Muslim American Educators Driving Change in the Classroom

Nagla Bedir and Luma Hasan (pictured above), both social studies teachers in New Jersey, co-founded Teaching While Muslim to help address some of the challenges and frustrations they experienced as students growing up as Muslim Americans.

Trying to articulate a complex identity when faced with peers and educators who have a limited understanding of what it means to be Muslim often left Nagla and Luma on the defensive, responding to micro-aggressive questions and bigoted accusations that would not be necessary if school curricula were fully inclusive.

twm-logo.pngNow as educators, they are driving the change to address this lack of inclusion.The Teaching While Muslim site is a space intended to deepen understanding of the complicated identities of Muslims in the United States, including the diverse experiences of Muslim educators. It is also a platform for resources and tools.

Bedir and Hasan took a few minutes to talk about their efforts and where they see their work headed.

>> Read More
>> Support the movement for racial justice in Education

National Human Rights Cities Alliance

The National Human Rights Cities Alliance is working to build a movement to “bring human rights home” to our cities and communities. Working within the US Human Rights Network, they are developing a national conversation about the needs of local human rights defenders and identifying ideas, models and lessons from our movements that can help us build a world where everyone can enjoy dignity and justice. You can learn more about the alliance in their 2017 Report.

This summer, the Steering Committee is planning a gathering of human rights city leaders in Jackson, Mississippi from June 29-July 1. The meeting will focus on bringing more Southern human rights leaders into the national conversation, identifying key lessons from existing human rights cities, and discerning how the human rights city framework can contribute to ongoing struggles over water rights and health.

In addition, participants will explore the ways international law and monitoring mechanisms, such as those in the United Nations and treaty bodies can be a resource for local organizers. This conversation builds upon some of the lessons and resources the alliance has already begun to compile: See Strategies for Improving Local Implementation of Human Rights.

If you would like to attend or learn more, please email: NatHRCitiesAlliance@ushrnetwork.org

>> Learn more about the National Human Rights Cities Alliance

Human Rights as a Tool to Address Climate Change

Professor Rebecca M. Bratspies of CUNY Law School has published a timely new article in the current issue of the University of Miami Law Review, titled The Climate for Human Rights.  Here’s the abstract:

Climate change is the defining challenge of the 21st century.  The United States government is currently ignoring the problem, but wishful thinking alone will not keep global mean temperature rise below 2ºC. This Article proposes a way forward. It advises environmental decision-makers to use human rights norms to guide them as they make decisions under United States law. By reframing their discretion through a human rights lens, decision-makers can use their existing authority to respond to the super-wicked problem of climate change.

>> Read full article

March for Our Lives and Human Rights

Everyone has the right to be safe and secure, and live without fear. But in the U.S., gun violence is an epidemic that directly threatens these human rights. Whether you’re walking down the street, in a school or at church no place is truly safe. In fact, 30,000 people are killed with guns each year in the U.S. and 80% of all gun deaths in the world take place in the U.S. (Amnesty International)

According to International Law, the U.S. government has clear and urgent obligations to protect the people living in this country from gun violence. But the U.S. has a patchwork of inconsistent and inadequate federal and state gun control laws and has failed to take all measures necessary to prevent gun violence as evidenced by the most recent shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida where 17 students were killed.

The lack of legislative action to reduce this man-made epidemic continues to hold our country at gunpoint and prevent us from exercising our human rights. Of course, a key challenge is how to enforce these human rights obligations and that’s where activism ,  like the above youth-led initiatives,  play a critical role. We the people must demand that our elected officials respect, protect and fulfill our human rights — including those of people most impacted by gun violence: youth, women and people of color.

On March 24, the kids and families of March For Our Lives and communities across the nation will take to the streets to demand that their lives and safety become a priority and that we end gun violence and mass shootings in our schools today.

On April 20, a second nationwide school walkout has been planned, which marks 19 years since two teens killed 13 people at Columbine High School in Colorado. Started by a Connecticut student who lives within 30 minutes of Sandy Hook Elementary School. Like the previous walkout, at 10 a.m. students will gather outside, where 17 minutes of silence will honor the victims in Florida.

Stoneman Douglas survivors have also spearheaded initiatives that do not require walking out of school, such as their Vote For Our Lives campaign and #NeverAgain: Pick Up a Pen, which asks students, teachers and concerned citizens to write to lawmakers.

Planning to be part of the national actions on gun violence?  Check out these resources for teachers and students.

800,000 Reasons to Teach About DACA

HRE USA is happy to release the 6th edition of the Human Rights Here and Now Bulletin, “800,000 Good Reasons to Teach About DACA: A Toolkit for Educators.”

Since 2012, nearly 800,000 undocumented young people who came to the USA as children have been allowed to go to school, work, or serve in the military without fear of deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. On September 5, 2017, President Trump rescinded the program and gave Congress six months to determine the fate of DACA recipients. “The deportation clock is ticking on hundreds of thousands of young people who know no other country,” said Sen. Richard Durbin of Illinois. Work permits begin to expire on March 5, 2018, and all protections under the program will be stripped away on a rolling basis over the next 2 1/2 years.

Who are these so-called “dreamers”? Why do some people feel they should be expelled from the United States? Why do others agree with Human Rights Watch that Trump’s repeal of DACA will expose hundreds of thousands of people to deportation by a cruel and unjust immigration system? This DACA toolkit offers educators resources for addressing this important and controversial human rights issue that faces schools and communities across the country.

