Published on

Judith Blau

I feel we need to coin a phrase. '' might serve the purpose, because just as MoveOn.Org incorporates Americans into the national political process, the new city movement incorporates Americans into related grassroots processes that fundamentally transform their cities.

It is a city movement because the main tool that Americans have discovered for effective change is the City Ordinance, and four have been central: Nondiscrimination, Human Rights, Fair Trade, and Anti-Sweatshop Ordinances. These are not as distinct as they might appear since each draws from a human rights framework.

Take San Francisco. In 1998, responding to a broad based coalition of groups, the City of San Francisco passed an Ordinance to adopt into law, the International Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). (Do note that the US is not a state-party to CEDAW.) Much credit for relentlessly campaigning in San Francisco goes to the Women's Institute for Leadership Development for Human Rights (WILD). WILD is now pursuing other human rights objectives for San Francisco: universal health care, minimum standards for the protection of prisoners, affordable housing, and standards for employment.

Take Austin, Covington (KY), East Baton Rouge, Fort Worth, Ithaca, New Orleans, and Peoria. All have recently passed legislation that prohibits discrimination based on sexual orientation, just a tiny number of cities that already have, according to Human Rights Campaign.

Take New York City. Energized by the success of the 2002 statewide anti-sweatshop campaign for legislation that ensures ethical procurement practices, an amazingly ambitious coalition emerged in New York City: the New York City Human Rights Initiative (NYCHRI) Formed in 2002, NYCHRI is a coalition of 90 groups, including such heavy weights as ACLU and Amnesty International, as well as smaller community based organizations. NYCHRI's position is that New Yorkers should be protected by international human rights laws, and is campaigning for the city to adopt provisions from international treaties, much the same way that WILD is in San Francisco.

Take Eugene, Oregon. On the verge of becoming a Human Rights City, the objective will be to filter city programs through international human rights laws. Already in North America Edmonton has declared itself to be a Human Rights City, and is affiliated with the international network of human rights cities, Peoples' Decade for Human Rights Education (PDHRE). Edmonton has committed itself to closing gaps in access to healthcare, employment, social services, and housing, to ending cycles of discrimination, and to ensuring an inclusive, pluralistic community. PDHRE, headquartered in New York City, provides resources for Human Rights Cities around the world.

Take Media (PA) and Mountain View (CA), cities that have each passed a Fair Trade Resolution: , which means in practice that the towns serve only Fair Trade coffee and tea at receptions and social gatherings, and that nonprofit organizations and private enterprises commit to work to ensure these commitments.

Take Amherst, Boston, Chicago, Brattleboro (VT), Los Angeles, Portsmouth, Seattle, Las Vegas, New York City, San Diego, San Francisco, San Luis Obispo, and Washington, DC., among other cities with Fair Trade Coalitions: They conduct educational campaigns, both with merchants and consumers, and lobby city agencies to adopt fair-trade procurement practices.

It seems evident that the federal government is not providing the moral leadership on any of these issues. That's because human rights generally are a thorny topic in Washington. As Kenneth Roth, Director of Human Rights Watch, clarifies, the US, through legal obfuscation, exempts itself from all international human rights treaties. Let us imagine, however, through some amazing transformation of national policy that the US made a complete U-Turn and became a good citizen in the international community and at the same time pledges to Americans that it would uphold human rights treaties, and strive to protect Americans' rights.. In theory this would involve treaties currently in force: 1) Civil and Political Rights; 2) Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; 3) Elimination of Discrimination against Racial Minorities; 4) Elimination of Discrimination against Women; 5) Rights of the Child; 6) Rights of Migrants; and 7) Prohibition of Torture.

Even were the US to make that U-Turn and to make a commitment to uphold human rights, it would not be enough. Human rights need to be embedded in daily practices, social interaction, local norms, local opportunities and upheld in local laws. Its only in communities where people can practice deeper forms of democracy, foster egalitarian values, and uphold norms of mutual respect and solidarity.

If we are lucky the US will make that U-Turn and if we are very, very lucky, MoveOnCities.Org is on the move.

Judith Blau ( writes on human rights, often with Alberto Moncada, is president of Sociologists without Borders , and blogs at>

Our pandemic coverage is free to all. As is all of our reporting.

No paywalls. No advertising. No corporate sponsors. Since the coronavirus pandemic broke out, traffic to the Common Dreams website has gone through the roof— at times overwhelming and crashing our servers. Common Dreams is a news outlet for everyone and that’s why we have never made our readers pay for the news and never will. But if you can, please support our essential reporting today. Without Your Support We Won't Exist.

Please select a donation method:

Share This Article