Set in Philadelphia in November 2011, Using Human Rights to Achieve Racial Justice: We Shall Overcome, was a convening hosted by the U.S. Human Rights Fund with support from The Overbrook Foundation, Ford Foundation, and Just and Fair Schools Fund. The goal of the convening was to improve advocates’ and funders’ ability to use human rights values, standards and strategies to fight racial injustices via sharing experiences and strengthening alliances across racial justice issues. Convening participants included social justice leaders from diverse sectors, including criminal justice reform, philanthropy, community organizing, and journalism. All of the plenaries, breakout sessions and site visits centered on the intersections across racial justice and human rights work in the U.S. This convening was the impetus and content source for the creation of racialjustice.org.
Gathering, Setting the Stage &
It Works! Using Human Rights to Win Racial Justice Across Diverse Issues and Sectors Malcom X said, “As long as we agree on objectives, we should never fall out with each other just because we believe in different tactics or strategy. We are fighting for recognition as free humans in this society.” Four leading activists will discuss how and why they came to embrace using a human rights frame and what it means for their advocacy, organizing and legal work. With honesty and candor, they will explore the benefits and challenges of linking their collective fight for racial justice to the universal standards that protect the inherent right to dignity and equality for all people. Panelists will share their vision of how human rights values, standards and strategies can help protect those subject to multiple forms of disadvantage and also positively impact U.S. laws and policies.
Sharing Best Practices & Experiencing Philadelphia
1. ART & ADVOCACY: A PICTURE TELLS 1,000 STORIES
Social justice organizations are uniquely able to harness the inherent power of art to respond to current social conditions. This session will highlight the complexity and relevance of incorporating arts and culture into social justice advocacy. Participants will hear case studies and engage in interactive discussions about the opportunities and challenges in developing and implementing social justice art projects. Special attention will be paid to protecting the safety and rights of those whose stories are being told through art.
2. THE LONG SEARCH FOR WOMEN’S RIGHTS AND RACIAL JUSTICE
Many women of color-led organizations and women’s rights groups in the U.S. aim to transform power inequities and create systemic change through grassroots organizing and policy reform. These groups employ a framework that helps women to define and analyze their experiences of oppression and marginality and identify advocacy solutions. Small group discussions will examine the implications of racism and sexism for securing human rights—including within the domestic HR movement itself. Using participants’ reflections, this workshop will connect advocates and funders with practical tools to advance women’s rights and racial justice work.
3. SECURING CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORM AND THE RIGHTS OF IMMIGRANT COMMUNITIES: FROM COLLABORATION TO IMPACT
The criminal justice and immigration enforcement systems are complex and expanding; they seek to control those lacking political and economic power—especially poor people of color. Both can devastate lives through incarceration, detention, and deportation. Via the “Crim/Imm” case study, this session will explore how effective donor collaboration within and across institutions can challenge the practice of “funding silos” and lead to more impactful alliances. Attendees will reflect on obstacles and opportunities presented to funders and advocates who are pursuing a more holistic approach to social justice and human rights work.
4. INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE BATTLE FOR RACIAL JUSTICE IN THE U.S.
Increasingly, U.S. advocates are using international human rights mechanisms to successfully advance the cause of racial justice, as well as other social justice struggles. In this session, attendees will share their experiences of engaging treaty bodies, regional commissions, special rapporteurs and other human rights tools and fora. Across issues and expertise, these discussions will enable advocates and funders to deepen their understanding of the international human rights system and refine and diversify their strategies for maximizing policy and practice change.
5. SHINING A LIGHT ON THE EVIDENCE THROUGH HUMAN RIGHTS DOCUMENTATION
It’s not filling out forms! Rights-based documentation is a critical, game-changing strategy that respects and empowers individuals to challenge abuse they have experienced, while also uniting people around shared stories to assert collective rights and power. Aided by organizing and other strategies, documentation can become a transformative process that enables families and communities to lift up human rights. This session will identify ways to expand the impact of human rights documentation via concrete examples and take-away lessons on cutting-edge practices.
Sharing Best Practices & Experiencing Philadelphia
1. ADVOCATE AND FUNDER PARTNERSHIPS: WE’RE ALL IN THIS TOGETHER
Advocate and funder partnerships not only benefit advocacy groups but also influence funders’ strategies and practices for the better. Two pairs of advocates and funders will describe the opportunities and challenges they have encountered working together to win human rights and racial justice, along with the outcomes. Session attendees will share in an honest assessment of their own tensions and successes in such collaboration and help to identify how advocates and funders can strengthen social justice work together.
