Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading in human rights and social justice! In celebration of U.S. Independence Day, this week’s Rights Reading includes articles on patriotic resistance, the legacy of Henry David Thoreau, #IStandwithLinda, and moral progress.

What It Means to Be a Patriot in the Trump Era, Katrina vanden Heuvel, The Nation, July 3, 2017

Heuvel provides an important reminder of why patriotic resistance is so important under the Trump administration. Patriotic resistance stems from a love for what this country stands for – the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – and a moral obligation to protect those ideals. Protesting is not unpatriotic, rather, when it is in the name of human rights, it constitutes the highest act of patriotism. A true patriot is willing to question and resist the injustices of their government “to make sure the country lives up to its highest ideals.”

Across the nation, more and more people have taken action; people who used to be bystanders in our political system are standing up for human and civil rights at risk. We echo Heuvel’s inspiration at seeing an increasing number of communities across the world organizing for change. What makes America “great” is its commitment to a set of values, not to the leader of the moment. UUSC is as committed as ever to work for the rights of the oppressed, and we hope you will continue to join with us.

A Muslim activist referenced jihad and the right freaked out because they don’t know what it means, Jack Jenkins, Think Progress, July 7, 2017

“In these United States of America, if you sit back idly in the face of injustice, if you maintain the current status quo that not only oppresses Muslims, but oppresses black people inside our community and outside our community, undocumented people, other minority groups and oppressed groups, you, my dear sisters and brothers, are then aligned with the oppressor.”

Linda Sarsour, a co-organizer of the Women’s March on Washington, recently drew criticism for a speech she gave at the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) convention. Here, Jenkins provides the background and context to Sarsour’s words, which were a call to action against oppression at all levels, writing that, “Sarsour was clearly using the term jihad to promote speaking truth to power.”

The Washington Post explains further, “Jihad is a central concept in Islam, and the Arabic word literally translates as “struggle” or “striving.” While the word is indeed used by some to refer to a physical military struggle to defend Islam, most Muslims use it to refer to a personal, spiritual effort to follow God, live out one’s faith and strive to be a better person.”

Last month during the UUA General Assembly, UUSC awarded Sarsour with the 2017 Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Leadership Award at the UUSC Awards Gala in recognition of her activism and intersectional organizing work which has bridged communities and issues to build powerful movements. During her remarks, Sarsour urged Unitarian Universalists and people who share our values to be a beacon of light and courage to stand up to injustice, and, like Heuvel in The Nation article above, reminded us that “dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” We hope that you will continue to join us in resisting and expressing dissent to policies that undermine human rights throughout the world, including in the United States.

Henry David Thoreau, the original none, Richard Higgins, UU World, July 10, 2017

Higgins celebrates transcendentalist writer Henry David Thoreau, widely recognized as the founder of American environmentalism and champion of individualism. Thoreau’s political writings and actions are the embodiment of the idea of patriotic resistance as a mechanism of progress. This article is a sweeping look at how Thoreau’s philosophy, and, more importantly, his dedication to live by it, has transcended his era and continues to be essential to human rights activism, including for Unitarian Universalists.

Thoreau was baptized a Unitarian, but formally cut his ties to the church and denounced organized religion, though he remained “religious to the bone.” Ironically, today’s Unitarian Universalism is heavily influenced by Thoreau’s philosophy. In fact, as Higgins points out, Love Resists’ “Declaration of Conscience” echoes “Thoreau’s defense of the inviolability of the human conscience” in his famous essay “Resistance to Civil Government,” more commonly known as “Civil Disobedience.”

This year marks the 200th anniversary of Thoreau’s birth, and yet his legacy has never been more relevant: “His influence is . . . palpable in the post-Trump surge in political activism in America, which is indebted to his eloquent defense of the individual’s right to resist immoral laws.” We encourage you to read Thoreau’s writings and be inspired.

