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Human Rights Fellow Grefsrud is Working for Human Rights at Home in Minnesota


What do you get when you have a 2009 Otto Bremer Foundation Upper Midwest Human Rights Fellow placed in a small city in central Minnesota in the months prior to a major Congressional vote on health care reform? A positive change for the human rights in an overlooked population.

During the summer of 2009, Johanna Grefsrud, a recent graduate of the College of St. Benedict, worked for the Great River Interfaith Partnership (GRIP) in St. Cloud, Minnesota. GRIP, an interfaith, multi-racial, and non-partisan community organization with a vision of racial and economic justice, is the St. Cloud region’s caucus of ISAIAH, a Twin Cities-based interfaith community with a national vision for social justice.

Johanna spent her summer working with organizer Ruth Wiechman to organize local congregations for the “Health Care Sundays” program. Her goals were to raise awareness of the national health care reform debate, train volunteers and leaders to facilitate this debate, and press for a health care system that will protect the most vulnerable. Most of her summer was spent mobilizing local groups and leaders around the issues. She worked among the community, turned the media spotlight on this health care reform movement, and prepared bulletins and fact sheets to distribute widely.

Johanna had the opportunity to travel to Washington, D.C., to work for this cause. She and fifty ISAIAH leaders travelled by bus from Minnesota to Washington. There, they attended Congressional visits and actions, an Interfaith Service of Worship and Prayer, and a Health Care for America NOW rally on the Mall. Johanna played a key role in raising media attention for this event as well. Johanna tells of the impact that this trip made on her. When she and the other Minnesotans had the chance to meet Senator Amy Klobuchar, Johanna says that she was at the end of a 100-person line. At her turn, Senator Kolbuchar shook her hand and said, “Thank you for being here for something so important.”

Johanna’s work was not providing direct client services. It was not working directly with policy decision-makers. She acted as a community organizer around a key issue that has great impacts on the most needy in our society. As a Human Rights Fellow, Johanna learned that, for many people of faith, “their values tell them that unequal access to health care, for example, violates that human dignity.” She explains that “behind those words – “human rights” – are ideas and meaning, and without affirmation from people, they cannot be protected.” Through her work as a Human Rights Fellow, Johanna was able to advocate for the right to life and health for impoverished citizens in our own backyard.



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