Here, There and Everywhere

Posts tagged ‘activist’

Teacher Warrior Mother Friend

imgresWhen I was a young man (about two hundred years ago), I was lucky enough to discover a martial arts school in my hometown that taught Judo and Jiu-Jitsu. The head teacher (Sensei) was a woman named Professor Jane Carr. The reason I say “lucky” is because I could have innocently become involved with a so-called teacher who had not been well trained, whose only concern was fighting or winning competitions and/or making money. A teacher, who cared more about power, control and prestige then self-control, honor and respect.

Professor Carr was different. She was a teacher, warrior, mother, counselor, non-violent activist and friend all rolled up into one. She expected all her students to work hard to improve themselves in all aspects of their lives, in and out of the dojo (practice hall). She commanded respect, not because of her fighting skills (which are formidable), but because she showed respect for others and would settle for nothing less in herself. Her presence demonstrated and invited those around her to discover their own inner strengths and character. Professor Carr is still teaching (after 55 years), and her daughter is head instructor at the academy. Sensei Carr was recently awarded her 10th degree black belt, making her one of only three people in the American Judo & Jiu-Jitsu Federation to have this degree, and the only woman.

Our Slithery Friends

An excruciating excerpt from Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire.

Sister Bonsai and Abbott Tova were on their hands and knees digging up the soil in the garden to plant some hemp seeds. When Sister Bonsai lifted a rock to make way for the next row, a cobra raised its head and spit in her direction. She fell backwards just in time to miss being hit in the face. Abbott Tova grabbed her arms and quickly pulled her farther away from the deadly snake.

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“Oh my!” exclaimed Sister Bonsai. “That was close.”

The Abbott nodded. “It’s good you’re fast on your feet or should I say rapidly falling? At least you fell in the right direction.”

“Thank you,” Sister Bonsai exclaimed.

“No problem,” the Abbott replied. “I thought we’d weeded out all our slithery friends.”

“Friends? How can you call that awful creature a friend? It almost killed me.”

“They probably thought you were trying to kill them. How would you react if you were sleeping in a cool shady spot under a large solid mass and suddenly the roof was lifted away and a giant shadow hovered over you?”

“You’re right,” Sister Bonsai replied. “I never thought of it like that.”

They both watched the cobra slither away, down towards the gully to find another safe shady area. As they stood and made their way to the shed for the bag of seeds, Sister Bonsai looked puzzled, still a little shaky, and deep in thought.”

“What are you thinking?” Abbott Tova inquired.

“Why were such deadly creatures created and other nuisances like fleas and mosquitoes?”

“They just are. I’m not sure if they were ‘created’ as such, but perhaps existed previously in other forms.”

“And why,” Sister Bonsai continued, “do some animals eat their prey while they are still alive? It seems especially cruel and barbaric.”

“Why does suffering exist?” replied Abbott Tova. “Why is their pain, loss, sickness, discomfort, old age, and death?”

“Those are deep questions Master, but your question does not answer my question.”

“Nor should it,” said The Master, as she scooped some seeds into the bag they were both holding.

“If there are no answers and only more questions, then what’s the use in trying to make sense of anything?”

“Indeed.” Abbott Tova grabbed another spade, as she and her student walked back to the field.

“So, you’re saying there is no need to figure anything out or make sense of the world we live in?”

“As a famous songwriter and activist once said,” The Master surmised, “We’re just sitting here watching the world go round and round.”

“That’s sounds nice, but doesn’t solve any of our problems.”

“He also said, ‘There are no problems, only solutions.’”

“Then what’s the solution?” Sister Bonsai asked.

“Ah, that’s a good question.” Abbott Tova replied thoughtfully. “Here, take this.” She handed the Sister the bag. “Let’s plant these seeds and give them some water.”

More abundant wisdom at: Zen Master Tova Tarantino Toshiba: The Illustrious and Delusional Abbess of Satire.

Hate Crime In South Africa

Dear Gabriel,

W1304EALGBT1Two years ago today, 24-year-old South African Noxolo Nogwaza was raped, repeatedly beaten and stabbed.

Why did a young mother, soccer player, and human rights activist die so brutally, her body dumped in a drainage ditch?

Noxolo’s murder was an apparent hate crime. It is believed that she was targeted because she was a lesbian and an active campaigner for LGBTI rights.

Two years later, Noxolo’s murder remains unsolved, and her friends, family and fellow activists wait for justice. Demand an end to the climate of fear for the LGBTI community in South Africa, and demand justice for Noxolo!

