The University of Washington's Center for Human Rights recently hosted its annual celebration marking Amnesty International's (AI) 50th anniversary, and recognizing around two dozen organizations including the Krista Foundation. AI believes combating human rights abuses and nurturing a world where justice is rooted in the sustained efforts of ordinary citizens, from letter writing campaigns to advocating at the policy level.
The keynote speaker was AI's Director, Larry Cox, who began by highlighting the power of civil society. In December, when Larry met with top national leaders in DC, he was told that regime change in Egypt in its current state was ‘impossible.' Culturally appropriate behind the scenes pressure was not working and civil society was too weak. Yet two months later, the efforts of Egyptians, (and the sustained efforts of human rights advocates) made radical revolution possible. Larry shared this story as an inspiration and reminder that we all play a role in bringing about change and advocating for the basic needs of our local or global neighbors. Our success in overcoming the most entrenched challenges our globe faces does not rest solely on the leader, but rather on each and every person involved.
The Human Rights Symposium also showcased work closer to home. The panel that followed Larry Cox included: Pramila Jayapal, founder and E.D. of OneAmerica, James Bible, President of the NAACP-Seattle/King County, and Magdaleno Rose-Avila, an author/artist/activist who is the outgoing E.D. of the Social Justice Fund. These speakers addressed a wide variety of issues, from the institutional discrimination and profiling in the US of people of Middle Eastern descent following 9/11, to incarceration rates and the industry of prisons in the US (the country with the most people per capita locked up). They agreed that there is much work to be done within our national borders.
Amnesty International has been working to broaden the view of what qualifies as human rights, sharing that systemic oppression takes place in social, economic, and cultural areas. Human rights are often associated with high profile international abuses, political prisoners or torture cases in foreign nations. However, Larry advocates that basic human rights abuses occur within the US and abroad in areas such as the right to free and fair elections, employment, legal representation. There is often an unjust distribution of and access to wealth, power and legal rights which perpetuates poverty and disproportionately impacts marginalized segments of a population.
At the Krista Foundation, we hear many Colleagues who would resonate with this broader definition of human rights. Whether working in urban education, in law, or with people caught in human trafficking, whether at home or abroad, whether during formal service or service as a way of life—Colleagues are advocates for human rights alongside the people they serve and learn from. As they integrate service as way of life, Colleagues become engaged civic leaders in local communities and at all levels/sectors of society.