2. SAY IT LOUD: CREATING EFFECTIVE HUMAN RIGHTS AND RACIAL JUSTICE MESSAGING
When we talk about human rights and racial justice, what are we trying to communicate? Aren’t we talking about the same thing? Or, instead, do human rights and racial justice messages encompass distinct points of view? Through in-depth conversation and hands-on activities, this session goes beyond the usual assumptions and sound bites to help advocates and funders identify where human rights and racial justice frames overlap and diverge, and then use that knowledge to craft resonant messages that unite—not divide.
3. THE POST 9/11 DECADE: RACIAL PROFILING AND STRATEGIES TO FIGHT BACK
In the years since the terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, progress towards ending racial profiling has reversed, allowing the practice to expand beyond counterterrorism and reemerge as hallmarks in the long-running battles against crime, drugs, and “illegal immigration.” With insights from three experts in criminal justice, immigrant rights, and civil liberties, attendees will investigate why the post-9/11 justification of racial profiling persists today, and how a counter-narrative based on human rights values, standards, and strategies can counter the policies of the last decade and help win the fight against racial profiling.
4. BRINGING HUMAN RIGHTS HOME AND SECURING STATE & LOCAL ACCOUNTABILITY
What strategies are most effective in helping secure accountability to human rights at the local and state level? This session will focus on racial justice case studies in which there have been successful human rights documentation and monitoring; strong engagement with UN experts and mechanisms; and constructive relationships built with local government agencies and officials. Advocates have united in their local struggles through using human rights and are finding powerful ways to demand greater accountability to the needs of communities—a key example being the Human Rights at Home Campaign (HuRAH). Participants will discuss how to best apply strategies and tools in different contexts.
5. TOMORROW’S CHALLENGES AND TODAY’S YOUTH ON THE RISE
Historically young people have led and organized some of the most powerful human rights and racial justice movements in the United States—yet often, their unique contributions are not fully understood or appreciated. Through participatory activities and discussion, this session explores youth leadership and organizing work in both a historical and contemporary context. Participants will learn practical, applicable strategies by analyzing the challenges and opportunities of past and present youth-led movements.
Sharing Best Practices & Experiencing Philadelphia
1. MURAL ARTS PROGRAM MURAL TOUR
The City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program (MAP) unites artists and communities through a collaborative process to create art that transforms public spaces and individual lives. This experiential tour will begin with a two-hour narrated bus excursion into the neighborhoods of Center City and West Philadelphia. Along the way, participants will pause to view 37 community murals, many of which were created through MAP’s restorative justice program. Once the bus returns to the hotel, Jane Golden, Executive Director of MAP, will lead an interactive discussion with participants on using art to help reform the criminal justice system.
2. MEDIA MOBILIZING PROJECT SITE VISIT
The Media Mobilizing Project (MMP) was founded on the conviction that movements begin with the sharing of untold stories. MMP uses multimedia to lift up the experiences of Philadelphians and Pennsylvanians struggling to secure their most basic human rights. This approach has united grassroots leaders across issues and geography; success that has enabled MMP to become a network of support, shared lessons, resources, and leadership that is fighting for racial justice, economic and social human rights and that is committed to building a movement to end poverty. See the city, meet community leaders and experience this media and communications network in action.
3. POVERTY INITIATIVE INDEPENDENCE CENTER LEARNING TOUR
Join the Poverty Initiative (PI) to explore how an argument for human rights has been adopted by social movements throughout U.S. history. Beginning with a walking tour of the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall, participants will travel to North Philadelphia for an example of how grassroots leaders in Philadelphia use rights, religion and diverse community alliances to combat homelessness and gentrification today. PI is focused on re-igniting Martin Luther King Jr.’s Poor People’s Campaign by building and strengthening a national network of grassroots organizations across race, gender, geographical, and religious lines.
