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.

In Tanzania, as everywhere, pregnant girls deserve an education!

Jackie Leonard Lomboma and her daughter Rose

At a rally last week, Tanzania’s President John Magufuli declared that pregnant school girls would never be allowed to return to school. The President’s statement sparked a heated debate, in Tanzania and elsewhere. For the past two days, Kenyans have weighed in, using the hashtag #StopMagufuli. Yesterday, Tanzania’s Minister for Home Affairs, Mwigulu Nchemba, threatened NGOs who “support” pregnant school girls returning to school and those “supporting” homosexuality with decertification. Commentators noted the dire consequences of excluding pregnant school girls from education while others discussed the gross, and patriarchal, unfairness of the policy, and others invoked tradition and nation.

President Magufuli’s declaration emerged after a months’ long debate in Tanzania’s Parliament over the budget. That debate included a move to fund policies and structures that would help pregnant school girls stay in school and return to school after giving birth. While Members of Parliament were divided, a sizeable group favored this idea.

For decades, activists, researchers and others have organized to end child marriage and the exclusion of pregnant school girls from education. A recent study reported, “In Tanzania, …  school officials conduct pregnancy tests and expel pregnant students. Nineteen-year-old Rita, from northern Tanzania, said she was expelled when she became pregnant at age 17. `Teachers found out I was pregnant,’ she said. `I found out that no student is allowed to stay in school if they are pregnant … I didn’t have the information [sexual education] about pregnancies and what would happen.’”

Researchers have long shown that Tanzanian school girls experience pregnancy and early school-leaving at exceptionally high rates. Access to reproductive health and to sex and sexuality education are limited, especially in the rural areas. Further, the policy of exclusion violates the Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania as much as it does the aspirations and autonomy of young Tanzanian girls: “The Constitution of the United Republic of Tanzania recognizes the right to education to every child, … denying pregnant schoolgirls’ re-entry to school after giving birth infringes the right to equal access to education and … the infringement of the right to education by denying pregnant school girls’ re-entry to school after delivery has great harm.” What harms the girl harms the Constitution harms the Nation harms the future.

Two years ago, when this current President and current Parliament were elected, some wondered if 2015 might be the year of the girl child in Tanzania, the year in which child marriages would be abolished and in which the girl child would be respected. It wasn’t.

Jackie Leonard Lomboma directs a center for teenage mothers in Morogoro, Tanzania. She became pregnant while in school. Orphaned at three months, raised by her grandfather, she managed to finish primary school, but there was no money for secondary school. A young man offered her money for school if she would “be with him.” They met once, and she became pregnant. She never saw him again. Her grandfather kicked her out, and the village ostracized her.

She began work as a house maid, and moved to Uganda to work for a Tanzanian family there. When the family moved to another place, the mother asked the young woman what she would want as a “goodbye gift”, and Jackie Leonard Lomboma answered, “I told her I wanted to go to school …  I knew it was only through education that I could make a positive step in my life and give a better life to my child … Eventually she agreed to take me to school.”

Jackie Leonard Lomboma completed secondary school in Uganda, and then returned to Tanzania. Today, she is disappointed: “It is a big disappointment to hear the president say that girls who get pregnant should not be allowed back to school. I am very disappointed because Tanzania is one of the poorest countries in the world and in order for us to overcome this we need to empower underprivileged groups like teenage mothers with education … I was empowered through education, that is why today I am supporting other girls to stand up again.”

When Jackie Leonard Lomboma talks of secondary school, she talks of the dream, as do school girls in Malawi, India, the United States, South Africa and everywhere else. They all have a dream that someday we will all have gone to school, together, and will all have flourished there, and that that day must be now.

 

(Photo Credit: BBC / Jackie Leonard Lomboma)

Maria Puga, widow of Anastasio Hernández-Rojas, haunts the borderlands everywhere

 

Maria Puga

Tomorrow, June 23, is International Widows Day, established in 2010, the year of Anastasio Hernández-Rojas’ death. This is the story of Maria Puga, his widow, who said, “No, justice must be served.”

On May 2, 1968, Anastasio Hernández-Rojas was born in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. At the age of 15, he moved north, to San Diego, to find work and send money home. At 21, he met Maria Puga. Over the next 20 years, the couple had five children, all born in San Diego. The eldest was born in 1990. The youngest, twins, were born in 2006. Anastasio Hernández-Rojas worked in construction and demolition, until the housing market crashed. On May 10, 2010, Anastasio Hernández-Rojas was arrested for shoplifting groceries. On May 24, he was deported. On May 28, he and his brother tried to re-enter the United States. They were detained at the border. Then Anastasio Hernández-Rojas was brutally murdered by Custom and Border “Protection” officers. The San Diego coroner determined that Anastasio Hernández-Rojas’ death was a homicide. The State tried to have Anastasio Hernández-Rojas’s story end there, just another `unfortunate incident’ in the borderlands, but Maria Puga began a mighty campaign demanding justice for her husband, her children, herself, and all who migrate across the borderlands. Seven years later, Maria Puga’s campaign continues.

