Rededicating Ourselves to the Unfinished Task Which Lies Before Us

by Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director, American Civil Liberties Union

On December 9, 1948, Eleanor Roosevelt stood before the United Nations General Assembly in Paris, France, to argue forcefully for the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in reply to Soviet resistance. As chairperson of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, Roosevelt played a pivotal role in the drafting of the document she hoped would become “the international Magna Carta of all men everywhere” after the horrors of the Second World War. Roosevelt’s hard work paid off. At 3 a.m. on December 10, the Declaration was adopted.

During her speech earlier in the night, Roosevelt did something important. She called forth the moral power of America to champion the Declaration and create an international system where basic human rights were respected. “Taken as a whole,” she said, “the Delegation of the United States believes that this is a good document — even a great document — and we propose to give it our full support.”

Nearly seven decades later, American support has crumbled.

Today the United States is governed by an administration that has contempt for the values the Declaration enshrined as the natural rights of humanity. Instead of “freedom, justice, and peace,” President Donald Trump has made fear, injustice, and a systematic retreat on civil rights his administration’s guiding principles. At this very moment on International Human Rights Day, the Trump administration is in gross violation of the Declaration’s human rights standards as well as core American ideals that influenced the document.

Nowhere is this more evident than in President Trump’s refugee restrictions.

According to Article 14 of the Declaration, “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.” The Trump administration, however, has flagrantly ignored this key tenet. Since coming into office, President Trump has taken a hard line against refugee resettlement, overwhelmingly of Muslims, in the United States.

For example, Trump’s first Muslim ban directed the government to stop all refugee entries for 120 days, barred Syrian refugees indefinitely, and cut the number of refugees the U.S. would accept this fiscal year from 110,000 to 50,000. In late June, the Supreme Court let the administration’s 120-day refugee ban go into effect. When it finally ended in October, the administration couldn’t let well enough alone. Instead, it cruelly extended it for citizens from 11 countries, citing national security concerns. Nine of the countries, not surprisingly, are majority Muslim. This move came on top of the Trump administration’s decision in September to cut refugee admissions to less than half — 45,000 people to be precise — of what the Obama administration had proposed for the coming year.

We all know what this means. Men, women, and children, who could be saved, will die.

The Trump administration is also resurrecting the Bush administration’s unlawful program of secret detention without charge or trial. In September, Syrian forces transferred to the U.S. military an American citizen accused of fighting for ISIS. The military has held the man ever since without revealing his identity, charging him with a crime, or giving him access to a lawyer as required by the U.S. Constitution and human rights law. This secret detention implicates multiple protections of the Declaration. The U.S. government is effectively depriving one of its own citizens of fundamental rights, like access to counsel, the right to challenge detention, and “a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal.” As we know all too well, secret and incommunicado detention without access to a court creates conditions in which torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment prohibited by Article 5 of the Declaration can flourish. While there’s no evidence the Trump administration has revived the Bush administration’s torture program, the human rights community must remain vigilant.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump declared that “torture works,” boasted of how he loved waterboarding, and how he would “absolutely authorize something beyond waterboarding.” And just last month, Trump met with Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte, who has been accused of using death squads to murder drug suspects. That doesn’t seem to bother President Trump, who said he has a “great relationship” with Duterte. After a joint appearance in Manila, Trump ignored reporters’ questions about human rights. He has rarely spoken about human rights on any of his international trips.

Eleanor Roosevelt would be ashamed that this is the America Trump presents to the world. She believed the U.S. had a responsibility to be a global force for human freedom and dignity. Instead, the Trump administration is sabotaging the U.S.’s commitment to human rights while giving aid and comfort to authoritarian regimes.

Still, even in these dark times, I believe Eleanor Roosevelt offers an example of how to keep the flame for human rights burning bright in America. During the end of her speech to the U.N. General Assembly in December 1948, she told the delegates that it was essential to “rededicate ourselves to the unfinished task” of living up to the values enshrined in the Declaration. Almost 70 years later, Roosevelt’s torch has passed to us, and I see it everywhere. I saw it at the Women’s March. I saw it in the thousands of people who descended on our nation’s airports to protest the Muslim ban as it went into effect. And I saw it in professional football stadiums and high school gymnasiums across America as people took a knee to protest racial injustice.

