Protecting and defending our most basic rights

As Americans, we have come to expect certain unalienable rights: freedom of speech and freedom of religion are among the top. But there are other rights we have in this country that many take for granted: the right to fair housing, the right to equal employment, the right to fair treatment under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). We expect that all sexes and genders, and all sexual preferences and gender identities, will be respected and protected. We expect civil discourse with our friends and neighbors, our colleagues and our employers, our lawmakers and our leaders. We assume that everyone will be treated equally — after all, this is America.

But the rules aren’t always followed, or respected, and sometimes people are discriminated against. That’s when bodies like the Dutchess County Commission on Human Rights enter the picture. The commission exists to protect and defend human rights and bridge differences among all people.

A jumping off point to help county residents pursue fair treatment and, if necessary, contact the appropriate parties to intervene — typically lawmakers — the commission can’t investigate cases itself. It can, however, put one in contact with the right people when pursuing a case. It can offer support and guidance. And it can track reports of wrongdoing throughout the county to help deal with existing and future problems. 

The commission has regular activities, like its 100 Cups of Coffee mediation exercise based out of Poughkeepsie and its regularly scheduled listening sessions, which travel from town to town to hear local residents and their concerns on human rights violations. Those two outreach programs are helpful and effective. 

Just last week, the Commission on Human Rights held a listening session in Millbrook, to address issues like the recent vandalism and theft of gay pride flags throughout the village. There, residents could speak up about their concerns of how the gay community is treated and try to brainstorm ways to improve things.

The commission also provides a place to address concerns like last year’s posting of anti-Semitic fliers throughout the Millerton area. Citizens fearing that such acts could become trends rely on the commission as a clearinghouse — as well as on the dedicated personnel available to listen, assess and plan for improved human relations.

Made up of volunteers, the 15 member commission (including Commissioner and EEO Officer Jody Miller) fills a very real need. That the need exists is an unfortunate reality, but rather than lament it we should seek to improve living conditions for all. We should lean on the commission, when necessary, to aid us in that goal. 

For more on the county’s Commission on Human Rights and its work to end discrimination, read this week’s story on the front page, a related story on Page A6, email dchumanrights@dutchessny.gov or call 845-486-2169.