Raped, beaten, stabbed — but why won’t South Africa’s authorities fully investigate and solve Noxolo’s case? In two years, there has been no progress in the investigation into her murder and Noxolo’s killer(s) remain at large.

“Contempt, mockery or general disinterest” – that’s how police are often reported to respond when LGBTI individuals try to report hate crimes.

Homophobia in South Africa goes far beyond taunts and insults — behavior that in and of itself is already entirely unacceptable. LGBTI individuals are targets of terrible hate crimes, particularly in townships, informal settlements and rural areas, ranging from assaults to rapes to murders, just because of who they are.

Noxolo’s killer(s) remain unpunished. And as long as murderers and perpetrators of hate crimes are allowed to go free, LGBTI people will never feel safe in South Africa.

But there is hope. The world is marching towards justice — just yesterday, France became the latest country to pass marriage equality legislation.

Momentum is on our side and the world is listening to calls for LGBTI rights.

The time to speak out for justice is right now.

Today, march on and honor Noxolo’s memory by taking action. Demand a full investigation into Noxolo’s murder and an end to violence against the LGBTI community in South Africa.

Sincerely,

Samir Goswami
Director, Individuals and Communities at Risk Program
Amnesty International USA

Eve Ensler – Personal Is Global

A brief review of another intimate and vital work by Eve Ensler.

In the Body of the World
by Eve Ensler. Metropolitan.
Reviewed on 3/11/2013 Publisher’s Weekly

In this extraordinarily riveting, graphic story of survival, Ensler, an accomplished playwright (The Vagina Monologues) and activist in international groups such as V-Day, which works to end violence against women, depicts her shattering battle with uterine cancer. Having felt estranged from her body for a lifetime, and 9780805095180been molested as a girl by her father and enthralled by alcohol and promiscuity early on, Ensler as a playwright was seized with a political awareness of the dire violence committed against women across the globe. At the age of 57, she was blindsided when she discovered that her own health emergency mimicked the ones that women were enduring in the developing countries she had visited: “the cancer of cruelty, the cancer of greed… the cancer of buried trauma.” Her narrative, she writes, is like a CAT scan, “a roving examination—capturing images,” recording in minute, raw detail the ordeals she underwent over seven months. These include her crazed, “hysterical” response to the diagnosis and her treatment at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., as well as extensive surgery, chemo, radiation, and caring by a “posse” of companions in misery, like her estranged sister, Lu, and far-flung friends such as Mama C, the head of the City of Joy women’s center in the Congo.

Read entire review and others at Publisher’s Weekly.

Eve Ensler’s other books include:

Necessary Targets: A Story of Women and War
Insecure at Last: Losing It in Our Security-Obsessed World
Vagina Warriors
The Vagina Monologues
I Am an Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around the World

Inclusive Nonviolence

Must We Change Our Hearts Before Throwing Off Our Chains?
by Cynthia Boaz
10 July 2012
Excerpt from Nation of Change

One of the consequences of the Occupy movement’s emergence onto the scene over the last nine months is the escalating disagreement about the role of various strands of nonviolence and nonviolent action in the struggle. In the process, misconceptions about nonviolent strategy are being unfortunately perpetuated by earnest adherents of principled nonviolence and require correction. The phenomenon of nonviolent action is already misunderstood in most media. To see it further distorted by our own colleagues is disheartening.

In an article called “How to Sustain a Revolution” that appeared on Truthout several months ago, Stephanie Van Hook made an eloquent case for personal transformation in the context of nonviolent struggle. The essence of her argument was that acting nonviolently is not enough to sustain a people-powered revolution, and that a person must have nonviolent intentions and the willingness and ability to engage in an internal discipline of personal nonviolence if the struggle is to be truly won. On this point, I don’t have any serious disagreement. While I am not sure I would make the same case that nonviolent success requires this level of individual transformation prior to the waging of the struggle, Van Hook’s argument is similar enough to the case I would make — that nonviolent success requires genuine appreciation of one’s own (and thus our collective) power. I am someone who does not align solely with one camp of nonviolence or nonviolent action, and am someone who believes that both principle and strategy are magnified when they are married. I think our differences here are mostly rhetorical rather than conceptual.

