Skip to main content
human rights

Time and again, Democratic candidates claiming to be progressives refuse to push for the bold changes we need. Instead of universal healthcare, they work to “reduce” prescription prices and make healthcare “affordable.” Instead of guaranteeing a college education or vocational training to every adult who wants it, they make it a “priority” to offer “assistance” or to “lower tuition costs.” Instead of emergency action on climate, they want to “help” people start “reducing” emissions, with a net zero goal somewhere far past the date reaching it might permit us to avert catastrophe.

We don’t need discount human rights. No cheap substitutes. We demand acid-free attention, not ground pulp respect that quickly becomes brittle and breaks apart.

These counterfeit progressives say, “Something is better than nothing, right?” “Change takes time.” “We have to represent our entire constituency, not just the radicals.”

Imagine an apartment complex housing thirty units catching fire. When the fire engines arrive, the building manager comes out and says, “Lucia on the third floor is afraid of water because her aunt tried to drown her when she was a child. So you can’t use water anywhere on the right side of the building above the second floor.”

Maybe that “constituent” does want this kind of accommodation. But is it a practical way to put out the fire? Everyone suffers because we give in to an unreasonable demand. Sure, some people like raking in outrageous profits from fossil fuels, but tailoring our response to serve 800 people while ignoring 8 billion is not a sustainable approach.

What if the owner of the apartment complex forbids the fire department from responding to calls altogether? Neighbors pitch in and toss pots of water against the building because they want to help. Something is better than nothing, right?

Will even one apartment in that building be saved with this level of “something”?

Homeless encampments have sprung up all over my city in recent years. Every few months, city workers are dispatched to “clean up” the encampments. This means throwing away everything possible and forcing the homeless outcasts to start setting up camp somewhere else. An eternal wandering in the desert, an unending diaspora. The displaced homeless must now scrounge for new tents, new cardboard, new everything and start over. A couple of months later, the new area is “cleaned,” the destitute robbed again of what little they have, as they are cast out into yet another part of the city to start the whole, horrible process all over again.

Our concept of human rights changes over time, evolves. Businesses that don’t grow with the times fail. So do governments.

Homelessness is not “solved” by such an approach. It’s not even alleviated.

“But they’re ruining the neighborhood!”

 That may be. But hating homeless people won’t shower their bodies or wash their clothes. Refusing to talk to them won’t help. Tossing their belongings won’t, either. And refusing to empty their trash cans only makes the problem worse.

You know what helps? Help.

“Allowing” someone to rummage through garbage to survive is a bargain basement human right. Even if our sole concern were to help middle-class residents, we can achieve that only by helping the poorest members of our community as well.

When I lived in New Orleans, my family in outlying communities refused to visit. It was too scary, too dangerous. “Ooh,” my aunt told me once, “you ride the bus? Ooh.”

Public schools receiving discount funding according to their zip code simply weren’t up to the task of providing the educational opportunities necessary to raise vast stretches of the city out of poverty. Inner-city residents suffered as a result. Middle-class and upper-class residents of the city suffered, too, with high crime rates and a huge unskilled, barely employable workforce. Even my suburban and small-town relatives suffered because they missed all the cultural opportunities New Orleans offered those brave enough to ride the bus or—gasp—walk along the sidewalk.

Everyone benefits when we all receive the healthcare we need. Everyone benefits when we aren’t spending hundreds of billions to cover increasingly destructive hurricanes and wildfires. Everyone benefits when we have a well-educated, well-trained workforce. Everyone benefits when every worker is paid a living wage.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

 Half measures, incremental steps, platitudes, and even sincerity aren’t enough. When we talk about the right to free speech, we don’t say, “We’re only going to let ten people from each community ask the senator a question this year.”

Yet this is the way we parse out other human rights. We offer cheap Blue Light Specials of tear gas and pepper spray against our own citizens. We offer consumers “a deal” by putting them out of work and then evicting them when they can’t pay their rent.

There ain’t no such thing as a free lunch. And there’s no such thing as a partial human right.

Or did I misread the Bill of Rights? Are we only guaranteed 3/5 of each right?

Our concept of human rights changes over time, evolves. Businesses that don’t grow with the times fail. So do governments. Civilizations, too. As enlightened as America’s Founding Fathers might have been in relation to what came before, they weren’t gods. We don’t have to stop progressing past the years 1776 or 1787.

“Constitutional originalist” sounds impressive. Pure. Untainted. But if we’re talking “intent,” the authors and signers of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution “intended” to allow continued enslavement of other human beings and deny women the right to vote. Let’s not Make America Barbaric Again.

An unrecognized right still exists, just as a virus does, even if it can’t be seen with the naked eye.

We need universal healthcare.

 We need tuition-free college and vocational training.

We need government-funded childcare and full funding of all public schools.

We need housing.

We need a living wage.

We need our elected representatives to treat the climate crisis like the emergency it is, not trivialize it with empty gestures: “I raked up all the dry brush from a third of an acre in the Sierras. Paradise should be set for fire season now.”

Discounting our rights only costs us more in suffering, ignorance, poverty, crime, sickness, and death.

We don’t like skimping on the quality of our food or shoes. We don’t like cutting corners on the reliability of our phones and televisions. We don’t like pirated DVDs and handbags.

 Pinching pennies with human rights will get us bootleg criminal justice contaminated with methanol, Social Security sanitizer contaminated with 1-propanol.

Johnny Townsend

America broke away from England to recognize rights that had been denied. But we still can’t seem to escape our cultural baggage. We must stop being “penny wise and pound foolish” and grant our people Grade A, Premium, Choice, First-Class human rights.

Johnny Townsend