Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)

Thursday, April 30, 2009

What are the statues in Washington D.C. telling the next generation?

Walking through the historic places of our nation's capital for the past week has been an eye-opening experience in many ways. It was the first time I had a chance to do so as a discerning adult, and what I saw was very different from what I remembered from childhood. My memories from earlier visits included pride, and beauty, and valor. My experience last week was overwhelmingly shame and anger, as I perceived the relentless paternalism, racism, and militarism of iconic public art.

My first shock came while walking through Lincoln Park, near the William Penn House where we were staying. The Emancipation Statue, the centerpiece of the park, is a study in racism. Lincoln's facial expression is pure patronizing self-satisfaction. He holds a look of concern, but does not deign to look directly at the figure of Arthur Alexander - the last slave to be captured under the Fugitive Slave Act, and as a resident of Missouri not freed by the Emancipation Proclamation - instead gesturing vaguely as if to pat the kneeling Alexander on the head. Alexander, in contrast, is portrayed as a blind animal, shackled and half-naked. His eyes are blank, and he seems to grope his way forward, entirely dependent on the guidance of his "benefactor." It also, apparently, barely looked like him.
The tragedy of this portrayal is the fact that this statue was funded entirely through donations by freed slaves, to honor Lincoln - the first five dollars for the statue were donated by Charlotte Scott, through her former master. However, the fundraising was run by white people, from the Western Sanitary Commission in St. Louis, and it was designed and sculpted by Thomas Ball, a white man so racist he refused to use an African model in designing the statue. Frederick Douglass spoke at it's dedication ceremony, stating clearly that the statue "showed the Negro on his knees when a more manly attitude would have been indicative of freedom." This comment, incidentally, was not reported at the time in any of the newspapers.

This is just one example of the "historic" and "iconic" images I found peppering our nation's capital. Yuck. Justice would be better served by tearing the thing down.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Hate Update

Great strides are being made in many areas of human rights and equality - we now have a president who has publicly condemned torture (though I have some opinions as to whether it was appropriate to issue a de-facto pardon of CIA personnel involved in it), who has declared nuclear disarmament a priority, assembled the most diverse cabinet ever, and prioritized multilateral engagement. We also must note that this president - President Barack Hussein Obama - is racially identified as "black" and has a common Muslim middle name (though he himself is Christian - and his religion shouldn't really matter), something that seemed an impossibility just a few short years ago. These things make me very happy, and very hopeful that the general upward trend toward peace and justice will continue. However, we are not there yet. And as we have seen with advancements in the past, the backlash is severe. It is how we deal with this "backlash" that will create the new standards.

In the past month alone, we have seen gay marriage legalized in Vermont in an historic vote of the legislature overriding the governor's veto, and in Ohio through a decision of the Supreme Court. Just today, the New Hampshire senate passed a bill that would guarantee civil marriages to gay couples, and will send their version back to the House, where a similar bill has already passed. Others may be close behind. However, the controversial Proposition 8, which passed narrowly in California, would retroactively nullify gay marriages already registered in the state. The marriage ban has been challenged in court - oral arguments were heard March 5th - and the decision is still pending.

In a precedent-setting recognition of gender plurality, a jury soundly rejected hatred as a defense for hate crimes. The man who killed Angie Zapata, a young transgender woman, was sentenced to life in prison under a new Colorado hate crimes statute. While the tragedy of her death remains with all of us, it helps to know that her family was able to obtain some bit of justice. It is my hope and belief that this verdict represents a move toward a system of justice that no longer unquestioningly protects or attempts to justify the actions of those who lash out in hate, under any pretext.

JUST TODAY: The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act, also known as the "Matthew Shepard Act," by a vote of 249 to 175, and will now pass it on to the Senate.

"The LLEHCPA will authorize the Department of Justice to investigate and prosecute certain bias-motivated crimes based on the victim's actual or perceived sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability. Currently, the federal government can only investigate hate crimes motivated by the victim's race, color, religion, and national origin. It will also provide local authorities with more resources to combat hate crimes and give the federal government jurisdiction over prosecuting hate crimes in states where the current law is inadequate."

