I didn’t grow up in the United States. But one of the things I value most about living here is that all around me there is an active dialogue—sometimes heated, often frustrating, but almost always robust and open—about rights. People talk freely about gender, race, sexual orientation, economic inequality. And they don’t question that, if they speak up, they can change things for the better.
But neither that freedom nor that self-confidence would be possible if not for the efforts of people who, in more difficult times, insisted on building a more just society.
On Saturday, I will be joining thousands of marchers at a rally to commemorate the 50thanniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, when hundreds of thousands of people converged on the National Mall in the name of equal rights for all. I also will have the honor to say a few words.
The US has made real progress in the past 50 years. But it still has a long way to go to ensure human rights for all. This country has the largest reported prison population in the world. People of color are disproportionately likely to be arrested, and to be imprisoned for drug crimes. Too many migrants live in fear of being torn away from their families, and are easy prey for those who would abuse their rights. The poverty rate, which is bound up with other inequities, has actually risen in recent decades.
Fear of terrorism has paved the way for other erosions of rights, of both citizens and non-citizens, including the indefinite detention without trial of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, and mass surveillance. Those responsible for devising and implementing a government torture program have never been investigated, let alone prosecuted. The list goes on.
But there are also reasons for hope. Federal initiatives may yet bring more humanity and fairness to the criminal justice system. For the first time in decades, the country has a shot at meaningful immigration reform.
And perhaps most encouraging, there are still thousands if not millions of people in the US who are engaged in the struggle for rights. Let’s hope that they never give up on doing so.