By Josh Leach on November 7, 2018
After recent weeks marred by violence, hate, and racist demagoguery from the sitting U.S. president – including lawless threats to deny basic constitutional and human rights for immigrants and asylum-seekers – voters turned out in unusually large numbers in Tuesday’s elections to demand a better future.
Among these voters were many people participating for the first time in the electoral process, as well as voters from historically disenfranchised communities. They elected candidates who bring an unprecedented range of diversity and representation of race, gender, age, and sexual orientation to the U.S. Congress. And, as a direct result of yesterday’s election, 1.4 million people with past felony convictions in the state of Florida will have their voting rights restored.
For an organization inspired by UU principles and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), there is much to celebrate in these results. The sixth UU principle promotes “the democratic process … in society at large”; likewise the UDHR declares: “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government.” Whenever people exercise or gain access to the right to vote, it is a victory for human rights.
Any election, however, can only be the beginning rather than the end of the struggle for human rights. In recent years, we have seen U.S. politicians from both major parties systematically violate human rights – including the devastating practice of family detention, which was revived by the Obama administration in 2014, and which the current administration has sought to expand.
At UUSC, we know that leadership in human rights does not come from the top, whether from politicians, corporations, or governments; it begins with communities organizing themselves at the grassroots level to defend their rights. If the signs of hope we witnessed yesterday are to bear fruit, it will be because millions of people – including UUSC’s members and supporters and those of our partners – are increasingly activated to demand social change.
The time is now to press for concrete action to advance human rights. The U.S. Congress has the ability to provide a check on the unjust exercise of executive power, as well as to bring our nation’s laws into better alignment with our values and international commitments. Among other priorities, our elected representatives should work immediately to:
- Create a pathway to permanent status for the several hundred thousand holders of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) who have been threatened with deportation by the current administration;
- End U.S. funding for security forces in Honduras that violate human rights;
- Redirect Congressional funds away from detention and deportation of immigrants and toward programs that uphold and promote human rights;
- Support accountability and targeted sanctions for officials responsible for genocide and other crimes against humanity in Burma; and
- Renew and honor U.S. commitments to protect the environment from catastrophic climate change and support the communities it most directly endangers.
The current U.S. administration has demonstrated time and again its contempt for human rights and the principles of legality. Most recently, President Trump has threatened to issue an executive order as early as this week that would deny the human right to seek asylum to many people at the U.S. border.
Furthermore, for all its positive aspects, this election underscored several disturbing features of our current political reality – including both the hardening of ideological and partisan divisions in the United States, as well the many barriers that still exist to full and equal voting rights and representation across the country. Not least of these barriers is the fact that 11 million undocumented residents of the United States and roughly 400,000 TPS holders, whose lives each day are impacted by the U.S. government, still have no path to citizenship and a vote in the actions of this government.
Complacency would be our worst enemy at this hour. We will need vigilance and a commitment to human rights that transcends parties and nations, in order to make real the promise of the UU principles: that we will one day live in a world that affirms the inherent worth and dignity of every person.