December 17, 2008

CLOSE TO HOME

By Senator Mike Crapo

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
-U.S. Declaration of Independence, 1776

"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. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm, or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world."
-Eleanor Roosevelt

As Roosevelt rightly observed, recognition of human rights begins "close to home." Idahoans can boast of a particularly strong record of working to establish and uphold human rights close to home.

Idaho's human rights' history can be traced to 1896 when it granted women voting rights, the fourth state in the Union to act on Women's Suffrage. Eighteen years later, Moses Alexander became the governor of Idaho, and the first Jewish governor in the nation. Throughout the 20th Century, Idaho achieved many legislative human rights milestones, passing a number of anti-hate crime laws and laws that were enacted to protect individuals from discrimination related to their ethnicity or faith. In 1969, the Idaho Human Rights Commission was formed and remains an active part of the state government today.

The over 150 human relations organizations in Idaho tend to be community-based, formed by individuals responding to human rights violations in their communities. Idahoans have found unique and creative ways to combat activities of hate groups while upholding the Constitutional guarantee of free speech. In response to a white supremacist march in downtown Coeur d'Alene a few years ago, ingenious business owners simply closed all of their businesses on the parade route for the day.

Idaho stands out in its efforts to educate people about the dangers of racism and discrimination. The Idaho Human Rights Education Center was established to foster appreciation of diversity and preservation of human rights. The Idaho Hispanic Youth Symposium, a gathering of approximately 300 Hispanic youth, is an annual event where students gather to discuss issues affecting them. In 1998, the Idaho Black History Museum, dedicated to preserving stories and artifacts of African-American Idahoans, opened in Boise. Boise is also home to the only Anne Frank Memorial in the United States. Five Native American Nations reside within Idaho's borders; over the years, tribal leaders have consistently pursued meaningful dialogue with local, state and federal officials in order to promote mutual respect, collaboration, and education, and many Native Americans have taken leadership roles in a variety of organizations across the state. Idaho has the largest Basque community in the United States.

It has been important to me during my time in public office to be able to partner with organizations and efforts across Idaho that advocate for the worth and dignity of individuals including the Hispanic Youth Symposium, the Hispanic Cultural Center of Idaho, domestic and teen dating violence intervention, awareness and prevention efforts, the Minidoka Internment National Monument and the Popcorn Forum at North Idaho College.

Idaho has a distinguished history of combating racism and discrimination, making strides in human rights for over a century.

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