CMHR again

CAVEAT: I fired this off quickly at the end of a long day. So I'm probably going to come back over the next few days to sharpen and refine it -- or at very least, correct a few inevitable typos. But I wanted to put the pressure on myself to get it out there and not leave it endlessly in draft status. 

My weekend has been dominated by human rights. Mostly, I was hanging out at The Forks, enjoying free concerts held in honour of the opening. And I watched the tail end of the ceremony streaming online, and kept tabs on the Twitter discussions, and read articles about it in the local paper. Even the Sunday sermon was -- coincidentally, I believe, since it simply came in rotation of our series on 1 Corinthians -- on Paul's teaching on the rights of a Christian (1 Cor 9). And to round it out a bit, I attended a Palestinian cultural celebration dance event.

The paper reported our premier describing the protestors at the grand opening ceremony -- who succeeded in being disruptive with their bullhorns -- as adding "vitality" to the event. Politically, a wise move, since it can be interpreted either as dismissive of or attuned to the importance of the issues protestors were trying to raise. Nevertheless, I respect him for his judicious response.

It also quoted Buffy Sainte-Marie taking a measured approach, using the public platform she was given as an event performer (which she declined to forfeit despite calls for it after another Aboriginal group pulled out as protest) to point to Canada's very poor history of dealing with Aboriginal people and continued unwillingness to own up to it.

At the gala evening concert, I listened carefully for others to do the same, and with one exception, they did. Ashley MacIsaac congratulated Winnipeg on our fancy new museum, but reminded us there are still citizens in Canada "looking for their human rights." Hip hop artist/rapper Shad didn't directly remark on concerns that the museum will overlook some groups, but his songs themselves speak boldly and baldly about injustice, hardship, and hope. Bruce Cockburn through both his songs and his commentary spoke to the pain of Canadian First Nations communities, and Buffy Sante-Marie, of course, didn't hold back. She had on stage with her an empty red dress from Jaime Black's REDress project. Only the artist from Quebec, Marie-Pierre Arthur, didn't say or sing anything to the topic -- or perhaps she did, and I just didn't catch it because her event was 100% in French.

(A side note: I love events in the franco-Manitobain community or national events [and this one was both] where commentators and presenters effortlessly switch back and forth between French and English.)

And then there was the Palestinians, on peace day, trying to show the world, or at least, the Winnipeg community, that they have a beautiful and vibrant culture, full of joy as well as suffering; trying to ask to be heard and respected.

But respect. That may be the crux of the matter. That may be the key to why although I support the importance of human rights, I am at times uncomfortable with the conversation. Because it can become strident and -- especially in a litigious, prosperous society like Canada's -- very me-focused. Even when a particular set of human rights is advocated on behalf of another person or group, the champions seem at times myopic to the environment around those they support.

It was only in church that I heard addressed what I had been thinking was missing from what I had heard so far: that rights go hand in hand with sacrifice.

Now, I'll grant this is tricky. I see these opinions flowing through my fingers in a seat of comfort, from a place of privilege and security. I do not know suffering but I do not doubt that it exists.

And yet, I think that if we don't consider human rights, even the most basic ones, in the context of how one person's demand for their rights affects their neighbour, we will always make someone angry. Perhaps it is only to the privileged that we can say that rights require sacrifice, but I wonder if our discourse and our resulting actions would be richer if we resolved to talk about rights in the context of responsibilities.


Popular Posts