Change for the Better; Hope for the Best

First United Methodist Church
Mayor Bill Bogaard
November 9, 2008

On November 9, 2009, Mayor Bogaard was invited to speak to the congregation of First United Methodist Church. He previewed the December 10 celebration of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which marks its 60th Anniversary this year, and describes his expectations for President Barack Obama in defense of human rights.

In the wake of the historic election a few days ago, on November 4, it is difficult not to talk about the new President-elect and all of our hopes for change in this country and in the world.

But Pastor Trotter has invited me to talk about a celebration occurring in Pasadena in a month—the 60th Anniversary of the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I gladly do that, and will then come back for a moment to the election.

On December 10, in our Public Library, there will be a program celebrating the United Nations’ commitment to human rights, a commitment that was launched in 1948.

This event is being organized by a community-based committee, including Pastor Trotter, with members of all ages and viewpoints, capable and committed persons who are convinced that peace and justice in the world can only be achieved through respect for human rights. The Committee is co-chaired by Judy Kent, my field representative, and by Sherry Simpson Dean, Executive Director of the United Nations-Pasadena Foothills Chapter.

The first official meeting of the UNA-Pasadena occurred in 1947. According to the minutes, “It is the aspiration of the Pasadena Area Chapter of this Association, to make some contribution toward a better understanding of present-day world problems…It seems sensible, therefore, for the persons interested in advancing international cooperation to support the United Nations…”

It was on that basis that the Pasadena Chapter began its work in educating, inspiring and mobilizing Americans to be engaged in issues of global concern and to support the principles and vital work of the United Nations. The Chapter was founded just two years after the end of WWII and after the birth of the UN.

I am proud that Pasadena was one of the earliest UNA Chapters in the nation; its formation was preceded only by UNA Chapters in the cities of New York and Washington DC.

The Chapter’s flagship program is the internationally renowned Model UN, a leadership development program involving research, debate and strategic planning components. The Chapter conducts an annual celebration of the birth of the United Nations and is currently leading the nation in grassroots environmental sustainability efforts among UNA Chapters. It also leads cultural and educational trips to countries around the world.

It might be interesting to review the background of Pasadena’s program on human rights.

Some of you will recall the controversy that occurred last year following an announcement at Tournament House in May that the Rose Parade would include a float celebrating the 2008 Olympic Games. The float—paid for by two sponsors, Avery Dennison Corporation and the Chinese American Business Roundtable—bore the Olympic symbol comprised of five overlapping circles and the words “Olympic Games 2008 Beijing”.

The Tournament had admitted floats spotlighting the Olympic Games on several prior occasions. So, it was not immediately evident that this announcement would launch an intense debate.

But soon several public interest groups called for removal of the float from the Parade on grounds that its presence gave comfort to China and its practices regarding human rights. What occurred in the months following, up to and including the day of the Parade, was active debate about China’s record on human rights and what could and should be done about it at the local level.

A few points are worth noting. One, the Tournament of Roses intends to be non-political and to create a community festival each year celebrating the new year; and it attempts to avoid political controversy. Two, those who resisted the proposal to remove the float, or otherwise to criticize China, never defended China’s practices as perfect or even acceptable. Instead, they disputed whether Pasadena’s 117-year old Tournament of Roses was the proper vehicle for attempting to change China’s human rights practices.

It was a pitched battle in which the interest groups engaged the Pasadena City Council and its Human Relations Commission, which the Council asked to consider this issue and to make a recommendation to the Council. The Commission, after hours of testimony, developed a report incorporating extensive background information and recommending not that the float be removed from the Parade, but that the City Council adopt a resolution listing alleged human rights violations in China and calling for compliance with human rights.

Thereafter, the Council took up the matter, receiving public testimony from more than 40 speakers, many of whom supported the Human Relations Commission’s approach and many who did not.

Following extended deliberations, the Council chose a different course. Feeling less than qualified to make findings about specific human rights allegations, it endorsed the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights and called for termination of human rights violations around the world, including in our own country. Although not part of the official Council action, it was suggested that the community organize a public event in which support for human rights could be demonstrated.

The event on December 10 promises to be highly interesting. The keynote speaker is Pasadena’s Jane Olson who has a long record of advocating for human rights and who serves as Chair of Human Rights Watch International. Consuls General from several countries will be present along with many other officials. The program will conclude with the formal opening of an exhibit in the Library of a series of posters celebrating human rights which was created by the students at Art Center College of Design at the request of the UN.

The exhibition recently had its debut in September in Paris at the headquarters of UNESCO, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.

I believe the program will make Pasadena proud and invite you to attend. I mentioned that the temptation is strong to talk about Tuesday’s historic election, and that I would come back to that topic before completing my remarks.

It seems to me that this celebration of the United Nations’ Declaration could not occur in a more propitious time in our history. The changes facing President-elect Obama are almost too numerous to mention and too complicated to describe, but fundamental to his success is a new dedication to human rights.

The Presidential Campaign began with the war in Iraq as its central focus. By Election Day, the minds of Americans were on the economy and the government’s failure to prevent a collapse of our financial system. Mr. Obama will have to move quickly to impose control, coherence, transparency, and fairness on the current administration’s jumbled bailout plan. There are many other issues requiring early and careful attention.

But his administration must also move quickly to identify all the ways American’s basic rights and fundamental values have been impacted during the last eight years and to rein in these trends and developments. The moral leadership of the United States should be re-established on a global basis, and this will only be possible by adhering to this nation’s traditional commitment to human rights.

In accepting the election results, the President-elect acknowledged the international challenges facing this country. He said, “And to all those watching tonight from beyond our shores, from parliaments and palaces, to those who are huddled around radios in the forgotten corners of the world, our stories are singular, but our destiny is shared, and a new dawn of American leadership is at hand.”

The world has followed the campaign of Barack Obama with an intensity that is unprecedented and the elation over his victory in country after country was well documented. There was wonderment that, in the world’s most powerful democracy, a man of African-American roots and a middle name of Hussein, an upstart community organizer who took on the political establishment, could capture the highest office in the land.

In China, where real democracy is unknown, it is interesting that an official poll conducted by the official New China News Agency, found that 83% of respondents favored Obama over McCain.

It is also interesting that China has announced a national “action plan” on such issues as torture and freedom of speech. The State Council Information Office said last week that the plan would involve “expanding democracy, strengthening the rule of law, improving people’s livelihood, protecting rights of women, children and ethnic minorities, and boosting public awareness of human rights.”

There is some skepticism about this initiative—and that skepticism may be justified—but the action plan marks the first time that China has committed to a public strategy on human rights that activists can later use as a scorecard for progress.

Ultimately, the reputation of the United States abroad depends only in part on its foreign policy. The restoration of our world leadership requires a recommitment to ordered liberty, and to compliance on the part of our institutions with the rights of individuals. A strong America, one worthy of respect at home and abroad, is one that grants those in its custody their rights, that declines to spy on citizens without warrants. It requires a president willing to share power with Congress and the courts and to subject himself to public scrutiny and accountability.

As Pasadena celebrates the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, we will join in a fervent prayer that the new administration will lead us back to a position of moral leadership in the world. But President Obama cannot do it alone.

In the words of the President-elect on the evening of the election, “…let us summon a new spirit of patriotism, of responsibility, where each of us resolves to pitch in and work harder and look after not only ourselves but each other.”  

Posted: 11/9/2008 09:00:00 AM
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