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.

What are you, Nicaragua, but pain and dust and screams in the afternoon, screams of women

In Nicaragua yesterday, July 17, the State celebrated el Día de la Alegría, the national Day of Joy which celebrates the day in 1979 when the dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle fled the country. In Nicaragua yesterday, July 17, the State sent its soldiers and paramilitaries into Masaya, the protest or rebel city, and “regained control.” The cost of control, extracted over the past three months, is more than 300 dead and untold injured, wounded, scarred, violated, tortured, and traumatized. This has been unfolding for the past three months and, until this week, the world press, and in particular the English language world press, has gone largely silent. The one exception has been Al Jazeera which, from the very start, seemed to sense that something was going on, and has had almost daily reports, often two or three a day.

Yesterday, Al Jazeerareported on a march through Managua. People demanded justice for victims in a scenario in which masked paramilitary forces are attacking barricades, churches, schools, communities, individuals, and justice itself. Another Al Jazeera report yesterday noted that the United Nations and much of the rest of the international community has called for a negotiated end to the violence, but there is no negotiation with masked parastatal agents who seek to terrorize not only the population but the very idea of negotiated settlement. Al Jazeera also updated its ongoing “Nicaragua unrest: What you should know”.

You should know that the world has stood by while 300 people have been butchered. You should know that the world press largely stood by while 300 people have been butchered, and you should ask, “Why?” How many Nicaraguans must die before “pressure mounts on Ortega”?

There is “unrest” in Nicaragua, but there’s unrest everywhere. The news in Nicaragua is that there’s a massacre taking place, and yet again much of the world has not cared. It took an assault on a church, with students and, significantly, a Washington Postreporter, to draw some attention. Yesterday, José Mujica, the former President of Uruguay, condemned the State violence in Nicaragua and lamented his error in not doing so much earlier. In his remarks, Mujica declared, “I remember the names of comrades who gave their lives in Nicaragua, fighting for a dream. I feel that something that was a dream has gone awry, has fallen into autocracy that those who were once revolutionaries have lost the understanding that in life there are moments when one has to say, ‘I’m going.’”

There’s much to say about what’s going on in Nicaragua, for example the role of women as leaders of the struggle for justice, but for now it’s important to say anything, to insist that our local and national and international news media do better, do something, do anything, because if they don’t, when the “international community” finally decides to “do something”, almost certainly that something will be military, which is precisely not what the Nicaraguans calling for Ortega’s resignation want. They want justice, not invasion.

In another context and time, and yet the same, Nicaraguan poet Giocanda Belli wrote,


“¿Qué sos, Nicaragua?

¿Qué sos
Sino un triangulito de tierra
Perdido en la mitad del mundo?

¿Qué sos
Sino un vuelo de pájaros

¿Qué sos
Sino un ruido de ríos
Llevándose las piedras pulidas y brillantes
Dejando pisadas de agua por los montes?

¿Qué sos
Sino pechos de mujer hechos de tierra,
Lisos, puntudos y amenazantes?

¿Qué sos
Sino cantar de hojas en árboles gigantes
Verdes, enmarañados y llenos de palomas?

¿Qué sos
Sino dolor y polvo y gritos en la tarde,
—Gritos de mujeres, como de parto—?

¿Qué sos
Sino puño crispado y bala en boca?

¿Qué sos, Nicaragua
Para dolerme tanto?”


“What are you, Nicaragua?

What are you,
a little triangle of earth
lost in the middle of the world?

What are you,
a flight of birds,

What are you,
a roar of rivers
carrying off polished, shiny stones,
leaving footprints of water in the mountains?

What are you,
a woman’s breasts made of earth,
smooth, pointed and threatening?

What are you,
a song of leaves in giant trees,
green, tangled, filled with doves?

What are you,
pain and dust and screams in the afternoon,
screams of women as if in childbirth?

What are you,
clenched fist, bullet in the mouth?

What are you, Nicaragua,
to hurt me so deeply?”

