Los Angeles Unites for Human Rights
LA City council members, community and religious leaders join with citizens to launch 55th year of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights with a county-wide “Multathlon for Human Rights.”
On December 10, 2002, Mayor James Hahn issued a special proclamation announcing that day, on behalf of the LA City Council, as “Human Rights Day” across the Southland. And with the reading of his words by councilman Tom Lebonge, the “Los Angeles Multathlon for Human Rights 2002” began.
THE RUN FOR HUMAN RIGHTS IS ON. Over 200 well-wishers gathered at the steps of City Hall to see off more than 50 athletes — each bearing flags from different countries and bringing translated copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to deliver to people throughout the Southland. Their purpose: To unite Greater LA’s diverse cultures for human rights.
In the Mayor’s pronouncement, he urged “all citizens to work with the principles of Human Rights and to take an active role in the events and activities being organized on this 54th Anniversary,” referring to the Multathlon. And over the five days of events that followed, Angelenos from downtown LA to the South Bay, from Long Beach to Malibu and the Valley, did just that.
“The Crucial Connection”
It all started on that unseasonably warm December morning, on the steps of Los Angeles City Hall, where City Council members, county officials and human rights groups gathered to raise the curtain on a parade of upcoming events in celebration of Human Rights Day 2002.
From speaker to speaker, one resounding message called for unified adherence by all citizens to one vital document of peace — the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights. For that document, adopted by the United Nations in 1948, and the Human Rights Day celebration of it, have everything to do with triumphing over the threats to our peace and security that we all face today, both at home and abroad.
Norma Foster, President of the United Nations Association USA (UNA-USA) Los Angeles-Pacific Chapter, opened the proceedings at City Hall. She announced that, for the 30th successive year, at UNA-USA’s request, the city of Los Angeles had issued a proclamation recognizing Human Rights Day.
But this year, she said, in co-sponsorship with the Church of Scientology’s Human Rights Department, the LA-Pacific Chapter of UNA-USA would bring to the city of Los Angeles a truly unique human rights initiative: not just a one day commemoration, but a five-day series of dedication events — the 2002 Multathlon to Unite Greater LA for Human Rights.
Making Human Rights a Fact
Ms. Foster continued, reminding the audience, people representing all corners of the greater LA community, just how the world stood when the Declaration was unveiled by human rights champion and First Lady, Eleanor Roosevelt in 1948.
LA Multathlon - Route Traveled
World War II, the most terrible conflict in modern history, had just ended. The full extent of the horrible crimes perpetrated by Nazi Germany against the Jewish people and racial and ethnic minorities had only recently come to light. Thus, forty-six governments came together to establish the United Nations. One of the UN’s first acts was to proclaim a charter of human rights to help prevent future catastrophes — thus the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was born.
As Ms. Foster closed, the other eminent speakers picked up and expressed the common concerns we all experience today, as we are again faced with the consequences of war and the potential for inhumane brutality and widespread destruction. And thus, the need for human rights. That message has particular relevancy for all Angelenos who remember a city on fire a decade ago — and the hatred, intolerance and injustice that burned within our own communities.
Each of those speakers at the City Hall steps — among them, Council members Tom LeBonge, Eric Garcetti and Ruth Galanter, a representative of Los Angeles County Supervisor Yvonne Brathwaite Burke and Rabbi Allen I. Freehling of the LA City Human Relations Commission — emphasized the importance of human rights not just on Human Rights Day, but on every day by every citizen [See “One Voice for Tolerance and Human Rights”].
No less an authority than U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has summated why this is so vital:
“The crucial connection between human rights and international peace and security is becoming more widely understood. Large-scale human rights violations are not merely the product of civil and ethnic conflict, they are also a major cause of such conflicts.”
The Multathlon Events
What is a “Multathlon”?
It is a coined word that means “many contests.” The two hundred people attending the city hall ceremony that morning had come to see the launch of the LA Multathlon, to be undertaken by a team of athletes who ran, cycled, walked, skateboarded and even in-line skated on a 250-mile journey for human rights through the Southland.