Progress Never Just Happens—We Must Always Fight for It, Sara Pevar, The Establishment, January 20, 2017

While this article is a throwback to Trump’s inauguration, it remains a powerful reminder that we cannot be complacent if we want to see change. If we are, the result may be immoral leadership that perpetuates fear and hate.

Pevar does more than to call us to action in this article. She makes us take a hard look at how we view history and progress. She criticizes the naive assumption that people today are more moral, progressive, and accepting than the people of the past. This perception is not only false, but also dangerous, because it can lead people to assume that their problems will be solved by the natural progression of time, rather than through their work and participation.

Although progress is natural, it is not inevitable, and it definitely “does not move in a straight line.” Pevar provides the struggles for racial and gender equality as examples—both have gone through periods of forward momentum and experienced extreme push back for centuries. Pevar argues that, instead of people naturally improving, progress is actually the result of individuals’ continued resistance to the status quo and their struggle to defend rights they see being violated, and of individuals inspiring others into action, generating movements. “If we assume that social problems solve themselves when society is ‘ready,’ then we erase from history all the people and movements who dragged society kicking and screaming into readiness whether it liked it or not,” she writes.

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading in human rights and social justice! As Pride Month comes to a close, we’re sharing articles on LGBTQI rights. This week’s Rights Reading includes articles about intersectional identities, the LOVE Act, gay oppression in Tanzania, and photos from Pride celebrations across the world.

Something Radical Happened When Eid and Pride Fell on the Same Day, Hawa Arsala, Fader, June 26, 2017

The “something radical” was that Arsala took the chance to celebrate two important parts of her identity. Here, Arsala shares a conversation that she had with the LGBTQ workshop moderator at an Afghan-American conference, Bilal Askarar, who realized that they were related. As the Pride celebration in Washington, D.C. and Eid – a Muslim celebration marking the end of Ramadan – occurred on the same day, Arsala and Askarar took the opportunity to have an open dialogue about what the coinciding celebrations means to them, as well as what it’s like to be queer Muslims in the United States in this moment.

Askarar said, “the past couple years I thought of it as like a separate thing, there’s Ramadan and Pride, and I can’t celebrate Pride because it’s Ramadan. I have to be good. It brings up all the juxtapositions and contrasts and dichotomies within myself. What’s the definition of a good Muslim? Can you be a messy Muslim and do you still get to celebrate Eid too?” It’s refreshing to read about people having honest conversations like these, where they can discuss and inhabit the intersectionality of their identities, the privileges they have living in America, and their continuing struggles as members of these communities.

Senator Tackles Cold War-Era ‘Lavender Scare’ with LOVE Act, Medardo Perez, NBC Out, June 26, 2017

During the “Lavender Scare” of the 1950s and 1960s, thousands of federal employees suspected of being gay were fired, based on a belief that they were more susceptible blackmail and could pose a security risk. In the last few years, Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) has led the push to bring justice for these ex-employees. Last year he successfully called on then-Secretary of State John Kerry to officially apologize for the Lavender Scare on behalf of the State Department, and this year, he introduced The Lavender Offense Victim Exoneration Act of 2017 – the “LOVE Act,” for short.

Perez writes, “In addition to rectifying past discrimination against LGBTQ State Department employees, the LOVE Act would also establish a permanent exhibit on the ‘Lavender Scare’ in the State Department’s National Museum of American Diplomacy and provide guidance for the State Department on issues of assuring visas for same-sex spouses of personnel posted overseas.” The passage of the LOVE Act would be a step towards retribution for the gay employees who lost their jobs over half a century ago and would bring more awareness to this overlooked moment of the Cold War era. UUSC applauds these and other efforts to rectify the mistakes of the past and, along with many others, joins in solidarity with those still feeling the effects of anti-LGBTQI stigma and discrimination.

Gay in Africa: ‘Even Cows’ Disapprove of Homosexuality, Says Tanzania President Amid Crackdown, Conor Gaffey, Newsweek, June 27, 2017

LGBTQI equality still has a long way to go in the United States, but it’s important not to forget that the fight for equality is a global one.

