Dan Moshenberg

Dan Moshenberg is an organizer educator who has worked with various social movements in the United States and South Africa.

About Dan Moshenberg

Dan Moshenberg is an organizer educator who has worked with various social movements in the United States and South Africa. Find him on Twitter at @danwibg.

Cherrylin Reyes, Titin Rohaetin Suryadi, Fatima Benkharbouche, and Minah Janah say NO! to slavery … and win!


In the United Kingdom, today, October 18, is Anti-Slavery Day. Today, October 18, in two separate decisions, England’s Supreme Court decided that domestic workers employed by diplomats have the right to sue their former “employer”. These rulings have been hailed as landmark decisions, and hopefully not only for the United Kingdom. For migrant domestic workers, they could be the shot heart in capitals round the world.

The first case involves Cherrylin Reyes, directly, and Titin Rohaetin Suryadi. Cherrylin Reyes, a Filipina worker, worked for the al-Malki household from January 18, 2011, until March 14, 2011. Titin Rohaetin Suryadi, an Indonesian worker, worked for the household from May 16, 2011, to September 19, 2011. Both women have described inhuman working conditions. They worked 18 hours a day, seven days a week, and were not allowed to leave the house, except to take out the trash. Cherrylin Reyes reports that the al-Malkis took her passport and prohibited any contact with her family. Titin Rohaetin Suryadi says that her payment, such as it was, was sent directly to her family, rather than being given to her. The two also allege that they were trafficked, and have letters from the UK Border Agency that note that there are “reasonable grounds” for the claim. Additionally, Cherrylin Reyes and Titin Rohaetin Suryadi argue they were paid below minimum wage, and that they were subjected to racial discrimination.

On March 14, 2011, Cherrylin Reyes reported the situation to the police, after which she fled. On September 19, 2011, while the ambassador was away and his wife was asleep, Titin Rohaetin Suryadi escaped. In 2011, Cherrylin Reyes tried to take the al-Malkis before an Employment Tribunal. The Tribunal and then lower courts held that al-Malki, who was a diplomat from 2010 to 2014, had diplomatic immunity. With the help of the Anti-Trafficking and Labour Exploitation Unit (ATLEU) and Kalaayan, an organization that works for justice for migrant domestic workers in the United Kingdom, Reyes appealed the decision.

Today, the Supreme Court ruled that the employment of domestic workers in the diplomat’s household was not part of the diplomat’s official function, and so residual diplomatic immunity was lost once al-Malki left his post. Further, a majority of the Court added that human trafficking is a ‘commercial activity’, and so also falls outside of the diplomat’s functions and therefore outside of the reach of diplomatic immunity. Both ATLEU and Kalayaan are pursuing other cases that will challenge so-called diplomatic immunity of domestic worker employers while they are in post.

In the second case, two Moroccan women, Fatima Benkharbouce and Minah Janah, had worked for employees of Sudan’s and Libya’s embassies, respectively. The two claim they were forced to work unlawful hours and were paid far below the minimum wage, and took their employers to the Employment Tribunal, which denied the claims, again on the basis of state and diplomatic immunity. The claims were based on both UK and EU laws. The Supreme Court today ruled that the claims based on EU laws had to be considered.

This means that Cherrylin Reyes, and ultimately Titin Rohaetin Suryadi, and Fatima Benkharbouche and Minah Janah can proceed, as regular workers, to take their cases and cause to the Employment Tribunal.

Avril Sharp, Policy Officer for Kalayaan, explained, “These cases were about access to justice for domestic workers, including those who had been trafficked to the UK and exploited in domestic servitude and forced labour. Human trafficking and modern slavery are grave human rights violations … Kalayaan will continue to support domestic workers and assist them to bring cases before the employment tribunal to ensure their employers are held to account. Diplomatic immunity should not act as a bar to enforcing rights and is at odds with the UK’s stated aims of combatting and preventing modern slavery.”

Cherrylin Reyes added, “I am delighted that the supreme court agrees that I can take my claim against the al-Malkis. I know there are lots of other domestic workers who have suffered like me and I am delighted that they will be able to use this case to get redress, and that they will not have to wait as long as I have done. I see myself as a fighter. Bringing this case has made me stronger.” Bringing this case has made us all stronger, and that much closer to justice for all.