Ruth Galanter, Los Angeles City Council member
The various Multathlon events — planned over five days — were organized by the Church of Scientology and the International Foundation for Human Rights and Tolerance.
With Los Angeles having the most ethnically diverse population in the United States, the purpose of the endeavor was to have our city act as a beacon for the rest of the world in respecting the rights of its many different communities. In the words of Leisa Goodman, Human Rights Director of the Church of Scientology International, “As we begin this 55th year of the Declaration, we are seeking to activate LA communities to build a future based on respect for the rights of everyone.”
After Rev. Goodman announced from the stage the start of the Multathlon, fifty athletes — or “Multathletes” — each carrying flags from different countries, set out running on the first leg of a journey that would take them through Little Tokyo, Chinatown, Koreatown, West Hollywood, Santa Ana, Watts, Thai Town and many other LA communities.
Diverse Community Commitment
The runners carried a large pledge to be signed by citizens and representatives of each community group participating along the way; all were invited to reaffirm their commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. But, above all, the mission of these Multathletes and their supporters was to build bridges between the different communities of Greater LA and truly unite them in the cause of human rights.
A few blocks from City Hall, the runners were greeted by Japanese children at the Hingashi Buddhist Temple in Little Tokyo. On Olvera Street square, they were joined by Andean musicians and dancers in a musical human rights celebration. In Koreatown, they met with honorable Grand Master Tong Suk Chun and Master Kwon, a well known actor of martial arts movies.
As they traveled, they handed out copies of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in many languages and invited all those they met with to sign onto the human rights pledge.
“Human rights are your rights. Seize them. Defend them. Promote them. Understand them and insist on them. Nourish and enrich them.”
— United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan
And since much of the diversity of LA comes from its immigrant population, the Multathletes also visited immigrant communities and met with representatives from Spanish, South African, Norwegian and New Zealand Consulates.
Visiting Watts, the team met with Tim Watkins, president of the Watts Labor Community Action Committee. Mr. Watkins believes that human rights are essential if his community is to be allowed to develop its potential.
“What is most absent in Watts is the right to self-determination —being able to participate in the decision-making process. Whether that has to do with education or law enforcement; whether it has to do with economic development, that’s where we’re left out of the mainstream,” he told Freedom.
“Where people have control of the rights that are guaranteed to them, when they actually have access to the utilization of those rights, then they can become self-sufficient. Were we to bring about tolerance and cooperation, the sky is the limit of what we can accomplish.”
In West Hollywood, they were joined by Bill Carlson, a marathon runner who had recently returned from the gay games in Australia. West Hollywood has long prided itself on its tolerance, but recently there had been a spate of hate crimes against the gay community. “It was important to come to West Hollywood because we wanted to condemn these acts as gross violations of human rights,” said Multathlon Team Captain, Mike Loumeau.
The athletes visited a Sikh temple on Robertson Avenue, “surfed for human rights” at Malibu Beach, and spoke with youth at a West Valley school, where Youth for Human Rights (YHRI) International had organized a youth summit. Youth for Human Rights International was founded in August 2001 by educator Mary Shuttleworth to teach human rights to the young. One of YHRI’s first actions was to publish “What Are Human Rights?,” a booklet that contains a children’s version of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Translated into many languages, copies were distributed by Youth for Human Rights to children and teens along the Multathlon route. [See “She Has a Dream”.]
In San Fernando, Deputy Mayor Maribel De La Torre presented the athletes with certificates acknowledging the two main sponsors of the Multathlon, the Church of Scientology International and the International Foundation for Human Rights and Tolerance. The local police then gave the team a motorcycle escort through the main street. The athletes next met with young skateboarders, who signed the human rights pledge.
In Glendale, the athletes met up with officials from the police department and received an escort by police motorcycles, lights flashing, as they rode through the streets, earning a photograph carrying their human rights message in the next day’s Glendale News Press. They visited local radio stations and told them about the Multathlon.
A SONG FOR OUR “ETHNI CITY”: The famed International Children’s Choir illustrates the power of the diverse, yet unified, voices of Southern California.