In Tanzania, homosexuality is a crime punishable by fines and up to 30 years in prison. Oppression against the LGBTQI community is nothing new for the country, but President John Magufuli has recently “signaled a crackdown.” His administration has disappointingly ramped up efforts to suppress gay rights activists, called on the medical community to expose people suspected of homosexual sex, and even banned sexual lubricants from the country. All of these efforts are based on pseudoscience and false perceptions of the LGBTQI community. These misconceptions result in the continued persecution of LGBTQI communities in Tanzania and many African countries, and are often the result of funding and propaganda campaigns from the U.S. religious right that promote and reinforce homophobia on the continent.

However, there is hope—UUSC Program Leader for Economic Justice Philip Hamilton recently attended Changing Faces, Changing Spaces, a conference that drew LGBTQI activists from across to share their work, stories, and strategies for how they are supporting their respective communities and working to advance LGBTQI rights throughout the continent. Read, “Celebrating Pride: Reflecting on SOGI Rights in Southern Africa” to get the full details.

 

People celebrated Pride across the globe. Please check out these beautiful and inspiring photo essays from this month’s celebrations and don’t forget to show your support by posting your own on social media!

 

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading in human rights and social justice! In honor of World Refugee Day on  June 20, this week’s wrap-up includes articles about how technology is helping to address the crisis, climate refugees in Somalia, and education access for refugee children.

The current humanitarian crisis is the largest since World War II. UUSC is dedicated to fighting for the human rights of refugees. Learn more about our partner organizations working in Croatia to provide humanitarian aid for and protect the rights of refugees.

Refugee hackathons and 3D printing: apps for the world’s displaced people, Tazeen Dhunna Ahmad, The Guardian, June 20, 2017

Although humanitarian aid provides refugees access to the essentials, like food, clothing, and shelter, refugees also need access to opportunities to improve their situation. This is where technology comes in and has helped “to transform conditions and empower more than 22 million refugees worldwide.”

The majority of refugees have mobile phones, which has made travel and global communication easier. However, it’s tech initiatives, like the ones Ahmad highlights in this article, that are really helping to create education and employment opportunities for refugees. Ahmad shares the story of, Admir Masic, a former refugee who is now an associate professor at MIT, who recently launched a global hub, Refugee ACTion Hub (ReACT), to provide refugees with education. 3Dmena, another tech partnership, is providing refugees with access to prosthetic limbs, “custom-built and cheaper” due to advances in 3D printing technology.

Hackathons and other tech-centric competitions provide refugees with an innovative platform to solve the problems their communities face and to find job opportunities – from solving water leakages on camps to employing refugees to take on a backlogged recycling system.

It’s rare to find stories about refugees that aren’t grim. Technology and the opportunities it brings for human creativity and collaboration can change the conversation.

Amid Drought, Somali Pastoralists Watch Their ‘Sources of Life’ Perish, Samuel Hall Research Team & Ashley Hamer, News Deeply, June 20, 2017

The number of climate refugees is growing, and is set to grow at a higher rate as the impacts of global warming accelerate. Despite this, efforts to address climate forced displacement have been lacking and even avoided, meaning climate refugees “remain on the fringes of humanitarian support.”

Due to drought in the Horn of Africa, over 739,000 people have been forced to leave Somalia since November. Most are pastoralists who have watched their livestock die of starvation and dehydration and who have no other means of livelihood. Climate forced displacement can have, and already has had, a global ripple effect of economic disparity and violence, namely because of the damage that displacement does to families and communities. Addressing the needs of climate refugees will not only save hundreds of thousands of lives now, but can curb the more widespread conflicts that will likely come in the future.

UUSC has highlighted climate refugees as a marginalized group who are not receiving the help they need, even within the sphere of humanitarian aid providers. This is why our Environmental Justice portfolio is focusing its resources on communities at high risk of climate forced displacement.