However, in describing what she sees as a key challenge to nonviolent success in the ongoing people power struggles around the world, Van Hook writes:

“Those who profess a commitment to what is called strategic nonviolence know how to start a revolution, that is, in the same way that one would have to fight if one is the weaker party: you do what you your opponent is trying to prevent you from doing, you cast all or most of the blame on them, and you draw upon the sympathies of the masses — the “reference public” — to express your power. In this approach it’s acceptable to use threat, humiliation, and coercion to get what you want, and you often accept short-term and short-lived “success” as your goal. Nonviolence in this approach is simply refraining from physical violence while one’s inner frustrations and pains continue to grow, or are left wholly unresolved. After lighting the match of revolution, a person using nonviolence by this definition can walk away from the responsibility to carrying it forward for the long run. So a people left their guns at home this round? Where will it get them when they decide to take them back out because a limited vision of nonviolence did not bring about the deep changes needed?”

Although I believe it was unintentional, Van Hook’s characterization of adherents of “strategic nonviolence” seems to be guilty of the same sort of stereotyping with which she takes issue. I know hundreds of scholars, activists and journalists who study and engage in this form of struggle, and have yet to meet one who has “professed a commitment to strategic nonviolence.” Such an assertion does not make sense because nonviolent strategy is not an article of faith or a belief system. More concerning, though, is the implication that those engaging in strategic nonviolent action are not just unprincipled, but also undisciplined and lacking in a basic sense of social or civic responsibility.

One part of the problem is in the mislabeling of the phenomenon. By calling it “strategic nonviolence” instead of “strategic nonviolent action” or “nonviolent strategy,” she implies that the phenomenon is fairly classified as a category of nonviolence, but this isn’t accurate. Nonviolence implies commitment to a philosophy that eschews violence in all forms and that adheres to some key principles. By calling it “strategic nonviolence,” which is juxtaposed conceptually against “principled nonviolence,” the field of study with which Van Hook identifies, the suggestion is that the commitment to nonviolence has been made for non-principled reasons. But according to Van Hook’s principled outlook, a person who engages in nonviolent action for reasons other than commitment to principle is suspect because they are not embracing or practicing “true” nonviolence. No wonder there is tension — the person practicing principled nonviolence sees the person practicing “strategic nonviolence” as a pretender.

The other problem with this terminology is that it implies that the phenomenon being discussed is actually attempting to be what is understood by adherents of principled nonviolence as nonviolence. Recall that nonviolence embodies an entire philosophy and set of principles regarding the ethics of eschewing violence. Nonviolent strategy — defined as organized, collective action in pursuit of a clear and achievable objective, carried out with nonviolent weapons — does not, on the other hand, require the practitioner to adopt a philosophy in order to utilize it. In fact, to me, this is a great appeal of nonviolent strategy: its inclusiveness. Anyone can practice it. There is no spiritual or philosophical litmus test. And since unity isa criterion for success in nonviolent struggle, inclusiveness is a very helpful means to achieving that end. And moreover, contrary to principled critics of “strategic nonviolence,” I would argue, the unwillingness to adopt a philosophy of principled nonviolence from the outset does not necessarily make the subsequent action an inferior form of nonviolence. I suppose this is where Van Hook and I really part ways. She wants nonviolent action to be engaged in with full intention and consciousness of the power of nonviolence, while I believe that the use of nonviolent tools produces an appreciation for the power of the phenomenon and probably does more to convert skeptics than any other mechanism. In other words, I believe that commitment to the principle can evolve from the action, which itself is a result of the strategy.

On the other hand, by demanding a commitment to a spiritual philosophy as a prerequisite for joining the struggle, there is a danger of being perceived as (or of actually being) exclusionary. Such a requirement suggests that in order for the practice of nonviolence to be effective, the activist must hold a set of spiritual beliefs about, say, the unity of all life or the imperative to turn the other cheek. But there have been many successful nonviolent struggles waged by people who either held religious or spiritual beliefs different than those commonly found amongst practitioners of principled nonviolence, or who held spiritual beliefs very different from others in the movement, so that there was no unity over fundamental belief systems. The unity came from the commitment to nonviolent action as the most effective set of means to address the injustice. Would these movements have been formed and the struggles been waged if there had been a spiritual litmus test in place before action was taken? I doubt it.

Nonviolent action, when done well, can achieve results. When people come to see its efficacy and power through its use, they may develop more appreciation for the principles called for in Van Hook’s treatise. But whether activists get to the principle prior to action or through it does not matter. One need not necessarily be fully converted to the philosophy of nonviolence before being willing to try a new means of waging struggle. Willingness to take such a risk is the essence of courage — the most important personal quality in the nonviolent activist.