Unfortunately, there are still those who do not believe others who may be different from them should have the same rights and privileges. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) found a record number of active hate groups - 928, up from 888 in 2007 - in its 2008 annual report. It attributes this rise in activity to "the national immigration debate...the worsening recession, and Barack Obama's successful campaign to become the nation's first black president." Racial issues, as always, were at the forefront of hate group activity. The SPLC states:

"A key 2008 hate group trend was the increasing militancy of the extremist fringe of the Hebrew Israelite movement, whose adherents believe that Jews are creatures of the devil and that whites deserve death or slavery. These radical black supremacists have no love for Barack Obama, calling him a "house n*****" and a puppet of Israel. They preach to inner-city blacks that evil Jews are solely responsible for the recession. The rhetoric of white-skinned hate group leaders in 2008 was equally alarming. Last September, for example the cover of National Socialist magazine depicted then-presidential nominee Barack Obama in the crosshairs of a scope, with the headline "Kill This N*****?"

It is a sad reality that the United States has been home to some of the most brutal of hate-based propaganda in many categories, including gender, sexuality and gender identity, race, and immigrant status, among others. The struggle to de-legitimize such hate-based propaganda continues. But there is an uphill trend. We need to keep talking about it. We need to keep acting on what we know is right. And legislation and court decisions in favor of human and civil rights certainly can't hurt.

* I'm sure there is many a lively debate to be had about the use of the "N" word in journalism. It is my personal choice never to use it, though it is spelled out in the SPLC source material.

UPDATE: The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act has been introduced to the Senate as S. 909 (Hate Crimes Prevention Act).

DC Days (April 28)

The truly big news of the day was the abrupt switch of Senator Arlen Specter (PA-formerly Republican) to the Democratic Party. This leaves the Democrats one member shy of a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate, opening up the opportunity to push harder for legislation in areas (such as healthcare, etc) that were sorely neglected under the Bush administration and the Republican-dominated congresses of the Clinton years.

Today I had the chance to meet with an aide in Representative DeFazio's office (D-OR), who was very knowledgeable about nuclear issues, and supportive of almost all ANA's asks. Later, another activist from ANA and I spoke with a researcher at the Congressional Research Service, with whom we were able to have a lively dialogue about what tradeoffs would be permissible in order to gain the votes needed to ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). This is an issue that raises serious concerns about the effectiveness and implementation of international treaties. Since the United States has already signed and ratified the NPT, we have committed to engage in good faith in negotiations toward total nuclear disarmament. Most will agree we have not as of yet done that. However, the statements of President Obama strongly supporting this aim give us an opportunity that has been closed off for the last eight years to push forward toward ratification of the CTBT, which would serve as a very good deterrent to other countries which may wish to pursue nuclear weapons, and stop us from "improving" our arsenal in the United States. The problem as I see it lies in the partisan bargaining that is how things are done here in DC. Some have said that in order to secure the 67 votes necessary to ratify the CTBT, a package deal must be offered that may include provisions inconsistent with the spirit of the CTBT, or our already-existing commitments under the NPT. This concerns me deeply, because the United States needs to lead the way - in good faith - toward disarmament. As President Obama has said, "as a nuclear power - as the only nuclear power to have used a nuclear weapon - the United States has a moral responsibility to act." This action should be unambiguous, and therefore must not be packaged with any other action that may lead to further development of nuclear technology.

Monday, April 27, 2009

DC Days Anti-Nuclear Lobbying (Monday, April 27)

I'm writing from Washington, DC, where I am participating through WILPF's DISARM committee in the Alliance for Nuclear Accountability's annual "DC Days" lobbying week. Six dozen activists from all over the US (and a couple foreign countries) have come together here to lobby congress and the administration for nuclear disarmament, non-proliferation, genuinely clean energy and more responsible storage and cleanup of sites contaminated with nuclear waste. Yesterday, we had an orientation and a couple workshops, which helped us to get oriented and learn about aspects of the issues we do not usually work with. ANA has prepared some fantastic fact sheets that will be delivered either during scheduled meetings or through the office of every member of congress and to many key departments of the Obama Administration.

Today, we held a press conference, and began meeting with legislators and administration officials. More tomorrow!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Dr. Masooda Jalal and 1325

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325, "reaffirming the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts and in peace-building, and stressing the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security, and the need to increase their role in decision- making with regard to conflict prevention and resolution...urges Member States to ensure increased representation of women at all decision-making levels in national, regional and international institutions and mechanisms for the prevention, management, and resolution of conflict," very clearly calling for international backing of women like Dr. Masooda Jalal, the only Afghani woman to run for the presidency of her country in the last election cycle. She was interviewed in an article entitled "Afghan Women to Obama: We Must Be at the Table!" by Patricia DeGennaro for the Women's Media Center. Dr. Jalal offers a refreshingly new and very strong female voice for peacebuilding in Afghanistan. She continues to insist that her proper place (and the place of other women) is at the negotiating table, as promised by UNSCR 1325, and by common sense.

