Where Human Rights Begin

Promoting Democracy at Home

 Eleanor Roosevelt should be recognized as one of our most revered First Ladies. I admired her more than her husband, The President, and she had an important influence on many of his decisions and the world as a whole.

Although she had already won international respect and admiration in her role as First Lady to the President, her work on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Commission would become her greatest legacy. She was without doubt, the most influential member of the UN’s Commission on Human Rights.

She was neither a scholar nor an expert on international law. Although she often joked that she was out of place among so many academics and jurists, her intellect and compassion were great assets, and proved to be of crucial importance in the composition of a direct and straightforward Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Mrs. Roosevelt considered her position on the Commission to be one of ambassador for the common man and woman: “I used to tell my husband that, if he could make me understand something, it would be clear to all other people in the country, and perhaps that will be my real value on this drafting commission!”

She often told her husband that we must promote democracy at home before other countries. My admiration for her could be best described in her following philosophy:

“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.” Her name came to my mind in watching the many protests around the world and the slowly decaying democracy in our country. It is debatable whether we can put all the pieces together again. It is noticeable that women are becoming more active in politics. Even the subdued women in Egypt in their Muslim garb are rising up against the military government. The protesters in this country are as many females as male.

 I have noticed the increase in letters to the editor from females. Women have a lot of power if united. After Russia had been in Afghanistan for 10 years the women united and drove the government to withdraw their husbands and sons.

Our Founding Fathers didn’t include them in the Constitution, but since Abigail Adams and future women fighting for women’s suffrage and garment workers in the 1800s made them noticed. Women have made a gradual recognition as real people.

More women like Eleanor are needed in government. Her husband received all the credit for the positive achievements, but she was his eyes and ears as he was unable to travel, due to his disability, so she did the traveling and kept him aware of what real people were experiencing.

Living lived through this period I disagree with those taught in Disney Land history that Roosevelt ended the depression while in reality it was Hitler who ended the depression in the 30s.

In my next two blogs I will continue with history you may have forgotten for the reasons given by Howard Zinn in the following quote:

In rethinking our history we are not just looking at the past but at the present, and trying to look at it from the point of view of those who have been left out of the benefits of the so called civilization. It is a simple but profoundly important thing we are trying to accomplish, to look at the world from other points of view. We need to do that, as we come into a century, if we want this coming century to be different, if we want it to be not an American century, or a Western century, or a white century, or a  male century, any nation’s, any group century, but a century for the human race.

This is something young people should be thinking of as you are now in charge.    

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3 responses to “Where Human Rights Begin

  1. I didn’t know that about Mrs. Roosevelt. Just yesterday I read a story in the New York times about a Afghan woman who was raped and sent to prison for it. She had a daughter in prison and they were willing to release her if she married her rapist. “Jailed Afghan Woman Freed but Urged to Marry Rapist”: nyti.ms/sbtLpD
    Eleanor said it perfectly “so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world…Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere.”
    Great article. Judith

  2. Eleanor Roosevelt did not just have opinions, but she took the power she had as first lady and fought for the rights of women, children, workers, and minorities. We are all given some power in our lives, whether we are on the frontline of change or supporting the next generation who will be. With the government busy sneaking behind the backs of the public it is difficult to think we have any power, but it has to begin somewhere. The feeling of helplessness cannot dominate.

  3. Vicki Sue McKinnis

    I express thanks for that excellent, inspiring and article as well as the thoughtful and equally inspiring comments.

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