>> Download free resource

Extreme Poverty in America

The United States, one of the world’s richest nations and the “land of opportunity”, is fast becoming a champion of inequality, according to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, an Australian academic and law professor at New York University.  Furthermore, extreme poverty, Alston warned, will be made far worse by policies being proposed by the Trump Administration.

The United Nations monitor made these statements in a devastating report following a 15-day fact-finding mission to California, Alabama, Georgia, Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C. and West Virginia where he spoke to low-income families as well as governmental officials. He will produce a final report next May and that in turn will go before the UN human rights council.

poverty in us2“I have seen and heard a lot over the past two weeks. I met with many people barely surviving on Skid Row in Los Angeles, I witnessed a San Francisco police officer telling a group of homeless people to move on but having no answer when asked where they could move to, I heard how thousands of poor people get minor infraction notices which seem to be intentionally designed to quickly explode into unpayable debt, incarceration, and the replenishment of municipal coffers, I saw sewage-filled yards in states where governments don’t consider sanitation facilities to be their responsibility, I saw people who had lost all of their teeth because adult dental care is not covered by the vast majority of programs available to the very poor, I heard about soaring death rates and family and community destruction wrought by opioids, and I met with people in Puerto Rico living next to a mountain of completely unprotected coal ash which rains down upon them, bringing illness, disability and death.”

“The American Dream is rapidly becoming the American Illusion, as the United States now has the lowest rate of social mobility of any of the rich countries,” said the independent human rights expert appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to look at poverty and human rights in countries around the world.

“American exceptionalism was a constant theme in my conversations.  But instead of realizing its founders’ admirable commitments, today’s United States has proved itself to be exceptional in far more problematic ways that are shockingly at odds with its immense wealth and its founding commitment to human rights.

“There is no other developed country where so many voters are disenfranchised and where so few poor voters even care to go to the polls, and where ordinary voters ultimately have so little impact on political outcomes. There are no other developed countries in which so many citizens are behind bars.”

The Special Rapporteur continued: “I have been struck by the extent to which caricatured narratives about the purported innate differences between rich and poor have been sold to the electorate by some politicians and media, and have been allowed to define the debate. The rich are industrious, entrepreneurial, patriotic and the drivers of economic success. The poor are wasters, losers and scammers.

“Despite the fact that this is contradicted by the facts, some of the politicians and political appointees with whom I spoke were completely sold on the narrative of such scammers sitting on comfortable sofas, watching colour TVs, while surfing on their smartphones, all paid for by welfare.

“I wonder how many of these politicians have ever visited poor areas, let alone spoken to those who dwell there.”

The most recent official statistics from the US Census Bureau in September 2017 indicated that more than 40 million people – more than one in eight Americans – were living in poverty. Almost half of those, 18.5 million, were living in deep poverty, with reported family income below half of the poverty threshold.

Mr. Alston said the poor were assumed to come from ethnic minority groups, but noted that in reality there were eight million more white people than African-Americans living in poverty. “The face of poverty in America is not only black or Hispanic, but also white, Asian and many other colours,” he said.

The Special Rapporteur expressed the fear that proposed changes in the direction of US tax and welfare policies could have devastating consequences for the poorest 20 percent of Americans.

“The proposed tax reform package stakes out America’s bid to become the most unequal society in the world,” Mr. Alston said. “It will greatly increase the already high levels of wealth and income inequality between the richest one percent and the poorest 50 percent of Americans.

“The dramatic cuts in welfare, foreshadowed by President Trump and Speaker Ryan, and already beginning to be implemented by the administration, will essentially shred crucial dimensions of a safety net that is already full of holes.”

“Several administration officials told me that as far as welfare reform is concerned, states are, in Justice Louis D. Brandeis’ famous phrase, ‘laboratories of innovation’. Recent proposals to drug-test welfare recipients in Wisconsin and West Virginia, along with Mississippi’s recent purge of its welfare rolls, raise concerns that the administration would happily look the other way while states conducted what were in essence unethical experiments on the poor.”

Mr. Alston’s final report on his US visit will be available in Spring 2018 and will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in June 2018.

>> Read Full Statement

TEACHING RESOURCE – VIDEOS
Professor Alston has prepared a series of short video clips perfect for stimulating class discussions on poverty, human rights, US exceptionalism, and other topics related to Alston’s official visit to the U.S. in December 2017.  More videos and information isn also available on Alston’s twitter feed, here.  A longer interview with Alston about his visit conducted at the Carnegie Council is here.

Professor Philip AlstonMr. Philip Alston (Australia) took up his functions as the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights in June 2014. As a Special Rapporteur, he is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

Make a Difference During International Holocaust Remembrance Day

The 1948 the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines genocide as “acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national ethnical, racial, or religious group.” Abuses of human rights are endemic in genocide, and indeed, genocidal acts can be viewed as the ultimate form of human rights violations.

As International Holocaust Remembrance Day approaches on January 27, it is a good time to remember the victims of the Holocaust and to reflect on what we can do to bring about a more humane, just, and compassionate world.  Try this lesson, “Strategies for Making a Difference,” from Facing History and Ourselves‘ newly revised edition of Holocaust and Human Behavior, to challenge your students to do just this. Help them think through small steps they can take to bring about positive change in their community.

>>See  lesson by Facing History and Ourselves

For more information on how you can teach about genocide through a human rights context, please visit our HRE USA’s human rights education library for lesson plans, books, films, take action resources, and more.

>>See further HRE USA resources on genocide