During our conversation, I asked her what she thought about U.S. policy and talking to the Taliban. She was defiant, saying she has no problem whatsoever with talking to the Taliban. “As long as women are included in the conversation,” she said, “we must be there sitting next to them, then we’ll see.”

She continued by saying, “the Taliban, the looters and warlords, the ‘illegals,’” as she calls them pointing out that they are also the drug lords that international forces are tying to eradicate, “are only powerful because we allowed them to be.”

Yet, the world governments continue to empower them instead of, well, her and others like her. We all stood by while some of the most notorious and brutal mujahidin or Afghan fighters took posts in the government—marginalizing Afghan scholars like Jalal who prefer to give the power to the people.

In ending this post, I would like to again stress the fact that while the international community and the United States have made much about the "plight of Afghani women" and the unconscionable suppression of their rights under the Taliban, very little has been done to engage them in creating a government that will better protect their lives and freedoms. The international community has been guilty of a pervasive paternalism that likes to talk about the protection of women, but still refuses them an equal place at the table, and the legitimacy they deserve as half of Afghanistan's population. This criticism could be expanded more generally to include almost every country in the world. Women like Dr. Jalal are deeply qualified and committed to changing this atrocious inequality of representation. Imagine what a world could be created if the international community actually followed the mandate of 1325. We can make it happen.

Thursday, April 09, 2009

"Paying for War" - a song of cynical levity

Paying for War

From Lexington to Concord to Yorktown, I pitched in;
My taxes for my country - we never called it sin.
Taxes went for Sherman's march, at Gettysburg for guns,
For armies and battalions, for forts and garrisons!

I paid to steal the land from the natives years ago;
My taxes went for war on the land of Mexico;
I paid for ships with guns to fight across the seas;
Make war against the Spanish, the Philippines to seize!

I pledged my firm allegiance to flag and country too;
My taxes helped pay for World War I as well as World War II;
Nagasaki vaporized and Hiroshima too;
I paid for atomic bombs and planes on which they flew!

Korea asked for taxes and also Vietnam;
And so I sent my taxes for the blood of the lamb;
And blood there was aplenty carpet bombing Laos;
But still I paid my taxes and never raised a fuss!

The cold war was expensive, my war tax did increase;
I paid them without protest, and said a prayer for peace;
Our first-strike Trident missiles, they kept me safe, you know;
I gladly paid for "star wars" - the Bible* tells me so!

My country keeps on calling for billions for Iraq;
To bomb Iraqi people and let our troops attack;
It's shock and awe, forever, instead of brotherhood**;
We must pay our war taxes, as every Christian*** should!

Poem copyright by David Ortman, 2007
Music copyright by J. Harold Moyer, 2007

*Substitute Qur'an, etc.
**Substitute sisterhood, etc
***Substitute Buddhist, Muslim, etc.

RCW: A Farewell to (a few) Arms

Here is an article that was recently posted by Ray Acheson on the Reaching Critical Will blog.

After adeptly showing the defense budget "cuts" to be less than advertised, she gets to the meat of the issue:

Overall, the varying reactions to Gates’ proposed military budget are virtually devoid of any criticism of what the $534 billion is spent on—weapons of war. Weapons that are used in the wars that the United States instigates, wars which have another budget all their own. On the contrary, even those supposedly in support of arms control and disarmament have recommended the military stop wasting money on weapon systems they don’t use and spend it on weapons they do use. Further, no one seems to have questioned the need or right of the United States to use these weapons—that the US would need different types of weapons to fight new types of wars is accepted as fact. For all the talk of giving the military budget a “massive overhaul,” no one has referred to the distinction between offensive and non-offensive defence, the latter focusing on defence systems that protect a state rather than on armed attack against other states.

And no, missile “defence” is not a form of non-offensive defence, as its methods and means are inherently offensive. For example, as has even been argued by pro-missile “defence” advocates, “The mere fact that missile defense ships could be deployed to war zones as part of larger naval armadas gives them an immediately recognizable offensive dimension.” Further, as Mike Moore pointed out, “The infrastructure for a ballistic missile defense system is, in large measure, the same as that needed for an offensive anti-satellite system.”

