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You Can Fight for Human Rights from Anywhere

Human Rights in DSM

December 10, 2020

It is now highly feasible to take care of everybody on Earth at a higher standard of living than any have ever known. It no longer has to be you or me. Selfishness is unnecessary. War is obsolete. It is a matter of converting our high technology from Weaponry to Livingry. — Buckminster Fuller

December 10th of each year is recognized as International Human Rights Day. This day commemorates the day the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948. The adoption of the UDHR was spearheaded by our former First Lady and Ambassador Eleanor Roosevelt. This declaration, while not law, proclaimed the standard for which all people in the world should live. This standard included: prohibiting people from subjected to arbitrary arrest or detention; the right to peacefully assemble; the right of equal pay for equal work without discrimination; a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of your family including food, housing, medical care and necessary social services; the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness or other circumstances beyond one’s control; special care and assistance for motherhood and childhood; the right to freely share in the scientific advancement and benefits of society.

Human Rights in DSM

In light of everything that has happened in this country, world and community in 2020, do you believe we have achieved these standards here in Greater Des Moines (DSM) and the United States? I believed that answer is resounding no. The coronavirus pandemic has revealed cracks and flaws in our system where despite paying taxes citizens do not have a right to security in the event of unemployment or circumstances beyond one’s control. The unprecedented level of social unrest due to police brutality and concerns of fairness in our criminal justice system demonstrates that there are legitimate concerns about citizens’ right to peacefully assemble and the ability of persons of African and other non-European descents to have a right to a fair trial where the police are not judge, jury and public executioner. The inability of the majority of Americans to access $1,000.00 in the event of a health or familial emergency is a clear sign that we do not have a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of all families.

What You Can Do

Now some of you may be saying “I'm just an everyday working person, what can I do about these challenges?” Well, the fact is that you can fight for human rights from anywhere. From any position you have, you can stand for the socio-economic advancement of all persons in your community. Businesses and business persons, more than anyone in the United States of America, are the gatekeepers to justice in a society where the dollar is king. Take Atlanta, Georgia for instance. During the Civil Rights Movement, while protests and demonstrations took place in many places around the South and the rest of the country, Atlanta remained largely unscathed by riots or demonstrations that led to ugly clashes. Why? In part because of the efforts of the then yet-to-be international business phenomenon, Coca-Cola and its president, Robert Woodruff, who encouraged the business community to work with African American leaders and student groups working out agreements on hiring practices and integration. At one point, Coca-Cola even threatened to leave the city if it did not have an integrated celebration of its native son, Martin Luther King Jr., winning the Nobel Prize. Long before they wanted to buy the entire world a Coke, the Coca-Cola Company was striving for inclusion.

Today many businesses have “Black Lives Matters” signs in their windows following the murder of George Floyd and recited platitudes such as "we are in this together" during the coronavirus crisis. But actions and words are two different things. What are you and your organization doing to:

  • hire people of African descent at all levels of the business;
  • provide young, diverse candidates an opportunity to work in your companies, instead of requiring an arbitrary and exorbitant amount of experience that only a select, advantaged few would have;
  • offer internships to young people so they can learn and gain relevant experience to inspire them to give back to their communities;
  • offer a fair wage to your employees to prevent them from needing to work two or three jobs in order to put food on the table and pay for their housing expenses;
  • denounce policies and laws proposed by cities, counties or states that are detrimental to the advancement of community, taking bold stances like Coca-Cola and encouraging politicians in private not to support those positions;
  • ensure that workers can take care of their children and families with adequate employment leave;
  • offer ex-offenders the opportunity to achieve gainful employment or housing to avoid recidivism which leads to an unsafe community for everyone; and
  • design a plan to ensure that your company is a reflection of the community from the executive to entry-level positions (equitable workforce plan)?

The limits of our imagination are the only barriers between us living in an ideal world full of opportunity and human rights, instead of a world full of hunger and injustice. The status quo can no longer exist when we allow ourselves to dream of a better world and take action. We are a diverse nation but many companies and sectors of our society are closed off to certain people for many characteristics that they cannot control. So, on this International Human Rights Day take a moment to reflect on what you can do to ensure that all the people in your circle of influence have the right and opportunity to move up the socio-economic ladder and self-actualize as human beings for the good of all. We should not rush for a return to normalcy when “normal” was not working for a large portion of our society. We do not have to wait for a movement to move us toward the right thing for humanity. The president and politicians do not make the world a better place, we — the people — make the world a better place. We set the standard by which our elected representatives should abide by in a democratic republic. The best way for us to predict a new normal is for us to create it ourselves by working every day from wherever we are in the community to live up to the UDHR standards.

#HumanRightsAnywhere Campaign

For those of you who want to demonstrate how you're fighting for human rights here in DSM, we invite you to participate in our #HumanRightsAnywhere campaign. Download the document, print the paper, take a selfie of what you are doing to fight for human rights both personally and/or professionally, and post it on social media with the hashtag #HumanRightsAnywhere. We may not be able to change the entire world but we can certainly make our corner of the world a nicer place to live by fighting for human rights every day right from where we stand.

Life is not complex, we are complex. Life is simple and the simple thing is the right thing. — Oscar Wilde

Greater Des Moines (DSM) welcomes diverse talent to the region. As one of the fastest growing business communities, inclusion and attracting diverse talent in the workplace is a key strategy of the Greater Des Moines Partnership. Learn more here.

Joshua V. Barr

Joshua V. Barr is an Emmy award-winning, transformational leader from South Carolina with an MBA and law degree. He currently serves as the director of the Des Moines Civil & Human Rights Commission working to advance socio-economic opportunity and just for all persons in Des Moines.