Meeting Review: Northwest Coalition for Human Rights and Finding the Center

This summary was written for the December 2011 newsletter by Lindsay Brown, Senior, Public Relations, University of Idaho and Kristin Carlson, Coordinator for the Northwest Coalition for Human Rights

*****

The Northwest Coalition for Human Rights inaugural meeting held on Saturday, November 5, 2011 brought together dozens of activists from around Idaho and Washington to share their experiences progressing human rights efforts in their communities.

Finding the Center: Purpose and Successes. The first hour of the meeting was dedicated to a follow-up of last April’s Finding the Center Human Rights Conference. Five individuals who participated in the conference last spring spoke about volunteer Action Commitments they made on April 9th and completed over the summer and fall. The individuals explained how their projects made lasting impacts on human rights work in their communities.

A slide from Toney Driver's presentation on Finding the Center.

Toney Driver of the Center for Health, Education, and Economic Resources introduced the speakers. As one of the founding members of Finding the Center, Driver talked about the history of the group. He explained that the conference was founded as a way to provide new ideas, methods, and tools to improve and enhance community members’ work and lives.  Driver summarized the impacts that Finding the Center has made in the community since its inception in 2005 and talked about plans that the group has for the future, including a conference in fall of 2013.

Denise Carl, Coordinator of Student Engagement and Leadershup Programs at the University of Idaho, was the first to present her Action Commitment. Carl’s project was to help fight injustice and create a more inclusive and welcoming environment on campus. She met this goal by creating Campus Conversations, a monthly open dialogue event on campus where community members can express their concerns and help students understand the impact of their actions. So far, Campus Conversations topics have included How Do You Show Others You Care? (in reaction to the shooting death of Katy Benoit), Free Speech on College Campuses, Protesting for Social Change, and a forum led by Dr. Mark Braverman, who writes about the Israel/Palestinian conflict.

A slide from Bev Bafus's presentation on food insecurity on the Palouse.

Moscow community member Bev Bafus spoke next. Bafus helped Chief David Duke of the Moscow Police Department fulfill his Action Commitment by introducing a food pantry at Moscow’s Trinity Baptist Church, where Duke is a church elder. Bafus decided that she needed to do something about food insecurity on the Palouse when she began working with the Idaho Food Bank, the national organization Feeding America, and the local group Backyard Harvest: Using Feeding America data, Bafus learned that over 13,500 people in Latah and Whitman counties combined are define as “food insecure.” Furthermore, neither county was fulfilling food bank donation needs as defined by Feeding America. The Trinity Moscow Food Pantry opened in May 2011, serving five families its first week, and serving eighty-two families in the last week of October 2011.

ESL teacher Ellen Magnuson talks about her International Parent Night at West Park Elementary School in Moscow.

English as a Second Language teacher Ellen Magnuson, who works at West Park Elementary School in Moscow, was the third presenter. Magnuson wanted to make the parents of her international students feel more welcome in the community, so she put on a parent night for international families this October.  She collected materials about the community to hand out to interested families, including information about free English language programs. Magnuson emphasized the importance of involving everyone in the community and said she hopes International Parents Night will become an annual event.

Next University of Idaho Sociology student Megan Kehrein spoke about how she fulfilled her Action Commitment to reduce poverty and homelessness by volunteering with Habitat for Humanity over the summer in her hometown of Woodland, California. Kehrein applied what she learned at the spring conference to her experience volunteering with the nonprofit: Megan related how Finding the Center training in interpersonal effectiveness and positive leadership helped prepare her for her volunteer experience. Through her work with Habitat, Kehrein was able to understand how passion and communication were key components in human rights work.

Awwad-Rafferty participated in a Stop the Hate Train the Trainers program at the University of Idaho.

Rula Awwad-Rafferty was the final Finding the Center participant to present her Action Commitment.  As a very active member of the Palouse community, Awwad-Rafferty decided to make three Commitments: First Awwad-Rafferty got involved in Stop the Hate Training through the University of Idaho Office of Human Rights, then she implemented her training in both a university class she taught on globalization, and in social justice workshops and forums for the City of Moscow Human Rights Commission, of which she is a member. Awwad-Rafferty’s work centered on the notion that education is the keystone to stopping hate. She said that ignorance is a large barrier in understanding other cultures and that people need to be trained in diversity at an early age. Awwad-Rafferty concluded that “persistence is important; giving up is not an option” when it comes to handling situations where a lack of understanding is the root of the problem.

History of the Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment and Human Rights Work in Our Region. After a lunch break, the topic of the meeting shifted to planning, advising, and discussion related to the creation of the new Northwest Coalition for Human Rights. First Tony Stewart, of the Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations, spoke about the history of human rights groups in the Northwest. Stewart described the biggest achievements and downfalls of various kinds of groups to both encourage and caution the Northwest Coalition for Human Rights in their formation.

The Moscow-Pullman Daily News featured a picture of Tony Stewart on Monday, Nov. 7th.

Stewart identified three kinds of non-governmental human and civil rights groups in America: National groups such as the NAACP, local task forces such as the Ada County Task Force near Boise, and regional groups such as the Human Rights Education Institute in Coeur d’Alene (see his handout). Stewart explained how, from his perspective as a human rights worker with forty years of experience, different groups managed to achieve longevity. Stewart advised NWCHR to stick to a clear mission, to be persistent, and to take criticism and disagreement in stride. He warned that regional human rights groups seem to face the biggest challenges to achieving longevity, and described the history of the regional Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment (NWCAMH) as illustration.* However, Stewart’s talk also demonstrated the need fulfilled by NWCAMH, which provided a network for human rights workers in Idaho, Washington, Oregon, Montana, and Utah between 1986 and 1999.

