1.10.2020
Kerry Kennedy: "My father's activism rubbed off on me"
Read the interview with Helene Aecherli for Annabelle magazine

The original interview in German can be read here

Annabelle: Kerry Kennedy, you headed human rights delegations in El Salvador, Gaza or Haiti. What sparked your activism? Kerry Kennedy (laughs): I have seven brothers and three sisters and I was born the seventh child. With so many siblings, you learn to appreciate human rights very early on.

So you were beaten up by your brothers? No, but let's put it this way: there was plenty of room for roughhousing play. But setting fun aside. My father Robert F. Kennedy's activism probably rubbed off on me. As Attorney General, he had been involved in the civil rights movement, and this striving for justice was passed on and runs in my  blood. I still remember well that when I was three, I even treated my shoes on an equal footing: if I put on my left shoe first, I tied my right one first, or vice versa. (laughs) Later, during my college days, I did an internship at Amnesty International and documented how refugees from El Salvador were abused by US immigration officials. I was appalled at the contempt with which people were treated who came to our country to live a better life and decided to do something about it. I wanted to create the conditions for change.

What does it take? The power or the will to make a contribution to social change, to make a difference. Many outstanding human rights activists are or were inspired by this will. Greta Thunberg, the Pakistani woman Malala, or Nelson Mandela. With Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, we are trying to spark this will.

Your organization conveys human rights at schools, including in Switzerland. How does it work? We provide all educational institutions with the book "Speak Truth To Power" with portraits of human rights defenders, a website, a photo exhibition and a play. We work closely with the directors of education and are guided by the standard curricula. The aim is that our didactic suggestions are used to train social and emotional skills.

Training social and emotional skills—what does that mean in concrete terms? In the United States, for example, we supplement math classes in fifth and sixth grades with the following task: 10,000 people pick tomatoes in Florida for 180 days a year. Everyone harvests a ton of tomatoes every day. The workers earn 33 cents per pound. Now they are asking a cent more per pound to escape poverty. Forty percent of these tomatoes are bought by fast food company Burger King, which is owned by Goldman Sachs. How much would this Goldman Sachs wage increase cost, and how does it compare to the bonuses paid to the top ten Goldman Sachs employees last year?

Sharpening theoretical awareness of human rights is one thing. But how are young people sensitized to everyday situations? By practicing different scenarios. For example: Your buddy tells a sexist joke. How do you react to it? Do you laugh with him or do you say: «I like you very much, but I don't want to hear jokes like that. But tell me, how do you like my new jacket? » By changing the course of the conversation, you maintain the dialogue, but at the same time make it clear what you stand for.

How open are teachers to these teaching methods? There are of course teachers who are not interested in it. But those with whom we work regularly are enthusiastic. You want committed students. That is the most important thing for me too. I don't want to change the world, I want to give young people the tools to stand up for social change.

Given the current conflicts, the economic wars and the rise of dictators, human rights are becoming negotiable. Are you discouraged? No, because knowledge of human rights has increased. Indeed, we are challenged by President Trump's government, China's expansion policy, global warming, and the terrorist threat. On the other hand, more and more people around the world are campaigning for human rights and demonstrating against corrupt regimes. And women's rights have never been as high on the agenda as they are today. This is also due to Hillary Clinton. At the UN World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, she said: "Human rights are women's rights and women's rights are human rights." This sentence became her most famous ever.

Where will your next assignment take you? To the US-Mexico border.75 percent of the internment centers for illegal immigrants are operated privately. We are working to publicize the business people who invest in such prisons.

Finally, what is your attitude towards Greta? Greta is like a Rorschach test: everyone sees in it what they want to see. And what you see in her says a lot about how you stand in the world.