Human Rights Day: A Day Worth Remembrance & Recommitment
December 10, 2018
Seventy years ago today the nations of the world reached a milestone in moral progress, yet from the vantage point of today’s deeply divided world it’s nearly unimaginable that such a consensus would ever have been achieved. But achieved it was, and that fact alone warrants our reflection as we recognize that on December 10, 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was signed.
For those of us writing within the human rights genre of Engaged Literature, first articulated by the philosopher Jean-Paul Satre, today is a moment of reckoning and hopefully of rekindling. Cynics have waved aside the thirty articles of the Universal Declaration as hopelessly idealistic, as mere rhetoric, or as lofty but unreachable goals. They have a point; one need look no further than the burgeoning catalog of human rights abuses around the world to find ample cause to question whether humanity has anything to celebrate for these seventy years of effort. Is our commitment to universal human dignity anything more than a wistful yet inaccessible dream?
We must remember that the Universal Declaration is not a set of laws. Laws, after all, reflect a society’s norms and standards, not its aspirations. We’re not there yet—we do not have a robust human rights culture—but many of us haven’t forsaken our belief in such a possibility. As writers, we can even imagine and promote the contours and sensibilities of such a society, and we know that the writing we create is a critical piece of the progress needed. Moral progress—making genuine strides toward a world of inclusion, reciprocity, justice, care, equality, fairness, and decency—depends on more than an intellectual premise. People must find the necessary moral hook, the motivation, to move resolutely in that direction. There is no better stimulus than the narratives that we, as writers, can offer to make such motivation tangible. Our narratives are catalytic to transforming societal norms, to measuring genuine progress toward universal human dignity, to softening hard hearts, and challenging dark cynicism.
AWP is deeply committed to being a part of that progress, and to supporting all creative writers who are able through their writing to bring the best of human nature—the warmth, the love and caring, the positive values, noble dreams, grand possibilities, and simple decency of humanity that much closer to fruition. We celebrate this day, and we recognize and stand in solidarity with the tireless and essential efforts of human rights writers, activists, and thinkers around the world.
Chloe Schwenke, PhD
Interim Executive Director, AWP