Anastasio Hernández-Rojas was murdered in the open, in front of witnesses, and cameras. Otherwise, we would never know his story. We would not know that Anastasio Hernández-Rojas was tortured for an extended period, during which he howled and begged for help. We would not know the depth and extent of viciousness and cruelty that passes for “protection” on the United States southern border.

But we do know. We know because Maria Puga said NO to silence. She pressed for information and pushed for answers. At each step, she was stonewalled.

In 2012, the Public Broadcasting Service aired “Crossing the line at the border”: “Eight people have been killed along the border in the past two years. One man died a short time after being beaten and tased, an event recorded by two eyewitnesses whose video is the centerpiece of the report. Both eyewitnesses say the man offered little or no resistance … The report raises questions about accountability. Because border agents are part of the Department of Homeland Security, they are not subjected to the same public scrutiny as police officers who use their weapons. It also questions whether, in the rush to secure the border, agents are being adequately trained. And it raises the question: why aren’t these cases being prosecuted?”

The officers who tortured Anastasio Hernández-Rojas to death were never charged with any criminal offense. In 2015, the Justice Department decided there wasn’t sufficient evidence to prosecute. Upset but undeterred, Maria Puga called on President Obama to “conduct an administrative investigation to punish the agents who were involved in Anastasio Hernández’s case.”

Maria Puga also continued to pursue a civil lawsuit. In February 2017, the Federal government agreed to pay $1 million to Anastasio Hernández-Rojas’s five children. While that was welcome news, Maria Puga still demanded an admission of guilt. Maria Puga responded to the news of the settlement: “The settlement isn’t justice, but it is a badge of shame. No amount of money can bring back Anastasio. No family should ever have to go through this. We don’t want to have more cases like that of Anastasio.”

In 2016, on the eve of another agency internal review, Maria Puga directly addressed the Customs and Border “Protection” agency: “My name is Maria Puga, wife of Anastasio Hernandez, who, five years ago, was brutally killed by Customs and Border Protection agents. We, along with other families, have been struggling for more than five years, in search of justice. We’ve been together, I’ve spoken with families, and I know the great pain they feel, which is the same as mine, from having lost a loved one and being unable to find justice. Now the CBP Internal Affairs will review the case of my husband Anastasio. We hope that this time the review will be transparent and just, that they recognize the truth, what really happened to my husband.”

Nothing came of the review.

In 2016, Maria Puga filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The Commission recently agreed to hear the case. As Maria Puga explains, when the Justice Department decided not to prosecute anyone for the death of her husband, “In that moment, I said, ‘No, justice must be served,’ and that’s why we’re here. There are other cases and similar circumstances that must be solved. We want justice for all the families who have been victimized by Border Patrol.”

Maria Puga is Anastasio Hernández-Rojas’s widow. She is part of the Borderland of Widows, produced by State policy of militarized and securitized borders. Militarized borders mass produce widows. That’s their goal. From Australia to England to the European Union to the United States, militarized, securitized borders create borderlands in which largely poor women of color are deemed to be so much detritus. The living dead of the new world order, widows are meant to wrap themselves in mourning, slink off into the shadows, whimper for a bit, and die. Maria Puga said, “No, justice must be served.” The struggle continues. The widows demand justice.

 

(Photo Credits: Fusion / Sharis Delgadillo)

Grenfell Tower: Do not come to us now dressed in the sackcloth and ashes of repentance

A Grenfell Tower apartment today

The Grenfell Tower went up in flames, quickly, and many lives were lost, or better sacrificed. At first, the reports were of the spectacular fire itself. Then they were of those who had lived in the building, a public housing tower, and the many, like Khadija Saye, who died in the inferno. Others reported on the firefighters who risked their lives to save others. Then the reports were of the cladding, the material that covered the building, material which we learn tonight was already banned in England, but really who cares? The residents were working poor, largely immigrants, largely people of color, and majority women and children. The Queen visited the site and talked to residents, while Theresa May dithered, yet again. Now people are writing of the spatial apartheid of London, but where were they, and where we, when this slow-moving quickly erupting massacre was in process? Nowhere to be seen, and nowhere to be seeing. You know who saw all this and described it in detail? Friedrich Engels, in Manchester, almost 150 years ago.

