Northampton Human Rights Commission to launch pledge for human dignity

  • Northampton city hall File photo

Published: 12/4/2017 10:34:57 PM

NORTHAMPTON —  As Eleneor Roosevelt once said, human rights begins “in the small places, close to home.”

It’s in that spirit that the city’s Human Rights Commission will kick off a campaign Sunday that seeks to honor human rights and dignity in Paradise City. The Culture of Civility Campaign, marking the 69th anniversary of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, will feature a pledge for human dignity that residents can sign.

“We really started talking about it last winter” in the wake of President Donald Trump’s election, said Karen Bellavance-Grace, the human rights commission’s co-chair.

The local pledge reads: “As a member of the Northampton community, I acknowledge that bias incidents and acts of hate destroy the fabric of our community, threaten the personal and collective safety of residents and visitors to our city, and can escalate into criminal activity.

“I pledge to support the human dignity of all persons and a civil Northampton by refraining from disparaging other people based on who they are, and by attending to those who are the targets of such acts. I join this community effort to neutralize bigotry and support people who are marginalized and disenfranchised.”

Bellavance-Grace said that since Trump’s election, the commission has heard anecdotes of incidents of racial and ethnic hatred increasing, some of whom commission members witnessed themselves. These incidents included a Northampton woman being told to go back where she came from, after she spoke Spanish to her parents in public. Bellavance-Grace also said that Northampton Police Chief Jody Kasper says that reports of non-criminal bias incidents seemed to have increased since the election.

Bellavance-Grace hopes the pledge will get people to engage around these issues. That engagement is more important than the number of signatures the pledge generates, of which there is no set target, she said.

Those wishing to sign the pledge will be able to do so at the Human Rights Commission’s page on the city’s website, at both of Northampton’s libraries, and at city hall.

The launch will take place on the steps of city hall Sunday at 2 p.m., with members of the commission being joined by Mayor David Narkewicz and other government officials.

“It’s a hard-working group,” said Narkewicz, of the commission.

The mayor said that he supports the commission’s work, and that the campaign allows people to “go on the record” by signing the pledge. The pledge will be open for signatures at its launch, and will stay open through Martin Luther King Jr. in February. Bellavance-Grace said these dates are significant to human and civil rights.

U.S. Rep. James McGovern, D-Worcester, will also celebrate human rights Sunday with a speech at the Jones Library in Amherst. The 1:30 p.m. event is being hosted by the Amherst chapter of Amnesty International.

“While the United States is not perfect, we have always stood up for human rights and dignity,” McGovern said in a statement. “We must not abandon that legacy of leadership. Eleanor Roosevelt said that human rights begin ‘in the small places, close to home … where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination.’ The best way to commemorate the 69th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is for each and every one of us to raise our voices and renew our commitment to human rights here at home and around the world. It is the moral and right thing to do.”

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was ratified by the U.N. General Assembly on Dec. 10, 1948.

“All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood,” reads the first article of the seminal document.

The 30-article document also guarantees all people protection from torture, the ability to have a nationality, own property, join a labor union and be recognized as a person everywhere under the law, among numerous other fundamental rights.

It was drafted by a nine-member commission, consisting of representatives from Lebanon, France, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, China, the Soviet Union, Chile and the United States, with first lady Eleanor Roosevelt serving as the American representative and the body’s chair. It is considered by many to be the foundation of international human rights law.

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