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Making a Difference conference at Schweitzer Mountain Resort

North Idaho-especially Sandpoint and Bonner County-can take pride in initiatives that certain groups have  organized to eradicate prejudice and to promote diversity and good will. Take, for example, the Bonner County Human Rights Task Force sponsored "Making a Difference" Conference held on August 8-11, 2001 at Schweitzer Resort. With a membership of well over 300, the Task Force-active in the community since 1992-works to promote tolerance, support human dignity, and educate adults and youth.
     The first annual conference included various seminars and workshops conducted by human rights professionals,
including Loretta Ross, founder and executive director of the Center for
Human Rights Education in Atlanta, Georgia, who gave the keynote address on the evening of August 8.
     Ross's lecture, held in a conference room at the Schweitzer Resort, was filled to the brim with human rights advocates of all shapes, sizes, and colors.  Human rights activist Loretta Ross spoke with humor, poise, and eloquence on the topic of "Bringing Human Rights Home." Ms. Ross is involved with various "rights" issues-social, political, civil, and women's rights, including reproductive and abortion rights-but her primary concern is with human rights, which she interprets as a movement of love, compassion, and justice for all. She believes that “people are people are people,” although she laments that we have acquired a certain parochialism-a narrow-mindedness-that makes us like only that which is similar to ourselves.
     Ross asserts that, in order to change, we need to deprogram ourselves to appreciate that which is different. Ross's began her career working at the first rape crisis center in Washington, DC, and continued in the field of women's rights for 20 years, at which time she was offered a position with the CDR, monitoring hate groups in the US. She was fighting against racism, against hatred, against injustice, but, she  contends, after a time she began to question what was she fighting for. That question led her to the ideology of Dr. Martin Luther King.
     Just days before he was assassinated, King expressed his intention to establish a human rights movement, rather than a civil rights movement, Ross maintains, in which everyone is treated equally, with dignity and respect. Civil rights, she explained, are only one of five components of human rights that include civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights. The problem with the civil rights movement, according to King, was that it was incomplete.
     Ms. Ross's decision to stop being against, to stop separating, is the kind of positive critical thinking that leads to positive change. The time for being against is over. There is a shared feeling-in north Idaho and elsewhere-that we are somehow heading toward a point of healing and wholeness. To be against things is negative. You can't change anything by being against-the world is what it is. Negative energy will just boomerang back and make things worse.
     Ms. Ross is a discerning social critic: she has played the role of skeptic; she has exposed limitations, taken issue, advanced a contrary view, punctured myths. But now, she assumes the role of advocate, seeking to persuade us that something deserves our attention and merits a closer look.
     Although the process of supportive elucidation implies the opposite: that there are things in our society that are flawed, even pernicious, Ms. Ross has seen both sides of the fence and is telling us that we
need to look forward and strive to make things whole again.
     Ross believes everyone deserves access to adequate food, clothing and shelter, and the right to practice the culture and speak the language of their choice. This does not exist in America, or in most of the rest of the world. Ross maintains that the real devil within is that Americans are consumed with the right to have more, rather than to be more. The first step in resolving these inequities, Ross suggests, is to become aware of and to appreciate the privilege in our lives; to learn to talk to people without insulting their humanity; and, finally, to learn to be proud of being of European descent without elevating it over others.
     The last point, Ross believes, is the cause of much contention between races. Those who have lost their culture, she claims, envy-and therefore feel the need to subjugate-those who have cultural integrity. She admonished the crowd to find their roots, and to take pride in their culture.
     To conclude, Ms. Ross suggested that more human rights need to be incorporated into our political system; that America needs to acknowledge its obligations internationally by joining the global human rights movement already in existence; and, above all else, that we need to build a world that protects human rights.
     Other presenters at the conference included Judy Brown, Boise-based trainer for United for a Fair Economy headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts; Dr. Anne Perkins, professor at Carroll College; Kathy McGinness, staff member of the Institute for Peace and Justice; and
Thomas Warfield, founder and artistic director of PeaceArt International.

     Christine Holbert is the owner and creative drive behind Lost Horse Press, a small literary press, that is now operated out of Oden Bay.

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