A tribute to Nelson Mandela on Human Rights Day

Nelson Mandela poverty quoteYesterday was Human Rights Day, an annual international celebration of the creation of the United Nations’ adoption and proclamation (on December 10, 1948), of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In Pittsburgh, this day was marked by a rally at which 50 community advocates braved the December cold to call upon the city to live up to its promise to be a Human Rights City. Just Harvest Executive Director Ken Regal was among several speakers at the event. His remarks follow:

In 2006, Nelson Mandela spoke these words at an Amnesty International Conference:

Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is people who have made poverty and tolerated poverty, and it is people who will overcome it.
Overcoming poverty is not a gesture of charity. It is an act of justice. It is the protection of fundamental human rights. Everyone everywhere has the right to live with dignity, free from fear and oppression, free from hunger and thirst, and free to express themselves and associate at will.

Yet in this new century millions of people remain imprisoned, enslaved and in chains. Massive poverty and inequality are terrible scourges of our times – times in which the world also boasts breathtaking advances in science, technology, industry and wealth accumulation.

While poverty persists, there is no true freedom.

People living in poverty have the least access to power to shape policies – to shape their future. But they have the right to a voice. They must not be made to sit in silence as “development” happens around them, at their expense. True development is impossible without the participation of those concerned.”

In Pittsburgh in 2013 and 2014 and beyond, the task for us is to recognize that these words are not only moral truths, but practical politics as well.

If we try to develop our city without the participation of all concerned, we will fail.

If our poor neighbors are denied access to power to shape policies, our community will fail.

But if our goal is build a city in which fundamental human rights are respected and universal, we will have justice and we will succeed.

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