Sunday, January 15, 2012

Kudos to CM Phipps for making the Human Rights Commission's revival a priority.

Somewhere amid Bob "CeeSaw" Caesar's throwing down of the gauntlet to Clint Eastwood impersonators everywhere ("That's not a request," he hissed), and perhaps the most predictable appointment in city council history (Mrs. Baird to sip the Kool-Aid with Develop New Albany), there was a glimmer of genuine principle leaping from the newspaper's pages, thanks to incoming council person Greg Phipps.

But it was a committee that wasn’t mentioned that caught the attention of Councilman Greg Phipps. He requested to be placed on the Human Rights Commission if the body convenes.

“It was established back in the [1970s] and it hasn’t been utilized in the past 10 years or so,” Phipps said.

Benedetti agreed to place Phipps on the commission, which Councilman John Gonder said is intended to be a nine-member body. Council members said it’s the mayor’s responsibility to convene the board.

Mayor Jeff Gahan acknowledged Phipps’ concern to have the commission re-established, though a time frame on when the board may assemble wasn’t confirmed.

Thanks very much, CM Phipps. This simple act places you eight years ahead of your predecessor's vacuous consciousness -- and the 2012 council calendar isn't even two meetings old.

Meanwhile, it's been five years or more since I addressed the issue of the Human Rights Commission in this space, and later a newspaper column came of it, too. It was published in the pre-merger Tribune on April 16, 2009, and is reprinted here.

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Human rights in New Albany?

To my delight, last week the Iowa Supreme Court defied the American theocratic establishment by affirming a non-discriminatory definition of marriage as a secular institution, existing concurrent with organized religion, but not dependent on its supernatural sanction for validity.

By doing so, the court did its own little bit to reclaim genuinely salvageable culture, correctly espousing the rule of law and exposing the fraudulence of those whose vision of America as a “Christian nation” forever requires depriving fellow Americans of basic human rights clearly enunciated during the founding. Moreover, I’m reminded of this passage written by H. L. Mencken more than 75 years ago:

“The truth is that Christian theology, like every other theology, is not only opposed to the scientific spirit; it is also opposed to all other attempts at rational thinking … Since the earliest days the church, as an organization, has thrown itself violently against every effort to liberate the body and mind of man. It has been, at all times and everywhere, the habitual and incorrigible defender of bad governments, bad laws, bad social theories, bad institutions. It was, for centuries, an apologist for slavery, as it was the apologist for the divine right of kings.”

Coincidentally, my wife and I, who were married in 2004 by the city clerk, recently had the chance to watch “Milk,” the acclaimed biopic of gay activist, politician and martyr Harvey Milk. Sean Penn, the finest actor of his generation, stars in a riveting, Oscar-winning performance as the title character. Drop what you’re doing, rent the DVD of “Milk,” and prepare to be challenged, rewarded and enriched.

While the real Harvey Milk’s principled political activism in the diverse milieu of 1970’s San Francisco specifically espoused gay rights, his focal point is inseparable from the broader context of human rights and freedoms, providing the basis for a question I won’t stop asking until some semblance of a coherent answer is provided:

Precisely which aspects of the past are organizations like Reclaim Our Culture Kentuckiana (ROCK) seeking to reclaim?

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Buried deep within New Albany’s terminally neglected Code of Ordinances is a 1974 law mandating a Human Rights Commission. It existed for a time, and then was unceremoniously discarded, so today I’m embracing a custodial public service duty by reminding the community that there is statutory authority to re-energize and staff a new Human Right Commission. We should do so immediately.

The administration of Mayor James Garner displayed a keen private grasp of the moribund commission’s potential importance, but nothing happened, and if you’re looking for a nutshell summary of the Garner era, this is as good a place as any to begin. Excellent intentions were accompanied by a supreme mastery of detail, but an inexplicable absence of political acumen and simple stick-to-it-ive-ness resulted in stasis.

