Activism in Action: Human Rights Priorities for 2021
From battling the public health crisis to the necessity of social renewal
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
Thursday January 28, 2021
MCHR Program Address
Note: These remarks were delivered at the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights (MCHR) Founders’ Day event which is held annually. This year the event took place virtually and was viewed by several hundred people on Zoom and Facebook. Speakers at the event were Dr. Gloria Aneb House, co-founder of the Detroit Coalition for Police Transparency and Accountability (DCPTA); Ms. Dorothy Aldridge, Board Member at MCHR and Chair of the Detroit MLK Committee; and Ms. Yvonne Jones, organizer for the Moratorium NOW! Coalition and co-founder of the Detroit Active and Retired Employees Association (DAREA). Atty. Cary McGehee, Chair of the Board of Directors for MCHR, spoke on the history and mission of the organization. Ms. Chantelle S. Yancy, Executive Program Coordinator for MCHR, facilitated the event.
I am deeply humbled and honored to receive this year’s Bishop H. Coleman McGehee Champion of Justice Award from the Michigan Coalition for Human Rights (MCHR).
During the early months of 2005, some 16 years ago, I was asked by Dr. Gloria House, who is a speaker for this event, to join the Board of Directors of MCHR.
Since 2005, I have participated in organizational activities including being a member of the Film Committee, serving as Acting Chair and Chairperson, President, Vice-President and Board Member at-Large. I have enjoyed working with colleagues from a myriad of social, political, cultural and religious backgrounds.
The fact that this organization has been in existence for 41 years is a testament to its mission and viability. We must continue to address the critical issues which have distinguished MCHR for decades.
Remaining Focused During a Public Health Crisis
Today we are facing the worst public health disaster in the United States in more than a century. The influenza pandemic of 1918-1920 resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands in the U.S. and millions around the world.
The early phase of the pandemic in 1918 occurred during the concluding months of World War I. Those within the federal government under the administration of then President Woodrow Wilson deliberately attempted to conceal the scope of the spread of the infectious disease. This was done in order to maintain the focus on the war drive by the Wilson administration.
This period witnessed an escalation in political repression where thousands of people who opposed the war were censured, arrested and some were deported from the U.S. Even after the Armistice Day on November 11, the repression did not end when Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer conducted raids in pursuit of socialists, anarchists, peace activists, labor organizers, etc., saying that the country was under threat of subversion and violent revolution.
We saw striking parallels with developments surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. The former administration of President Donald J. Trump ignored the initial warning of a looming pandemic and refused to impose any mitigation efforts until there was a drastic decline in the stock market and the loss of millions of jobs. Trump, like Wilson, believed that the focus on public health would divert attention away from their administration’s national and international agenda. Wilson contracted influenza at the Paris Peace Talks in early 1919, which was covered up by the media. It has been said that the president was never the same after falling ill in France. Trump also contracted COVID-19 yet downplayed its significance for political reasons. Of course, Trump’s access to early testing, experimental treatments and medications contributed to his short hospital stay at Walter Reed.
Meanwhile, tens of millions of people continued to suffer across the U.S. and around the globe. Even after appointing a White House Coronavirus Task Force and issuing Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines, the administration continued to undermine its own panel of experts, effectively silencing leading scientists such Dr. Anthony Fauci and Ambassador Dr. Deborah Birks.
These developments illustrate the imperatives of universal healthcare for everyone living in the U.S. We must hold the new administration and Congress accountable for ensuring that people have full access to medical treatments including vaccines and effective drugs.
The Heroes’ Act of 2020 should be a top priority for Congress and the administration. People need immediate relief and sustainability in the U.S. Absent of such monumental efforts to renew the public health environment and economy, the U.S. will continue to decline as a society posing a serious danger to its people and the world.
Race Relations and the Attempted Coup of January 6
As many people were elated to leave 2020 behind us, the events in Washington, D.C. at Capitol Hill on January 6 illustrates that the seeds of division and destruction will remain for the unforeseeable future. There are right-wing elements still claiming that the 2020 presidential elections were stolen for the Biden-Harris ticket. Despite the numerous legal challenges to the results being thrown out by courts on the local, state and federal levels, the narrative of the Trump supporters continues.
We must be clear that this attempted coup was based on the most un-democratic, racist, sexist and classist sentiments in existence in the U.S. The events of January 6 were reminiscent of the Wilmington, North Carolina coup against a multi-racial city administration in 1898. What these right-wing, neo-fascist and racist elements wanted was to disenfranchise tens of millions of African Americans, Latin Americans and other people of color along with those who did not want to see another four years of the Trump administration.