What we owe refugee children, Elias Bou Saab, Gulf Times, June 22, 2017

Fifty-one percent of the world’s refugees are children, and without access to education, there are concerns that this group will be a “lost generation” growing up without the skills needed to rebuild their communities or to thrive. Saab, former Lebanese education minister, points out the benefits education access has for children: “Education is also a vital instrument for combating violent extremism, which can capture the minds of young people with no hope for the future. And school attendance is essential for children’s welfare, because it gives them access to basic healthcare services and protects them from the horrors of child labour and prostitution.”

World leaders have recognized the need to educate refugee children, but efforts on the part of host countries to provide education haven’t been enough. Education access has been delayed by poor organization, violence, and strained resources. Saab signifies how important it is that governments and organizations meet their monetary pledges – which many have not – but also calls on them to step up their funding for programs that make remote and online education possible. No child should grow up without an education. Visit the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to learn more.

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading in human rights and social justice! This week’s wrap-up includes select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss: Iraqi Christians facing deportation, the growing religious left movement, and the Standing Rock Sioux’s continued fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

ICE arrested dozens of Iraqi Christians in Detroit, Gabriela Del Valle, The Outline, June 12, 2017

Forty Iraqi Christians were rounded up in Detroit, Michigan on Sunday, June 11 by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and are now being held in a detention center in Ohio. ICE raids and deportations are nothing new, especially under the Trump administration, but this case stands out because of how blatantly it is driven by political and economic negotiations between the United States and Iraq. It appears that Iraq was removed from Trump’s travel ban list – a ban that has been ruled illegal multiple times in court – after agreeing to accept deportees from the United States.

Many of the Iraqi Christians now facing deportation feel betrayed by Trump and his administration (and rightly so). Christians are a heavily persecuted minority in Iraq, and as Del Valle reports, “the House of Representatives unanimously voted in favor of a resolution declaring that ISIS’s persecution of religious minorities in Iraq and Syria, including Christians, constitutes genocide.” Many of the detained immigrants came to the United States to escape violence; to send them back to Iraq is knowingly putting them in mortal danger.

Read our statement condemning these deportations for their abject callousness.

Religious Liberals Sat Out of Politics for 40 Years. Now They Want in the Game, Laurie Goodstein, The New York Times, June 10, 2017

The Rev. William J. Barber II, organizer of the “Moral Mondays” protests in North Carolina, in April at Riverside Church in Manhattan, where he preached on building a national movement.

Over the past 40 years, the Christian conservatives have been the dominant religious presence in the U.S. political sphere. That’s finally starting to change. In response to Trump’s election, religious progressives are getting involved in grassroots movements across the country, “hungry to break the right’s grip on setting the nation’s moral agenda.”

As Goodstein points out, the religious left hasn’t been heavily involved in politics since protesting the Vietnam War. Now, the religious left is a much more diverse group – represented by many religions, by women, by people of color, by members of the LGBTQI community – and they want to turn the religious-political conversation back towards “fundamental biblical imperatives — caring for the poor, welcoming strangers and protecting the earth — and maybe even change some minds about what it means to be a believer.”

However, one of their biggest obstacles to really creating a political movement is other liberals. The standing policy of the Democratic Party is to distance itself from religion, whereas the Republican party has tied itself with Christian conservatism, which has generated them an important voter base in the past few decades.

In the wake of Trump’s election, one thing is certain: U.S. politics are changing. Goodstein’s article is an important look at the intersection between religion and politics.

UUSC has joined with the UUA for Love Resists, a joint campaign aimed at activating people of faith and conscience to resist the harm inflicted by criminalization by creating safer, more just, welcoming, and sustainable communities. Join us!

