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

Black Lives Matter Week in D.C.

Attention Educators in the Washington D.C. area!

You are invited you to endorse and participate in the D.C. area Black Lives Matter Week of Action in Schools from February 5-10, 2018 to bring social justice issues into the classroom and empower students of color across the D.C. area.

D.C. Area Educators for Social Justice,  Center for Inspired Teaching, the Washington Teachers’ Union, D.C. area educators, and community members are collaborating on D.C. Area Black Lives Matter Week of Action in Schools. This week of action builds on the momentum of National Black Lives Matter Week of Action in Our Schools campaign taking place in cities across the U.S. to promote a set of local and national demands focused on improving the school experience for students of color.

Each day will explore two to three of the Black Lives Matter movement thirteen guiding principles. In school, teachers across the district will implement Black Lives Matter Week of Action curriculum designed for pre-K through 12th grade classrooms. In the evening, there will be events for educators, students, stakeholders, and community members to actively engage in the movement.

The goal of the Black Lives Matter Week of Action in Schools is to spark an ongoing movement of critical reflection and honest conversations in school communities for people of all ages to engage with critical issues of social justice. It is our duty as educators and community members to civically engage students and build their empathy, collaboration, and agency so they are able to thrive. Students must learn to examine, address, and grapple with issues of racism and discrimination that persist in their lives and communities.

>> Learn More

Human Rights Innovation Fellowship

The Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (UUSC) is inviting applications for its Human Rights Innovation Fellowship on the topic “Resisting Criminalization.” Individuals or non-profit organizations with an innovative project that is relevant to the fellowship’s theme can apply.  In addition, advocacy organizations, academic institutions, research centers, grassroots organizations, and UUSC partners may apply for the fellowship. The fellowship will provide funding up to $25,000.

Application deadline: January 17

The fellowship proposal should address a major challenge facing individuals and/or communities who are criminalized in the  United States. Criminalization refers to policies and practices that stigmatize, scapegoat, and profile whole communities as “criminal” or “terrorist.” UUSC’s primary goals in this campaign are to advance community protection strategies and expanded sanctuary, decriminalize poverty, and advance restorative justice.

>> Learn more and apply

Support HRE for Human Rights Day

HUMAN RIGHTS DAY was yesterday, December 10, the anniversary of the date when the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.

Human rights education is as important today as it has ever been in promoting peace, dignity, freedom, equality and respect for all peoples here at home and around the world. This year, in celebration of human rights day, please consider investing in HRE by donating to HRE USA’s newly established Flowers Fund.

flowers fund with taglineThe Flowers Fund supports innovation and mentorship in human rights education in the United States. Your tax-exempt donation will enable HRE USA to cultivate the next generation of human rights educators by underwriting a variety of creative activities such as internships with member organizations, research, artistic expressions, and collaborative projects among students, teachers, and activists.

The Flowers Fund was created in honor of human rights educator, Nancy Flowers to continue her legacy of innovation and mentorship in human rights education.

>> Donate here

 

Support Innovation in HRE

HRE USA  is excited to announce the creation of the  Flowers Fund.  Established in honor of Nancy Flowers, the fund will be used continue her legacy of innovation and mentorship in human rights education.  Please consider contributing today to help us advocate for and further develop programming that supports human rights education and our ultimate goal of making human rights a reality in each community.

>> Donate Now

John Brown Day Celebration and Anti-Racism Symposium

EVENT DETAILS:
When: Saturday October 14, 2017
Where: Woodstock Union High School  Woodstock, Vermont
Cost: $10-20 sliding-scale registration fee includes breakfast

On 5 May of this year, the Vermont legislature adopted a concurrent resolution “designating October 16, 2017 as John Brown Day in Vermont.” To commemorate the day, the Woodstock Social Justice Initiative is hosting a Brown celebration and anti-racism event in Woodstock, Vermont on the October 14th aimed at empowering community members with the understanding and tools needed to take action against racism. Several renowned experts on Brown, abolitionism and anti-abolitionism in Vermont and New Hampshire will be presenting, as will local educators who will demonstrate how they teach about Brown and other controversial figures.

Continuing education credits will be available.

>> Learn more
>> Register for event

CHILDREN CAN BE HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS, TOO!

By Ellen V. Moore

In 1987, while I was co-director of Amnesty International USA’s Urgent Action Program, I began the monthly AIKids’ Urgent Action Program for youngsters ages 9-14 years old. For decades, our UA Office in Nederland, Colorado sent out casesheets to teachers, parents, scout troops, Sunday Schools, individual young people often about youngsters facing human rights abuses in Africa, South and Central America, in Europe, the United States and the Middle East.