Our duty now is to keep that torch lit and make sure that it once again finds a home in the White House.


Anthony D. Romero is the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union, the nation's premier defender of liberty and individual freedom. An attorney with a history of public-interest activism, Romero has presided over the most successful membership growth in the ACLU's history and a large increase in national and affiliate staff. This extraordinary growth has allowed the ACLU to expand its nationwide litigation, lobbying, advocacy, and public education programs. Full bio >>

Human Rights in Today's World

by Randy Newcomb, President and CEO, Humanity United

For the last 10 years, I’ve had the privilege of leading Humanity United (HU), an organization dedicated to bringing people together to address some of humankind’s toughest problems. Over this period, we’ve seen the ways that division and dehumanization contribute to problems like violent conflict and human exploitation around the world. We’ve also witnessed the better nature of humanity when people join together to advance the ideals of dignity and mutual respect.

These ideals were codified by the United Nations on December 10, 1948 in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a cornerstone of the modern human rights movement that proclaimed the inherent dignity and equal and inalienable rights of every human being - regardless of race, color, religion, sex, language, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.

Although our focus at HU has traditionally been global, as a U.S.-based organization with offices in San Francisco and Washington, DC, it is impossible to ignore the challenges to these ideals that have emerged here at home.

The diversity of backgrounds, beliefs, and perspectives in our country – which have for so long been recognized and celebrated as our strength – are now being used to polarize and divide people along political, socioeconomic, religious and racial lines. These divisions have been enabled by a number of factors – a failure to listen, to connect, to tap into basic empathy for our fellow human beings, and yes, a failure of leadership.

And in this place, I’m faced with one thought and one question: First, Humanity United’s mission has never been more relevant. And, second, how I can lead an organization named “Humanity United” to advance human dignity around the world when the principles on which we are founded are being challenged right here at home?

To be sure, political perspectives and ideals are important, and differences can actually help us examine our beliefs and find new solutions. Religious convictions are core to many of our neighbors and should be respected and celebrated. Whether one believes the U.S. is stronger in a globalized world or with a more introspective national focus is important, but in my mind secondary to the question of why we are allowing these different perspectives to replace the values that make us human. In today’s cultural landscape, too often we have chosen to suspend empathy, compassion, and understanding – some of humanity’s greatest strengths. And when we do this, we are missing out on that which makes us most human, our ability to love and connect.

I believe we are at a critical moment, as a people, where we must decide the kind of country we want to be, what values do we hold most dear, and what kind of world we want to live in. If, as Martin Luther King Jr. said, the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice, then I am hopeful that we will emerge from this era of polarization and fear into a new era of optimism.

With renewed purpose, we at Humanity United will continue to support the ability of all of us to be treated justly, both globally and right here at home. We will continue to choose empathy over hate, unity over division, and dignity over disparagement. And as we consider the ideals articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and celebrate its anniversary, I hope others will join us in this stand.


Randy Newcomb is the President and CEO of Humanity United. He leads all aspects of Humanity United’s strategic planning, development, and operations. He works closely with the organization’s founders and Board of Trustees to ensure that HU achieves its long-term mission and strategic objectives. Prior to joining HU, Randy was a Vice President of Omidyar Network, a philanthropic investment firm, where he focused on developing global partnerships and investments across a variety of sectors. Full bio >>

One Year Later, The Resistance Looks Ahead

by Leah Greenberg, Co-Executive Director, Indivisible

After the 2016 election, my husband Ezra and I gathered a group of friends in our living room and asked: what do we do now?

At the time, we were focused on the making it through the first days of the Trump administration. We knew Trump’s worst threats could pose imminent danger on vulnerable communities. We weren’t imagining grand new possibilities for our democracy. We were thinking in days, not years.

