December 10th will mark DC's 10th anniversary as a Human Rights City. In honor of this important milestone, AFSC DC is planning a Human Rights Week of Action December 10-14. This week will begin on International Human Rights Day (December 10) and conclude with a community open house at ONE DC's Black Workers and Wellness Center on Friday, December 14. This blog series is a part of AFSC DC's Human Rights Week of Action.
The Friends Committee on National Legislation is a Quaker organization which lobbies for Quaker values in national policy. Program Assistant for Militarism and Human Rights, Emmet Hollingshead, recently sat down with Executive Secretary Diane Randall to discuss the importance of human rights in DC, and what it means to live in a Human Rights City.
Emmet Hollingshead: Let’s start with a very broad question: what is the value of human rights? And why do we continue to fight for human rights even in a country where we enjoy so many rights already?
Diane Randall: I think particularly as Quakers, we take for granted that people support human rights. But in reality, there are a lot of places where human rights aren’t respected in the sense of the full declaration of human dignity.
And it's also about the idea of human beings as sacred individuals, which is consistent with our Quaker purpose. We’re called to answer that of God in every person, and to me that means every person should have rights to live and be healthy and to breath clean the air and to have work. So, there's nothing in Quakerism per se that defines human rights, but I feel like there's a really close alignment to what that concept of human rights is about.
So, when I heard about the anniversary of D.C. as a Human Rights City, the first thing I thought of was the struggle for D.C. statehood. This is a huge issue, I think, for human rights. Honestly, to me that's kind of a fundamental question- is that if you believe that people should have a fair representation and equal representation then that should be a human right within the District of Columbia as it is in every other state. And as someone who encourages other people to contact their members of Congress, it would be great if we had Senators and a voting member whose vote counted.
The other reason I think it's really important is that the closer government is to people the more confidence they have in it. And so, when local communities -- a city or even a neighborhood -- says they’re going to pay attention to human rights, I think it's more powerful because it's so personal. And not just in D.C. but any city that chooses to say “we want to be a human right city” is paying attention to the needs of people in the city, which is a really positive thing.
Why is it important for D.C. specifically to have human rights values?
You know it's one thing for us to tell other countries they have to behave in certain ways but when we ourselves as a country or a community are violating people's rights then that's a problem for us on international basis. I mean I'm really concerned that we don't hear a lot of conversation about human rights right now in this administration. And so, to the extent D.C. can hold the city up, lift the city up, as a community, as a place of national government that pays attention to human rights, it could have an impact on international standing, given the fact that we're not seeing it so much from White House.
Moving forward for D.C. as a city, how might we incorporate human rights issues in city government, in our personal lives, in our workplaces?
Well I tend to think about government structures because we work on lobbying, and so within D.C. I think it’s important to educate people within D.C. about the existing local government even if we don't have statehood. Clearly our city council has a lot of impact and we have these Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, the neighborhood representatives, which have a pretty much small block area where people can talk to them directly about issues. So that's a positive thing because it enables people to get involved.
I think the other thing is knowing those organizations like we've talked about that are addressing human rights, whether it’s around social services or education issues or jobs. There are people who are really trying to pay attention to things, who are looking at some neighborhood issues and showing up for racial justice, who get involved with different organizations, who are working like for instance [our Young Adult Program Manager] Katie Breslin worked on Pay Our Interns. I mean there's been some causes that people get involved in that are about human rights.
You know in my mind so much of FCNL is focused on federal advocacy -- obviously it's in our name, National Legislation -- but I do think that as individuals get involved locally it makes a huge difference. You just feel more connected, you get to know other people.
Is there anything else you'd like to add on your thoughts on human rights localities and us as a city?
So, I would just remark on this one item.
A couple of years ago there was a UN Human Rights Special Rapporteur that actually came to D.C. to examine human rights and poverty. It was enlightening to me because as an American I often think about human rights as an issue elsewhere. It’s an issue in the Congo or it’s an issue in Sarajevo or places where there has been violent conflict or places where there's a lot of inequality across gender lines, but to see that this group come in to look at the question of human rights in Washington D.C. was a new way for me to think about our country needing to lift this up. And so, to the extent that we can think about that in localities, like D.C. does, I see that as a positive step.