 

(Photo Credit: Kalayaan) (Image Credit: Lexisnexis)

India’s Supreme Court Says NO! to rape in “child marriage”


Today, Wednesday, October 11, 2017, is International Day of the Girl Child, inaugurated by the United Nations in 2012. According to UN Women, “There are 1.1 billion girls in the world, and every one of them deserves equal opportunities for a better future.” In India today, the Supreme Court took a small step towards empowering girls when it declared that sex with a “child bride” is still rape. This decision overturned Exception 2 of Section 375 of the Indian Penal Code, which declared that, although 18 is the age of consent, sex with a 15- to 18-year-old girl who is one’s wife is … just marriage. A better future begins with a better present.

There are 1.1 billion girls in the world. According to a recent report, around 12 million children in India were married before the age of 10. Of that 12 million, 7.84 million were girls; 65% of those in India married under the age of 10 are girls. Meanwhile, in 1978, India outlawed so-called “child marriages”, and did so again in 2006.  In many areas of the country, little to nothing has been done to enforce the ban.

Kriti Bharti is a children’s rights advocate and rehabilitation psychologist, based in Rajasthan, which in any given year has among the highest rates of so-called “child marriage” in the world. In 2011, Bharti established the Saarthi Trust, to help young girls figure out ways to avoid being married off. Quickly, she realized that education was not enough, and so she developed a new, additional strategy: child marriage annulment. Since 2011, Kriti Bharti has annulled and prevented hundreds of child marriages. In response to today’s court decision, Bharti says it’s a start but there’s more work to be done: “A minor girl being abused by her husband will tell her mother: ‘I’m feeling pain. [Sex] is uncomfortable. Please help me’. But mothers say: ‘It’s your destiny. You are a female so you have to go through this.’”

It’s not destiny, and it’s not marriage. Under the old law, if a 17-year-old boy and girl engaged in consensual sex, that was statutory rape, but if a 50-year-old man raped his 15-year-old “wife”, that was all fine. That is not marriage.

Women’s groups have announced that they will now focus on marital rape. Poonam Muttreja, Executive Director of the Population Foundation of India, said, “This is a timely and positive step in the right direction for the discourse on marital rape and the subject of consent. I would urge the courts to take cognisance of the predicament of adult women who live in fear of rape or sexual violence at the hands of their spouse and in the security of her home.”

Today is International Day of the Girl Child. After decades of struggle, harm, and femicide, the Indian Supreme Court decided that raping girls is wrong. It is a small step forward … for millions and millions of girls. When millions and millions of girls step forward as one, the earth trembles.

 

(Photo Credit: Girls Not Brides)

Namibia: Tell Jerry Ekandjo that violence against women and girls is not a joke!

Jerry Ekandjo is Namibia’s Minister of Youth, National Service, Sport, and National Service. On Wednesday Jerry Ekandjo rose in Parliament and told the members that Namibia should respond to the high rates of teenage pregnancy by “reintroducing” the practice of taking pregnant teenagers, binding them in grass, and setting them alight. This would serve as a warning to other girls and young women. Namibian social media exploded in protest. On Thursday, Jerry Ekandjo tried to explain: “I made a joke that in the past, those who fell pregnant before they were married were rolled in grass and set on fire, leading to the name ‘oshikumbu’, to set an example to others. Is that something worth publishing in the newspaper. I was just joking. I did not mean that people must be burned in reality for falling pregnant. I am a joking person.” Whether Jerry Ekandjo is, or is not, a joking person is irrelevant. Violence against girls and women is not a joke.

In his various recent studies of young Namibians’ perceptions of sex, sexuality, HIV and AIDS, Pempelani Mufune, former head of the Department of Sociology at the University of Namibia, noted that young people today use“oshikumbu” as “slut” and “bitch”, a derogatory name for a never-married-woman-with-children. Under the smoke screen of tradition, Jerry Ekandjo appeals to violence against women as acceptable in the service of the nation.

Jerry Ekandjo made his statement in response Elma Dienda, a member of Parliament and a teacher, who urged her colleagues to rethink policies on teenage pregnancy. Dienda called for real sex and reproductive health education in schools and she called for an end to denying pregnant students the opportunity to sit for exams. Ekandjo’s response was, first, that pregnant students must be punished more harshly, and then he launched into his Oshikumbu Manifesto.