We’d worked on Capitol Hill in the early Obama years, and watched in horror as the Tea Party movement rose across the country and reshaped what was politically possible. We disagreed with their ideology and their resorts to violent intimidation, but we thought they had a core strategic insight: local, defensive congressional advocacy worked. And at the end of the day, the success of President Trump’s agenda wouldn’t depend on Trump. It would depend on whether members of Congress chose to go along with it or not.

So we drafted a guide to local congressional advocacy, in which we demystified congress and gave people the practical information they needed to resist effectively, taking control of their home turf. We thought we were writing a casual reference book for our friends to share with their families. We were stunned when the document, the Indivisible Guide, went viral across the country and burgeoned into the Indivisible Movement championed by thousands of local chapters throughout the country.

What we didn’t understand when we wrote the guide was the power of building volunteer communities dedicated to action. Building progressive constituent power in every community in the country, these local Indivisible chapters became the “wild card” in the resistance against the Muslim travel ban, defunding of Planned Parenthood, DACA repeal, Affordable Care Act repeal and the latest tax scam. Through local rallies, town halls and protests infused with passion and creativity, they reshaped the national conversation by playing defense and fighting on issue advocacy in 435 districts. They demonstrated the extraordinary potential of constituent power in American democracy.

As we come up on the one year anniversary of the Resistance movement and of Indivisible, we have an opportunity to look around at the amazing, dedicated new leaders who have emerged across the country and the organizations they have created.  

In Virginia, Indivisible 757 showed up at their Republican congressman’s town halls in force. Then they supported their founder as she put her name on the ballot for state delegate, in a district where Democrats hadn’t even fielded a candidate in years. In Illinois, Indivisible Chicago created a system of phone banks to help alert progressives in red states to take action on health care. They also got engaged in fighting the deeply problematic Interstate Cross-Check voting program, and uncovered game-changing evidence about its security flaws that made national headlines. In California, Indivisible Yolo helped stiffen Senator Feinstein’s spine to resist the Trump agenda with calls and town halls, while also mounting a successful campaign to get an unaccompanied child from Honduras out of a local detention center and into a loving foster home.

Over and over, we’ve seen Indivisible groups build structures designed to act as bulwarks for resisting the Trump agenda at the congressional level, and then use those structures as platforms to support change in their communities and beyond. Now, the task for us is twofold – ensuring these structures are going to last, and turning our advocacy power into electoral power.

Indivisible groups saw their electoral strength at play this November with the sweeping progressive victories nationwide. Over 180 active Indivisible groups in Virginia engaged in this election through phone banking, texting, and canvassing for our delegate targets. They helped flip several seats from red to blue and elect progressive candidates who ran for previously uncontested seats or represent a more inclusive pool of candidates, such as Danica Roem as the state’s first openly transgender lawmaker, Elizabeth Guzman and Hala Ayala the first two Latina delegates, and Kathy Tran the first Asian-American woman delegate.

This year’s victories won by constituent power have proved that grassroots organizing works. And the pivot to electoral work has shown that people who organize to show up at town halls will organize to get out the vote – and they’ll win.

Democracy is not a spectator sport. If you want to see real change, you have to stand up, show up, or even run for office – even, and especially, when the odds are stacked against you. The movement is still in the making – and we can only begin to imagine the things we will do.


Leah Greenberg is Co-Executive Director of the Indivisible Project and co-author of Indivisible: A Practical Guide for Resisting the Trump Agenda. She previously served as Policy Director for the Tom Perriello for Governor of Virginia campaign, managed a public-private partnership on human trafficking, served as an Advisor to the State Department’s Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review, coordinated interagency engagement for the State Department's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, and worked on the Hill for Congressman Tom Perriello.

Let the Sun Shine on Democracy

by Desmond Meade, President, Florida Rights Restoration Coalition

The current grassroots effort to restore the ability to vote to over 1.68 million Floridians grew out of Florida’s failure to remove the remaining elements of Jim Crow policies.

