For International Human Rights Day, a panel discussion in Eugene.
Scott Lemons (Human Rights Commission chair): We are here to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is rooted in the universal principles of dignity, equality, and freedom that transcend time and culture. These principles are as applicable today as they were when this was adopted in 1948.
[00:00:28] John Q: Introducing the panelists, co-chair of the Homelessness and Poverty Workgroup, Thomas Hiura:
[00:00:33] Thomas Hiura (HRC Homelessness & Poverty Work Group): Sandy Weintraub is a member of the Jewish Community Relations Council and a past president of the Jewish Federation of Lane County. He serves as the senate secretary and advisor to the president at the University of Oregon and is a graduate of the University of Oregon School of Law. He’s lived in Eugene since 2014 with his wife and two children.
[00:00:59] Blake Burrell (HRC Homelessness and Poverty Work Group): How have recent global events impacted our Jewish community locally, and what proactive role can local government play in fostering understanding, inclusivity, and dialogue between different religious or ethnic groups, particularly during times of heightened sensitivity or tension?
[00:01:18] Sandy Weintraub: The Jewish community, nationwide and worldwide, is a complicated one beyond description. I think that a lot of people in the community have felt a very, very personal connection to what’s been going on globally.
[00:01:35] I think another piece of it is that a lot of people in our community have felt like they’ve worked very, very hard to have a seat at the table in the human rights discourse and dialogue and a lot of people within those communities now are questioning that space.
[00:01:53] And I’ll tell you that I understand in some ways why, I do, and I think it’s really important that that’s recognized.
[00:02:02] But I think that the people in this community who have been working really, really hard to have that seat at the table just want to remind that we live here in Eugene, Oregon. We’re a small Jewish community in Eugene, Oregon. We’ve chosen to live in a small Jewish community that is not a place like New York or Chicago or Los Angeles, where there’s a lot of people who identify as Jewish in those communities.
[00:02:27] And a large percentage of the Jewish people in Eugene, Oregon identify with progressive causes, identify with everything that is in the human rights declaration, everything that everyone at this table is talking about. And a lot of people in that community feel very, very differently about global events.
[00:02:45] But none of us, unless we specifically say so, represent the government of another country, or the actions of government of another country. And when someone hears that you are Jewish, that’s something that’s been happening, and I recognize that. You can’t hide from the realities of how people feel.
[00:03:01] It’s a difficult thing when I think that very intentional allyship is something that the Jewish community in Eugene, in Lane County has been focused on for a long time in various communities. We try to show up when other communities are in pain, and we’ve always appreciated when those communities have shown up for us and we see that. And it’s gotten harder.
[00:03:22] There’s going to be debates about resolutions about the global events, focuses of organizations about the global events, all those things we understand are going to be on the table. And I recognize that the passion about those issues is exceptional.
[00:03:39] And there’s good reason for it. People are dying. A lot of people are dying. It’s horrible suffering that’s going on. It’s horrible. And when people around the world see that type of suffering from all the people involved, it’s heartbreaking. People have an exceptionally visceral reaction to that.
[00:03:57] But one thing just to keep an eye on is the language that is used to describe those things means something very specific to people in the Jewish community. And it doesn’t mean that other folks don’t have the right to say it.
[00:04:10] I’m actually an extreme—I’m a pretty clear free speech advocate. I’ve served in my previous role as the Director of Student Conduct at the University of Oregon, where we’re having to go by the First Amendment. We have to be really, really intentional about allowing protests and allowing language and understand the discrepancy between harassment and protest speech and things like that. I’ve had to think about these things a lot personally.
[00:04:31] But the language that’s used, even if it’s something that is completely believed, it’s just understanding that certain words, certain phrases, certain descriptions of actions that are taken have a history to them and have a personal connection to a lot of people; that if they are the basis of a conversation, it becomes really, really difficult to have a dialogue about them.
[00:04:53] And I’m actually intentionally not saying those words, and the reason I’m not is because I have seen what is happening when you say those words, to be frank, and I don’t want that to happen. And I think it’s important to own that. And I hope you can tell I’m here to have a real dialogue. I’m here because we so much appreciate having a seat at the table, because we are small.
