US Election: The fightback for human rights is already underway


A CPNN review

Americans (and the rest of the world as well) are deeply concerned for human rights in the wake of the election of Trump and his initial selection of cabinet officers and advisors. As expressed by the American Civil Liberties Union: Trump’s proposals “to amass a deportation force to remove 11 million undocumented immigrants; ban the entry of Muslims into our country and aggressively surveil them; punish women for accessing abortion; reauthorize waterboarding and other forms of torture; and change our nation’s libel laws and restrict freedom of expression . . . are not simply un-American and wrong-headed, they are unlawful and unconstitutional. They violate the First, Fourth, Fifth, Eighth, and Fourteenth Amendments.”

An unofficial map shows locations of schools that students want designated as sanctuary campuses – from CNN

Already, there are plans for a massive march of women to take place in Washington on the day after the inauguration: “This march is the first step towards unifying our communities, grounded in new relationships, to create change from the grassroots level up. We will not rest until women have parity and equity at all levels of leadership in society. We work peacefully while recognizing there is no true peace without justice and equity for all.”

The human rights of undocumented immigrants are being defended by universities, cities and states. On Wednesday November 16, thousands of students staged walk-outs on over 80 campuses nationwide, signalling their commitment to maintain “sanctuary campuses” to protect immigrant students. At the same time, the mayors of the largest American cities pledged to maintain their policy of refusing to work with federal deportations These include Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York.

Entire states are part of the sanctuary movement: these include California and New York.

The movement is led by students and youth, something we have not seen in the United States since the 60’s.

In fact, it seems like Americans are reaching far back into their history in the struggle for human rights. For some, the leadership by youth reminds us of the revolutionary 60’s. For an older generation, it reminds them of the 30’s with its struggles between fascism, on the one hand, and the greatest movement for trade union and progressive organization, on the other hand. And there is even talk of “underground railways” to protect the persecuted, which hearkens back to the abolitiionists of the 19th century.

In these days, there are many wise counsels. Here is one of them, from Shamil Idriss, President of Search for Common Ground:

    “Breakthroughs usually only come out of crises, and we are in crisis. So there is no better time for We, the People, to build a new order: one based on mutual respect and care for our fellow citizens, a commitment to social justice, and a defense of the liberties that give us the power to build that order in the first place.

    So here are three steps that anyone can take and three insights from more than thirty years of peacebuilding that may help you build up the courage to take them.

    1. Whatever it is you are pursuing, think about who loses if you win.

    This may be pretty clear right now if you are a Trump voter – it is Clinton voters. But for an environmental advocate pursuing legal action against a polluting company, it may be the employees who will be out of work if the company goes out of business; for an opponent of the Affordable Care Act, it may be the 20+ million Americans who may end up without health insurance; for a supporter (or opponent) of affirmative action, it may be the people who won’t land the job or get the educational scholarship they might otherwise have gotten.

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Questions related to this article:

The post-election fightback for human rights, is it gathering force in the USA?

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    2. Decide you care what happens to them.

    This does not mean you need be any less principled or passionate in your beliefs, only that you are willing to consider whether there might be a place on the other side of those debates where your adversaries – your fellow citizens – can also have their basic needs met and dignity respected.

    3. Reach out across that divide to start a real conversation.

    A real conversation begins when you start by listening and asking questions so as to understand, and not only to convince. And it is when you discover what lies behind others’ positions – their aspirations, interests, and fears – that you not only find common ground, but establish a relationship that can create more of it.

    Insights from years of practical peacebuilding that can help you take these steps.

    Hate and bigotry almost always grow out of fear. Understanding this can reduce your own apprehension when you consider reaching out to people whose aggressive views offend or disturb you.

    Caring for those you disagree with is not the same as compromising your principles. In truly divided societies, there is a critical threshold through which people must pass in order to open up to dialogue: it is the experience of being heard and respected by those who disagree with them. You can still disagree with someone’s position, but if you reflect true care for the hopes and aspirations that have led them to it, transformative change becomes possible – not only in their outlook, but also in yours.

    Emotional connections change everything; rational arguments don’t. The experience of being respected – or its opposite: being ignored or humiliated – has a much more powerful influence on people’s opinions and behavior than do rational arguments. Indeed, if you present the same fact to two individuals with opposite worldviews, they will interpret it in ways that reinforce what they each already believe. Showering your adversaries with debate points may feel gratifying, but it almost certainly won’t change minds–and will in fact make them more obstinate if it comes at the expense of making them feel heard.

    So, please consider taking the first step with that police officer or community activist; with the Muslim, Jew, Evangelical or atheist who you don’t know, or think you know but don’t understand; with that political adversary whose views you can’t stand. Take it knowing you are not compromising your principles, but merely elevating the well-being and dignity of your fellow citizen to be as important as the causes that motivate you.

    If we Americans do this, we will come up with solutions to our problems that are more creative, sustainable, and healthier for us all. And we will set the example for our political leaders to follow, rather than waiting for them to do it for us.”

Shamil’s remarks remind us of Gandhi’s statement that we must have no enemies, but rather, opponents whom we have yet to convince. And as Gandhi said (as quoted by Martin Luther King): Nonviolent resistance is not a method for cowards: it does resist . . . Gandhi often said that if cowardice is the only alternative to violence, it is better to fight . . . while the nonviolent resister is passive in the sense that he is not physically aggressive toward his opponent, his mind and emotions are always active , constantly seeking to persuade the opponent that he is wrong.”

We are receiving many other similar wise counsels, for example those of John Dear of Pace e Bene, or Tiffany Easthom of Nonviolent Peaceforce.

As John Dear says, “Please take some new action.”