Gray Panthers of San Francisco
January 2007 Newsletter

Human/Civil Rights Committee: FDR and Human Rights


It’s no mystery that we people who have lived a long time have in our collective unconscious the record of attempts by our government to honor humanity, diversity and justice. FDR articulated the needs of Americans during his three terms as president, from 1932, the advent of the Great Depression, to his death in 1945.

In The Second Bill of Rights: FDR’s Unfinished Revolution and Why We Need It More Than Ever, by Cass Sunstein, describes the conditions of the American people then and FDR’s response to the reality of poverty among one-third of the population. His New Deal was only the beginning of his attempt to help the people, though African Americans were left out of his concerns. His State of the Union Address of January 1944 was an appeal to Congress to legislate his Bill for Economic Justice.

It is déjà vu all over again. The economy and the needs of many of us are like the early days of the Great Depression. The human rights we advocate are also the same: education, health care, housing and the security from anxiety. Will we survive the trillion dollar debt being left by the George Bush regime? Will we find it in our hearts to offer the security of health care, housing, food, clean air and water to immigrants and African Americans and survivors of Katrina? The more history we read, the greater our understanding of the need for a Human Rights amendment to the California and finally the US Constitutions.

As FDR said in his January 1994 address: “This Republic had its beginning and grew to its present strength under the protection of certain inalienable political rights—among them the right of free speech, free press, free worship, trial by jury, freedom from unreasonable searches and seizures. They were our rights to life and liberty. As our Nation has grown in size and stature, however….these political rights proved inadequate to assure equality in the pursuit of happiness….We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. ‘Necessitous men are not free men.’ People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made… For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.”

The Second Bill of Rights: FDR’s Unfinished Revolution and Why We Need It More Than Ever, by Cass Sunstein

FDR 1944 State of the Union speech


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