Letter Home: Human Rights Launch Highlights from New York City

We will have to deal with more intellectual ambiguity, emotional challenges and, sometimes, moral dilemmas, but we feel safe and confident in this supportive and collaborative IHP learning community.

Dear friends and family,

We had an incredible start to our IHP journey in New York City! Despite the cold and Snowmaggedon—which wasn’t really worth the hype to be honest—we warmed our hearts with the fires of social justice and new friendship. Coming from across the US and the world, we bonded over a shared interest in human rights and cross-cultural understanding. In the New York launch, we explored domestic human rights issues and built community within our group.

On the second day, we entered our New York classroom: the Audre Lorde Project, a queer social justice organization. Safe from the chill of the bustling city, we circled up and shared our personal experiences with human rights issues in an unexpected moment of complete honesty. We immediately felt the trust and openness in this space and recognized that we would learn as much from each other as from our teachers—if not more.

We visited a live taping of Democracy Now!, an independent media platform promoting awareness of injustice and human rights abuses. Amy Goodman’s headlining story about Guantanamo Diary, the first publishable memoir of a prisoner at Guantanamo Bay, made us reflect on the inappropriate use of state power against individual rights in the name of national security and critically examine the reality of human rights abuses in the United States.

Our visits to local grassroots organizations made human rights struggles come to life. On a chilly and windy day, we took an early morning train to the Bronx to visit the Bronx Housing Court, the busiest housing court in the United States. When we arrived, there was already a long line of people waiting outside the court in the freezing wind, hoping to get their cases settled. We witnessed eviction trials and, more generally, the unequal power struggle between tenants and landlords. Afterwards we went to CASA, a housing rights organization to learn about the causes for the conflicts between tenants and landlord and the social consequences of real estate development in New York City. We talked about the possibility of a moral economy within a capitalist framework. Many of us realized our conceptualization of human rights—freedoms from an oppressive state—failed to include something we often take for granted everyday: the right to a home.

We looked at how we remember human tragedies by visiting the 9/11 Memorial Museum. Combining our own experiences of 9/11 with the archival footage, art, and artifacts of the museum, we discussed how we honor loss and whose lives “matter.” One prominent display in the museum features a wall of watercolor tiles, all different shades of blue. The artist wanted to represent the blue of the sky on 9/11—one sky, yet an infinite number of seeing it. In the same way, our own IHP journey will take on just as many colors, forms, and perspectives; even in the sadness, there is this beauty.

The launch in NYC was a truly eye-opening experience. Whether meeting with local New York City Council Officials advocating for social justice in the city boroughs or listening to international human rights lawyers trying to make the US accountable for its torture practices, we dove right into the fight for human rights and started cultivating hope for change as well. And to think, it was the just the first two weeks! We’re looking forward to our trip to Nepal, Jordan and Chile to further our understanding of human rights in different cultural contexts within the larger framework of capitalism and globalization. We will have to deal with more intellectual ambiguity, emotional challenges and, sometimes, moral dilemmas, but we feel safe and confident in this supportive and collaborative IHP learning community. We’re up to the challenge and ready to “unlearn”—as our lovely professor, Clelia, would say. Special thanks to Lucas Shapiro and Chris Wescott for sending us off in style! Here we go!

Warmly,

IHP Human Rights Spring 2015

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