The Standing Rock Sioux Claim ‘Victory and Vindication’ in Court, Robinson Meyer, The Atlantic, June 14, 2017

On Wednesday, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe won their first court victory, but it wasn’t all they deserve. The court ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ initial study of the Dakota Access Pipeline’s (DAPL) environmental impact was not extensive enough and ordered for a new one to be conducted. However, the DAPL will still remain active in the meantime and perhaps even after the new study is complete.

It is unclear yet whether true justice will come to Standing Rock, but as Meyer states, “the ruling may establish some important precedents, particularly around environmental justice and treaty rights.” Although months of protests may not change the outcome of DAPL and its threat to Standing Rock drinking water, it may change the outcome of future cases.

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading in human rights and social justice! This week’s wrap-up includes select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss: intersections between environmental justice and racial justice, the human story behind our current immigration policy, and Trump’s disappointing praise of Philippine President Duterte.

 

True Climate Justice Puts Communities of Color First, Audrea Lim, The Nation, May 22, 2017

Climate justice is insufficient if it doesn’t address racial injustice. When we look at the environmental problems caused by human activity, people of color are adversely affected at a much higher rate across the board. As Lim reports, “African Americans are exposed to 38 percent more polluted air than whites, and are 75 percent more likely to live in chemical-factory ‘fence-line zones’ than the U.S. average (Latinos are 60 percent more likely)” and “Heat-related deaths occur at a 150–200 percent higher rate among African Americans than among whites.”

How does this happen? When it comes to environmental health, decades of institutionalized racism have begotten economic disparities that put people of color at geographic disadvantages – a problem which will only become worse as the effects of climate change accelerate. This is precisely why UUSC sees environmental justice as a human rights issue.

The environmental movement has been around for decades, but the environmental justice movement is only now starting to take root in the form of intersectional protests at Standing Rock, support for community-owned renewable energy sources, and fairer environmental legislation.

This week, Salote Soqo, senior program leader for environmental justice & climate action, spoke at the Second Informal Thematic Session for Global Compact on Migration. Soqo made an explicit call for member states to recognize “that the experts of this approach are the communities that are most affected by these issues and who inherently hold the power to meaningfully address these problems with dignity.”

Deported to El Salvador, Trapped Between the Gangs and Trump, Danielle Marie Mackey, Pedro Armando Aparicio, and Leighton Akio Woodhouse, The Intercept, May 21, 2017

Jose Escobar lived in the United States for 17 years, ever since he and his mother immigrated from El Salvador to Texas to escape gang violence. He has a wife and children and was well-respected in Houston where he worked his way up from the bottom to running both a painting and a construction business. Now, the only way he can see his family is through the cameras that his wife had installed in their home while he lives in his aunt’s house in El Salvador, unable to leave the house alone for fear of violence, unable to return to Texas because of Trump’s backward immigration policy.

Escobar, who was permitted to stay in the United States by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents when he was a teenager, was deported in March when he went to his annual ICE checkup appointment – he was deported even though he did everything he was supposed to. Mackey, Aparicio, and Woodhouse share this heart-wrenching story of one individual, among the thousands who are being deported without criminal records under Trump’s immigration policy. It is important to remember that these are people, and while each has their own story, they face the same systemic injustice.

UUSC continues to call for expanded sanctuary policies that will make our communities safer for all. While typical sanctuary city policies have focused on protections for undocumented immigrants, expanded sanctuary policies recognize that the current administration is jointly threatening the rights of a wide range of communities. Learn more about how we are working to create a safer, more just, welcoming, and sustainable world at loveresists.org.

Trump Praises Duterte for Philippine Drug Crackdown in Call Transcript, David E. Sanger and Maggie Haberman, The New York Times, May 23, 2017

On Tuesday, the transcript of President Trump’s April 29 call to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte was leaked. According to transcripts obtained by the New York Times, Trump praised Duterte for doing “an unbelievable job on the drug problem” – essentially congratulating him on the “unbelievable job” of killing thousands of people without due process and incarcerating tens of thousands in less than a year.