Walking the streets of Manchester, Engels explained why and how Manchester was a great city: “The town itself is … built, so that a person may live in it for years, and go in and out daily without coming into contact with a working-people’s quarter or even with workers, that is, so long as he confines himself to his business or to pleasure walks. This arises chiefly from the fact, that … the working-people’s quarters are sharply separated from the sections of the city reserved for the middle- class; or, if this does not succeed, they are concealed with the cloak of charity.  Manchester contains, at its heart, a rather extended commercial district … Nearly the whole district is abandoned by dwellers, and is lonely and deserted at night … This district is cut through by certain main thoroughfares upon which the vast traffic concentrates, and in which the ground level is lined with brilliant shops. In these streets the upper floors are occupied, here and there, and there is a good deal of life upon them until late at night. With the exception of this commercial district, all Manchester proper … are all unmixed working-people’s quarters, stretching like a girdle … around the commercial district. Outside, beyond this girdle, lives the upper and middle bourgeoisie … The members of this money aristocracy can take the shortest road through the middle of all the labouring districts to their places of business without ever seeing that they are in the midst of the grimy misery that lurks to the right and the left … Anyone who knows Manchester can infer the adjoining districts from the appearance of the thoroughfare, but one is seldom in a position to catch from the street a glimpse of the real labouring districts …  I have never seen so systematic a shutting out of the working-class from the thoroughfares, so tender a concealment of everything which might affront the eye and the nerves of the bourgeoisie, as in Manchester.”

In the end, writing of the attitudes of the bourgeoisie towards the proletariat, Engels commented, “The English bourgeoisie is charitable out of self-interest; it gives nothing outright, but regards its gifts as a business matter, makes a bargain with the poor, saying: `If I spend this much upon benevolent institutions, I thereby purchase the right not to be troubled any further, and you are bound thereby to stay in your dusky holes and not to irritate my tender nerves by exposing your misery. You shall despair as before, but you shall despair unseen, this I require, this I purchase with my subscription of twenty pounds for the infirmary!’”

In the late 1880s, Friedrich Engels studied the greatness of Manchester and discovered contemporary London, and every other real estate and service economy driven global city, and he saw the inevitability of the Grenfell Tower massacre. Grenfell Tower was wrapped in illegal materials and toxic policy as “so tender a concealment of everything that might affront the eye and the nerves of the bourgeoisie.” So, do not come to us now, dressed in the sackcloth and ashes of repentance. You did start the fire and then kept it burning, and so did we all. Grenfell Tower resident-survivors demand justice. What is justice in a world where humanity is reduced to ashes, where a massacre of innocents has been part of the urban planning of great cities for over 150 years? What is repentance in that world?

 

(Photo Credit: The Guardian)

Australia is covered with the blood of Reza Barati and Faysal Ishak Ahmed

Manus mother washing

On Wednesday, June 14, 2017, the Australian government decided it was time to close the books on what has happened in its offshore immigration detention center on Manus Island: “The government on Wednesday settled a class action … on behalf of 1,905 refugees and asylum seekers detained on the island, rather than proceed with a six-month trial that would have involved evidence before the court from detainees of murder inside the detention centre, systemic sexual and physical abuse, and inadequate medical treatment leading to injury and death.” The government and its offshore detention contractors agreed to pay $70 million plus costs, which will amount to over $100 million. While this single largest class action settlement in Australian history is welcome news for the current detainees on Manus Island, this episode is yet another demonstration of the vicious commodification of justice and mercy. Australia’s money won’t bring back Faysal Ishak Ahmed, or Reza Barati, or so many others whose names and life and death stories remain unwritten. Australia’s money won’t compensate for the trauma and otherwise abbreviated lives of the women, children and men who have passed through its gates. Australia’s money will never pay for the damage done to justice, decency, or mercy, and it will never pay for the damage done to asylum seekers and refugees, nor to the concepts of asylum and refugee. Australia turned asylum seekers and refugees into cargo. No amount of money will compensate or erase that disgrace.

In 2013, New Matilda published three sets of letters by women asylum seekers imprisoned on Manus Island. The women are from IranPakistan, Sri Lanka, Afghanistan. They described terrible hardships in their homelands, terrific struggles to get to Australia, and then debilitating, crushing conditions on Christmas Island and then on Manus Island. They described the dire mental health crisis that sweeps through the camps, especially among the younger men who are increasingly suicidal. They wrote about their struggle for safety for themselves and their children. They described the life draining out of their children within the universe of trauma that constitutes the detention camp. They described cultures and policies of violence against women in their homelands that compelled them to leave, to seek personal safety and dignity.

