What It Means to Be Human: A Celebration, and a Conversation

The strongest democracies flourish from frequent and lively debates, but they endure when people of every background and belief find a way to set aside smaller differences in service of a greater purpose. ~Barack Obama


Maybe I never read it. Or maybe I forgot what it said.

Maybe it just never seemed so … real.

Today is Human Rights Day.

On this day, December 10, in 1948, the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The curtain had just come down on World War II. And with its atrocities still very much in the world’s consciousness, the newly-formed United Nations vowed: never again. They had already created a UN charter, of course – but they wanted more.

They wanted a guide … a standard … a commitment. For human rights.

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.” Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article I.

Eleanor Roosevelt, at that time a widow and having been appointed to the drafting committee by President Truman, chaired the committee – and was seen as its driving force.

But the members of the drafting committee came from all backgrounds, religions, and countries. East and west were represented – and it was not an easy task to define and protect human rights in a way that was truly universal – not uniquely Western or Eastern.

Hernán Santa Cruz of Chile, who was a member of the drafting subcommittee, summed up the significance of what they were able to accomplish: “I perceived clearly that I was participating in a truly significant historic event in which a consensus had been reached as to the supreme value of the human person, a value that did not originate in the decision of a worldly power, but rather in the fact of existing—which gave rise to the inalienable right to live free from want and oppression and to fully develop one’s personality.  In the Great Hall…there was an atmosphere of genuine solidarity and brotherhood among men and women from all latitudes, the like of which I have not seen again in any international setting.

Members of different countries, different religions, different world views and perspectives – after having lived through world horror, were able to come together to codify humanity. Because of what they had witnessed and endured, they were able to reach beyond their differences. And they were able to set the standards that the world has tried mightily to live up to.

It’s an easy document to read, but a difficult one to process right now, when as a country we seem to fall short of so many of the provisions. (The first action below is to take 2 minutes and read it for yourself. It’s a very short document, and I think it’s important to see what in 1948 the world agreed were universal rights, and what we still strive for today.)

And at first, that’s what I was going to highlight. That we – the shining city on a hill – are now failing to meet standards that we helped set in 1948. If anything, this administration is systematically dismantling them.

But the lesson of the document is bigger. Because its very existence shows the power that comes from shared trauma. It shows how the horror of WWII stripped society down to its core. It removed the objection “It will never happen here.” It laid bare how barbaric “society” could be.

Still raw, and bruised, and sore, countries set their differences aside to create the Declaration because they saw what could happen if there were no guidelines. If there was no rulebook. If nobody was tasked with taking action, or with standing up to tyranny. If there was no international world order that would stand up for … humanity.

We are living in a time when that world order is at risk, of course. And that makes celebrating the existence of this document and the ideals behind it more important than ever.

We’re also living in a time when we, too, can see just how important it is for every single one of us to stand up in our own country. Our own government is acting in ways that are foreign to us, and that are shocking to the world.

But looking ahead – there will be a time when we come out of this experience. There will be at time when we are bruised and sore, but out of immediate danger. And I hope that at that moment we can take what we have learned and use it well.

I hope that we’ll have learned that “it can’t happen here” is wrong. That our society, too, can be and has been barbaric. That the lessons of the past aren’t theoretical – and that we have a duty to apply what we’ve learned.

I hope, too, that we’ll be able to set our differences aside. Set aside our religion, our region, our employment, our education. Our age, our orientation, our class and sex and identity. I hope we’ll set all of our many, many differences aside and talk about what we can do to make a more perfect union … for all of us.

The greatest insights can come from the greatest hardships. And the greatest advancements can follow.

If we do the very hard work now to pay attention … and in the future to use what we’ve learned.

Let’s get to work.


Actions for the Week of December 10, 2019

Tuesday: A short reading assignment, and Youth Standing Up for Human Rights

First: read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights here: www.un.org. It won’t take long, and will give you much food for thought.