No matter. That was then, and this is now. I support a rehabilitated Human Rights Commission simply because I always try to put myself in others’ shoes, imagining how it must feel to do as I’ve done by publicly promoting civic improvements and espousing reforms in an effort to make the city itself a more livable and civilized place, while recognizing that even these hard-fought gains may not provide protection from discrimination and harassment owing to race, gender or sexual orientation.

For instance, consider the fundamental human act of walking.

I walk New Albany’s streets on a daily basis, and do so at all hours, seldom giving the notion a second thought. Then again, I’m a white male standing well over six feet, and weighing 270 lbs. at last reading. Naturally, in a world filled to the brim with firearms, physical stature alone neither precludes violent acts nor negates harassment … but it does have a way of reducing problems.

Even so, occasionally a passing dullard finds it amusing to bait a man my size. Imagine going out for a walk as a more vulnerable potential target: Female, or gay, or an ethnic minority, or handicapped, or all four together, perhaps leading one to forsake activities and pursuits taken for granted by others, thanks to social and cultural primitivism that extends well beyond familiar urban woes like drugs and impoverishment, into public racism, overt homophobia and violence.

Just as speeding is not an enforcement issue, but a design issue, so goes an active daily consideration of human rights. A tweaked and reconstituted Human Rights Commission, even if chronically underfunded in the sad New Albanian tradition of penny wise, pound foolish, might provide an effective bully pulpit for making this city a place that welcomes diversity and its accompanying benefits, and not views “different” as opportunities for abuse and exploitation.

Now is the time. Is there the will?

A Human Rights Commission is sorely needed in a place where topics like basic rights, diversity, and fundamental human dignity are regularly the targets of gleeful disparagement and outright malice on the part of those of dominant white, male culture, who've obviously never suffered institutionalized deprivation.

Furthermore, thinking back to its conceptual origins in housing discrimination, a functional Human Rights Commission might be a component of solutions to the city’s rental housing problems. Tenant rights and human rights are cut from the same bolt, aren’t they?

Are any members of our local political establishment willing to go on record as supporting the revival of New Albany’s Human Rights Commission?

Or: Are any of them willing to go on record as supporting anything?

15 comments:

ecology warrior said...

well I would assume CM Phipps would be as enthusiastic about being a financial watchdog as he seems to be for promoting human rights in New Albany.

In All Fairness after all the budget and the city's finances would be of a higher priority to the new administration not a fairness ordinance.

Jeff Gillenwater said...

Hmm... I'm kinda thinking that human rights should be a consideration when making financial decisions. Way to go, Greg.

ecology warrior said...

how does human rights enter into a budgetary consideration, enlighten me ole wise one

El Bastardo said...

Are there any instances in recent memory of anyone in New Albany being denied their human rights?

ecology warrior said...

that would be NO, but CM Phipps seems to think New Albnmy is in dire need of the human rights commission

The New Albanian said...

Dire's in the eye of the beholder.

ecology warrior said...

in phipps case I think he needs a set of glasses, his vision is blurred

The New Albanian said...

EW, can you tell us how human rights do NOT enter into budgetary considerations?

ecology warrior said...

seems pretty black and white so to speak, you know approving spending levels for city operations, the question was put before Gillenwater who made that ludicrous claim that budgets have human rights variables, that has not been answered

Jeff Gillenwater said...

LOL.

ecology warrior said...

once again, Gillenwater refuses to answer my question

Jeff Gillenwater said...

LOL.

ecology warrior said...

lol isnt an answer, so where is your data to support your earlier post?

dan chandler said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
dan chandler said...

Enacting a Fairness Ordinance would be a council matter, not a Human Rights Commission matter. The current HRC ordinance does not cover matters of orientation.

§ 33.070 PUBLIC POLICY AND PURPOSE.

(A) It is the public policy of the state to provide all of its citizens equal opportunity for education, employment, access to public conveniences and accommodations and acquisition through purchase or rental of real property including but not limited to housing, and to eliminate segregation or separation based solely on race, religion, color, sex, disability, national origin, HIV-positive status or ancestry, since the segregation is an impediment to equal opportunity. Equal education and employment opportunities and equal access to and use of public accommodations and equal opportunity for acquisition of real property are hereby declared to be civil rights.