In 2013, the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, issued a report on Manus Island. The agency confirmed the reports of the women asylum seekers. The physical conditions were “harsh”. The living quarters had no privacy, which was a particular concern to parents of girls; were unbearably hot; and had grossly inadequate sanitary facilities. And that was the family compound. The conditions in the compound for single male adults were far worse.

In 2014, Reza Barati, 24-year-old Iranian asylum seeker, was killed in an `encounter’ on Manus Island. Prisoners protested the lies they were being fed, the conditions they were forced to endure, the ongoing abuse. Guards rushed in, rushed out, rushed in again, and then the protest turned into `a riot’. According to eyewitness reports and an initial police report, when the guards, employees of G4S, rushed in, violence erupted.

In 2015, Australia announced plans to move some or all of the asylum seekers and refugees on Manus Island to the Philippines.  None of the refugees or asylum seekers ever heard a word about this from the State. The State does not negotiate or consult with cargo.

In 2016, Faysal Ishak Ahmed, 27-year-old Sudanese asylum seeker, collapsed inside the detention center on Manus Island. For at least six months Faysal Ishak Ahmed complained of chest pains, swollen arms and fingers, high blood pressure and a pain at the back of his head, seizures, blackouts and breathing difficulties. He begged and pleaded for medical care. Fellow prisoners begged and pleaded on his behalf. He wrote letters; fellow prisoners wrote letters. He deteriorated; he received no medical care. When he finally died, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection stated a refugee “has sadly died today from injuries suffered after a fall and seizure at the Manus Regional Processing Centre”.

Eight months prior to Faysal Ishak Ahmed’s death, the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea declared the detention center illegal. Papua New Guinea and Australia “agreed” to close the center … someday. The detention center is open to this day. Faysal Ishak Ahmed was killed by the Australian government, as was Reza Barati; their blood flows everywhere.

While today’s settlement is welcome news, the shame, cruelty, and inhumanity remain. The brutal truth is not for sale, a brutal truth that remains as long as deterrence is the center of national, and global, asylum and refugee policy. Shut the detention camps, welcome not only the asylum seekers and refugees, welcome all the strangers, treat them and love them as you love yourself, for you were once, and perhaps still are, strangers in the land.

Drawing by a child detained in Manus Island

 

(Photo Credit 1: Independent Australia) (Child’s drawing: The Conversation)

It’s official: Hlengiwe Mhlambo and her 183 neighbors have a right not to be homeless!

This family lives in what used to be a kitchen

“and Makwerekwere drifting into and out of Hillbrow and Berea having split into Berea from Hillbrow according to many xenophobic South Africans and their glamorising media and into Braamfontein to sort out their refugee affairs and the streets of Hillbrow and Berea and Braamfontein overflowing with Makwerekwere come to pursue green pastures after hearing that the new president Rolihlahla Mandela welcomes guests and visitors unlike his predecessors who erected deadly electric wire fences around the boundaries of South Africa trying to keep out the barbarians from Mozambique Zaïre Nigeria Congo Ivory Coast Zimbabwe Angola Zambia from all over Africa fleeing their war-torn countries populated with starvation like Ethiopia”                                                                      Phaswane Mpe: Welcome to Our Hillbrow

Last Thursday, the Constitutional Court of South Africa ruled that judges cannot authorize an eviction order that will leave people homeless. Over the past 25 years, South Africa’s highest courts have ruled consistently that the rights of residents, including occupiers, matter. Even with those protections in place, this decision is viewed as groundbreaking and welcome. The case involves 184 people – 47 women, 114 men, 23 children – who have occupied an apartment building in the Berea neighborhood of Johannesburg’s inner city. Hlengiwe Mhlambo is one of the 184. She is forty years old, a mother of two, and an informal trader. For the past 14 years, Hlengiwe Mhlambo has lived in her apartment, eking out a meager living, raising her children, hoping to find, or better create, the once promised green pasture.

Current residents have occupied the building anywhere from four to 26 years. Vusumuzi Dlamini moved in in 1991, and has been living there ever since. Samkelo Myeza moved in in April 2013, and has lived there ever since. For Dlamini, Myeza, Mhlambo and all the residents, things started changining in 2013. A new owner served the residents with an eviction notice. The residents went to a local ward committee member, who said he’d investigate the matter. In September, the case went to court. The ward committee member attended. Four residents, known as appearers, attended. Hlengiwe Mhlambo was one of the four. The owner’s lawyers appeared. The appearers attended to appeal for a postponement. The ward committee member told the court that an agreement had been reached between the owner and the residents, and that residents had agreed to their own eviction. As the Constitutional Court notes, “The applicants were not legally represented.”