Finally, as the military budget continues to grow even in a time of the global financial crisis, where is the money for everything else a country needs to survive going to come from? Why isn’t anybody asking that?

Saturday, April 04, 2009

"We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation."

Forty-two years ago today, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a speech at New York City’s Riverside Church on the war of the time, the war in Vietnam. Listening to it yesterday, tears came to my eyes and my chest has yet to unclench, because I see that the same problems so explicitly and compassionately identified by Dr. King in 1967 are still, on this very day in 2009, ripping our country and our world apart. Though the United States has withdrawn combat troops from that country, the unjust waging of war by the United States continues unabated in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the U.S. government's unconscionable meddling in the affairs of sovereign nations against the interests of human beings stretches around the world.

Though the speech is too long to post here in its entirety, I would like to include a few notable quotes.

Dr. King, like WILPF, understood the interrelatedness of human rights, civil rights, and militarism.

"There is at the outset a very obvious and almost facile connection between the war in Vietnam and the struggle I, and others, have been waging in America. A few years ago there was a shining moment in that struggle. It seemed as if there was a real promise of hope for the poor -- both black and white -- through the poverty program. There were experiments, hopes, new beginnings. Then came the buildup in Vietnam, and I watched this program broken and eviscerated, as if it were some idle political plaything of a society gone mad on war, and I knew that America would never invest the necessary funds or energies in rehabilitation of its poor so long as adventures like Vietnam continued to draw men and skills and money like some demonic destructive suction tube. So, I was increasingly compelled to see the war as an enemy of the poor and to attack it as such."

"My third reason moves to an even deeper level of awareness, for it grows out of my experience in the ghettoes of the North over the last three years -- especially the last three summers. As I have walked among the desperate, rejected, and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes most meaningfully through nonviolent action. But they ask -- and rightly so -- what about Vietnam? They ask if our own nation wasn't using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent."

"This is the message of the great Buddhist leaders of Vietnam. Recently one of them wrote these words, and I quote: 'Each day the war goes on the hatred increases in the heart of the Vietnamese and in the hearts of those of humanitarian instinct. The Americans are forcing even their friends into becoming their enemies. It is curious that the Americans, who calculate so carefully on the possibilities of military victory, do not realize that in the process they are incurring deep psychological and political defeat. The image of America will never again be the image of revolution, freedom, and democracy, but the image of violence and militarism.'"

"The war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit, and if we ignore this sobering reality we will find ourselves organizing "clergy and laymen concerned" committees for the next generation.... We will be marching for these and a dozen other names and attending rallies without end, unless there is a significant and profound change in American life and policy."

"In 1957, a sensitive American official overseas said that it seemed to him that our nation was on the wrong side of a world revolution....It is [here] that the words of the late John F. Kennedy come back to haunt us. He said, "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable." Increasingly, by choice or by accident, this is the role our nation has taken, the role of those who make peaceful revolution impossible by refusing to give up the privileges and the pleasures that come from the immense profits of overseas investments. I am convinced that if we are to get on the right side of the world revolution, we as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, [sexism, homophobia] and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

"A true revolution of values will soon cause us to question the fairness and justice of many of our past and present policies. On the one hand, we are called to play the Good Samaritan on life's roadside, but that will be only an initial act. One day we must come to see that the whole Jericho Road must be transformed so that men and women will not be constantly beaten and robbed as they make their journey on life's highway. True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring.

"A true revolution of values will soon look uneasily on the glaring contrast of poverty and wealth. With righteous indignation, it will look across the seas and see individual capitalists of the West investing huge sums of money in Asia, Africa, and South America, only to take the profits out with no concern for the social betterment of the countries, and say, 'This is not just.' The Western arrogance of feeling that it has everything to teach others and nothing to learn from them is not just.

"America, the richest and most powerful nation in the world, can well lead the way in this revolution of values. There is nothing except a tragic death wish to prevent us from reordering our priorities so that the pursuit of peace will take precedence over the pursuit of war."

"We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent coannihilation. We must move past indecision to action. We must find new ways to speak for peace in Vietnam and justice throughout the developing world, a world that borders on our doors. If we do not act, we shall surely be dragged down the long, dark, and shameful corridors of time reserved for those who possess power without compassion, might without morality, and strength without sight."