Many within the corporate media and both houses of Congress have asked if there was collusion among elected officials, law-enforcement, intelligence agencies and the military in carrying out the attempted coup of January 6. While the debate over the certification of the elections were being held, thousands of the coup makers stormed the House and Senate. It would take several hours for the Capitol to be secured with the deployment of the National Guard.
Even after the violent attacks on the Capitol, nearly 150 Republican Congresspersons and 7 Senators still voted not to certify the elections. These forces within the legislative apparatus were co-conspirators with those who broke into the Capitol. These people need to be expelled from the Congress and barred from holding office. If disciplinary measures against the subverters of the democratic process are not taken it portends much for any future attempts at such undemocratic maneuvers to seize political power.
Now with the composition of the Senate giving a narrow majority to the Democrats in the aftermath of the historic landmark runoff elections in Georgia on January 5, measures must be passed to eliminate barriers to participation in elections across the U.S. on a statewide and federally.
The mass demonstrations of 2020 which erupted in the aftermath of the brutal police and vigilante executions of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, among others, have further exposed to the international community the institutionally racist nature of the U.S. The racist elements within the police will have to be purged in order to begin any attempt at law-enforcement reform.
Moreover, the disproportionate impact of the economic crisis on African Americans and people of color communities must be addressed in the domestic policies of the new administration. These communities are often those who constitute what is considered as “essential workers.” The people who are employed as healthcare workers, transit employees, food service personnel, custodians, factory and service workers, educators, etc., are most at risk for the contraction of the coronavirus. Safeguards related to vaccine access and guaranteed medical treatment are essential in stabilizing the domestic situation in the U.S.
Defeating Militarism and Winning World Peace
MCHR over the years has played an integral role in the antiwar and peace movements in the Metropolitan area. We must continue to demand the elimination imperialist militarism domestically and internationally. The organization intervened successfully in the years-long struggle against the racist apartheid regime in Southern Africa during the 1980s and early 1990s.
The organization has opposed the unjustified wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Haiti. MCHR has upheld the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination and nationhood. All of these struggles will remain relevant in the new period since the Biden-Harris administration has not announced any initiatives related to the reduction of the Pentagon budget and the closing of U.S. military bases abroad. Peoples and governments throughout the world have welcomed the change in administration although they do want to see fundamental changes in Washington’s foreign policy. People in the U.S. also want to see these transformations because the existence of a nearly trillion-dollar annual military budget robs the workers, oppressed and the poor of food, clothing, shelter, environmental quality, education, water and other necessities of life.
We are facing enormous challenges in 2021 due to the public health and economic crises. However, MCHR has continued to meet regularly and operate under the existing constraints. This is attributable to the dedicated leadership and support to the organization over the last year. Let us continue to work towards our objectives in fulfilling our mission.
I want to conclude with a quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. This is taken from an address delivered at Carnegie Hall on February 23, 1968, less than two months before his assassination in Memphis on April 4. Dr. King was speaking at a centennial celebration for the late Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois, the eminent social scientist and advocate for racial justice and world peace.
Dr. King said at this occasion where he served as the keynote speaker that: “In conclusion let me say that Dr. Du Bois’ greatest virtue was his committed empathy with all the oppressed and his divine dissatisfaction with all forms of injustice. Today we are still challenged to be dissatisfied. Let us be dissatisfied until every man can have food and material necessities for his body, culture and education for his mind, freedom and until rat-infested, vermin-filled slums will be a thing of a dark past and every family will have a decent, sanitary house in which to live. Let us be dissatisfied until the empty stomachs of Mississippi are filled and the idle industries of Appalachia are revitalized. Let us be dissatisfied until brotherhood is no longer a meaningless word at the end of a prayer but the first order of business on every legislative agenda. Let us be dissatisfied until our brother of the Third World- Asia, Africa, and Latin America-will no longer be the victim of imperialist exploitation, but will be lifted from the long night of poverty, illiteracy, and disease. Let us be dissatisfied until this pending cosmic elegy will be transformed into a creative psalm of peace and ‘justice will roll down like waters from a mighty stream.’” (http://politicalaffairs.net/martin-luther-king-s-speech-in-honor-of-web-dubois-by-norman-markowitz/)