Hlengiwe Mhlambo is clear that she did not have the authority to represent the 184 residents and that she, personally, never agreed to be evicted. The main point is that that applicants were not legally represented. They had no lawyers. No one explained their rights. They never fully understood the proceedings. For example, they did not know that the law states that before a judge can issue an eviction order, she or he must consider “all the relevant circumstances, including the rights and needs of the elderly, children, disabled persons and households headed by women.”

South Africa’s Constitutional Court decided that people have a right not to be homeless: “It is a well-established principle that an eviction from one’s home always raises a constitutional issue … The starting point is section 26(3) of the Constitution which provides that `[n]o one may be evicted from their home, or have their home demolished, without an order of court made after considering all the relevant circumstances’. Accordingly, courts seized with eviction matters are enjoined by the Constitution to consider all relevant circumstances …  An order that will give rise to homelessness could not be said to be just and equitable, unless provision had been made to provide for alternative or temporary accommodation … Where there is a risk of homelessness, the local authority must be joined … Courts must be alive to the risk of homelessness and the issue of joining the local authority to discharge any duties it may have … All of this may appear unduly burdensome but it is necessary if one has regard to the fundamental importance that a person’s home has to the realisation of almost all human rights. More importantly, the procedure is constitutionally enshrined and legislatively enacted”

The residents were represented by the Socio-Economic Rights Institute, SERI. After the decision, their attorney Nomzando Zono, explained, “This is a momentous decision for millions of poor people across South Africa who live with insecure tenure and inadequate housing. As of today, our courts are forbidden from making eviction orders – even if they have been agreed to – until those under threat of eviction are aware of and able to exercise their rights, and until a Judge can be sure no-one will be left out on the streets.”

In the worldwide political economy of global cities, in which urban real estate is a driving economic force, we are so far from a politics that acknowledges “the fundamental important tht a person’s home has to the realisation of almost all human rights.” Last week, the South African Constitutional Court called on us, all of us, to remember the place of the home. No one can consent to an unfair eviction. No one can consent to homelessness. Homelessness is a violation of our most fundamental human and civil and Constitutional rights, wherever we live. Let’s join with Hlengiwe Mhlambo and make it so.

 

(Photo Credit: Twitter / Candice Nolan)

Why does the United States hate Samira Hakimi, her sister Nazifa, and their young children?

Samira Hakimi, her sister Nazifa, their respective husbands, and Samira’s two children were threatened by the Taliban in their home country, Afghanistan. The Hakimi family established and ran a high school and a private university, based on Western curricula, media of instruction English and Dari. The schools more than welcomed, they encouraged women to attend. For example, they offered more than half of their scholarships to women. For three years, the family weathered intensifying Taliban threats. Finally, last year, they fled Afghanistan. At the time of their departure, Nazifa was pregnant. In December, they crossed from Mexico into the United States and applied for asylum. They were all detained. Samira Hakimi, her 4- and 8-year-old children ended up in Karnes County Residential Center, as did her sister Nazifa and her newborn child. The husbands were detained elsewhere in Texas. In late May, Samira Hakimi and her two children were afforded asylum. Not her sister, nor her sister’s ten-month-old son, nor the husbands. Samira Hakimi knows why she was kept for six months, and why her family is still inside: “They told us you will only be a couple of days in there. I never thought that I would be detained here for such a long time. That I’m detained here because I’m from Afghanistan and that’s all. But I’m human.” Why does the United States hate Samira Hakimi, her sister Nazifa, and their young children?

The State is not supposed to hold families in detention for long periods of time. A federal judge arrived at that decision last year, and, as of now, that decision still holds … except that it means less than nothing in the immigration gulag. How is one supposed to respond when one is six months into a maximum three months’ stay in prison? What is one supposed to do when one’s children suffer day in day out, asking when they’re going to leave? How is one supposed to breathe surrounded by ever thickening despair? Samira Hakimi tried asking questions: “Here, no one talks to us. They don’t give us the reason why I’m detained in here. I never thought that I would be detained here for such a long time.” After months of no response, Samira Hakimi decided to take her own life, thinking that if she died, her children would be released from detention. She was found; taken to hospital, under guard; and then returned to Karnes.

Last week, Samira Hakimi and her two young children were released from Karnes, and are now `free’ in San Francisco. Samira Hakimi is 31 years old.