[00:05:18] We did research that we want to understand the Jewish community in Lane County. We coordinated with Brandeis University, it does national demographic surveys and what they noticed when they did the work on Eugene, specifically, was that we follow a lot of the patterns in smaller Jewish communities, especially in a college—a town that has a college in it, in a lot of ways.
[00:05:39] But the one area that we just are way above average is experiencing antisemitism, and people having that specific personal experience of having an antisemitic incident occur to them.
[00:05:52] There’s a long history of that here, and it’s why I think we’ve been so successful having a seat at this table, and why we appreciate that because there’s an acknowledgement that those experiences are in many ways shared.
[00:06:03] We still want to be here. We want to have those conversations. I mean, we desperately care about this being a human rights city, and having this dialogue, and so, yeah, it’s a tough time, but we just appreciate being here.
[00:06:18] Blake Burrell (HRC Homelessness and Poverty Work Group): Ibrahim Hamide is a native Palestinian. Ibrahim grew up in Bethlehem, immigrating to Eugene in 1969 at the age of 18 to attend the University of Oregon. He has been advocating for the restoration and vigilance for rights of people that fall through the cracks of society, such as the mentally ill, homeless, as well as rights that are enshrined in the Universal Human Rights Declaration. When Ib isn’t helping Eugene creating community and belonging, he is the head chef and owner of Cafe Soriah.
[00:06:52] Thomas Hiura (HRC): Ibrahim, how can local government proactively promote religious freedom, combat discrimination against the Muslim community, and support initiatives addressing Islamophobia, particularly in the context of national and international events that may create tension or misunderstanding with the goal of fostering a more inclusive and tolerant society.
[00:07:15] Ibrahim Hamide: Addressing legislation to prosecute violators of hate crimes—that would be a really good thing, and also the prevention of hate crimes would be a really good thing, and that means we need to educate each other about misconceptions; of what Islam is, for instance, addressing Islamophobia, for instance.
[00:07:42] I was one of a couple of people that presented to city council one time about, when there’s a hate crime or a hate incident, I would really like to see the mayor, the chief of police, the city council or representative of the city council stand up and say, ‘Not in our town.’ Not just condemn the hate act, but also speak about alternatives.
[00:08:13] How do we bring tolerance? How do we put our arms around our community and make it a more livable place? That’s another thing.
[00:08:25] And, of course, diversity is crucial. We’re part of the marginalized communities. The report that Bonnie Souza and Ken Neubeck put out with the Human Rights Commission included 11, 12, 13, maybe, marginalized communities. That pamphlet is on the desk of almost every department head in the city of Eugene.
[00:08:48] And we need a multicultural center in Eugene. So the city needs to walk the talk, okay? Talk is cheap, as they say. So let’s see a multicultural center. I would love to see that.
[00:09:06] And I know the mayor said that Eugene is a human rights city. I remember Ken Neubeck and I, when we were on the commission together, that we worked on making Eugene a human rights city. And I am very pleased to hear that Eugene is looking with a prism of human rights at issues that are local.
[00:09:32] Because guess what? Everything is really local. As Sandy said, you know, the Jewish community is very small here, and so is the Muslim and Arab community. But we count. We do count, and we do want a seat at the table. We want to be part of the dialogue. We want to be part of the conversation. We do have feelings, believe it or not.
[00:09:57] So, (laughs) those are the things that I think the local city can do.
[00:10:04] You know, one of the things that when I first came here that I noticed is that people smiled at me. They were welcoming, and I was a nobody, I mean, just a student, an 18-year-old, 19-year-old student that happened to just walk into this rainy city of Eugene, and you know, it was hippiedom, and you know, the whole thing was strange to me.
[00:10:33] I mean, I could have landed on the surface of the moon, and it couldn’t have been any weirder, right?
[00:10:40] This, nonetheless, has become my home. I built a family. I’m a father, I’m a husband, and I have set root here, and I’m also an employer, I have been for a long, long time, and still work my buns off, so it behooves me to make sure that my city is healthy.
