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Thursday, December 15, 2011

Human Rights Asserted 

All photos courtesy of Scenes from my Lunch Hour

This past Saturday was International Human Rights Day. Durham marked the occasion with a march organized by the “Historic Thousands on Jones Street,” an umbrella community organization that assembled a variety of traditional and newer groups to raise their voices on behalf of the 99%.

All photos courtesy of Scenes from my Lunch Hour

The marchers met at the CCB/People’s Plaza, home of the bull statue downtown. The very dichotomy of the name spoke to the protesters cries and the omnipresence of the debate.

Is the area around the bull, in an Occupy inspired renaming, the People’s plaza? Or is it named after a bank, the CCB plaza? The dominant paradigm inveighed a long time ago. The Occupiers implicitly weighed-in on that issue, too, with flyers referring to meetings and meet-ups at the People's Plaza. The physical terrain represented the meta-debate: Corporations vs. Government vs. the People.

Marchers chanted, “How do we stop the deficit? Stop the wars and tax the rich!” as they walked down Main Street to First Presbyterian Church. There the marchers broke into small groups to talk about issues within the specific framework of human rights. Group leaders facilitated a discussion about how human rights issues have implications that are global, regional and local.

The topics broached ranged from jobs and transportation, to voter registration and schools. The groups represented mirrored the array of themes. The head of the Durham, NAACP, Fred Foster was in attendance, vociferously spreading the message, “Social justice begins with the word ‘We’.” There were also folks from “Occupy Durham,” “The Durham Local People’s Assembly,” as well as the “Mental Health Workers Campaign,” the “Durham Coalition for Urban Justice” and “Health Care for all of NC,” among others.

The questions and challenges raised were as myriad the groups. The underlying feeling across the board was that now is the time. “If you don’t act, you will be acted upon,” was a common thread woven through the conversations. The turnout was not large, just over 100 by our estimates, but the enthusiasm was intense. It was mirrored by the public, numerous cars honked and waved in support as they drove by the march.

Speakers and citizens merged without hierarchy. The spirit of collaboration was evident. Many in attendance contrasted it with the bureaucratic instinct to suppress dissent. Attendees raised multifarious examples of tacit and active government suppression. They ranged from suppression of the right to freely assemble, one protester had been arrested peacefully sitting in her chair in a public park in Raleigh the week previous, to impediments placed in the way of the right to exercise one’s vote1, to arbitrary limits on public comment at public hearings, School Board meetings and similar nodes of interaction between the public and their sometimes elected, sometimes selected representatives.2

The government, of course, was only one of the villains protesters raised their voices against. The other common ogre was big corporations. Numerous members of the assembly expressed frustration with a frequent Clarion Content theme: the absurdity of corporate personhood, a fiction that allows faceless entities to fiat onomatopoeia their existence onto the human playing field.

The all-encompassing irony of the complexity and pervasiveness of the systemic issues in play was made clear by one organizer, who under his breath wistfully sighed, that many if not all of these signs were made possible by, “adhesive tape, brought to you by 3M and their friends.”

All photos courtesy of Scenes from my Lunch Hour

All photos courtesy of Scenes from my Lunch Hour

1The Reverend Curtis Gatewood spoke passionately and eloquently about this topic.

2The Clarion Content noticed this very phenomenon when we attended the Durham Cultural Forum and board members spoke for so long that after four or five public comments the facilities people were flashing the lights to empty the auditorium.

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I'm sure the tape & posterboard used for the event were made by workers. 3M isn't a person, and so 3M doesn't have friends...people make things, not corporations - but corporations (or the legal entity & its shareholders) keep all the profits & the employees sell their labor to the corporations at a rate they often cannot control, no matter how much revenue they generate. Is that the irony of the comment?
Hi Elena-

Indeed that is exactly the irony I think we were reaching for: that on the one end of the process there is the worker, a person, who made the tape and that on the other end, there is another person, a consumer, who purchased the tape, and later used it to make a sign to protest the process that saw the tape pass between them.

This process, implicit in our world, involved a myriad of transactions and middle-men, corporations and goverments, all of whom took a cut.
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