ones included our reading of William L. Shirer’s The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich when we were still in junior high, we had both been harrassed and bullied during much of our lives, and we found inspiration in the civil rights movement that was at its peak during our childhood and adolescence. Our innocent beliefs about the fairness of society had been dashed early on.
Thankfully, neither of us succombed to cynicism nor surrendered to a fate of submission. We eventually joined the vibrant, peaceful student peace and human rights movement. Following our graduation from high school and college, I expanded my human rights interests by investigating the growing community of gay rights activists. You might say that I was steeped in the drive for global human rights.
Many people accuse me of too much talking and writing about civil rights and human rights. I can only answer that those of us who still do not enjoy full equality do not think too much time is spent discussing these topics. To those of us who are subjected to oppression, censorship, and the threat of violence, the subject of human rights is still quite relevant.
My feeble efforts in the struggle for universal human rights are just a glimmer of what is taking place around the world and what has taken place long before my birth. Human rights of one kind or another have been debated since the time of the classical philosophers. People have tried to define the nature of fundamental liberty and rights and to whom they may be given.
Some individual nations made early inroads to human rights. England’s Magna Carta comes to mind. The Bill of Rights amendments to the US Constitution are also noteworthy. The anti-slavery movements throughout history are certainly the tap-roots of the human rights struggle.
One truth that has been proven over and over, is that human and civil rights will not be granted to minorities and the oppressed by believers in the status quo. A great deal of effort and struggle must take place in order to win and keep any gains in human rights. The high and mighty power of social inertia is a powerful force to overcome. However, the instinct and desire for freedom and liberty is present in everybody. There has always been some form of the “Occupy Movement” since ancient times.
The institutions that advocate for the status quo do not willingly yield to universal human rights. History has shown that the suppression of freedom enables wealth and power of the few to preside over the lives of the many. The status quo has never been in favor of a level playing field. There have long been reasons to oppress and discriminate against people because of ethnicity, race, gender, sexual orientation, age, belief or non-belief, and political opinion.
Public opinion is easily whipped up against out-groups and minorities. This is increasingly easier because of the consolidation of mainstream power, money, and influence. Whoever controls the media and the institutions of governance will have the upper hand. When we closely examine such struggles as the abolition movement, women’s suffrage, and the labor movement, the need to control public opinion is obvious.
Progressive gains are attained after long, hard struggles and easily lost without diligent maintenance. Often, social gains are instantly wiped out by decree of a dictator or legislation by regressive parliamentary votes. Human rights are very vulnerable to human whims.
Frequently, when a civil liberty or human right is won in one part of the world, a backlash occurs elsewhere. The sweet temptations of creating scapegoats and exercising oppression are often used to create civil and international strife. Just as the joy of freedom is seen as possible everywhere, the forces of oppression work overtime to extinguish it everywhere.
The challenges of attaining human rights make the need for morale building apparent. This is why we now have such commemorations as Human Rights Month each December. This is when we recognize that every single person is entitled to basic human dignity and liberty. December is a time for activists and citizens, alike, to recoup and work towards the attainment of universal human rights.
During Universal Human Rights Month, many of us will participate in workshops, conferences, and discussions about education, civil rights, and human rights theories. This month is a time to energize and then participate in real, positive efforts to win more rights for more people. This is a time for scholars, practitioners, and activists to network and concentrate their efforts to counter the already dominant status quo.
There will always be people and institutions who want to take away our freedom of speech and expression, our freedom from want, our freedom from fear, and our freedom to live our lives as we truly are. This is why such commitments like the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted in 1948 on December 10th. Universal Human Rights month was designed, in part, to advocate the aims of that document.
December is a good time to renew our basic human decency. It is a time to reawaken our inate senses of fair play and desire for all people to receive equal treatment and human rights.
The Blue Jay of Happiness is inspired by this statement by Salman Rushdie: “How to defeat terrorism? Don’t be terrorized. Don’t let fear rule your life. Even if you are scared.” This is true, because human rights are severely threatened whenever fear and terrorism are invoked.