What are you, Nicaragua … and who is asking? Who hears the screams in the afternoon and who is paying any attention?


(Photo Credit: Al Jazeera)

Patricia Okoumou: “In a democracy, we do not put children in cages. Period.”

Patricia Okoumou

“The root of the word memory stems from the word mourn.”
Valarie Lee James

On July 4, Therese Patricia Okoumou, who goes by Patricia, celebrated “Independence Day” by scaling the pedestal of the Statue of Libertyand climbing to the robes, to protest family separation, zero tolerance, abuse of children, and, generally, the assault on democracy. After four hours, Patricia Okoumoucame down and was arrested. Outside of court the next day, Patricia Okoumou explained, “In a democracy, we do not put children in cages. Period. There is no debating it. Nothing you can say to me will justify putting children in cages.”

In a democracy, we do not put children in cages. Period.

Who sat with Patricia Okoumou on the toes of Lady Liberty? No one. While she may have felt the support of all those who rally to what is called the Resistance, in fact, materially, Patricia Okoumou sat alone. I thought of that being-alone-in-resistance the other day when a South African friend turned to me, apropos of nothing in particular, and said, “So Trump is horrible, maybe the worst ever. Where are the burning tires?” While I had some unpersuasive response, the question, like smoke, lingers. Where are the burning tires? Why did no one join Patricia Okoumou when she started climbing?

I am not talking here only about those who were protesting with Patricia Okoumou at the base of the Statue of Liberty. I am talking about all of us. On July 6, columnist Ross Ramsey asks, “If kids separated from their parents can’t hold our attention, what will?” On July 7, columnist Jessica Valenti responds, “The US government is abusing children – we can’t stop being urgently ashamed”. The obvious implication is that “we” might very soon stop being urgently ashamed, or ashamed at all. Meanwhile, also on July 6, it is reported that Jimena Madrid, the 6-year-old Salvadoran immigrant child who “riveted people around the world when her voice was captured on an audiotape after she was separated from her mother inside a Border Patrol detention facility”, is still not with her mother and the two may never be reunified. Are we paying attention? Are we urgently ashamed? Where are the burning tires?

“In a democracy, we do not put children in cages. Period. There is no debating it. Nothing you can say to me will justify putting children in cages.”

Patricia Okoumou sat and lay on the Statue of Liberty for four hours. At one point, she napped briefly. When she awakened, the police had set up a ladder. A police officer at the top of the ladder said his name was Brian and he was there because he cared about Patricia Okoumou. Patricia Okoumou answered, “No, you don’t, you could shoot me the way you shot Claudia Gomez and killed the trans woman.” Patricia Okoumou was invoking, and mourning,Claudia Patricia Gómez González, a 20-year-old Guatemalan refugee shot in the head by ICE agents in Texas; and Roxana Hernández, a 33-year-old Honduran transgender woman refugee who died in ICE custody in the detention center commonly called the ice box. Both women were killed, or better executed, in May. Patricia Okoumou refused to forget them. Memory begins in mourning.

Repeat after me repeating after Patricia Okoumou: “In a democracy, we do not put children in cages. Period. There is no debating it. Nothing you can say to me will justify putting children in cages.”

Who sits with Patricia Okoumou?

“In a democracy, we do not put children in cages. Period. There is no debating it. Nothing you can say to me will justify putting children in cages.”

Where are the burning tires?

“In a democracy, we do not put children in cages. Period. There is no debating it. Nothing you can say to me will justify putting children in cages.”

If kids separated from their parents can’t hold our attention, what will?

“In a democracy, we do not put children in cages. Period. There is no debating it. Nothing you can say to me will justify putting children in cages.”

In a democracy, we do not put children in cages. Period.


(Photo Credit: The Guardian / Joanna Walters)

Ottilie Abrahams worked ceaselessly to make the world a better place for humanity as a whole

Ottilie Abrahams

On July 1, Namibian liberation activist, educator, feminist, movement builder Ottilie Abrahams died, at 80 years old. While many in Namibia, and in South Africa, mourned her passing, beyond the region little was made of her death or, more importantly, of her lifetime contributions. That’s too bad, because for those who care about justice, liberation, education, women and girls, and so much more, Ottilie Abrahams was, and is, a model.

