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March 8, 2014

HUMAN RIGHTS DAY: Focus on poverty, inequality

TERRE HAUTE — The issues of poverty and inequality will be at the forefront of the 13th annual Terre Haute Human Rights Day on March 18 at Indiana State University.

This year’s event will focus on the elimination of all forms of poverty, and is based on Article 25 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was established in 1948.

According to an ISU press release, 16 presentations are scheduled for this year’s event, including keynote speaker Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, a Catholic social justice lobby based in Washington, D.C.

Sister Simone will offer the presentation, “Living with Dignity: Responding to the Cries Around Us.”

“The presentation will explore what is necessary to live in dignity and the stories about people in the United States who struggle every day to make ends meet,” Sister Simone is quoted as saying in the press release. “Listening to real stories is the key to knowing what we need to do to make a difference. We the people need to solve these economic challenges.”

In 1971, 47 Catholic sisters nationwide gathered at Trinity College in Washington, D.C. All were involved in education, health care, community organizing and other activities. But their goal was to create a new ministry of justice.

To get the organization up and running, the sisters collected $187, and in 1972, they opened a small office in Washington.

Throughout the years, NETWORK’s seminars drew many, including members of Congress, such as Sens. Ted Kennedy, Adlai Stevenson, Walter Mondale and Joe Biden.

Sister Simone has been the director of NETWORK since 2004. She is a religious leader, attorney and poet with experience in public policy and advocacy.

Through NETWORK, she lobbies on issues of peace-building, immigration reform, health care and economic justice.

For example, during the congressional debate of 2010 on health care reform, Sister Simone penned the “nuns letter,” which supported the reform bill. She managed to get 59 leaders of Catholic Sisters, including the Leadership Conference of Women Religious,” to sign on. The letter was believed by many to be a critical piece in helping pass the Affordable Care Act. Sister Simone was also thanked by President Obama, in addition to being invited to the ceremony of signing the bill into law.

In 2012, Sister Simone was instrumental in organizing the “Nuns on the Bus” tour of nine states. The tour opposed the “Ryan Budget,” which had been approved by the House of Representatives.

Sister Simone also recently led another “Nuns on the Bus” tour that focused on immigration reform.

She has appeared on “60 Minutes” and has been a guest on “The Colbert Report” and the “Daily Show with Jon Stewart.”

Sister Simone was a featured speaker at the 2012 Democratic National Convention.

After Sister Simone’s keynote address, three sessions of workshops will take place within Hulman Memorial Student Union throughout the afternoon, beginning with five additional workshops at 11 a.m.

Philadelphia resident Cheri Honkala will highlight the 11 a.m. presentations, offering “Building a Human Rights Movement.”

Honkala was born into poverty, but is now known as a leader of human rights. She was the Green Party’s nominee for vice president during the 2012 U.S. presidential election.

The 12:30 p.m. sessions will include a panel discussion led by Terre Haute Human Relations Commission Executive Director Jeff Lorick. The panel, “Impact of Homelessness,” will discuss the impact of homelessness on veterans, children and entire communities, with a focus on possibilities to end the epidemic.

Two 1:30 p.m. sessions are scheduled, including a workshop led by yoga monk Dada Maheshvarananda, who also represents the Prout Research Institute of Venezuela. Maheshvarananda’s presentation, “Human Rights in Latin America,” will focus on how countries should guarantee the basic necessities of food, pure drinking water, clothing, housing, medical care and education.  Maheshvarananda also will deal specifically with human rights in Nicaragua, Venezuela and Honduras.

All events are free and open to the public. For more information, visit www.indstate.edu/hrd.

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