[00:11:03] So I want every, I want those minorities to flourish: The disabled community, the Latino community, the Jewish community, all of them, they’re members, they’re members of the fabric of this society. And without them, we’re just less effective, I think and less humane and human. And it is, after all, the human rights declaration day that we’re celebrating right now.
[00:11:34] Thomas Hiura: Maya Rabasa: After immigrating to the U.S. from Mexico as a child, Maya grew up speaking Spanish and French at home and learning English at school. Though Maya originally came to Eugene 25 years ago to attend the University of Oregon, she fell in love with the community and the mountains and stayed to raise her family.
[00:11:53] A former teacher, Maya has dedicated her life to serving the community by advocating for public education and actively works to transform our public school system into a culturally responsive, equity-focused institution. Maya is especially passionate about centering the needs of our immigrant families and celebrating the cultural richness they bring to our community through her service as co-president of the board of directors of Plaza de Nuestra Comunidad.
[00:12:21] Blake Burrell (HRC Homelessness and Poverty Work Group): So our next question is for Maya. How have national events and discourse, both positive and negative, impacted our Hispanic or Latino community locally, and what effective strategies do you recommend for local government to engage with the community in addressing cultural and economic disparities, ensuring an inclusive approach to policymaking?
[00:12:44] Maya Rabasa: So I think it won’t be surprising to say that a handful of years ago, when we had a new administration under the leadership of Donald Trump, we had a pretty huge surge in the normalization of hateful rhetoric and positions and also the implementation of policy based on those.
[00:13:04] So that normalization in our everyday lives has definitely become quieter and a little bit more subversive. It’s not outright, however. That is in contrast to any shift in our federal policies that leaves our community feeling really distrustful of our federal government.
[00:13:24] And I think specifically as immigration law, you know, we talk often about DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) and while that created the idea that there would be avenues towards citizenship, we’re not seeing those purposes fulfilled and we continue to see a lack of permanent policy put in place. So that trickles down to the state and local level in terms of trust.
[00:13:46] One of the things that I have seen happening and would like to see more of is the diversification of involvement in the work of committees or boards. We had one case recently with the city of Eugene Climate Action Panel where we had a client of our organization who was extremely interested and felt a roadblock of language.
[00:14:08] The city of Eugene allowed a staff member to attend meetings with her, and she was able to participate fully for the length of the process. It’s my understanding that this ended up being the first monolingual Spanish speaker to testify before the city of Eugene, and now we have a model. We have a pathway forward.
[00:14:27] So for us, it would be really helpful if we put some more intentionality into thinking about the time of meetings, the access to how we attend meetings, the place that we have meetings and recognizing that this trust is legitimate and that that means that attending meetings in government facilities is not going to be a pathway for participation for a whole lot of people whose voices are really valuable.
[00:14:52] It would be wonderful to do something similar to the access to healthcare that OHA has done with food or housing on a local level.
[00:14:59] Looking specifically out of the work coming out of the University of California Center for Othering and Belonging, I’d like us to think about the concept of targeted universalist policymaking and in thinking about how, if we are able to identify overall needs and target those who are most impacted then targeting our policies and we have an outcomes-based action model.
[00:15:24] Thomas Hiura (HRC): Thank you, Maya Rabasa. I think your comments on full participation in what’s going on are relevant to a question to Scott Lemons as well.
[00:15:32] Scott Lemons is a disability advocate and mental health professional with a decade of dedicated involvement in Eugene-area public policy. He is currently the program coordinator and peer support specialist at Lane Independent Living Alliance (LILA), and represents underserved and marginalized communities on several community advisory boards.
[00:15:54] Behind his empathetic leadership lies a wealth of lived experience. As an unhoused youth, he had to personally navigate systems that leave many in our society perpetually falling through the cracks. He now helps to alleviate what suffering he can by empowering and assisting others with accessing and navigating resources to secure equitable and affordable housing, ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) accommodations, trauma-informed care, and more.
[00:16:19] Scott, how can local government comprehensively address the needs and rights of individuals with disabilities, ensuring their full consideration in policies and initiatives promoting dignity, freedom, and justice, and concurrently, how can it actively promote accessibility and inclusivity in public spaces, services, and employment opportunities for this community?