Read entire story at Nation of Change.

Chen’s Family In Danger

Dear Gabriel,

Two months after a Houdini-like escape from house arrest in China, human rights activist Chen Guangcheng walks the sidewalks of New York a free man — thanks to sustained pressure from you and tens of thousands of other Amnesty activists worldwide. Now he urgently needs your help to protect his family back home, which is under threat from Chinese authorities.

I had the great honor of meeting Chen face-to-face last week at New York University, where the self-taught lawyer has taken up formal legal studies. He asked me to share the following message with you:

“When you get back to your office, please say thank you to members all around the world for their continued support and concern for my family. When the opportunity arises, I shall thank them in person.”

Chen received hundreds of messages of solidarity from activists like you after he was detained for exposing forced abortions and sterilizations in China. I’ll never forget how his face lit up when he recounted the encouragement he felt after receiving your handmade cards and handwritten letters.

Your letters provided Chen with the comfort of knowing that he wasn’t forgotten — and they put Chinese authorities on notice that Chen had Amnesty’s millions-strong global human rights movement in his corner.

Now he needs your help again. Chen warned before coming to the United States that Chinese officials would retaliate against his family – and they have. His nephew, Chen Kegui, has been detained and could face the death penalty. Chen Kegui claims he had to defend his family against an attack by plain-clothes local police in his home.

Urge authorities to guarantee that Chen Kegui is given a fair trial and to investigate local officials in Linyi county, Shangdong Province.

As each day passes, our call-to-action becomes more urgent. The court has switched Chen Kegui’s lawyers, calling into question whether he will have access to a fair trial.

Thank you for calling for the protection of Chen’s family today.

In Solidarity,

Suzanne Nossel
Executive Director
Amnesty International USA

“Insult” President, Go To Jail

Dear Gabriel,

Behareh Hedayat — a student activist in Iran — is serving 10 years in prison on charges including “insulting the President.”

Her insult?

In a speech, she said, “Organizing a protest means being beaten, being arrested, being disrespected, being tortured for confessing to false things, being in solitary confinement, being expelled from university.”

On December 31, 2009, she was arrested and sentenced simply for advocating for greater freedom in Iran. There are reports of her ill-treatment and medical neglect.

Until she is free, Amnesty will fight for her release. You can be a part of that fight by donating to Amnesty.

We know her release is possible. Our movement has helped young reformers many times before.

Fellow Iranian student activist Ahmad Batebi was sentenced to death in 1999 when a photo of him holding a bloody t-shirt worn by an injured student protestor appeared on the cover of the Economist. After nearly a decade, of persistent activism on his behalf by Amnesty members, he was granted a medical furlough, during which he escaped jail and fled Iran. With Amnesty’s support, he was granted asylum in the United States.

To mark Amnesty’s 51st birthday on May 28, we plan to recruit 1,500 new supporters who can help keep urgent pressure on governments like Iran by:

Mobilizing protests that raise the profile of specific cases of concern.

Empowering activists to put pressure on key leaders through creative tactics.

Participating in global efforts like Amnesty’s Write for Rights initiative, the world’s largest annual human rights event.

Investigating human rights abuses through research missions to key countries.

We must not let the government of Iran hold the future of the Iranian people hostage. You believe in human rights. Help us continue the fight. Help Amnesty with a gift of support.

You can help us make 2012 the year that Behareh Hedayat walks out of prison a free woman.

Sincerely,

Michael O’Reilly
Senior Campaign Director, Individuals at Risk
Amnesty International USA

Uniting Labor With Love

From Nation of Change & Yes! Magazine.
by Mark Engler
Published 30 November 2011

Ai-jen Poo: Organizing Labor – With Love

Talk to Ai-jen Poo about her work and it won’t be long before you hear language you don’t often hear in the midst of intense social movement campaigning. For one, she does not shy away from talking about “organizing with love.”

A 37-year-old organizer based in New York City, Poo is founder of Domestic Workers United (DWU), a group that waged a successful campaign for landmark legislation in New York state recognizing the labor rights of nannies and housekeepers. Now, as director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance (NDWA), she is spearheading an even more ambitious effort, a Caring Across Generations campaign designed to address the crisis in how we care for our children, our elders, and the disabled in this country.

“I believe that love is the most powerful force for change in the world,” Poo says. “I often compare great campaigns to great love affairs because they’re an incredible container for transformation. You can change policy, but you also change relationships and people in the process.