In 2000, Jerry Ekandjo was Namibia’s Home Minister. In an address to 700 new graduates of the police academy, Jerry Ekandjo to the new officers that they should “eliminate” gay and lesbian people “from the face of Namibia.” As this week, activists and many in Parliament then were also enraged.

On the same day Jerry Ekandjo “explained” his statement, Pakistani activist writer Rafia Zakaria explained women’s empowerment: “The term was introduced into the development lexicon in the mid-1980s by feminists from the Global South. Those women understood `empowerment’ as the task of `transforming gender subordination’ and the breakdown of `other oppressive structures’ and collective `political mobilization.’”

Elma Dienda understands that women’s empowerment means transforming gender subordination, and that it’s no joke. Keeping women and girls out of school is no joke. Threatening violence against women and girls is no joke. According to Namibia’s Ministry of Education, in 2015, 1843 girls left school because of pregnancy; in 2016, that number more than doubled, reaching 4000. That is no joke.

In November, SWAPO, the majority party in Namibia, will hold its congress. Most people think that Jerry Ekandjo will run for SWAPO President. If he wins, he would almost certainly become the next President of Namibia, and that is no joke. Tell Jerry Ekandjo, and all the leaders of the world, that violence against women and girls is not a joke!

(Image Credit: Namibian)

Mexico City: The femicide of earthquake and the feminism of recovery

On September 19, 2017, Mexico City was upturned by a powerful earthquake. Reports suggest that the quake killed 330 people nationwide. In Mexico City, 198 people lost their lives. Of the 198, 127 were women, 71 were men. This is the altogether predictable and planned mathematics of earthquakes, and of “natural disasters”. As with human stampedes, earthquakes have a morbid gender ratio, during the event and after.

Who are the women who died? The earthquake struck at 1:14 in the afternoon. Thirty-four buildings collapsed. Many of them were apartment buildings. According to Mexican sociologist Patricio Solis, the reason for the preponderance of women among the dead is straightforward: “the segregation of women and of gender roles.” First, many apartments were destroyed, and in the early afternoon, the residents were housewives and domestic workers. Second, a major garment sweatshop building collapsed, and its workers were almost all women. Third, a school collapsed, and its workers were predominantly women.

None of this is new. In the 1985 Mexico City earthquake, textile “factories” collapsed, and women workers perished. The factory building that collapsed this time had survived the 1985 earthquake. It was one of the few. It was well known to the authorities. It was well known that hundreds of women, many of them undocumented, worked for criminally low wages there. It was well known that the passageways and stairs were too narrow to accommodate everyone, should the need arise. One newspaper called the collapse and deaths “industrial homicide” and “state crime”. They should have included “industrial femicide” among the charges. Thus far, the government has remained silent.

None of this is new. A study published in 2007 considered “natural disasters” in 141 countries from 1981 to 2002: “We find, first, that natural disasters lower the life expectancy of women more than that of men. In other words, natural disasters (and their subsequent impact) on average kill more women than men or kill women at an earlier age than men … Second, the stronger the disaster (as approximated by the number of people killed relative to population size), the stronger this effect on the gender gap in life expectancy. That is, major calamities lead to more severe impacts on female life expectancy (relative to that of males) than do smaller disasters. Third, the higher women’s socioeconomic status, the weaker is this effect on the gender gap in life expectancy. Taken together our results show that it is the socially constructed gender-specific vulnerability of females built into everyday socioeconomic patterns that lead to the relatively higher female disaster mortality rates compared to men.”

In 2000, the Pan American Health Organization studied the increased and mass produced vulnerability of women and its toll in natural disasters and disaster relief. In 2002, the World Health Organization did as well. In 2005, Oxfam reported on the tsunami’s impact on women. And the list goes on. There is no surprise in the gender of earthquake mortality rates. We were told for over a decade, and we did nothing. We did less than nothing. We built more unsafe workspaces, and we segregated the working day ever more fiercely. We wear the dead in the filaments of our clothing.

After the buildings collapsed, women from across Mexico rushed to the streets of Mexico City and, in many parts, led the rescue efforts, searching for loved ones and strangers in the rubble. Self-described feminist brigades rushed to the factory in the Colonia Obrera. As Mar Cruz explained, “The people in this factory are women, and they are immigrant women in a country where they are very much discriminated against, in a country that doesn’t care much about them. Knowing the treatment that they face in the factories, it was up to us as feminists. We are women defending women. We have demanded our right to defend our female comrades and their human rights.” Dominique Draco added, “We are here as feminists because we are fed up with being murdered. Femicide is one way of killing us, but this is also a way of killing us: in a collapsed building that doesn’t have proper working conditions.”

