This post is the first in a series celebrating Human Rights Day authored by members of the former AAA Committee for Human Rights, now represented on the Members’ Programmatic, Advisory, and Advocacy Committee (MPAAC). This piece was submitted by Alayne Unterberger with the Florida Institute for Community Studies.
As I drove to the airport on my way to the AAA Meetings last week, I listened to an NPR story on the Tax Bill that the Senate had not yet passed and, since we would be in DC, I made a note to mention this if and when I had any luck meeting with my elusive Florida Senator, Marco Rubio. As I drove around Maryland on my way to visit family, I listened to two hours of the hearings on DC public radio. What I heard was ten or more Democratic Senators testify about the many reasons they opposed the Bill — with no Republicans in the room. It occurred to me that this is often the case for anthropology, we have amazing things to say but we often say it to each other, not to the larger public or to those whom we really need to influence. The reasons why Democrats and anthropologists have found ourselves in these similar places are different but, ultimately, both reflect a lack of power.
As I listened to Senator after Senator, I realized that the tax bill goes beyond tax policy because it drastically rewrites a long-term commitment between our government and its citizenry regarding long-established social safety nets and support for the “shrinking middle class.” More to the point, it erases many supports for policies that help create the next generation of anthropologists and academics by taxing graduate education as income, thus putting it out of reach for most of our students (and even ourselves). Even more egregious, it puts health care out of reach for millions and decimates Medicaid and Social Security, which were so hard fought for in this country. The situation is depressing because it takes us back to pre-1930s New Deal legislation. Rolling back long-standing social legislation this far, this fast illustrates how important it is for us to help communities participate in taking a vocal stand against it.
Arranged by Heide Castaneda (USF) and Maria Barbero (FIU), our group of about 10 anthropologists went to visit Senator Rubio’s office to discuss a Clean Dream Act and we added our views on the tax bill. The aide listened to us but took no notes, agreeing with two USF graduate students that it would be nearly impossible to obtain graduate education if not for tuition waivers and student loans. However, she professed no knowledge of the Senator’s views on the bill or his willingness to vote for it because she works on immigration policy. As I reflect on this meeting, it becomes clear that the workings of our elected officials appear to be disconnected from the will of the citizens they represent.
Upon looking at the UN Declaration of Human Rights’ Articles 25 and 26, ratified on December 10, 1948, one realizes the relevance of these policies to a high quality of life. Further, these Articles could be speaking directly to the US Congress in 2017:
(1) Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing, and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
(2) Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.
(1) Everyone has the right to education. Education shall be free, at least in the elementary and fundamental stages. Elementary education shall be compulsory. Technical and professional education shall be made generally available and higher education shall be equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.
(2) Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance, and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups, and shall further the activities of the United Nations for the maintenance of peace.
(3) Parents have a prior right to choose the kind of education that shall be given to their children.
Reading today’s headlines it seems neither Article is on the minds of our elected officials. Sadly, we see that this legislation is not only dangerous but violates the spirit of the UN Declaration of Human Rights.
While all this feels overwhelming and grim, we should remember the great strides we have made and are capable of making again – through ongoing mobilization and advocacy. To that end, technology can assist with contacting members of Congress as well as the President. If you haven’t already, you can try ResistBot by texting RESIST to 504-09. ResistBot reminds me to keep resisting on a daily basis and it takes me 5 minutes to write letters that are sent to representatives. It produces very nice letters that go directly to our elected officials. Feel free to quote the UN Declaration on Human Rights (above) in your communications.
The AAA has joined a group of 30 learned societies to publicly renounce and oppose this dangerous legislation and have called upon us to contact our legislators. The AAA has forwarded this link to help make it easier for us to flood our legislators’ offices so let’s use it: http://p2a.co/ZkGXFz8.