4. PHILADELPHIA STUDENT UNION SITE VISIT
The Philadelphia Student Union (PSU) was started by high school students and continues to be led by youth with adult support. PSU uses media as an organizing tool and has a well-developed youth media and communications infrastructure including a youth-produced radio show with podcast subscribers on 6 continents, and a newsletter that is distributed to thousands. Site visit participants will enjoy a tour of PSU's inspiring home, including a stop in the young people’s computer center—part of the broadband technology opportunities program. Afterwards, seasoned student, alumni and staff organizers will lead the group in an interactive presentation.
5. MURAL ARTS PROGRAM’S THE GUILD WITH MEN IN MOTION IN THE COMMUNITY (MIMIC)
Attendees of this site visit will travel to MAP’s art gallery in downtown Philadelphia and will meet with representatives from MAP’s innovative apprenticeship program—The Guild. They will joined by members of Men In Motion In the Community (MIMIC), a community-based and youth development organization that is uniquely engaging the hardest to reach young men in Philadelphia through mentorships that model the steps necessary to create profound change. Join this site visit to learn about methods of preventing recidivism around the criminal justice system, breaking the school to prison pipeline, and promoting community engagement.
What Do We Want & How Do We Get There from Here?
1. SUSTAINABLE AND CREATIVE FUNDING STRATEGIES DEMAND DIVERSITY
“Shaking” the money tree is never easy. Activists everywhere strive to diversify their funding bases, but especially in difficult times, few get as far as they’d like in securing financial sustainability for their organizations. How can groups working on racial justice and human rights better attract and retain needed support? Three funders, representing a public charity, an international family foundation and a national foundation, will facilitate the exchange of ideas and strategies among participants for how to best diversify and grow one’s institutional resources.
2. TOGETHER AT LAST? CIVIL RIGHTS AND HUMAN RIGHTS
In his May 1967 address to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Dr. King declared, “We have moved from the era of civil rights to the era of human rights.” But more than 45 years later, questions remain about whether Dr. King’s vision has been realized or just become “a dream deferred.” Drawing from the experiences of leaders in the fields of social justice litigation, policy, and community organizing, this session will ask attendees to take a hard look at progress achieved to date, and the challenges and opportunities that remain for advocates in advancing the cause of racial justice through America’s evolving human rights paradigm.
3. WE LOVE LAWYERS: LITIGATION AS A TOOL TO ADVANCE HUMAN RIGHTS AND RACIAL JUSTICE
Are courts and international bodies useful forums in which to secure racial justice? Do lawyers have the right legal and social tools to further human rights? In this session, attendees will share their experiences using litigation and explore its benefits and challenges via candid conversation with lawyers focused on issues at the heart of today’s domestic human rights struggles: harsh immigration enforcement, criminalization of young people, and racial profiling. Three seasoned litigators will facilitate the discussion, providing insights into how they have used human rights and international law in proceedings before U.S. courts, international bodies, human rights commissions and other fora.
4. OLD, NEW, BORROWED, OR BLUE: THE EVER-CHANGING MEDIA SECTOR
A technological revolution and an economic decline have fundamentally changed the American media sector in recent years, but for many advocates and journalists, the challenge of getting social justice stories front and center remains the same. Attendees of this session will engage in a direct dialogue with three of progressive media’s leading practitioners to discuss why questions of access, accuracy, and exposure endure across traditional and new media outlets, and how advocates and journalists can overcome them. Conversations will also examine the potential for social media to address these longstanding issues.
5. COMMUNITY ORGANIZING BY THE PEOPLE, FOR THE PEOPLE—AND FOR HUMAN RIGHTS?
Grassroots organizing to win the empowerment of those who are directly impacted by injustice is a core tenant of racial justice work. In the U.S., human rights are viewed in some circles as academic, international and disconnected from the experiences of communities on the ground. How can we better infuse racial justice organizing with human rights values and standards? How do we ensure that human rights work fully encompasses a racial justice lens? This session will share tools and tactics for community organizing around racial justice concerns in which human rights can provide added value. It will also explore when alternative strategies are preferable.
What Do We Want & How Do We Get There from Here?
Innovative Cultural Arts practices Can Win Hearts, Minds…and Policy Change These are turbulent times. Given the current conditions and challenges that social justice advocates and funders face, the need to incorporate impactful and creative strategies to advance human rights and racial justice is more critical than ever. This final session will illustrate how art, culture and creativity can transform hearts and minds, connect and mobilize communities and amplify social justice goals. Moreover, it will provide inspiration to continue our collective work.