[00:16:43] Scott Lemons (HRC chair): Such a big question. My first point is ensuring representation of people with disabilities within city leadership on advisory boards and in all departments.
[00:16:54] How else are we going to know what we’re doing right and how we can improve, if we do not have people with these perspectives within these boards, as well as thinking about the new generation. If I don’t see someone with a disability up there on city council, how can I ever see how I can get to city council?
[00:17:11] So I think that’s super important as well as what the city of Eugene has been doing recently. The one example I’m going to take is the neurodiversity group that the city of Eugene has formed. That’s an inter-departmental group that actually celebrates and supports people who are neurodiverse. So encouraging and expanding efforts along those lines.
[00:17:31] Another point that I really want to drive home: Do not make policies or procedures that limit one’s potential, nor shape society’s view of what a person’s potential is. So, for example, we got rid of sheltered workshops in 2010. That’s where we could pay people with disabilities lower than minimum wage for their work. So I’m glad that Oregon is moving in the right direction here.
[00:17:56] Another great spot is, special education in Oregon is now focused on maximizing one’s potential and applying to a person’s strength versus seeing them as just a student that we have to get through the system.
[00:18:10] We all as individuals get to choose when we make risks and when we go for it in life and when we don’t. And society and governmental organizations have kind of lowered expectations for people with disabilities.
[00:18:27] And when that happened to me personally, when my family lowered my expectations, my personal expectations dropped. And it took me 10 years and a lot of champions to bring me back to where I’m at today, to be able to speak to you. And that plays into the high cost of low expectations. Please do not expect less out of me just because I have a disability. Quite honestly, the disability community is one of the most untapped resources that society has.
[00:18:56] And then the freedom of self-determination. That is also, I believe, an essential human right. But the way policies and procedures are right now, people with disabilities do not fully have the right to self-determination. The government should not be playing a parental role.
[00:19:13] Making spaces safe and accessible—that’s another huge one. Consider, like, how you’re putting out information: Is it going to be accessible to someone who has a learning disability? Is it going to be accessible to someone who can’t hear or can’t see? We’ve been doing a great job with language translation and language accessibility. I would really like to see us do more with mental health.
[00:19:34] The ADA is the start, not the end. You know, the ADA came in in 1992, and I’m happy to have it, but the ADA covered people with physical disabilities to the very bare minimum. There are mental health disabilities, there’s intellectual disabilities, and we need to be not just considering this, but bringing these people into these conversations and spaces.
[00:19:55] Come and join our spaces. You know, the disability community, through self-stigma, through societal stigma, and through other reasons has become very insular and does not feel like we can participate in the community fully. And what we’ve been doing so far is going out into the community, field trips, or whatever you might want to call it. Now, how we’re seeing this is bringing the community into our spaces that we’ve created to show what we’re capable of and what makes us feel safe and special and showing our talents.
[00:20:27] Just please understand that the problem is not that a person has a disability, it is that society has not figured out a way to make this person able to participate in society. So, please do more to invite us into your spaces as we will with you.
[00:20:45] Please keep in mind that having a disability is the only historically marginalized group that most people will become a part of in their lives.
[00:20:51] And I just want to leave you with this quote: ‘There is no greater disability in society than the inability to see someone as more.‘
[00:21:01] Blake Burrell (HRC Homelessness and Poverty Work Group): Demond Hawkins is currently serving as the president of the Eugene Springfield NAACP and holds a position of senior health equity specialist at Trillium Community Health Plan. With a background rooted in his faith, family, and strong work ethic, Demond brings a wealth of experience and expertise to his roles.
[00:21:21] Demond is particularly passionate about promoting diversity, health, equity, and inclusion, as well as recognizing and dismantling systemic barriers associated with racism.
[00:21:31] How can leaders from different marginalized communities collaborate to address common challenges and amplify their collective voices in advocating for dignity, freedom, and justice at both the local and broader levels?