Two years ago, almost to the day, 19-year-old Lilian Yamileth Oliva Bardales, a Honduran asylum seeker also held in Karnes, tried to commit suicide. She and her four-year-old child had been in Karnes since October 2014. Lilian Oliva Bardales left a note, part of which, translated, read: “I write this letter so you know how it feels to be in this damn place for 8 months. You don’t understand that people’s lives have no price and you cannot buy it with money. You don’t have a heart for anybody. You just lie and humiliate all of us who have come to this country.” That was two years ago.

Since then, the situation has only grown more toxic. Laws against the detention of minors are routinely, and increasingly, ignored. Immigration detention death rates are skyrocketing. From October 1, 2015 to September 31, 2016, 10 people died in immigrant detention centers. From October 1, 2016 to the end of May, a week ago, eight people have already died in ICE custody.

Why does the United States hate Samira Hakimi and her family? Because they’re Afghan. Why does the United States hate Lilian Oliva Bardales and her son? Because they’re Honduran. Why does the United States hate Samira Hakimi, her sister Nazifa, Lilian Oliva Bardales, and their children? Because they’re vulnerable women and children who asked for help, because they’re human.

 

(Photo Credit 1: One America) (Photo Credit 2: Grassroots Leadership)

Stop sending mothers and children to prison!

A mothers’ workshop at Oyam Prison

Today in Uganda, a leading headline reads, “24 children in prison with their mothers”. The article opens, “About 24 children are locked up in the seven prisons of Lira, Oyam, Kole, Alebtong, Otuke, Apac and Dokolo districts with their only crime being born to mothers suspected of breaking the law. Currently, there are 228 female inmates in the seven prisons.” The article concludes, “The prison population in Uganda is said to be growing at a 10 per cent rate annually. Currently, there are 284 children living with their mothers in 21 female prisons.” While Uganda’s prisons are notoriously overcrowded, with a recorded occupancy rate of 293% as of October 2016, more than half of whom are pre-trial or remand prisoners, the situation of mothers and children in prison is a global phenomenon. The global gulag has produced a global prison crèche and nursery. Children are the future.

While the issue of mothers behind bars has garnered increased attention, as witness this year’s Mother’s Day National Mama’s Bail Out Day campaign, the ever increasing global population of mothers with children in prison has not. In Uganda, the population of mothers incarcerated with children has grown steadily for the last ten years. According to the Turkish government, 560 children are in Turkish prisons along with their mothers. The children age just born to six years old. In 2014, 334 children were living with their mothers in Turkish prisons. Incarcerating innocent children is a major growth industry. In Kenya, hundreds of children under four live with their mothers in prison; in Bolivia over 1000 children do. In Cambodia, two years ago, the Prime Minister wanted to find a “solution” to children in prison with their mothers. Thus far, none has been found. Quite the opposite.

Around the world, where do children live? Increasingly, in prison. In 2008, the International Centre for Prison Studies reported that the following countries kept mothers and children together … in prison: England and Wales; Australia; Brazil; Canada; Denmark; Finland; Germany; Greece; Italy; Netherlands; New Zealand; Russia; Sweden; Switzerland; and the United States. Spain kept mothers and children together in “family” cells. No information was available for France, Japan, or, curiously Turkey. Of the 20 nation-states surveyed, only Norway said, NO.

In 2014, the Law Library of Congress’s Laws on Children Residing with Parents in Prison expanded the survey to 97 countries. Here’s their list of those who keep mothers and children together in prison: Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Benin, Bolivia, Botswana, Burma/Myanmar, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Denmark, Egypt, El Salvador, England and Wales, Ethiopia, Fiji, Finland, France, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Hong Kong, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kiribati, Kuwait, Libya, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malawi, Mali, Mexico, Morocco, Namibia, Nepal, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Qatar, Russia, Samoa, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Africa, South Korea, South Sudan, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tanzania, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Tuvalu, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe. From A to Z, babies behind bars are everywhere.

None of this is surprising. Skyrocketing rates of incarceration for women, and especially younger women, means incarcerating more and more infants and children.

But it’s not inevitable: “Norway does not allow children to stay with their parents in prison. Instead, a new mother is housed outside of the penitentiary in a mødrehjem (home for mothers) until her child is old enough to be separated from her, generally around nine months of age. Mothers with young children and short sentences may serve their entire sentence at the home for mothers …. In general, the Norwegian prison policy reserves prison sentences for the most heinous crimes and attempts to avoid sentencing criminals to prison. Courts have also chosen to transform certain sentences from prison sentences to community service, generally in cases where mothers are convicted of drug offenses but have since been drug free and are caring for a small child. At the start of 2012, 255 women were incarcerated in Norway, of whom 187 were serving out the sentence in an alternative institution.”