 

(Photo Credit 1: Animal Politico/Manu Ureste) (Photo Credit 2: St. Louis Dispatch/Natacha Pisarenko/AP)

In jails and schools across the United States, children suffer solitary confinement

The isolation cell in the juvenile pod at Onondaga County Justice Center

Across the United States, children in elementary schools are being placed in what are called seclusion rooms, a euphemism for solitary confinement. Across the United States, children in juvenile detention are also regularly placed in solitary confinement. Recently a parent in Phoenix, Arizona, expressed dismay at a “seclusion room” in her son’s elementary school. At the same time, in upstate New York, the Onondaga County Legislature voted unanimously to ban youth solitary confinement across the county criminal justice system. While the decision of the Onondaga County board is welcome news, it came as the result of years of organizing from civic and community organizations. Why are we so comfortable with dumping children into boxes, and who are we, who do we become, if we continue to let the practice continue and become every day more normal?

The Phoenix story is both straightforward and bent. Stephanie Vasquez picked a bilingual language immersion school with a good academic reputation for her son. One day, while taking her son to his classroom, she noticed a child, sitting in a windowless room, or closet, that was partially painted black, and had only a desk and chair. Stephanie Vasquez had worked for years as a middle school teacher and then worked as a volunteer teacher in a local women’s prison, and so she recognized the scene: “I was a little taken aback at first. Psychologically, I can only imagine what it does to a young child. It’s solitary confinement, just on a child level … The school-to-prison pipeline is a real thing to me. Having been a teacher for eight years, and then going to Perryville — the correlations between the two are eerie.”

Stephanie Vasquez asked the school about the space, and she was referred to their website, where she learned that those punished for “disruptive behavior” are sent to the room for a maximum of 15 minutes, to which Vasquez responds, “I don’t think it should happen at all … How long should they really even be in a confined black space? Probably never.”

It’s eerie … and altogether commonplace.

The Onondaga County Justice Center opened in 1995, and from its inception to today, the County has described the jail as a “state-of-the-art” facility. Community activists have differed with that description. They pointed to the agonizing death of Chuneice Patterson, in 2009.

Last year, the New York Civil Liberties Union and Legal Services of Central New York filed a suit against the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office practice of placing 16- and 17-year-olds in solitary confinement at the Justice Center.  They charged that between October 2015 and August 2016, the Onondaga County Justice Center dumped 80 teens, mostly youth of color, into solitary confinement. In January, the civil rights division of the United States Department of Justice gave formal support to that lawsuit. In February 2017, a Federal judge ordered a halt to the practice. In June, the New York Civil Liberties Union and Legal Services of Central New York arrived at a settlement with the Onondaga County Sheriff’s Office, and in September, the Legislature voted unanimously to ban the practice.

Why does it take so much time and energy to stop torturing children? Stephanie Vasquez saw a child in a closet and knew it was solitary confinement. Others saw “the box” at Onondaga and knew it was a cage. Stephanie Vasquez knew children were being treated as prisoners; and others knew child prisoners were being treated as animals; and the sequence of alchemical transmutation continues straight to hell. In both Arizona and New York, the specific institutions claim to be state-of-the-art, and they are. They were designed by the best in the field. What does that say about our art? Where is the art in dumping children into closets, boxes, and cages? How long should a child be in a confined black space? Never.

Those in isolation are allowed one hour a day in this `recreation’ space.

 

(Photo Credits: Syracuse.com)

Scotland: 400 children tortured, buried in unmarked mass graves, and no crime was committed

Inside the orphanage

From 1864 to 1981, children were sent to the Smyllum Park Orphanage, in Lanarkshire, Scotland, where they were routinely tortured, sexually abused, and then dumped into unmarked graves. The orphanage was run by the Daughters of Charity of Saint Vincent DePaul. The sisters who died received proper funerals, complete gravesite and headstone. Close to 12,000 children stayed, and suffered, in the Smyllum Park Orphanage. In 2003, two survivors, Frank Docherty and Jim Kane, found what they thought might be a mass grave of Smyllum. They pushed the Daughters of Charity for some answers. In 2004, the order responded that they thought 120 children had died in the orphanage. Frank Docherty and Jim Kane suspected those figures were low. They continued to push. Earlier this year, both Frank Docherty and Jim Kane died. This past Sunday, the BBC and Scotland’s Sunday Post published the results of a joint investigation, and they claimed over 400 children are buried in that gravesite. As of Tuesday, the police have said that there was no evidence of criminal activity, but they will continue to investigate any allegations. If the activity was not criminal, what then was it? Ordinary?

