On June 15 the Fergus Falls City Council heard a joint statement in support of human rights from the Fergus Falls Police Department and the Human Rights Commission. The goal of both organizations was recognition of our shared humanity and basic rights inherent to all.
Including the United Nations in any discussion of human rights will elicit strong responses from many in our community. There are those who believe that any declaration that does not include all aspects of the U.N. Declaration of Human Rights does not go far enough, while others would argue that anything that goes further than the Declaration of Independence goes too far. We can acknowledge both of these arguments without losing sight of our collective belief in human rights.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was written in response to the atrocities leading up to and throughout WWII and was heavily influenced by American values. Eleanor Roosevelt chaired the committee who penned the declaration, and the four freedoms initially articulated by her late husband, Franklin Delano Roosevelt (the freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear), are evident throughout the document.
It could also be argued that the Declaration of Independence was one of the first universal declarations of human rights. Jefferson outlined the unalienable rights not only of Americans but of all humankind granted by our Creator. We can acknowledge our struggle as a nation and as a world to live up to these lofty ideals, but let us not allow arguments surrounding the sanctity of our founding documents or the history of the United Nations to get in the way of us caring for the stranger in our midst.
Maya Angelou said “no one of us can be free until everybody’s free.” The truth is, there are people in Fergus Falls who don’t enjoy the dignities that we as a community can agree to as basic human rights. Let’s start there. Issues may divide us as a nation and a state, but we have a choice as a community to rise above national rhetoric. We cannot let the opportunity to affirm our commitment to shared humanity pass us by. We can only be divided if we allow ourselves to be divided.
It has been said that if one member of our community suffers, we all suffer together. As a community, we need to strive to ensure the values that protect the rights of the most vulnerable are recognized and upheld. Through the work of the Human Rights Commission, we have been afforded the opportunity to grow individually and together. Let us recognize that we cannot solve all problems by talking, but must learn to listen. Let us hear the stories and lived experiences of our neighbors, and let the listening start with me.
Ben Schierer is the mayor of Fergus Falls.