Next Sister Carol Ann Wassmuth of St. Gertrude’s Monastery in Cottonwood, ID addressed the history of the Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment, which was directed by her late brother, Bill Wassmuth, once a Father at St. Pius X Catholic Church in Coeur d’Alene. Wassmuth helped form NWCAMH with Tony Stewart and the Kootenai County Task Force, and he became known as a very engaging and effective leader, eventually moving with NWCAMH to Seattle. Sister Wassmuth recalled that multiple faith groups and religious leaders were instrumental in speaking out against hate when Richard Butler and the Aryan Nations were situated in Hayden Lake, ID. She also reminded the audience that, though Bill Wassmuth is revered as a human rights activist, “we need to be very careful we don’t make a superhero out of him.” While her brother’s success can be used as a model for human rights groups today, she reminded the audience that “he was one of us” and that we all have the same potential that Bill did to make a lasting difference in the human rights field.

Joann Muneta describes the possibilities for a renewed human rights coalition for the Northwest.

Hopes for a Renewed Northwest Coalition. Once the history of human rights work in the Northwest was established, Chairperson of the Latah County Human Rights Task Force Joann Muneta introduced the idea of a renewed regional Coalition for the Northwest. Muneta reviewed some of the benefits offered by the former Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment, including the opportunity to meet periodically to share stories and strategies. She agreed with Tony Stewart’s advice that, in order to succeed in the long-term, NWCHR will need to communicate with other groups and to never lose sight of their focus. Muneta added that when working in a field so emotionally engaging, it is important to keep a sense of humor.

Muneta emphasized that the new Coalition “can be what we want it to be,” urging the meeting’s attendees to consider how everyone can work together “to communicate, to make a difference, and to keep their focus.”

Then the meeting was opened up to audience members to share insight about their own experiences working with human rights. Individuals as well as representatives from groups around the region shared information about their achievements and their future plans to contribute to their communities.  (See below for a list of human rights-related groups at the meeting.)

Finally, meeting  attendees were asked to break into small groups, table by table, to discuss the Northwest Coalition for Human Rights. The following questions were posed:

What should the mission of the Coalition be?

What do you want from a Coalition?

What do you want to contribute to a Coalition?

Participants were also given time to write responses to these and other questions on individual feedback sheets. As noted at the beginning of this article, this feedback is being compiled and will be available on this website and in our December Newsletter next month.

Following the open discussion and feedback period, Carmen Suarez, Director of the University of Idaho Office of Human Rights, Access, and Inclusion, made some brief closing comments and the meeting ended.

The November 5th meeting brought together many passionate and talented human rights workers from various communities in the Northwest. The enthusiasm demonstrated by the participants was inspiring and the stories they shared were encouraging. The support shown and the interest demonstrated at this introductory meeting provided an excellent kickoff for the organization.

* For more information about the history of NWCAMH, the Kootenai County Task Force, and other human rights task forces that were formed in reaction to Richard Butler, see the book “Common Courage: Bill Wassmuth, Human Rights, and Small-Town Activism” by Andrea Vogt and watch the PBS documentary, “The Color of Conscience: Human Rights in Idaho” at http://video.idahoptv.org/video/1949293974/

*****

Thank you to everyone who attended this meeting and made our discussion possible! Whether you are already part of a human rights group, or an individual interested in human rights in your community, your input and involvement is important for the success of the Northwest Coalition for Human Rights. We will be in touch!

*****

The following groups were represented at the NWCHR meeting on November 5th:

Benewah Human Rights Coalition

Bonner County Human Rights Task Force

CHEER: Center for Health, Education, and Economic Resources (Moscow, ID)

City of Moscow: Human Rights Commission

City of Moscow: Mayor Chaney

City of Pullman: Human Rights Committee

City of Pullman: Police Department

Eastern Washington University

Gonzaga University

Human Rights Education Institute (Coeur d’Alene, ID)

Inland Oasis, Inc. (Moscow, ID)

Interfaith House (Pullman, WA)

Kootenai County Task Force on Human Relations

Latah County Human Rights Task Force

Lewis-Clark State College

Monastery of St. Gertrude (Cottonwood, ID)

Moscow Cares

Odyssey Youth Center (Spokane, WA)

Planned Parenthood of Greater Washington and North Idaho

Purcell Systems, Inc. (Spokane Valley, WA)

Sacred Heart Catholic Church

Spokane Human Rights Commission

Trinity Moscow Food Pantry

University of Idaho (including: Annual Giving; College Assistance Migrant Program; Disability Support Services; IT Systems, Student Affairs; Multicultural Affairs; Office of Human Rights, Access, and Inclusion; Payroll and Benefit Services; Student Financial Aid)

Whitman County Commissioner

Washington State University Center for Civic Engagement

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About nwchr

The Northwest Coalition for Human Rights (NWCHR) exists to facilitate connections and communication among organizations and individuals who are engaged in human rights and social justice work in the Northwest region of the United States, with special focus on the Inland Northwest. The coalition, inspired by Bill Wassmuth's former Northwest Coalition Against Malicious Harassment, will give strength to those working at the local level by allowing them to share resources, information, and ideas, as well as making them part of a larger support system. The University of Idaho Office of Human Rights, Access, and Inclusion (HRAI) in Moscow serves as the administrative home for the NWCHR, and the Coalition strives to build strong membership from throughout Idaho and eastern Washington, as well as from other parts of the Northwest region. All are welcome to join NWCHR and give their input.
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