In 2013, Andi Lavery founded White Flowers Alba, a group that advocating for Smyllum Park Orphanage survivors. After reading through the death certificates gathered by the reporters, Lavery said, “Why should they be dying from starvation? Why should they be dying from treatable infections? Why should they be dying from beatings?” These are not “rhetorical” questions. Andi Lavery, and others, want answers.

Marie Peachey is now 54 years old. She, her brother Samuel and sister Brenda suffered the orphanage from 1964 and 1969. Marie Peachey has suffered ever since. In 1997, she went to the police with allegations of abuse, but they said it had happened too long before. In 2003, she tried to sue the Daughters of Charity, but was told, again, that the events had happened to distantly in the past. In 1998, Marie Peachey was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder. Today she says, “It is awful to think of all of those poor children buried and forgotten. We have endured years and years of secrets and lies about this and everything else that went on at Smyllum. The truth must come out. It was a horrible being there. I was routinely beaten.”

Theresa Tolmie-McGrane entered the Smyllum Park Orphanages in 1968. She was six years old: “Every child was beaten, punished, locked in a dark room, made to eat their own vomit and I would say that most of us had our mouths rinsed out with carbolic soap.” Theresa Tolmie-McGrane describes sexual abuse, physical violence and systematic psychological torture. One nun in particular tried to break the girl-child down: “She almost made it such that I didn’t get to university. She did everything she could to sabotage. I’ve never met someone who tried to destroy another person in such a systematic way. Thank God she didn’t succeed.” Theresa Tolmie-McGrane left the orphanage at 17, went to university, and today is a practicing psychologist in Norway.

The Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry is investigating the case. From members of government to the Church and beyond, everyone is shocked at the tragedy. For decades, survivors have told their stories, to no avail. For decades, family relatives of those children demanded answers, to no avail. To their dying days, Frank Docherty and Jim Kane demanded what the White Flowers Alba demand: accountability, redress, and the restoration of dignity. Frank Docherty and Jim Kane died without seeing any of that.

This story hearkens to the story of Tuam, in Ireland, where infants and children born in the institution were ‘buried’ in septic tanks. From Tuam to Lanarkshire and beyond, people ask, “Who throws dead children into an unmarked grave?” Who? Everyone. In the process of modern `nation building’, some bodies have value and others have less than none and end up in trash heaps, septic tanks, unmarked graves. There was is no secret and there is no surprise here. The activity was not criminal, it was altogether ordinary.

 

(Photo Credit: Sunday Post)

What made Gauri Lankesh so dangerous?

Gauri Lankesh

Recently, India has experienced a spike in violence against journalists, women and critics of the increasingly dominant religious right.  On Tuesday, September 5, that violence claimed the life of feminist activist and journalist Gauri Lankesh as she entered her home, in Bengaluru, in the south of India. Protests exploded across India, partly because of the murder of Gauri Lankesh herself and partly because of its familiarity. Men on motorcycles drove past and fired seven shots, three of which hit and killed Gauri Lankesh. That was exactly the fate of three other prominent so-called secularists: Narendra Dabholkar in 2013, Govind Pansare and M.M. Kalburgi, both in 2015. What made Gauri Lankesh so dangerous?

Gauri Lankesh was 55 years old, the editor and publisher of Gauri Lankesh Patrike, a Kannada-language weekly paper which served, and roused, the local populations across the state of Karnataka. A “feisty leftist” and “staunch and vocal critic of the ruling BJP government and of Hindu right-wing extremism”, Gauri Lankesh “raged like a fire”. “Known for her vocal stand against India’s growing right-wing ideology, communal politics and majoritarian policies”, Gauri Lankesh was “one of India’s most outspoken journalists.” She was “fearless” and “fearfully courageous.” Gauri Lankesh was an “imperfectly perfect feminist icon – courageous, independent, contradictory, inspiring … to always do what is right; an inspiration in otherwise tiring, scary times.”