Trump’s remarks break from the State Department’s condemnation of Duterte’s actions as a violation of human rights. The transcript also shows that Trump mentioned the location of two United States nuclear submarines in talks about North Korea, another instance in which Trump seems to have revealed pertinent information to foreign officials.

Our previous statement on President Duterte’s “drug war” bears repeating: Our partners in the Philippines, “some of whom are risking their lives to empower and protect their communities, deserve better than an American president who fawns over authoritarianism and condones state-sanctioned murder.”

Rights Reading

Our weekly roundup of what we’re reading in human rights and social justice! This week’s wrap-up includes select articles from the front lines of human rights that we don’t want you to miss: Highlights from the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia; updates on family detention; and the latest on climate-forced displacement. 

‘A miracle happened’: 300 rally for LGBT rights in St. Petersburg, Colin Stewart, Erasing 76 Crimes, May 18, 2017

May 17 marked the International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia (#IDAHOT or #IDAHOBIT). People all across the world celebrated by  wearing colorful clothes that signify the colors of the rainbow, going to rallies, and being vocal online about their support for and solidarity with the LGBTQI community

There were even celebrations in countries with extremely anti-LGBTQI laws. Colin Stewart shares one story about a rally in Russia, where law enforcement stops pro-LGBTQ protests and detains participants. But this year 300 took to the streets in St. Petersburg, and due to their persistence and some fortuitous timing, received police protection. Organizers of the protest shared their thoughts, “Our strategy is ‘constant dripping wears away a stone,’ and today a little chip of that stone fell off.” This is a marked change from the typical response to LGBTQI rallies and protests in Russia and is a testament to how community organizing and persistence can yield surprisingly happy results.

Immigrants in Detention Centers Are Often Hundreds of Miles From Legal Help, Patrick G. Lee, ProPublica, May 16, 2017

It’s almost impossible for immigrants to win their case to stay in the United States if they don’t have an attorney, no matter how strong their case. There are multiple system-level obstacles that immigrants face as they seek U.S. citizenship, and those barriers can be insurmountable if they are being held in detention centers.

In this article, Patrick Lee provides background and context to the reality of this situation. Because detained immigrants lack the right to an appointed attorney, they must either pay for a lawyer or find one who will take on their case pro bono. However, many lawyers won’t take these cases and many who do lack the necessary time and resources to take on more than a handful of clients from the thousands of immigrants currently in detention centers. On top of this, detention center locations often make lawyers geographically inaccessible, something which Amy Fischer, policy director of UUSC partner RAICES, calls a purposeful move by the federal government to inhibit immigrants’ access to legal resources.

Under President Trump, ICE is ramping up its immigration control policies – arresting more immigrants and making plans for more detention centers. UUSC and its partners, like RAICES, are working hard to ensure that immigrants have the necessary legal resources and protections to plead their case and build their lives in the United States.

Mulling the possibility of a “managed retreat” from climate change, Rachel Waldholz, Alaska Public Media, April 28, 2017

Media coverage and aid are much easier to come by for communities displaced when a natural disaster hits. But refugees who are forced to leave their homes due to the slow onset of climate change are often overlooked, even though rising sea levels, erosion, and other consequences of global warming are expected to disrupt thousands of communities over the course of the next several decades.

The choice to relocate is one that must be made by individual communities, but even but even they make that decision, there is often no financial support from local and national governments or NGOs, who have been slow to recognize the severity of climate-forced displacement. Robin Bronen, executive director of the Alaska Institute for Justice (AIJ), argues that the lack of funding is different from political will, which she feels does in fact exist. “There’s this urgent need to protect populations from climate change, but we don’t have the laws in place to facilitate it,” Bronen said. “[That] means that government agencies don’t have mandates or funding to make it possible to actually implement what everybody agrees is the best long-term adaptation strategy.”

UUSC partners with AIJ and other organizations working on climate-forced displacement across the globe to support their efforts to help communities facing destruction at the hands of rising sea levels and prepare themselves for relocation.