Northampton holding listening sessions for anniversary of human rights declaration

Staff Writer
Published: 12/7/2018 11:14:19 PM

NORTHAMPTON — To mark the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Northampton Human Rights Commission will be hosting six listening sessions on the state of human rights in the city next week.

The declaration is considered to be a seminal document in human history, and was proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly on Dec. 10, 1948. Among its guarantees are the right to life, liberty and security of person, the prohibition of slavery and the slave trade, the right to seek and enjoy asylum, the right to own property and the right to recognition everywhere as a person before the law. Eleanor Roosevelt was among its drafters.

“I think it’s aspirational,” said HRC Member Laurie Loisel, who said that the HRC uses it as a guide and compass. “It has great intentions.”

Last year for the anniversary of its proclamation, the declaration was read out on the steps of City Hall. Not so this year.

“We’re going out into Northampton with our celebration,” said HRC Chairwoman Karen Bellavance-Grace.

Each of the listening sessions will be geared to the residents of different City Council districts, and some of them will be hosted by their respective city councilors, although residents outside of those districts and those that live outside of the city, are also welcome to attend.

“I’m hoping for some good, constructive, robust conversation,” said Ward 2 City Councilor Dennis Bidwell.

Loisel said that the commission has been looking to host these sessions for some years now to get community input. Facilitating the sessions will be the community organization Northampton Connects, which aims to facilitate better communication between different groups of people in the city.

“We thought it would be great to get their expertise,” Loisel said.

Bidwell is one of Northampton Connects’ founders.

The results of the sessions will advise and guide the mayor and city council on city policy toward human rights.

Bellavance-Grace said that the sessions will give the commission the opportunity to hear from neighbors and re-engage with the communities, and learn “what their prior ties will be for the commission to focus on in the coming months.

Asked what she thought human rights issues might be in Northampton, Loisel gave racial, transgender and disability issues, noting that human rights touch on a lot of different people’s experiences.

“I think human rights issues are a big big variety,” said Loisel.

Since the declaration’s proclamation, human rights atrocities have still occurred, including the Rwandan Genocide, the killing fields in Cambodia and Operation Condor in South America.

“It’s really hard to square it I think,” said Loisel, when asked about reconciling the declaration’s proclamation and omnipresence with continued human rights abuses. “Humans find all kinds of ways to treat each other badly.”

Nevertheless, she said that the declaration serves as a way to keep hope that things can get better, although she also noted that progress is not continuous or linear, and can involve “a couple steps forward and many steps back.”

“You can’t lose site of each other’s humanity,” Loisel said.

Bellavance-Grace said that it’s important to recommit to the declaration’s ideals, also noting its aspirational nature.

“I don’t know if we will make it to the beloved community in my lifetime,” she said. “This is the kind of world that we are striving for.”

Session dates

■Ward 6: Ryan Road School, 6 to 7:30 p.m. Monday

■ Ward 1: Jackson Street School for Ward 1, Monday, 7 to 8:30 p.m. Monday

■Wards 5 and 7: Florence Civic Center, 7 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday

■Ward 2: the YMCA, 7:30 to 9 p.m. Tuesday

■Ward 3: Northampton Senior Center, 7 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday

■Northampton Senior Center for Ward 4 from 6 to 8:30 p.m.


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