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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Mailbag: OpEd: JW Writes: "We Can't Have Rights?"

We Can’t Afford Rights?

In the past week the Wisconsin has erupted with protests of a bill that, in effort to close an estimated 3.6 billion dollar deficit, would eliminate workers’ collective bargaining rights on any issues aside from salary. The members of the anti-bill movement have done an enviable job of protesting the claims that the matter at hand is simply whether or not state workers have a responsibility to the government to reduce their costs to and help the state avoid future deficits. The mythology of the ‘cost’ of human and civil rights and access to social services is not new to this issue. This particular protest could provide an excellent opportunity to deconstruct that rhetoric now and recognize how it is being used to de-criminalize rape, support the criminalization of poverty, and justify immigration policy that targets and dehumanizes individuals. These protests could serve as a catalyst for the people of the United States to examine how the language of the ‘cost’ of rights limits our national conversation, and prevents us from skillfully examining the deeper structural roots of these issues, such as harmful U.S. Foreign Policy or (with regard to the current economic crisis) an unregulated private sector.

Arguing that our fiscal bottom line does not support human rights is an all too familiar strategy to those working on issues of immigration rights. One of the most popular arguments in favor of restrictive immigration policies uses a similar argument; “Illegal immigration” costs our nation thousands of dollars and takes away jobs from U.S. workers. Like the arguments surrounding the fiscal policy in Wisconsin, this argument is factually unsound. Most immigrants to the U.S. pay taxes and don’t use services. The U.S. greatly benefits from low paying migrant labor. These arguments scapegoat human rights and civil liberties as luxuries we simply can’t afford as a nation. This argument ignores the history of U.S. immigration policy as rooted in racism and exploitation, ignores the U.S. global economic policy that has created a market for low pay migrant labor.

This argument is familiar to supporters of women’s sexual health as it has echoed around the House’s recent vote to de-fund Planned Parenthood. This de-funding will further limit Planned Parenthood from providing services for family planning, sexual health, HIV testing, and fertility consultation. Parenthood provides accessible services—so it disproportionally impacts low income women. Centering the debate on the cost of Planned Parenthood services obscures the fundamental concern, which is that cutting funding for services such as these make it impossible for many women, and especially low income women and teens, to make informed and legal choices about their reproductive futures. It leaves out any discussion of the cost of reducing this access: Planned Parenthood devotes a great deal of its resources on prevention education that may prevent unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted disease. It also leaves out a broader examination of policy that is leading to higher teen pregnancy; including a lack of proper sex education—the focus again is being placed on reducing support of and access to individual rights.

If we are to push back against these different assaults to our human rights and civil liberties, we have to challenge ourselves to move away from seeing them as separate assaults. These are not simply assaults on the middle class by those in higher class strata. They are not simply assaults on the rights of reproductive rights of women. They are not simply assaults by citizens against those without citizenship. They are assaults on social justice and access that disadvantage each of us along our non-dominant identities, and serve those at the top of the sociopolitical hierarchy. They are assaults on a national valuing of the protection of human and civil rights. They are assaults on a valuing of social responsibility. Let us acknowledge the common thread in these attacks. By acknowledging this we increase our capacity to build anti-racist, class-conscious, and feminist coalitions that cut through the surface differences between these arguments and are unified in our call for governance that places human rights and a concern for justice first.

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