“Voting Is the Way to Protect Human Rights”

from a Speaking Out essay for the Democrat and Chronicle by Jodi M. Oriel and Charles H. Theis

Election Day 2006 falls within the same week as Kristallnacht, the "night of broken glass," that many consider as the start of the Holocaust. Having these two events fall within two days of each other is a poignant reminder of how important your vote is in the effort to protect human rights in the United States and abroad.

Over 70 years ago, the National Socialist German Workers Party (Nazi Party) was elected to power in Germany. Adolf Hitler did not come to power through a coup d'état or revolution. He became chancellor because individuals voted for him and for the policies of his party—policies that resulted in the murder of over 11 million people.

As informed citizens and witnesses to recent genocides in Rwanda and Sudan, we need to reflect on the lessons of the Holocaust as we prepare to vote. This need remains stronger than ever before. Fifteen years ago, student leaders and faculty members launched the Holocaust Genocide Studies Project at Monroe Community College to give community members unique opportunities to explore history and take action to protect human rights.

As a country, we are still not meeting the demands of morality established after the Holocaust and codified in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted and proclaimed by the United Nations in 1948.

Fewer and fewer people today question why students should study the Holocaust. Such an educational experience changes how students view the world and their individual responsibilities towards families and neighbors. Taking one Holocaust class has inspired some students to vote for the first time and realize the importance of having a more global outlook. Studying the Holocaust also motivates people to find creative ways to make a difference. Action against humanitarian crises starts at the individual level. It starts in the voting booth.

Human rights activist and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Samantha Power will speak at MCC the evening of Election Day (Nov. 7) regarding America's response to genocide as part of the college's 15th annual Kristallnacht Program. In her book "A Problem from Hell: America and the Age of Genocide," she reminds readers that "We are responsible for our incredulity. The stories that emerge from genocidal societies are by definition incredible. That was the lesson the Holocaust should have taught us."

It was uninformed citizens who "voted away" the rights of those persecuted in the Holocaust. On November 7, be sure to vote and recognize the impact of your decisions on human rights here and abroad. After all, those are our neighbors in Rwanda and Sudan.

Oriel is an alumna of Monroe Community College and one of the founders of the Holocaust Genocide Studies Project at MCC. She currently serves as the assistant director of the campus center. Theis is an MCC student and the project's current president.

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