[00:21:47] Demond Hawkins: Collaboration is what we should always be doing within our community as a whole. Any problem that is in the marginalized community is a problem of Eugene’s, right? When we think about education, I think about the graduation rate for African-American kids, right? But the reality is the graduation rate for the state of Oregon is lower than the national level, right? So it really is a collaborative problem, a collective problem for all of us.
[00:22:13] So, if we think about the things needed for the marginalized community, it actually impacts the overall success of the entire community. When we think about housing in that sense, so we think about those that are unhoused, but those are falling out of housing at the same time, it’s affecting all of us.
[00:22:32] But if we look at it, when we talk about home ownership and making sure that more people are owning than renting, it’s affecting all of us. So how we do these things is we have this great record of having the most community-based organizations per capita than anywhere else in the country, which sounds great on the surface, but it means that we’ve decided to do things separately.
[00:22:58] I’m going to go do my own, right? And the best way to be impactful is really to collaborate and use the strengths of each of us. And so sometimes that means that it’s an organization or community—marginalized community that’s different from yours, but they have something that that they can do that they can leverage on their end to help out some of us, right?
[00:23:20] If we do those things, I think we create an example of how it’s supposed to be, again, that euphoric type of community here where we succeed together.
[00:23:31] Ibrahim Hamide: You know, I would dovetail into what Demond said, also that it takes some courage, especially under circumstances, the global ones that Sandy and I have touched on. As MLK said: ‘There is never a wrong time to do the right thing.’ So I don’t want people to be pro-Palestinian or pro-Israeli, but I’d rather have them be pro-justice.
[00:24:06] And I know that’s a more defensible position, but also I know that that could be defined differently, especially under pressure, because when there’s pressure, guess what we do? Birds of a feather flock together, right? We go to each our corner, and only the brave ones, the ones that seek true justice, move to the middle.
[00:24:33] And in the middle, the prerogative of walking down the middle is that you can see both sides of the fence. You can see this viewpoint, and you can see this viewpoint. And I think that’s valuable. I think that’s how a healthy society becomes healthy. When we stop being sectarian, when we stop being tribal.
[00:24:58] Scott Lemons (HRC chair): How do we get different marginalized communities to collaborate? First of all, it’s understanding the shared experience and the shared struggles that we are going through together. I think, in my personal opinion, of course, but society, self-stigma, and a lot of other things have created this system, and this way of interacting with people, where, as he’s talking about, we are so tribal, and we go back to our communities, whereas, it would be best if we can see the community as the entire human race.
[00:25:29] John Q: The panel highlighted the need for a multicultural center.
[00:25:34] Maya Rabasa: I’m just going to add my voice of support for the multicultural center, or whatever it ends up being called. We have so many opportunities to engage with other communities within our community. My concern is that sometimes those events become almost events where we’re experiencing, like, a little bit of cultural tourism per se, right?
[00:25:54] So, all of us who are part of minoritized communities already live an intercultural life where we are transcending and moving constantly between different cultures and the opportunity to expand that so that a dominant culture can also have that experience, I think would really be much more likely to happen within the context of what it is describing for a project and a physical space.
[00:26:22] If we can create a space where we know this is a space to go to, this is a space where I’ll learn, this is a space where I can teach, I think that we’ll have a chance for collaborative growth and understanding.
[00:26:34] John Q: The panel also highlighted the need for civics education.
[00:26:39] Sandy Weintraub: What I’m hearing and what you’re calling for as well is a renewed understanding that civics education and a civics education that is built upon humanity and built on understanding that being a good human is a part of being a part of government; learning that service is important…
[00:26:55] And I’m on my soapbox here, but I care a lot about higher education and really actually believe that a liberal arts education model, at least in a way that does base itself in history and humanity, it can give you a grounding that can just make you a more collaborative human being if you want to move more towards the middle, because you’re learning the experience of others in a true and profound way.
[00:27:16] Demond Hawkins: I love the way that Mayor Vinis talked about that we’re a human rights city, right? When we don’t address things that really cause issues with equity and injustice, if we don’t address it for the marginalized communities, it gives space for those things to expand out to other parts of our population as well. Then it becomes a city of not about health or not about human rights, but begins to leave us in a place where no one feels safe, right?