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    Saturday, July 13, 2024

    If I had a hammer

    Four weeks ago this morning no one knew who the next president of the United States would be. Yet Americans reeling from the incivility of the campaign had already been saying for months that the nation would have to heal its divisiveness and that individual acts of conscience and community-building would be the antidote.

    In this one short month, while a new administration has been readying itself to take over, ordinary citizens have also been organizing. It's too early to tell whether we are about to enter a Human Rights Era that parallels the Civil Rights Era, but that is clearly what organizers have in mind.

    Saying that they are not united against the incoming Trump administration but rather for the rights of women — and thus, human rights — leaders in all 50 states are preparing for a Women's March on Washington on the day after the inauguration. In North Dakota, months of mostly peaceful protest by Native Americans and supporters culminated this weekend in an announcement by the Army Corps of Engineers that it would explore alternate routes for a controversial oil pipeline.

    So far, the rhetoric of coming together for positive change has been holding. On Friday, no less a veteran of the Civil Rights protests than Peter Yarrow, the Peter of Peter, Paul and Mary, told an audience at the Avery Point UConn campus that the future depends on standing up together for the rights of all people not to be bullied, excluded or marginalized.

    Yarrow, now 78, helped organize the March on Washington in 1963 that became a turning point for the civil rights of African Americans. He has been among the celebrities joining the Standing Rock Sioux camped out  along the Missouri River, seeking to keep the oil pipeline away from their tribal lands and drinking water. Native Americans know better than most that governmental promises can evaporate when there is money to be made. Over the last 150 years successive treaties took away more and more tribal land in the Dakotas, Montana and Wyoming because gold was discovered. Now it's the Dakota Access Pipeline.

    The tribes' fight could enter a new chapter despite the Army Corps' decision. The pipeline company has been a significant contributor to the Republican party and President-elect Trump previously held shares in it.

    Protests are always a facet of American democracy, but it is rare and historic when they involve so many millions of people that they accomplish real change and give a name to their era. It's not always a pretty process, and it can be dangerous both for protesters and law enforcement. Fearing just such an outcome, Attorney General Loretta Lynch sent "counselors" to Standing Rock in anticipation of the deadline for protesters to leave.

    But that deadline never came. The Army Corps issued its decision to consider other routes, and Sioux leaders expressed their thanks. 

    The success of the Standing Rock protesters, at least for the moment, will likely inspire participation in the Women's March both by veterans of past protests and people who have never protested publicly before. The more peaceful the event, the more support it will generate.

    Is this about to become the Human Rights Era? If so, we will know it very soon.

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