Today is International Human Rights Day. This year celebrates the 50th anniversary of the two primary international treaties, that together with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), make up the International Bill of Human Rights. The theme of this milestone anniversary is “Our Rights. Our Freedoms. Always.” To make human rights meaningful, we have to recognize what they are: a set of principles and demands that outline the basic needs and freedoms we are entitled to just because we are human beings. To make our struggles to protect and uphold these rights effective, we also have to make demands at home, in our country, in our state, and in our local communities. And we have to do this work in a coordinated, strategic and holistic framework that understands the sources of power and oppression that continue to violate these rights and thus rob us of our most basic rights and freedoms.
Here in Georgia we face many of the same human rights violations people recognize as happening in so-called third world countries: the right to health, to education, to food, to shelter, to move/immigrate, to seek asylum, to religious freedom, to protest, to life, and to unionize, to name only a few. And to make our demands to respect, protect, and fulfill these rights (at the most basic level) more effective, we have to show how those human rights are connected and how the forces of oppression work together–we call that an intersectional approach. This approach or framework further illuminates the workings of power and inequality and directly confronts them, which human rights unto itself does not do. But together, they offer a powerful framework for radical holistic transformation, one that OHRD is pioneering as an intersectional human rights framework.
In Georgia, for example, our right to an education, which is a fundamental right upheld by the UDHR and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) is under attack. And to be clear, it has always been under assault, but the threat is different this time. Instead of outright racial discrimination being the tool, this assault is being waged through privatization. Privatization is a specific tool of neoliberal capitalism, which takes public wealth and resources and puts them in the hands/control of the elite and those in positions of power (political, economic, racial and gender-based power). In November 2016, Georgia voters will face a referendum to change the Georgia Constitution to give the governor and his chosen appointees the right to takeover so-called failing public schools. See our past blog posts here and here on this referendum. The initial targets are poor and working-poor black communities -throughout the state but highly concentrated on Atlanta Metro-Area school districts. That’s a clear anti-black strategy for getting the referendum passed and then expanding to include the very same people who voted for it. Neoliberal capitalism spares no one; everyone and everything can be turned into a commodity in order to turn a profit.
But we know that schools, particularly public schools, are the heart of communities and the source of middle-class jobs, which are often-times unionized jobs for teachers, bus drivers, and other employees. Also the majority of school-related employees are women and so the impact to workers will affect primarily women and in this case, based on the racial breakdown of the communities in which the targeted schools are located, working-class Black and brown women. We also know that the quality of the housing market is directly related to the quality of the schools, as a large percentage of property taxes collected go towards funding education. Further, the price of housing is related to the racial make-up of a neighborhood, e.g., the more Black people, the less valuable the housing, the lower the tax base and thus fewer dollars available to those schools.
So, when we think about and talk about the fight for quality, equitable, and democratic education, we have to include all of the issues mentioned above: housing, racial justice, gender justice, workers’ rights, children’s rights, economic justice, and certainly, issues related to disability justice and LGBTQ rights as those students (along with Black and brown kids) also suffer more in a hyper-policed school system.
The assault on public resources in Georgia is not isolated to education. Rather, this latest attack on public education constitutes a broader strategic and coordinated effort where governments–which are supposed to be representations of the people’s voice and wealth–cede responsibility and resources to private operators and individuals, touting the benefits of the free market approach. So again, when we talk about these issues we are talking about issues of state violence, which operates through other means besides incarcerated and hyper-visible dead or mutilated black and brown bodies. While it’s important that we fight against how agents of the state (police, correctional officers, judges, state’s attorneys and prosecutors, or off-duty officers cum private security guards) enact brutal forms of violence against marginalized peoples, we must see those acts as one piece in a bigger, more sophisticated plan of domination.
In 2007, the Atlanta Housing Authority announced a plan to demolish a dozen public housing developments. Atlanta—home of the first public housing development in 1936—became the first major city to eliminate all of its large housing projects. The goal was to privatize this public land in the interests of developers and their gentrification plans. Dismantling public housing also led to shuttering some neighborhood schools as many of the families had to move out of the city and to the outer suburban rings where housing is cheaper.
In 2008, the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce completed its campaign to privatize Grady Memorial Hospital, the largest public hospital in the Southeast. This resulted in the transference of operating assets valued at over $1.5 billion to the control of the new private, non-profit board of directors.
On November 5, 2015, the MARTA board unanimously voted to approve a $64.9 million dollar contract to MV Transportation to take over the paratransit service, MARTA Mobility, that serves the disability community. This decision was made despite repeated attempts by disability rights organizations and the Amalgamated Transit Union to come up with solutions to improve the quality of the service. Privatization in transit leads to a worsening of service to the community and a reduction in the standard of living for workers who provide the service. This latest decision at MARTA is part of a pattern we continue to witness across the public sector. Drive a system or institution into crisis, deny it the resources it needs which sets the stage for total privatization as the solution.
Educational attainment is a pretty accurate indicator of future prospects, so without a democratic, equitable education system, which we believe is only possible through a publicly controlled system, our fight for all of these interrelated issues become that much harder to win. But we can win. To do so we need social justice movements that are radically democratic and led by those most affected by the issues. We need movements that project a creative radically transformative vision of not only what we are against but also the kind of beloved community we want to bring to life. The human rights framework is useful here as its language can provide the basic building blocks for this beloved community while intersectionality serves as the mortar, or the connective glue, that holds these bricks together in service of the most equitable, just and democratic future possible.
So, on this International Human Rights Day, familiarize yourself with the International Bill of Rights, and the basic rights and freedoms it outlines. Also familiarize yourself with the mission and work of OHRD. Make a commitment to organize within an intersectional human rights framework to connect our issues. Commit to not only envisioning the future we want, but to actively work together, with the people most directly impacted by the issues leading the way towards that new future.