Twenty-First Century Window Dressing:
The 2015 worldwide re-affirmatory celebration of ‘rights’ and ‘freedoms’ in France was theatrically instructive. World leaders linked arms and marched with citizens in protest against terrorism and in defence of rights and freedoms they deemed threatened. It was a rare show of political posturing which was vocally and visually impressive. The action depicted window dressing which the world was directed to embrace. These displays commanded our attention to ‘our’ rights and freedoms which are sacrosanct.
Individual and collective rights and freedoms are understood as hard-earned elements of political and social progress. History shows that the two notable world wars which accrued more than 100 million deaths gave us freedom from political tyranny and a list of inalienable human rights agreed to by many nations. Most notable are rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion and rights to liberty and security, embedded in variations of Western democracy.
Countless other political uprisings, before and after the wars, led to expansions of other liberties for victors, and movement up the ladder of social privileges for previously subordinated subjects. Women in many nations, and Blacks in the West are among the recipients of social and political enhancements. Blacks and others were freed from slavery following grievous battles waged by those who sought to preserve the institution of slavery. Women, having struggled for political and social rights, are now endowed with personhood, can now vote and own property and in theory are protected from male domination. The Second Amendment of the American Constitution gives the right to American citizens to bear arms.
But, we’ve come to know that these celebrated rights and new social freedoms are situational. The freedoms endowed upon American Blacks through emancipation are contingent upon the prudent exercise of the franchise and expert social manoeuvering in a class and racially contoured society. While some Blacks have benefitted, others are entangled in the tumbleweed of political complexity fortified by educational and economic inequalities.
Many women are similarly compromised; the benefits derived from enhanced rights have not impacted all women evenly. The rights to vote and hold public office, to earn from labour through paid employment, and the freedom to engage in civil society action are more impressive on paper than in the substance of the lives of many women.
Women in North America have never universally experienced equality before the law. Many endure structural inequalities in social and political life. Most are paid less for work of equal value, and many are still physically abused, raped and murdered by men. In other nations, the continued enslavement and trafficking of females in misogynous societies receive far less visibility and condemnation than threats to the freedom of speech of men in the west. The invalidation of the humanity of some Asian and some African females in particular, constitutes what has been referred to as an inconvenient truth for many in the West who are dedicated to protecting, enhancing and showcasing their own slate of rights and freedoms.
The disruption and eradication of domestic and international terrorism now dominating the international political agenda is obscuring domestic hypocrisy. ‘We the People’ in America means some people: an African American youth who leaves home to purchase snack food at a neighbourhood convenience store, can be shot dead because a person endowed with the right to bear arms eyes him and conjectures that he fits the stereotype of a threat to his liberties. The post-facto pursuit of justice is then subject to the confluence of wealth, skin colour and social positioning. During such a process it is evident that historical economic and social disparities between some African Americans and white Americans is debilitating and deadly for many Blacks.
In Canada, variations of such rights violations are stratified, hidden and persistent. Aboriginal women in particular are as devalued as are many Asian and African females. Their rights to personhood, equality before the law and security are violable. They endure poverty, abuses, and unaccountable loss of lives while Canada stands in solidarity with Europeans who suffered from terrorist assault against rights and lives. Canada’s vowed collaboration in defending European rights against heinous crimes and barbaric acts (said the Prime Minister) is in sharp contrast to the Canadian reticence in attending to the incomprehensible loss of lives of Canadian Aboriginal women who have been murdered, we presume, by no less barbaric acts.
In spite of the unwillingness to strive purposively toward achieving a twenty-first century just society, Canada and America continue to be the nations of choice for those seeking refuge from persecution and deprivations in their home nations. Grinding poverty and the absence of economic opportunities push millions of Mexicans into America’s underground cesspools of labour exploitation. America is also among the top five nations of the world receiving United Nations refugees who have fled political persecution. Refugees and immigrants continue to stabilize Canada’s labour supply and are the country’s most significant economic resource. However, many newcomers in Canadian society are devalued, marginalized and exploited.
In this context of a political work in slow progress, resident Canadian citizens interface with newcomers seeking the espoused ‘better society’. Those who people our nation, then, have extended family members, friends and acquaintances in places where slavery, economic exploitation and personal violence are structural realities. In Canada, in 2014, the small-scale civil outpouring by citizens in the province of Ontario, aimed at heightening awareness of the kidnapped Nigerian females who are still unaccounted for, was heartbreaking to watch yet signalled human hope. People care; people want to inspire social change and people are ready for an agenda of broad-scale human caring on the political big-stage. In order to achieve this we need to perfect the use of our vote; our Canadian record of voting is unacceptable! The right to decline to activate one’s right to political participation through voting surely has to be subordinated to the right to exist as full citizens.
Our vote and our ‘freedom’ to engage in other civic action represents our pathway to substantive change. Canadian immigration policies and post-migration programs are useful starting points. Because immigrants are the bedrock of Canadian society, we need to work toward realigning the economic benefits immigrants accrue for Canada with policies which enhance the optimal settlement and inclusion of newcomers in Canadian society. We need to plan a program of responsible civic action starting with informed exercise of our vote.