Sometimes a casesheet would lay out details of the arrest of a union activist and his children who were with him at a rally.  Sometimes Amnesty was asking for letters to a government official who, with the stroke of a pen, could ensure the release of a medical rights pediatrician in Pakistan who was being threatened along with her family members, for speaking out at demonstrations about the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights article defining basic medical care as a basic human right.

I shared the AIKids’ Urgent Action with my UA colleagues in London and AI United Kingdom almost immediately began its own effort at youth letter-writing, The Junior Urgent Action.  Shortly, AICanada’s Urgent Action Program Director Marilyn McKim began the LifeSaver geared for students from 4th to ninth grades.  Every year, another AI Section either began using the AIKids’ UAs or the youth casesheets from Canada or the United Kingdom, and throughout Central and Latin America AI Sections began using the Spanish language casesheets produced by a Spanish language teacher in Colorado, Maya Meis.

There has always been debate, in education in general and among Amnesty International human rights educators about when and if to introduce students to human rights issues and especially to human rights abuses worldwide.  As I reviewed copies of children’s letter sent to me over many decades from teachers, parents, scout leaders, and young students themselves, I became convinced that in many, even most, instances young letter writers were profoundly empowered by advocacy letter-writing because “doing something” about human rights appears to have empowered the young writers to “Speak truth to power.”

Hundreds of letters written by children using the AIKids’ Urgent Action casesheets are now part of the AIUSA Archives at Columbia University’s Center for Human Rights Documentation and Research which preserves the papers of a dozen human rights organizations and many dozen individual human rights activists worldwide but especially from the United States.

Though AIUSA no longer produces the monthly AIKids’ Urgent Actions, it is of huge comfort to me that both AI Canada and AI United Kingdom continue their monthly letter-writing programs for students with all this implies about students learning that they need not passively learn of human rights abuses daily on the web and on television or in film but they too can take action to speak out to persons in authority urging a halt to unacceptable government collusion in internationally-condemned behaviors against minorities, women, the elderly, children, ethnic groups and refugees.

As part of the international AI Write for Rights December Celebration of the UDHR, there will be and has always been, a case specially written for young letter-writers.  This casesheet is not only for young writers, but new English speakers, persons in literacy classes, families who want to write together to honor the December 10, 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Celebrate the UDHR in your home or your classroom, your school or church by letter-writing with a youngster.  Better to light a candle, than curse the darkness; “Write a letter, change a life.”

Ellen V. Moore worked at Amnesty International for over 30 years as the Urgent Action Program Coordinator and has also served on the Board of Directors at Amnesty International USA.

Call to Action #StopRepeatingHistory

More than 70 years ago, three cases were heard before the Supreme Court of the United States, challenging the forced removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans.  The Supreme Court majority ruled against the three plaintiffs, Gordon Hirabayashi, Minoru Yasui, and Fred Korematsu,  essentially “rubber-stamping” the military’s bald assertion that the mass round-up was reasonable and necessary. In doing so, the Court abdicated its critical role in safeguarding fundamental freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution.

The children of Gordon Hirabayashi, Minoru Yasui, and Fred Korematsu filed an amicus brief on September 18th in the U.S. Supreme Court opposing Executive Order No. 13780, the Trump administration’s travel ban on nationals from six Muslim-majority nations, pointing to the unjust incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII as an urgent warning against presidential powers run amok.

Human Rights Educators USA is joining the nationwide campaign to #StopRepeatingHistory. We encourage you to add your name to this call to action.

>> Learn more and join the campaign

Build Schools, Not Walls

Thousands of people are planning to take action on May 1st to show communities united against hate and bias and ready to stand up to ensure there are resources and opportunities for all students. Join the efforts and stand in solidarity to make sure that schools are welcoming and supportive of immigrant students and their families.

“In this political climate we see increased absenteeism and anxiety in our immigrant students. There is an out and out fear of what may happen to them. It breaks your heart to see students and parents have difficulties separating in the morning. As you can imagine, students who have to remember to carry the names of adults they should contact if their parents are caught in an ICE raid have difficulty remembering classroom lessons,” explained Trish Gorman, President of the Oakland Education Association (OEA)

TAKE ACTION › Sign the May 1 pledge and tell lawmakers to Build Schools Not Walls. CLICK HERE ›

By Kate Snyder

Source: Educators, students and community leaders rally to Build Schools, Not Walls on May 1