Norway is taking this approach beyond its border, funding, for example, an `open prison’ for women and children in Lithuania. It’s not perfect, but it’s a step.

The State alibi for caging innocent children is the good of the child. What does that say about the world outside the prison, if the best place for an infant or young child is behind bars? What is justice, if sending a child to prison is fine and dandy, no matter how minor or negligible the mother’s so-called offense? Want to keep children out of prisons and jails? Imagine a world in which close to 75% of women convicted of criminal offense do not end up in prison. Imagine Norway.

 

(Photo Credit: Daily Monitor / Bill Oketch)

In elections from the State of Mexico to the councils of Cambodia, women are on the move

Delfina Gómez Álvarez

This weekend saw three major elections. In Lesotho, people went to the polls to elect a Prime Minister … for the third time in three years. Despite a heavy presence of military at the polls, generally reports are that everything was orderly and reasonably fair and free. The other two elections, for the Governor of the State of Mexico and for council and commune seats in Cambodia, the electoral story is all about women: Delfina Gómez Álvarez in Mexico, and in Cambodia, Mu Sochua, Tep Vanny, Preah Vihear, Jen Juri, Kem Tola, Sok Da, Khum Rany, Nget Chan Dara and countless others. While the particularities from Mexico to Cambodia my change, the story of the insurgent ascendancy of women in response to neoliberal models of so-called development that tally women as so many disposable bodies is the same. From Mexico to Cambodia, women are saying NO!

In the State of Mexico, known as Edomex, Delfina Gómez Álvarez, of the relatively new leftist Morena party, has been running a fierce campaign against a candidate who is president Enrique Peña Nieto’s cousin and whose party has ruled Edomex for 90 years. Additionally, his father and grandfather were governors of Edomex. So, it was a done deal, right? Wrong. Delfina Gómez covered the state, from one end to the other and all points in between, and the State of Mexico is Mexico’s most populous and most densely populated state. Not a member of an illustrious family, Delfina Gómez had spent most of her adult life as a teacher. When she entered politics, in 2012, she ran for Municipal President of Texcoco, and won. Delfina Gómez Álvarez was the first woman to win a municipal election in Texcoco. Now she’s taking that to the State level. It’s unclear, as of now, who won the election. Both sides are claiming victory, and the margins are narrow. What is clear is Delfina Gómez Álvarez, standing loud and proud, and urging the people onward.

In Cambodia, women –  like Yorm Bopha, Tep Vanny, Phan Chhunreth, Song Srey Leap, and Bo Chhorvy and thousands of others – have led the campaigns against land grabs, mass evictions, and other forms of `urban development.’ With the elections coming up, many activists – such as Jen Juri, Kem Tola, Sok Da, Khum Rany, Nget Chan Dara – decided to join Mu Sochua and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party. Woman after woman told a version of the same story. They had had enough of both the patriarchal national form of so-called development AND the patriarchal forms of opposition. Despite the difficulties of moving up in any Cambodia party bureaucracy, they decided the time is now. They had pushed for so long, and still the bulldozers came, whole communities were removed, and if there was any public outcry, it was short lived and then forgotten.

As in Edomex, the results of the elections are not altogether clear. The national ruling party seems to have won at the national level, but in many regions, the CNRP did well, and women candidates did well.

Winning an election is important, terrifically and often terribly important, but so is entering the race, and in Mexico and Cambodia this weekend, that’s what women did. Where are the women? They’re in the garment factories and, like activist Tep Vanny, in the prisons, and they’re in the polling booths, on the election posters, on the platform and dais, in the meetings, and soon, very soon, they will be in the governor’s estate, in the council and commune bodies, and beyond. Soon, very soon, and not just in Cambodia and Mexico.

Khum Rany

 

(Photo Credit 1: Excelsior / Cuartoscuro) (Photo Credit 2: Phnom Penh Post / Pha Lina)

Where are the tears for the dead of Kabul and Baghdad?

The Eiffel Tower went dark to honor the victims of a bomb attack in Kabul.

The Eiffel Tower went dark last night, Thursday night, in solidarity with the victims of this week’s bombing in Kabul. Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris, explained, “Après Bagdad, c’est Kaboul qui a été la cible d’un attentat barbare. Solidarité et pensées aux victimes et à leurs proches.” After Baghdad, Kabul was the next target of a barbaric assault. Our solidarity and thoughts are with the victims and their loved ones.” On Tuesday, bombs went off in Baghdad. On Wednesday, a massive bomb went off in Kabul. In Kabul, people are grieving, mourning, stunned, and angry. Today, many are protesting the lack of security in the capital city. But otherwise, around “the world”, the incident of close to 100 dead and 500 injured has raised little interest. Why is that?

