Moving Forward into 2015

When we frame an issue locally: protecting homes from foreclosure, police brutality, or even the broader civil rights issues that are ignored by authority; we open ourselves up to problems. We have limited impact even when we succeed; we may get a particularly brutal officer fired, we may save one in a thousand homes from the clutches of a greedy bank, we may even get a job back for someone illegally fired. All wonderful accomplishments, to be sure, and transforming individual lives is always a good outcome of struggle, but these local battles do nothing to change the system within which no one has any real human rights. Just in terms of housing, let’s not forget renters displaced by foreclosure, or by gentrification, or by just the rising cost of rent. Using a system that is designed to oppress in order to stop oppression cannot work in the long run. Police will continue their task of protecting property by using laws and even our Constitution, all of which are designed to protect property, not human rights. Using the oppressor’s court to sort out transgressions will not make the transgressions stop, because the court is designed to protect the system, not our rights. We cede our power when we fall back on the limited ways we are *allowed* to advocate change. Police have shown through their interactions with white people that they know how to be civil. They even manage to take white mass-shooters safely into custody for trial. Why is it that they are unable to ticket a black man for a busted tail light on his car, without resorting to shooting? Even if it appears that we will be successful using the system’s laws against it, those very laws are first ignored, then quickly changed. By basing our work on human rights though, even these situations can change, and change for many people, not merely a few. Also, when we base our demands on human rights, then international support is possible; no longer do we see charges that *outside agitators* are *causing trouble*.
Today we are seeing a trend: white backlash. When it appears we are making progress towards equality and solidarity, white rage finds new ways to oppress and isolate us. When we seek equal opportunity in education, they make all schools equally *bad*. When we come together as neighbors and in solidarity with myriad struggles, they use mass incarceration to shatter our families and shame us back into separation. When more and more of us are unemployed, media fans angry fires against undocumented workers, not the greedy corporations bent on profit at any social or environmental cost. They tout that we have a black President as proof that we are past racism; but he is a product of a corrupt political system and is completely owned and manipulated by Wall Street, where the only color that matters is the green of the current fiat currency. Not to mention the explicit, stated goal of the other party to obstruct any meaningful change he might try to implement, providing cover for the utter failure of Obama to craft *change we can believe in*. When it appears we might make gains towards a more equal society, they provide military-grade equipment and training to local police, ensuring they know the key aspect of their job is repression, whom to repress, and that they will have immunity from prosecution as they carry out this mandate. We tout that we live under the *rule of law* but ignore that the law protects the privileged, not the downtrodden. When too many people complain that the banks are breaking the law, they change the law. White rage ensures that white privilege will be protected: by militarizing the police, forcing non-whites out of work and out of homes, and by using class, race, sexuality, and gender to divide and conquer us.
Unless and until we address human rights we may succeed in outlawing or preventing oppression against a few people using one tool today, but we will not make the radical changes needed for a permanent solution. You can outlaw discrimination for entry into a university, but if you make tuition so costly that you have to have access to resources to apply, then you limit students to those of the white upper class. Today, legally, discrimination has ended. But if we don’t fund the regulators who enforce the laws, they might as well be non-existent. And there are too many ways to continue to discriminate in ways that can’t be enforced, even if we wanted to: using class, race, sexuality, gender, age, religion, country of origin, income and wealth, and so on.
This is the essence of solidarity: connecting disparate actions and people into a broader movement that seeks all human rights. The U.S. is a signatory of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; we already have the tool we need for this work. We have not been told what it means, what it contains, what it might do to further our push for a life that matters; all because it is anathema to the system as it exists today. The immigration debate is merely cover for racism and xenophobia. Those who oppose open borders have internalized a logic that claims U.S. laws supersede human rights. How can we frame the debate to ask about our right to work, our right to feed and shelter our families, or our rights to health care and education? We see movements today aimed at ending oppression that focus on one aspect, foreclosure for example, that contain people who on one hand insist on their right to housing but also who vote or work against programs that provide housing to people who aren’t homeowners. Using human rights as our frame we would support all who need housing, not just those going through a foreclosure. Thinking in terms of human rights opens pathways that connect diverse people and movements, but it does not guarantee that we overcome our isolated and separate, judgmental programming. Solidarity around the issues of human rights is sometimes mistaken to mean we have to include every point of view: we do not. When an energy company like Exxon funds an NGO working to stop fracking, the result is less than stellar. We see this frequently among the larger organizations; those with a payroll and pension plan to fund will take whatever money, and the marching orders that accompany it, they can get. The key to solidarity is sharing values; we can’t be sharing a value that protecting Nature is paramount, while drilling and injecting toxic chemicals into Earth. We have to remember whose side we are on.
Remaining in the power structures, the *legal* framework, the social conditioning that is America, will leave us unsatisfied. It has only proven to be ineffective; tiny successes trigger a response that obliterates that path from being used again. Continuing to seek justice in the master’s courts is insane. As long as we fail to question the very need for police, we will be at the mercy of whomever makes the laws and gives police their orders and priorities. Do the demands we articulate address human rights; applicable to all, or a more narrow, and usually privileged, particular desire? Ask, if this campaign is wildly successful, will that success impact everyone? Demands should alter the power dynamic in a way that supports human rights and meets real human needs. This implies that we see the government not as the ultimate power; rather we see humans as having that power. Human rights question (and possibly punish) the action (police shooting an unarmed teen) and not the intent (out of fear). Our freedom lies not in replacing the 1% with a new 1%, or an all-white or all-black police force. We demand solutions that address both the human rights of individuals and the human rights of communities and Nature itself, Honoring communal and natural rights brings power back to where it belongs: our neighborhoods.

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