Take action here, in the birthplace of universal human rights

Published Thursday, December 7, 2017

Three years ago, when I was 14 years old, I read the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), a foundational text of the United Nations and the most widely adopted legal human rights document worldwide, for the first time. In a world fraught with inequality, the declaration’s statement that, regardless of sex, gender, race, religion, age, or any other designation, all people are deserving of a certain set of rights seemed as revolutionary as it did over 60 years ago, when the document was written. The sweeping universality of the UDHR not only brought me a sense of connection to all 7 billion people on Earth, it also affirmed the responsibility I feel, as someone who finds most of her rights upheld, to those whose rights are violated. Whether you are my neighbor or someone who lives on the other side of the globe, I believe that we all are equally deserving of the rights outlined in the Universal Declaration.

That first introduction to the UDHR sparked my subsequent work as an activist and organizer with the United Nations Association of the Mid-Hudson Valley. My passion for human rights has helped to define me as a person and student in my communities at home and school.

Last year, this work included facilitating a public discussion for “Human Rights in Action,” a Hudson Valley celebration of International Human Rights Day, which commemorates the anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. As the Hudson Valley’s own Eleanor Roosevelt spearheaded the writing and adoption of the Universal Declaration, the annual event was co-hosted by the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum, the Eleanor Roosevelt Center at Val-Kill, the United Nations Association of the Mid-Hudson Valley, and the Dutchess County Human Rights Commission. The 155 participants – students, teachers, community members, and local government officials – heard from speakers, including Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro and author David Roosevelt, grandson of Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, and took part in breakout discussions co-facilitated by interns of the United Nations Association of the Mid-Hudson Valley, like me, and mediators from the Mediation Center of Dutchess County. These discussions had a local focus, on four topics related to human rights: educational justice and parity, police and community relations, immigration and refugees, and jobs and the economy. Recently, a letter outlining the participants’ concerns and suggestions about upholding human rights in the Mid-Hudson Valley was sent to 30 elected officials and community leaders.

On Friday, Dec. 8, 2017, these four organizations once again will host an annual Hudson Valley International Human Rights Day celebration at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library. This interactive event will focus on the comprehensive theme of women’s rights as human rights, taking inspiration from the words of Eleanor Roosevelt: “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 … Without concerted citizen action to uphold [human rights] close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”

 Everyone is invited, and admission is free. I hope that you will join us on Dec. 8 for this celebration of an international movement that had its beginnings with Eleanor Roosevelt right here in the Hudson Valley.

Sophie Poux is a graduate of Oakwood Friends School in Poughkeepsie and a freshman at Smith College in Northampton, Mass.