Gauri Lankesh railed against the rise of fascist, communalist, right wing religious zealots as she insisted on the centrality of building inter-caste and inter-faith unions rather than walls. In “Highest Good and Lowest Lives”, Gauri Lankesh described the lives of those who clean sewers: “According to estimates, there are about one million manual scavengers in India. Needless to say most of them – if not all – are ‘untouchables’. They live and work in shit for a measly monthly pay of about three or four thousand rupees. Because of their jobs, they suffer from skin and organ infections. In order to overcome the horror of their ‘profession’, they find succour in alcoholism. They cannot form a union to fight for their rights since these days most city corporations or municipalities have outsourced scavenging jobs to private contractors.”

The feudalism of caste embraces the neoliberalism of outsourcing, and the result is 20,000 “scavengers” die every year in the manholes of India. And the response? Silence. Where is the uproar? Where is the concern? Why does no one care? Gauri Lankesh made her readers ask those questions and then act in response.

In writing about the rising tide of violence against women, in her home town of Bengaluru, or the long history of attacks on freedom of the press, in her home state of Karnataka, Gauri Lankesh pointed to the intersection of modernity’s toxic masculinity of the Big Man at Home and the colonial legacy of the Big Man in the State House, and in each instance, her verdict was straightforward: “This … should not even exist in a democracy.”

The murder of Gauri Lankesh was not surprising. She had received death threats every day, and she persisted. She was attacked by the State, and she persisted. In a world built increasingly on rising violence against women, journalists, and critics, martyrdom has become our daily bread. Gauri Lankesh was a woman who chose to write, speak, dissent, analyze, research, and believe in democracy. Gauri Lankesh chose to work locally and regionally, chose to write primarily in Kannada rather than English, and chose to believe that democracy comes up from the sewers and is a song sung by the chorus of little voices: “Little voices, like that of a Gauri Lankesh, will not be allowed to defy. That is why she had to be killed.” This should not even exist in a democracy.

Protest in Karnataka

 

(Photo Credit 1: FeminismInIndia / Facebook) (Photo Credit 2: The Wire / PTI)

The Parable of DACA: Living in the shadows

“This clandestine war of denial would thus be waged in the shadows, in that twilight space of what is called mourning.”
Jacques Derrida, “By Force of Mourning

For the past week, leading up to yesterday’s announcement concerning what many predicted would be the closure of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals and then after the fateful announcement, the language of the day has been “living in the shadows.” DACA recipient after DACA recipient has explained what living in the shadows meant and what it will mean. Today, an “immigration hardliner” Congressman explained that forcing people back into the shadows is justice: “They continue to live the objective that they sought to achieve when they illegally entered America. Live in the shadows. Live in the shadows and if you get crossways with the law, then the law requires they be placed in criminal proceedings and go home. I think there’s justice there, but we need to provide justice.” We need to provide justice.

DACA recipient and Rhode Island resident Rodrigo Pimentel explains, “Living in the shadows means declining legitimate job offers, as I would be unable to work lawfully. Undocumented people that work “off the books” risk employer exploitation such as wage theft. My father was a victim of this when he first came to the US: he found a job in Maryland soon after arrival, but after two weeks of work, he was laid off without pay and no legal recourse. Like many undocumented people, I fear that I may have to move from job to job, without a sense of knowing where I will be working next week or even whether I will be paid.”

Ivy Teng Lei adds, “`Living in the shadows’ is a very accurate way of describing our way of life. We never caused trouble, never asked for more than what we were given, and were perpetually afraid to attract anyone’s attention.”

We will not go back to living in the shadows. We are here to stay, in the light and as part of the sunlit world.

In The Republic, Plato provides the parable, or allegory or myth, of the cave, in which prisoners are chained and bound from birth and can only look forward. They see reflections of a fire behind them, they hear the voices of men carrying objects, whose shadows they see, and they believe, they know, the shadows are real people. Then one prisoner is yanked into freedom. When he looks at the fire, he is temporarily blinded but continues out of the cave into the sunlight and sunlit world. Being a person of compassion, the prisoner returns to the cave to free his fellow prisoners. As he returns, he is again blinded, this time by the darkness of the cave. When he reports the wonders of the sunlit world, the perpetual prisoners mock him, blind man that he is. If they could, they would murder him. This is the foundational parable of living in the shadows.

