Forum on Building Boston Into a Human Rights City Friday 9/23
On the tenth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1958, Eleanor Roosevelt famously laid out her vision for that document's future and significance:
“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home - so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”
And yet, over sixty years since Mrs. Roosevelt presented the UDHR for acceptance by the UN General Assembly, have human rights found meaning and relevance in those small places close to home? It would be the rare Bostonian passerby indeed who could name even the basic tenets of the Universal Declaration, much less any of the legal instruments of human rights spawned in the decades since Roosevelt and her fellow drafters completed their historic effort. It might surprise many in Boston to realize that, in addition to the same civil and political protections enshrined in our own Constitution, the international human rights framework recognizes the following (among others) as rights held by every person in the world: life, health, water, food, work, unionization, shelter and education, to name a few. This bold vision has deep American roots founded in FDR's call for a lasting peace based on freedom from fear and freedom from want, but so many years later human rights is narrowly equated in the minds of many with the fight against political repression abroad, or perhaps poverty in other countries. On the whole we have not heeded Eleanor's plea to make these human rights a matter of personal relevance in our cities and towns, neighborhoods, schools and workplaces.
On April 19, 2011 Councillor Charles Yancey and the Boston City Council approved a resolution proclaiming Boston a Human Rights City, bringing ours into a network of over twenty such cities worldwide (including Pittsburgh and Washington, D.C.) committed to incorporating human rights norms and learning into local planning, social services and city culture. The groundwork for this resolution was laid by Survivors, Inc., a Mattapan-based welfare rights advocacy organization, in cooperation with Shulamith Koenig, 2003 recipient of the UN Prize in the Field of Human Rights and founder of the People's Movement for Human Rights Learning, the international sponsor agency of the Human Rights City network based out of New York City.
This resolution was a crucial beginning for the Human Rights City movement in Boston, which aims to move Eleanor Roosevelt's vision forward through grassroots examination of human rights and their application in our city. Since April, Survivors, Inc. and PDHRE have been building a network of social justice and community organizations and agencies throughout Boston to identify human rights priorities for our city, as well as to examine the work and contributions of these organizations from the interconnected perspective of human rights.
This Friday, September 23, 2011, these allied agencies and organizations – including representatives from Survivors Inc., PDHRE, the Urban League, the American Friends Service Committee, Black and Pink, the Community Church of Boston, the Volunteer Lawyers Project, Spare Change and others – will hold a forum at the Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury to strategize and coordinate around a Boston-specific human rights framework.
Friday's forum is another crucial step toward building a city that respects the full range of human rights for all. It is certainly a long-range process, one that requires the input and perspective of people from across Boston – from government and the public sector as well as from business leaders, from rich and poor alike, and from all those with a progressive vision that sees a better Boston within our grasp. Ours can be a Human Rights City, a small place where human rights have meaning and practical force. But we must make it so.
Editor's Note: Open Media Boston supported a 2008 conference calling for making Boston a Human Rights City. So we strongly encourage our viewers to attend this important forum.