Human Rights

Anita Hill testified at Senate hearings

Law professor whose appearance before the Senate at the October 1991 Supreme Court confirmation of Justice Clarence Thomas ignited a storm of sexual and racial controversy. Under subpoena, Hill–a black woman who had worked in 1982 as Thomas’s assistant at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission–alleged that Thomas, also black, had repeatedly pressured her for dates and made lurid remarks (most famously about the penis of porn star Long Dong Silver and a “pubic hair” on his Coke can).

During the three days of Democrat-chaired televised hearings, an estimated 30 million households watched as a panel of white male Senators attempted to discredit Hill, with Republicans Orrin Hatch and Arlen Specter suggesting, respectively, that Hill (a Republican) was in collusion with liberal groups and harbored erotic fantasies about Thomas. Thomas, who complained that the proceedings were a “high-tech lynching” of an “uppity” black, was confirmed. Hill, who had endured the scrutiny… Continue reading

Anti-gay rights initiatives

State referenda to block local ordinances that prohibit discrimination against homosexuals. In the November 1992 elections, Colorado’s voters approved Amendment 2–spearheaded by the Board of Colorado for Family Values–to deny gays the “special privileges” of Denver, Aspen, and Boulder laws guaranteeing civil rights for homosexuals in matters of employment and housing.

In Oregon, a similar initiative, Ballot Measure 9, was pushed by the religious Oregon Citizens Alliance but defeated after heavy campaigning on both sides. Gay and civil rights groups nationwide launched a boycott of Colorado to protest the law (a perversely abundant snowfall, however, led to a booming tourist season); later in 1993, the state Supreme Court declared the amendment unconstitutional.

While that decision was in appeal, petition drives by the religious right failed to put similar measures on the popular ballot in Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Nevada, Ohio, and Washington. By election time, only Oregon (Measure… Continue reading

Amnesty International

First human rights group (founded 1961) systematically to catalog human rights abuses around the world. Based in London, Amnesty became a household name in the ’80s through major concert tours, such as the 1986 Conspiracy of Hope (including U2, Peter Gabriel, Lou Reed, Joan Baez, Bryan Adams, and the Police) and the 1988 Human Rights Now tour (including Bruce Springsteen, Gabriel, Sting, Tracy Chapman, and Youssou N’Dour).

Such celebrity-endorsed events (and massive direct-mail campaigns) multiplied the organization’s membership in the U.S. tenfold from some 40,000 members at the start of the ’80s.

In addition to being well respected in the rights field for its annual Report on Torture and Political Persecution Around the World (which typically includes harsh criticism of the U.S. prison system), Amnesty can point to dozens of political prisoners freed through letter-writing drives carried out by its grassroots membership.

Amnesty’s own definition of human rights has evolved… Continue reading