Second, this year’s theme is Youth standing up for human rights (with an emphasis on climate). https://www.un.org/en/observances/human-rights-day/ Head over to www.standup4humanrights.org for downloadable materials, social media graphics, and videos of how kids are standing up for human rights. (Especially great resource for you teachers out there!)

Wednesday: Support an Amnesty International Letter-Writing Campaign

You’re probably familiar with Amnesty International, which supports human rights worldwide. They have some fantastic letter-writing campaigns sending encouragement to or advocating for people around the globe. They have model letters to use, or you can use your own.

Go to their campaign page to find a campaign to write for, and bookmark it for your postcard group! I know many of you are looking for different postcard/letter writing campaigns and this is a great resource! https://www.amnesty.org/en/latest/campaigns/

Thursday: Say Thanks… Or Ask What’s Up?

You may have seen the news that in November, Republican Utah Governor Gary Herbert sent a letter to Trump saying his state wants to sponsor more refugees because, “We empathize deeply with individuals and groups who have been forced from their homes and we love giving them a new home and a new life.” 

Herbert sent the letter because if his state wanted to accept more refugees … he had to. (Read the letter here: https://www.sltrib.com/news/2019/11/01/utah-governor-asks-trump/)

As described by Human Rights Watch, Trump “signed an executive order in September saying refugees would only be resettled in places where both state and local officials indicated in writing their willingness to receive refugees. The intent of that order, to undercut refugee resettlement, was underscored by the Trump administration lowering the annual refugee admissions cap to 18,000, the lowest annual ceiling in the nearly three-decade history of the US refugee resettlement program. In October, the first month of the new fiscal year, the number of refugees admitted to the United States reached a new low: zero.”

So if our states/cities are going to take refugees, our public officials need to affirmatively say so to the administration.

Find out if your governor and local officials have issued statements welcoming refugees by checking this Google Doc, helpfully compiled by HAIS.

If they have already sent a message? Shoot them a message of support!

And if they haven’t? Ask why the hell not. It could be that they don’t know of this new requirement, in which case you can share it with them. Here is a link to the Executive Order: https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/executive-order-enhancing-state-local-involvement-refugee-resettlement/

Or it could be that they’re not getting enough public pressure. And that’s where you come in. 😉

Friday: Oppose Changes to SNAP

SNAP, which used to be known as food stamps, actually works really well. (Here’s a great article summing that up nicely).

But as we all know, this administration is hell-bent on breaking all of our nice things.

So they’ve proposed three changes to the program. The Urban Institute studied the impact of those changes, and determined that 3.7 million Americans would lose benefits. (Read the study here.)

Oh – and the changes will cause 1 million kids to lose access to free school lunches.

For *(&^% sake.

Call on your Congress(wo)man to oppose this new rule and demand they do something. Okay?

Script: Hi, my name is ___ and I’m calling from ___. I’m calling to demand Congress(wo)man ____ condemn the Trump administration’s attacks to SNAP. The most recent estimates are that 3.7 million Americans will lose benefits and 1 million kids will lose access to free lunches. That’s not going to make anyone get a job – it’s just going to leave people hungry AND reduce the amount of money our local grocers get from shoppers. That makes absolutely no sense! What is your office doing about these proposed changes?

WHEW! GO, TEAM! SUPER PROUD OF YOU!

P.S.: Why don’t you make someone’s day and send this pep talk to a friend or two? I bet they need it.

If you’d like to sign up to get this pep talk and action list in your in-box each week, you can do that here. Welcome, friend!

P.P.S.: If you want to help support this work you can do so via Patreon at
https://www.patreon.com/smalldeedsdone or via paypal at https://www.paypal.me/smalldeeds
My deepest gratitude in advance.

Thank you for reading. Thank you for writing. I read and respond to every e-mail. (Really! I really do!) We’re in this together. Don’t you forget it.

Have a thought? A small deed to suggest? Share it here!

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