Here is today’s version of that parable: The President, who says he has “great love” for DACA recipients, hides in his own shadows while his Attorney General uses bald-faced racist, xenophobic, White Nationalist lies in order to demonstrate that his vicious act of cruelty is actually a commission of compassion. Their supporters applaud and explain that forcing the young to live in the shadows is justice. The real crime of those threatened with being forced to live in the shadows is that they are human, all too human, and that they have seen the light and the sunlit world. Their crime is their humanity. For the others, the ones who impose and enforce the State of Shadows, their crime is murder, murder of the soul, murder of the dream. They do not know that, while living in the shadows is impossibly hard, mistaking human beings for shadows is a crime against humanity. The work of mourning must wait until we finish the work of justice and freedom.

 

(Photo Credit 1: Al Jazeera) (Photo Credit 2: Facebook / Sammie Moshenberg)

Why does Australia hate pregnant and abused women asylum seekers?

Nauru

Why does Australia hate pregnant women asylum seekers? August began with a report that three pregnant women asylum seekers on Nauru had applied for termination of their pregnancies and were being denied medical transfer. This denial of medical transfer is typical on Nauru. An additional 50 asylum seekers who need medical care that they cannot receive on the island have also been denied medical transfer. This week, to close August off, 100 asylum seekers currently in Australia have been informed that they are about to lose … everything. Money, housing, the works. On Monday, August 28, about 40 men and women met with immigration officials and were informed of the new regime. Among the women are pregnant women and women who had come to Australia for treatment after having been sexually assaulted on Nauru. Meanwhile, the Immigration Minister thinks that the attorneys who represent asylum seekers, and in particular those in medical distress, are “unAustralian”. UnAustralian. What is the opposite of a commonwealth? Australia.

Yasaman Bagheri is 19 years old. She is from Iran. She has been detained on Nauru since she was 15 years old, and harsh living conditions and bleak prospects for the future are causing her to lose all hope: “They don’t care about people. They are willing to sacrifice innocent people, women and children to make their political point.” Why has this girl-child, now a young woman, been held in such dire and inhumane circumstances? No doubt because she is unAustralian.

The Australian medical profession’s position on those seeking medical care is clear. They must be transferred to Australia, immediately. Australian Medical Association President, and obstetrician, Dr Michael Gannon explained, “The ethical principles are very clear. People seeking the protection of the Australian government are entitled to healthcare standards the same as Australian citizens. So, that’s a matter of ethics and that’s a matter of law … I am not an immigration expert. But I like to think I am expert in medical ethics and I’ve stated our position very clearly as to the health standard that is we would expect.” Royal Australasian College of Physicians President Dr Catherine Yelland agreed, “We are very concerned by reports that asylum seekers are being refused medical transfers to hospitals in Australia where they would be able to get the care they need. The Australian government has a responsibility to ensure people in detention have access to the same level of care in Australian hospitals. It’s abundantly clear that they can’t receive the quality healthcare they need in these facilities. Doctors’ advice in these instances must be followed. We’ve too often seen the tragic outcomes that can occur when this advice is ignored.”

Australia recently changed the process for medical transfer from Nauru to Australia, and Nauru staff claim that this change, which requires going through Nauru hospital’s overseas medical referral committee, has meant no transfers. The committee seldom meets, keeps no records, and is altogether unreliable. The one Nauru hospital is a small operation. Nauruan women with complicated pregnancies are usually sent to Australia, Fiji or Singapore. Furthermore, Nauru prohibits abortions. The new medical non-transfer policy is a catastrophe generally, and it is an explicit assault on women, on women’s bodies.

Why does Australia hate pregnant women asylum seekers? Earlier this month, New York Times columnist Roger Cohen offered an answer, “Australia has reduced the men, women and children on the islands to namelessness, referring to them by registration numbers. Asked their names, kids often give a number. It’s all they know. At least the digits are not tattooed.” At least the digits are not tattooed … yet.

(Photo Credit 1: The Guardian) (Photo Credit 2: Al Jazeera)

Who today remembers Marikana? Who today remembers Heather Heyer?

