On Dec.10, the world will celebrate International Human Rights Day. Sixty-one years ago, in San Francisco, the nations of the world came together to proclaim that every individual, no matter where he or she lives, has fundamental rights that deserve protection. Enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, are, among others, the right to be free from racial discrimination, the right to think and write what you choose and the right to fair working conditions. While the United States helped to draft the declaration, led the movement to pass it and served as host to its ratification, today many people in this country now think that a human rights campaign means writing letters to a faraway land, rather than working to protect our own fundamental rights, that of our family and friends and that of fellow Americans and all members of the human race.
The truth is that many of us have been working to promote and protect human rights for years, in our community and across America. These efforts reflect broad public support for human rights. In fact, recent polling shows that over eighty percent of Americans agree that "every person has basic rights regardless of whether their government recognizes those rights or not."
At the Fort Dodge Human Rights Commission, we strive to eliminate discrimination through law enforcement, education and community outreach, including events like National Night Out. These efforts do not stand alone; in fact they are part of a growing national movement to bring human rights home.
A number of state and local governments use human rights standards to promote equality, dignity, fairness and opportunity in their communities. Chicago has adopted a resolution advancing policies that comply with the international treaty that protects children's rights. Seattle is working to promote economic and social rights, and San Francisco has officially incorporated the language of treaties written to end sexual and racial discrimination. Just last month, the Eugene, Ore., City Council unanimously approved an ordinance affirming the human rights of people in mental health treatment, offering them more choice in their treatment and care.
These local initiatives reflect the belief that protecting human rights begins at home. In Fort Dodge, we can use a human rights framework to address the causes and effects of discrimination, poverty and intolerance.
Eleanor Roosevelt, one of the founders of the human rights movement, understood that human rights not only begin at home, but are fundamental to how we function as a community and a country. She said that these rights occupy "the world of the individual person: the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination." When we protect the rights of people in Fort Dodge we are carrying on the mission and the message behind America's participation in the drafting of the Universal Declaration.
International Human Rights Day is an opportunity to re-dedicate ourselves to further the goal of equality and fairness for all people in Fort Dodge, America, and the entire world.
We ask you take a moment on Dec. 10 to consider the importance of human rights to your country, your city and your neighborhood and to join in the celebration of International Human Rights Day.
Jarrod Feld is an AmeriCorps VISTA member through the Iowa Human and Civil Rights VISTA Project. He works at theFort Dodge Human Rights Commission.