The Guardian editors noted: “There are no `I heart KBL’ signs. No #jesuisbaghdad hashtags. No one is paying tribute to the rich cultural heritage and resilience of the targets. It is unlikely that we will come to recognise the names and faces of most victims.”  Washington Post foreign affairs reporter Ishaan Tharoor began his reflection in a similar vein, “It’s a truism that the world has grown numb to terrorist attacks outside the West. When the Islamic State set off a car bomb on Tuesday outside a popular ice cream shop in Baghdad, killing 13 people and wounding dozens more, no candlelight vigils took place in Western cities. No imperial monuments were lit up in Iraqi colors in European capitals. When militants set off a devastating explosion in Kabul’s diplomatic enclave on Wednesday, killing at least 80 people and injuring hundreds more, no CNN anchor uploaded the flag of Afghanistan on social media. No pop stars organized solidarity concerts.”

That truism is not good enough. “The world” has never paid attention to terrorist assaults beyond its borders, and those borders are the borders of Europe and the United States. Remember Garissa? Remember April 2, 2015, when gunmen entered the Garissa University College, in Kenya? Remember how they killed close to 150 people and injured close to 100? Remember the world response? At the time, I wrote, “As in the aftermath of the assault on the Westgate Mall, the world performs mourning, and world leaders and their messengers claim `We all stand with,’ and now will say, `Je suis Kenya.’ It’s not true. We do not mourn, and we are not Kenya.”

I was wrong. “The world” did not even perform mourning, and “world” leaders and their messengers remained pretty much silent. The silence is not because of any “distance” nor is it the result of repeated violence. It’s the division of the world between us, who inhabit the space we call “the world”, and them, who, being outside “the world”, don’t merit much attention, and certainly don’t merit the work of mourning.

Initial reports suggested that many, maybe a majority, of the dead were women and children. Not even that elicited much response. Why? Why is the blood shed in Garissa, Kabul, Baghdad less than that of Manchester or Brussels or Paris? Where are the tears for the dead of Kabul and Baghdad? We do not mourn, and we are not Baghdad or Kabul. We are “the world”.

 

(Photo Credit 1: CGTN / VCG) (Photo Credit 2: The Washington Post / Stefan Warmth / Reuters)

#NotMyPresident: We need both a HateWatch and a PeaceLoveandUnderstandingWatch

Since the November elections, across the United States, from middle schools and high schools to colleges and universities, people of color, women, LGBTIQ persons, Muslims, Jews and others report outbursts of intimidation, threat, and abuse. To no one’s surprise, a campaign based on white supremacy, racism, xenophobia, misogyny, homophobia, ableism, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, sutured by lies, hatred and violence, has engendered intensified and expanded violence, but violence against people of color, women, immigrants, LGBTIQ persons, Jews, Muslims, people with disabilities, workers, others, is not the whole story. Individuals, organizations and communities across the country are engaging in acts of kindness and campaigns for inclusive justice. Here’s the story of what happened over the weekend in the leafy Del Ray neighborhood of Alexandria, Virginia. Call it a verse of the Parable of Memorial Day 2017.

On Saturday, May 27, self-described white supremacist, white nationalist, neo-fascist posters appeared on trees and utility poles in the Del Ray neighborhood. Some of them targeted C. Christine Fair, who had taken on a white supremacist at a local gym. The posters were taken down immediately. That’s the hate crime part. But there’s more; there’s the peace, love and understanding part. Residents pulled out crayons, markers and paper and produced posters of welcome, calling for mutual respect and dignity.

These homegrown posters sit now sit next to the more formal posters gleaming from shops in Del Ray and the adjoining predominantly Latinx Arlandria neighborhood. Those posters read, EVERYONE IS WELCOME HERE TODOS SON BIENVENIDOS AQUI. They’re part of the Hate Free Virginia Campaign, and in Del Ray that campaign was organized by the Tenants and Workers United, a chapter of New Virginia Majority; Grassroots Alexandria; and Indivisible Del Ray. Individuals, communities and organizations are on the move.

White supremacy and racism are baked into our history, as is violence. Peace, love and understanding may be more aspirational, and may take more work and labor, and may demand more light, but the work of welcome is happening, across the country, in this climate of terror and fear mongering. We need a HateWatch; we need groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center. But we also need a PeaceLoveandUnderstandingWatch, and we need it now. Remember, there is nothing funny about peace, love and understanding.

(Photo Credits 1,2: Buzzfeed / Eric Wagner) (Image Credit 3: Facebook / Tenants and Workers United)