“This silence calls out unconditionally; it keeps watch on that which is not, on that which is not yet, and on the chance of still remembering some faithful day.”
Jacques Derrida, “Racism’s Last Word”

August 16, 2017, marked the fifth anniversary of the massacre of Marikana, in which 34 protesting miners were killed by the police, in the single most lethal use of force by South African security forces since the March 21, 1960 Sharpeville massacre, when security forces killed 69 people. August 16 2017, people gathered in Charlottesville, and around the world, for the memorial service for Heather Heyer, murdered by a white supremacist in Charlottesville, Virginia, Saturday, August 12. Both commemorative and memorial events were marked, in social and news media, with injunctions to never forget and to always remember. We will not forget you. #RememberMarikana #RememberHeatherHeyer #NeverForget. Will we remember Marikana? Will we remember Heather Heyer?

We may have a trace of memory within, but that is not remembering. If we remembered, meaning if we held the moment or the event or the person(s) present in their absence, five years would not have passed as they have, and, five years from now, who will `remember’ Heather Heyer? I don’t mean that last question as a condemnation, but rather something to study and engage with, as those memories and remembrances will engage with us … or not.

34 miners were killed by bullets on a hill in South Africa. Their names are Tembelakhe Mati, Hendrick Tsietsi Monene, Sello Lepaaku, Hassan Fundi, Frans Mabelane, Thapelo Eric Mabebe, Semi Jokanisi, Phumzile Sokanyile, Isaiah Twala, Julius Langa, Molefi Ntsoele, Modisaotsile van Wyk Sagalala, Nkosiyabo Xalabile, Babalo Mtshazi, John Kutlwano Ledingoane, Bongani Cebisile, Yawa Mongezeleli Ntenetya, Henry Mvuyisi Pato, Ntandazo Nokamba, Bongani Mdze, Bonginkosi Yona, Makhosandile Mkhonjwa, Stelega Gadlela, Telang Mohai, Janeveke Raphael Liau, Fezile Saphendu, Anele Mdizeni, Mzukisi Sompeta, Thabiso Johannes Thelejane, Mphangeli Thukuza, Thobile Mpumza, Mgcineni Noki, Thobisile Zimbambele, Thabiso Mosebetsane, Andries Motlapula Ntsenyeho, Patrick Akhona Jijase, Michael Ngweyi, Julius Tokoti Mancotywa, Jackson Lehupa, Khanare Monesa, Mpumzeni Ngxande, Thembinkosi Gwelani, Dumisani Mthinti and Mafolisi Mabiya. Heather Heyer was killed by a car in the streets of the United States.

Today is Friday, August 26, 2017. Who today spoke the names of these 35 martyrs? Who stopped what they were doing, today, and “remembered”. Who re-membered them, who re-called them, who conjured them … today?

In November 1983, an exhibit entitled “Art contre/against Apartheid” opened in Paris. Jacques Derrida contributed an essay, “Racism’s Last Word” to the catalogue. Derrida hoped that Apartheid would be the name “for the ultimate racism in the world, the last of many.” He saw the purpose of the exhibition as creating a memory of the future: “A memory in advance: that, perhaps, is the time given for this exhibition. At once urgent and untimely, it exposes itself and takes a chance with time, it wagers and affirms beyond the wager. Without counting on any present moment, it offers only a foresight in painting, very close to silence, and the rearview vision of a future for which apartheid will be the name of something finally abolished. Confined and abandoned then to this silence of memory, the name will resonate all by itself, reduced to the state of a term in disuse. The thing it names today will no longer be. But hasn’t apartheid always been the archival record of the unnameable? The exhibition, therefore, is not a presentation. Nothing is delivered here in the present, nothing that would be presentable-only, in tomorrow’s rearview mirror, the late, ultimate racism, the last of many.”

The unnameable showed up on that hill in 2012 as it did in the streets of Charlottesville in 2017. The late, ultimate racism, the last of many, has not yet ended; it is alive and killing, taking lives, threatening entire populations. When we speak the names of the martyrs, we speak their names in a raging ocean of unconditional silence, the silence of the massacred, and we cannot yet claim to remember them. That faithful day has not yet come, and we are not yet at racism’s last word. Instead of promising to remember and to never forget, let us try as best we can to speak the names in the hope that someone might hear, might understand, and might, might, just carry it on.

(Photo Credit 1: The Journalist) (Photo Credit 2: Mike Nelson / Variety)