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Legislative update

Two pieces of legislation caught my eye recently. One, the Family Leave Insurance Act of 2009 (H. R. 1723), would expand coverage for workers who need to take time off for the birth of a child, illness of a family member, or other qualifying necessity. The other, the Afghanistan and Pakistan Reconstruction Opportunity Zones Act of 2009 (S.496), would authorize the President to create "Reconstruction Opportunity Zones" (ROZs) - similar to Export Processing Zones (EPZs) - in Afghanistan and the border regions of Pakistan. Click on the titles to access the complete text of the bills from the Library of Congress website.

The Family Leave Insurance Act (FLIA) is sponsored by Representative Pete Stark (D-CA) and co-sponsored by Represenatives George Miller (D-CA), Lynn Woolsey (D-CA), and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY). It was introduced on March 25, 2009, and has most recently been referred to the House Ways and Means Committee. The bill would provide 12 weeks of paid family leave to workers who had paid into the program for six months or more. A summary and the complete text of the bill is available on Representative Stark's website.

The Afghanistan and Pakistan Reconstruction Opportunity Zones Act of 2009 is sponsored by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and co-sponsored by Senators Christopher Bond (R-MO), Robert Casey (D-PA), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Orrin Hatch (R-UT), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI). It was introduced February 26 and has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee. The bill lays out requirements that must be met by the country in which the Reconstruction Opportunity Zone(ROZ) would be located, which I have posted in their entirety below.

While the bill mentions respect for international labor standards, I worry that regulation would be lax in this area, due to the remoteness of many potential locations. While the stated aim of increasing opportunity for local people is a good one, and (I believe) has the potential to significantly decrease the number of potential insurgent/terrorist recruits, establishing the oppressive and frankly horrible conditions WILPF has denounced in many Export Processing Zones (EPZs) around the world would do just the opposite. I see little to substantially differentiate ROZs from EPZs. Other aspects of this bill that are worrisome are stipulations that governments must "elimate...barriers to trade and national development, including by...providing national...measures to create an environment conducive to domestic and foreign investment." Sounds innocent enough, but phrases like these have in the past meant policies that benefit corporations and investors and do little for the citizens of the country in which they do business. "Capital repatriation" is a shining example of this sort of exploitation, and also one of the most thinly veiled colonial leftovers I can think of. Capital repatriation drains rather than stimulates the local economies from which the profits were made, which is antithetical to the stated aim of this legislation. Also, the fact that pages are devoted to the regulation and prevention of transshipment, while only a few lines address labor rights, is troublesome.

Lastly, I am concerned that the sourcing of materials is not mentioned. If the US government truly wishes to support the Afghan and Pakistani economies, from the bottom up (providing a living to as many people as possible), they should include requirements that certain percentages of source materials be bought locally. This way, even if the profits of the enterprise are "repatriated" (removed from Afghanistan/Pakistan completely), local businesses and suppliers will not be left empty handed and more frustrated with the United States than ever. This bill is endorsed by President Obama, and has bi-partisan support. It is better than it could be, but the idea may need some fine tuning - or perhaps a complete overhaul - before it comes truly in line with human rights.


Afghanistan and Pakistan Reconstruction Opportunity Zones Act of 2009 (Introduced in Senate)

(b) Eligibility Criteria- Afghanistan or Pakistan, as the case may be, meets the eligibility criteria set forth in this subsection if that country--

(1) has established, or is making continual progress toward establishing--

(A) a market-based economy that protects private property rights, incorporates an open rules-based trading system, and minimizes government interference in the economy through measures such as price controls, subsidies, and government ownership of economic assets;

(B) the rule of law, political pluralism, and the right to due process, a fair trial, and equal protection under the law;

(C) economic policies to--

(i) reduce poverty;

(ii) increase the availability of health care and educational opportunities;

(iii) expand physical infrastructure;

(iv) promote the development of private enterprise; and

(v) encourage the formation of capital markets through microcredit or other programs;

(D) a system to combat corruption and bribery, such as ratifying and implementing the United Nations Convention Against Corruption; and

(E) protection of internationally recognized worker rights, as defined in section 507(4) of the Trade Act of 1974 (19 U.S.C. 2467(4));

(2) is eliminating or has eliminated barriers to trade and investment, including by--

(A) providing national treatment and measures to create an environment conducive to domestic and foreign investment;

(B) protecting intellectual property; and

(C) resolving bilateral trade and investment disputes

(3) does not engage in activities that undermine United States national security or foreign policy interests;

(4) does not engage in gross violations of internationally recognized human rights;

(5) does not provide support for acts of international terrorism; and

(6) cooperates in international efforts to eliminate human rights violations and terrorist activities.