Florida has disfranchised more than 1.68 million Floridians. With the distinction of being the worst state in the country as it pertains to restoring civil rights, Florida requires an individual to wait either five or seven years. In addition, Floridians are burdened with an approximately six-year application processing time that virtually extends the time frame to 11 to 13 years. To make matters worse, during the four years prior to the current administration coming into office, the average amount of individuals whose rights were restored slowly trickled to a measly 48,000. And during Florida Governor Rick Scott’s first year, the number of individuals whose rights were restored numbered a paltry 52. Indeed, it comes as no surprise — though it nevertheless should remain a shock to our conscience — that Florida’s disfranchisement policies remain the harshest and most anti-democratic in the country. The projected progress of Virginia, therefore, calls on us to reflect upon the lack of progress in Florida and why automatic rights restoration should be a paramount priority in our “sunshine” state.

While there are many reasons to support automatic civil rights restoration, I want to focus on two. First, civil rights restoration plays a vital role in ensuring successful re-entry back into society by encouraging formerly incarcerated individuals to become healthy citizens who make positive contributions in our communities; in the process, public safety is also greatly enhanced. But don’t take my word for it. In 2013 Virginia’s own Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli echoed the findings of former Florida Governor Jeb Bush’s Re-Entry Task Force in stating that “about 95 percent of those who go to prison come back out into our communities,” and just like the task force recognized, Cuccinelli agrees that civil rights restoration “benefits society as a whole by potentially reducing recidivism.” Florida Parole Commission’s own study revealed that Florida’s recidivism rate was reduced from 33.1 percent to 11.1 percent among those whose civil rights were restored.

Second, automatic civil rights restoration reflects the spiritual basis of redemption and forgiveness, which we should strive to preserve at the core of our humanity and society. Too often our policies are misinformed by knee-jerk condemnations of and callousness toward individuals with prior felony convictions, without considering that individuals — after making mistakes and serving their sentence — can change for the better. The reluctance or inability to adequately factor redemption and forgiveness into policies has unfortunately led to grossly disproportionate punishments by unfairly conferring upon formerly incarcerated individuals a permanent criminal status, a form of stigmatization that degrades not only such individuals but also the communities in which they live and our nation as a whole. Consider for a moment that, in Florida, almost 70 percent of incarcerated individuals were convicted for nonviolent offenses. Consider that, in Florida, our government routinely strips away rights even for offenses such as driving with a suspended license, disturbing the nest eggs of turtles, burning a tire in public, catching a lobster whose tail is too short, and most recently, for releasing heart-shaped helium filled balloons in an attempt to show affection for a loved one.

As a Christian I am reminded of when Jesus was on the cross and the thief asked for forgiveness. Jesus Christ did not tell the thief that he had to wait five or seven years before being able to enter heaven. Jesus Christ said, “This day! you shall enter heaven.” As Christians, we did not have to wait a probationary period before being forgiven. How then can we justify making an American citizen who made a mistake, and serve their time, wait more than a decade before being allowed an opportunity to have the right to vote restored, or a fair opportunity to provide for their family? How can we expect forgiveness for our sins if we are not willing to forgive others? Like former Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell, I too believe that when someone commits a crime they must be punished, but, echoing his expressed sentiments, I also believe that those who have completed the sentence for their crimes “deserve a second chance to fully rejoin society and exercise their civil and constitutional rights.”

The right of an American citizen to exercise arguably the most critical expression of citizenship should not be denied. Nor should the decision on whether an American citizen regains the rights to vote be left in the hands of a select few politicians whose decisions are often arbitrary and motivated by partisan politics and corporate interests. Over a century ago, the Framers of Florida’s Constitution drew a conceptual line in defense of individual rights, saying to arbitrary and autocratic power that, from whatever official quarter it may advance to invade vital rights of American Citizens, “thus far shalt thou come, but no further.” Traylor v. State, 596 So. 2d 957 (Fla. 1992).

Today, the time to draw a definitive line in Florida has come. Automatic rights restoration enhances our public safety, affirms our humanity, and promotes democracy. Standing by disfranchisement, standing on the sidelines, ignoring cries for democracy, and delaying restoration of rights will only serve to further entrench injustice. Instead, let’s stand together on the side of justice and make sure that when the sun shines in Florida it beams democracy on all its citizens.

