Last Wednesday, Oct. 3, Loretta Ross, a feminist and human rights activist, presented a powerful and inspiring speech entitled, “Women’s Human Rights and Politics” as part of Juniata’s “Beyond Tolerance” workshops. Ross has transformed from a strict women’s rights activist to a civil rights activist to an advocate of human rights. In the question/answer portion of her talk, Ms. Ross answered questions posed by the Juniata audience.
Q: Why aren’t we taught about human rights?
A: Because it would rock our entire economic system, in which rights are attached to privilege. There’s always a price attached. We can’t fight for human rights if we don’t know what they are. Why is every child taught the Pledge of Allegiance, but not about their human rights? We are embedded in a society that rewards us for being oppressive. We must un-learn oppression by working against it.
Q: Why are there clashes between advocates of different human rights?
A: It’s part of the human condition. For example, people get mad when you threaten their “freedom of speech”, but are we going to live in a world of absolutes or in a world of justice? Does someone have more right to hate than I have the right to be free of that hate? There have to be limits with free speech because no one has the right to cause pain. Our nation is currently unable to distinguish free speech from real justice. If we believe in justice, then we have to act like it. We have to work against human rights violations in a human rights way. It’s not that we should change the work we do, we must change the way we go about doing it.
Q: There seems to be this stereotype that a lot of human rights activists are atheistic. Are there religious people involved in the human rights movement?
A: There are absolutely people of faith involved in the movement. Every religious group has a continuum. There’s a left, right and center to all beliefs. We need to stop simplifying people. There will always be lively debates, but that’s just humanity. We have the free will to make up our minds and human rights activists strive to protect people’s abilities to make up their own minds.
Q: Where do we get involved in the conversation? How can we be advocates of human rights?
A: You can get involved wherever you are. I believe it starts within families though. In my family, we disagree about many things like politics and religion, but we actively work to love each other. I use love to wage disagreements. If my brother says something intolerant and I tell him to stop because he’s being ignorant, he won’t stop, but if I ask him to stop because he’s hurting me by saying those things, he will not say bigoted things in my presence. We must use love as a bridge for difficult conversations.
-Hannah Jeffery ’16, Juniata Online Journalist