How does this view square with the fact that campaigns often involve a lot of conflict and acrimony?

“I think that you can love someone and be in conflict with them,” she says. “And I think that it’s the same thing when we’re trying to transform a fundamentally unequal society. There’s a level of discomfort and conflict that has to happen in order for us to achieve a more loving fate.”

This focus on love has had a profound effect on many of Poo’s colleagues. “So many of us wouldn’t be the leaders we are without her,” says Danielle Feris, Director of Hand in Hand, an organization for employers of domestic workers.

Prior to creating Hand in Hand, Feris recounts, “I had dinner with Ai-jen and told her my idea. And she said, ‘Do it. This is needed in the world.’”

“If that dinner hadn’t happened I don’t know whether I would have had the courage to found an organization. She has that effect on people, to make us believe in ourselves and believe that we can do what’s needed.”

Through the Eyes of Women

Willowy and soft-spoken, Poo has emerged over the past decade as one of the country’s most visionary organizers. She says that she never could have predicted her current career path, but she had strong role models early on. Her parents were immigrants from China, her father a scientist who had been a pro-democracy activist in Taiwan. She was even more influenced by her mother, a doctor, and her grandmother. “They were both really strong women with a lot of wisdom,” she says. “I always knew that if we could just see the world through the eyes of women we’d have a much clearer picture of both what the problems are and what the solutions are.”

Poo first experienced the power of organizing as a student activist. In the spring of 1996, while majoring in women’s studies at Columbia University, she was one of more than 100 students who occupied the rotunda of the university’s Low Library. They demanded that the university hire more faculty members in the field of ethnic studies and broaden its curriculum to acknowledge the diversity of the student body. The students stayed overnight in the library despite threats from the administration, and the next morning 22 of them were arrested. Subsequently, the activists staged a five-day takeover of one of the college’s main administrative buildings, highlighting their demands by teaching their own courses in the occupied space.

The pressure led to gains including the creation of the university’s Center for the Study of Ethnicity and Race. Poo says, “Working with a really diverse group of students around our shared goals gave me a sense of how powerful campaigns can be if they’re strategic—how it is possible to really make change.”

The Work That Makes All Other Work Possible

After graduation, Poo took up organizing that highlighted the experience of women in the low-wage workforce. At the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence, she participated in outreach efforts that targeted women workers who were among the most underpaid and vulnerable to exploitation in New York City. Domestic employees emerged as a key group. Along with farmworkers, domestic employees were explicitly excluded from New Deal labor rights protections. They at once provide essential support for their employers’ families—“doing the work that makes all other work possible,” as Poo has put it—while also raising their own children and often sending money to family members abroad.

Traditionally, domestic workers have been considered impossible to organize. “We call it ‘the Wild West,’” Poo says. Nannies and housekeepers have no centralized employer and no employee breakroom where they might commiserate with others. Workers must negotiate their employment relationships individually, with no clear standards or public oversight. Absent any effective labor protections, domestic employees calling in sick or taking time to deal with a family emergency risk losing their jobs. Even though they are among the lowest-paid workers in the country, some caregivers are expected to be on-call around the clock. Those who are undocumented immigrants fear that speaking up could jeopardize their ability to stay in the country.

By the late 2000s, DWU was pushing for legislation in New York state that would recognize the rights of these caregivers for the first time. Poo traveled repeatedly to the state capitol alongside DWU members to lobby lawmakers. She says, “I remember asking Angelica Hernandez [a DWU leader] how many times she’s been to Albany. She said 27 times, to tell her story.”

Hernandez and others at times spoke of finding families who treated them with dignity, and of their affection for the children and elders they cared for. But they also described abuses, such as working 12 to 15 hours per day and being paid only $135 per week.

“In 2007, I began working for a family in Manhattan, cleaning their apartment; I would later also begin to take care of their child,” Hernandez said. “I had to clean, do laundry, iron, take clothes to the dry cleaner, go food shopping, and prepare food for the entire family. I used to work constantly, day and night, taking care of the child and then cleaning while he slept.”

Mona Ledesma, a Filipina immigrant who had worked for eight years as a nanny and housekeeper in the United States, testified about having to resign a full-time job to avoid the sexual advances of a male employer, and about being accused by another employer of stealing a $2 can of Niagara starch for ironing clothes. She told the State Assembly, “I am not a thief. I am not an object for sexual pleasure. I am a human being.”

Read Complete Story at Nation of Change.

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