Follow me on Twitter @DesmondMeade


Desmond Meade is a formerly homeless returning citizen who overcame many obstacles to eventually become the current State Director for Florida Live Free Campaign, President of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC), Chair of Floridians for a Fair Democracy, Chair of the Florida Coalition on Black Civic Participation’s Black Men’s Roundtable, and a graduate of Florida International University College of Law. Full bio >>

The Case for Community

by Leah Hunt-Hendrix, Co-Founder and Executive Director, Solidaire

When we think of “human rights” we often think about the rights of an individual, up against a community, a government, or a corporation who might seek to violate those rights. These rights are something we say we deserve, simply because we are human. But to truly address our individual rights we need to also think about the health of our communities.
Over the past five years, I have spent my time raising awareness and resources for organizations that are trying to transform the fabric of society.  When Alexis de Tocqueville traveled around the US in the 1830s he commented on the thick webs of communities and civic organizations. But today, as Robert Putnam notes in Bowling Alone, our society has become increasingly fragmented. We are more and more characterized by an individualism that leaves each of us to fend for ourselves. Our country is increasingly polarized. It’s hard to imagine an America more divided than we are in this moment.
The task today is to reconstitute a sense of the common good. But to do so, we must examine the structures that hold injustice in place, and think about communities as the site of power to challenge those structures. Community is the space in which we create agreements, laws, and consequences; it is the space in which we can take collective action to shift policies and norms. Individual flourishing and community flourishing are bound together, inextricably interwoven.
At this current juncture, I believe restoring a sense of community or the common good will require at least three things: First, we have to fight for greater economic equality. Ganesh Sitaraman writes in The Crisis of the Middle Class Constitution that the founders of our republic believed that we would be a country of relative equality. They didn’t need to address class warfare in the constitution because they assumed that we wouldn’t have starkly opposed classes, as existed in the old world. But today, the contrast is astounding. The top one percent controls 38% of the nation’s wealth. While some have billions, others are working three minimum wage jobs to get by. In this context, Nick Hanauer worries that “the pitchforks are coming.” We are at risk of social collapse under the weight of this inequality and we must take significant action if we are to avert this crisis.
Second, an “all boats rise” strategy is not enough. We know that systemic racism pervades our society and it must be dealt with directly. In Dog Whistle Politics, Ian Haney Lopez shows how racism is used as a wedge, to divide those with shared interests. Seizing on the tendency towards white supremacy, the ruling class has sown antagonism between low income people in a way that has allowed those in power to roll back regulations on corporations, cut the tax rate, and allow for an unprecedented state of corporate control. Lopez argues that we will not be able to truly address today’s inequality without addressing the role of racism. We have to tackle our prejudice head on, understanding the fears that might motivate it, but unwilling to allow those fears to prevail.
Finally, to address these first two structural problems, we need empowered communities. There is a tendency, at least in philanthropy, to try to solve problems through technocratic solutions. But most of the issues regarding the abuse of human rights involve unjust power differentials. Whether it’s sexual assault and harassment, or rights to privacy, or economic rights, we will not rectify inequities without organized constituencies that are demanding change. As the saying goes, power does not give itself up willingly. “Inside-the-beltway” strategies, which focus solely on policy or high-level diplomacy, will fail unless there is sufficient community-based power holding decision makers accountable. To truly change oppressive structures, we need to build mass movements with a vision of a more just society for all. 
It is a sad and scary moment in our history. Threats abound: from climate change, to political upheaval, to our fragile economy. The only way through this is together.  


Leah Hunt-Hendrix is the co-founder and Executive Director of Solidaire, a donor community dedicated to funding progressive social movements. She has her PhD from Princeton University, where she studied political theory and philosophy, and wrote a dissertation on the concept of solidarity. The focus of her work is on progressive political power, economic justice and racial justice. She is from New York, and has lived around the world, including in Egypt, Syria, and the West Bank. She currently lives in San Francisco.