Pasadena is home to the Islamic New Horizons School, where a human rights event was jointly organized with its sister school, St. Marks High School, and the Pasadena Performing Arts Club. A hundred students, teachers, parents and dignitaries turned out to greet the team — among them Lt. John Perez of the Pasadena Police Department; Juanita St. John, President of the UNA-USA, Pasadena Foothills Chapter; and the honorable William Bogaard, Mayor of Pasadena. Also addressing the Pasadena audience was the Veterans Administration Hospital’s Islamic Chaplain, Ibrahim Naeem, who illuminated the parallels between the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the teachings of the Koran.
The Multathlon team then proceeded to the Asia Garden Mall and Cultural Court in Anaheim, a meeting place for Thai, Cambodian, Vietnamese and Chinese cultures. Multathlon coverage by Vietnamese TV media carried the message of human rights to hundreds of thousands Southeast Asians living in the Southland.
At the First African Methodist Episcopal Church (FAME), Reverend Cecil Murray and Assistant Pastor Reverend Leonard Jackson, who took a leading role in rebuilding the community after the 1992 LA riots, signed the human rights pledge before a crowd of several thousand.
Multi-Ethnic Finale Spotlights the Future
On the final day, escorted by police motorcycles, several dozen runners gathered at La Brea Avenue to run the final stretch of the Multathlon; their destination was L. Ron Hubbard Way, where a festival, parade and concert had been organized to conclude the five days of events.
The finale was a live demonstration of all the Multathlon was meant to accomplish: unity in the name of human rights. Thirty-seven religious, cultural and human rights organizations erected booths along the street, including UNA-USA, the NAACP’s Los Angeles chapter, the Brahma Kumaris World Spiritual Organization, US Fund for UNICEF, the City of Angels United Religious Initiative, the Hollywood United Neighborhood Council, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, Sikh Dharma of Southern California, the Asian Pacific Health Care Venture, Inc., Peace Sunday 2002 and the Southern California Indian Center.
“When human rights are ignored or scorned, and when the pursuit of individual interests unjustly prevails over the common good, then the seeds of instability, rebellion and violence are inevitably sown.”
— Pope John Paul II
Film and TV stars Marisol Nichols hosted the program, which included a Celtic band, The Remnants; Tom Fair & Friends; Korean singers from the Women’s Federation for World Peace; human rights singer-songwriter Joy Grayson; recording artist Desiree Greenier; and Ziba Shirazi, an Iranian singer-songwriter. The highlight of the entertainment was a powerful performance by Andy Madadian, a Persian-Armenian entertainer, accompanied by his band and Persian dancers. All the artists donated their talents to the cause of human rights.
In addition to Ms. Foster, president of the UNA-USA Pacific-Los Angeles Chapter, who spoke again, finale speakers included Nirinjan Khalsa, Sikh Temple; Professor Ian Hall, who in addition to being an entertainer is a leading British human rights activist of 34 years’ standing; and a representative of Dr. Ameli of the American Iranian Friendship Association, who announced that the Association will assist in distributing the newly translated Farsi edition of the “What Are Human Rights?” booklet.
Leisa Goodman, Human Rights Director of the Church of Scientology International, then introduced the highlight of the finale. The 100-person Lynwood Royal Knights Band gave a colorful and entertaining performance, marching down L. Ron Hubbard Way, followed by a troop of scouts and a dozen different human rights, cultural and community groups.
Then, to a huge cheer from the crowd, the athletes arrived, running down L. Ron Hubbard Way on the final leg of their 250-mile journey and mounting the stage to loud applause.
The LA Multathlon brought together a host of communities in greater LA and helped to unite them. Said Leisa Goodman, “Because Los Angeles is so diverse, we can set an example and show that many different religious and ethnic communities can live together in peace and friendship.”
The Multathlon was carried out in a spirit captured by Martin Luther King when he wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” To which the athletes and organizers added the words of author and philosopher L. Ron Hubbard, “Human rights must be made a fact, not an idealistic dream.”