Gov. Gretchen Whitmer addressed the State of Michigan after a plan to kidnap her and other Michigan government officials was thwarted by state and federal law enforcement agencies. She started by saying thank you to law enforcement and FBI agents who participated in stopping this [...]
DETROIT – What is “Speak Truth To Power?” Perhaps the simpler question is what is it not. STTP is an internationally traveled photo exhibit by Pulitzer Prize winning photojournalist Eddie Adams, a play by Chilean writer Ariel Dorman, also a Pulitzer Prize winner, a PBS documentary and an award winning website (www.speaktruth.org).
But it all started as – and is perhaps most importantly – a book by Kerry Kennedy. Published by Random House in 2000, STTP took Kennedy over two years to write and contains profiles of 51 freedom fighters from around the world.
“It’s interviews with some well known people like his holiness the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, but most of the people are grassroots human rights defenders who are not well known beyond the borders of their countries,” said Kennedy, 44, who spoke at Mercy High School in Farmington Hills on March 23 to kick off six weeks worth of STTP-themed events sponsored locally by Freedom House. “They are the Martin Luther Kings of their countries. They are people with a history of accomplishment and with a constituency, a following, who have stood up to government oppression and most faced imprisonment or torture or death for basic rights like the right to vote or the right to freedom of expression or to belong a certain group.”
Kennedy was careful to split the profiles pretty evenly between men and women, and to cover a variety of issues.
“I wanted only people who had worked nonviolently in the pursuit of human rights,” she said. “We got environmental activism, gay/lesbian/transgender rights, multinational corporate responsibility, holding governments accountable, freedom of expression, child labor, women’s rights, the whole sexual slavery spectrum, a wide range of issues are represented.”
Profiled for her LGBT activism is Patria Jimenez, Mexico’s first openly gay member of Congress. As Kennedy well knows, there are still countries in which homosexuality is a crime punishable by death. Freedom House has hosted many LGBT refugees forced to flee their homes for fear of their lives.
“We have had several cases of both men and women who are gay or lesbian who have not only been ostracized by their families but incarcerated and tortured and have really been threatened with death,” said Gloria Rivera, Freedom House’s executive director. “We’ve had a couple of cases from Uganda and other parts of the world, so that’s a very real thing that’s happening and for which people will hopefully get asylum in this country or in Canada.”
Under the Bush administration, though, that’s become increasingly difficult.
“John Ashcroft, as one of his first acts as attorney general, tried to stop the INS from allowing people in based on repression because of sexual orientation,” Kennedy explained. “And because of the hard work of Human Rights First, which is an organization based in New York that organized a national campaign to stop him from pulling back that law, that law is still on the books. However, it is very precarious under the Bush administration and John Ashcroft, in particular. So we are sort of watching it day to day to make sure that regulation is not overturned.”
In the meantime, Detroiters are invited to watch and listen and enjoy a variety of STTP-themed programs over the next six weeks, thanks to Freedom House. The STTP photo exhibit will be at the Focus: HOPE Gallery from April 3 – May 15, and a complete list of all programs is available at www.freedomhousedetroit.org. Following its stint in Detroit, STTP will continue its trek around the world. Thus far, it’s been to Athens and Madrid, and later this year it will travel to Barcelona and Florence. And the trip all started with Kennedy’s book.
“I just felt that these were stories that needed to be told,” she said. “Having worked in human rights for over 20 years now, people often ask isn’t it depressing, isn’t it hard to be working on torture and repression and with all these people being killed for their rights? It so puzzles me because, to me, I just feel so blessed and lucky to be working with these people. When you think about Martin Luther King, the first things that come to mind are his vision and his capacity to bring so many different people together and his beautiful, eloquent speeches and his tremendous courage and bravery. And it’s not until long after that you start thinking about the fact that he was imprisoned in Birmingham or that so many of his friends and colleagues were lynched and beaten and harmed. And that’s really the way it is with human rights around the world. I think it would be really hard to be working on the tortures, but to be working on the freedom fighters and working with people who are the heroes is really just inspirational.”