Too full to summarize here, Ottilie Abrahams was one of the founders of SWAPO; one of the founders of the Yu Chi Chan Club, an armed revolutionary group; one of the founders of SWANLIF, South West African National Liberation Front; one of the founders of the Jakob Marengo Secondary School; one of the founders of the Namibian Women’s Association; and one of the founders of the Girl Child Project. That’s an abbreviated list.

Throughout her life, Ottilie Abrahams argued for the right to argue, think, contest, and demand. She mobilized women. She organized students and teachers. She criticized struggle comrades for their elitism and their corruption, and more than once was ‘invited’ to leave the organization and/or party. She welcomed every obstacle as an opportunity. The Jakob Marengo Secondary School is an example of that.

Ottilie and Kenneth Abrahams founded the Jakob Marengo Tutorial College in 1985. At that time, Namibia was still under the South African “mandate.” According to Kenneth Abrahams, the choice of name was “natural.” Jakob Marengo led the 1904 – 1907 War of Resistance to German colonialism. He was a national hero in a nation not yet recognized as such. Of equal importance, especially to Ottilie Abrahams, by 1985, Jakob Marengo was largely forgotten. She argued for the importance of historical memory. She researched Jakob Marengo’s life and she researched the popular archive of that life. Who remembered Jakob Marengo, and who did not? With that she designed a school committed to participatory democracy, critical thinking, and real and ongoing equality among both individuals and groups.

From her youth to her last day, Ottilie Abrahams worked ferociously to decolonize individuals and populations, to dismantle patriarchy, and to create a concrete transformative, liberatory, feministparticipatory democracy. In her writings and interviews, from beginning to end, the one constant is the insistence that democracy, if it is to be called democracy, must be participatory, and for that to happen, we all must engage in cointentional education. We must all be equally responsible for one another’s learning and wisdom. Ottilie Abrahams created a school in the image of the nation she believed Namibians, and everyone, deserves. Her school was based on “participatory democracy, critical thinking, non-sexism, responsibility and reciprocity as well as self-discipline.” As Ottilie Abrahams said, “These values are intended to produce people who will understand that they are their own liberators. Once they become adults, they will insist on participating actively in their own governance and become citizens who will work ceaselessly to make the world a better place for humanity as a whole.”

Ottilie Abrahams often said, “I will rest the day I die.” That day has come. Rest in peace Ottilie Abrahams. You provided the tools of critical feminist liberatory consciousness and action, which begins and ends with the recognition that liberation is within reach, and now, as always, the work of struggle continues.


(Photo Credit: The Namibian)

In South Africa, at the Curro Waterfall preschool, Black Women teachers demand justice

A half hour out of Johannesburg and “a breezy 23 minutes” from O.R. International Airport lies a place called Waterfall, “one of the fastest transforming suburbs in South Africa” Waterfall boasts “soaring investor confidence …, burgeoning residential, commercial, mixed-use and retail precincts”, Waterfall City, The Mall of Africa, brand name restaurants, malls, schools … and, according to recent reports, racism with a large component of sexism. Specifically, the Curro Waterfall pre-school,  known as a Curro Castle School, has had a practice of slotting Black women as assistants and White women as teachers, often despite respective qualifications, and then segregating assistants from teachers. They are referred to differently, and they have segregated staff rooms. As today’s Mail & Guardian notes, “The signs on the staff rooms did not read `whites only’ or `blacks only’ but teaching assistants were segregated from teachers.” Within a month, three Black Women teachers resigned from Waterfall Curro. The teachers are going under the names of Sibongile Khumalo, Juliet Bongo, Lerato Makhubela. Concerned parents raised a ruckus as did teachers, and now an independent investigation is underway.

While this is clearly an issue of racial discrimination on the part of the school’s management and some of its staff, the events also speak to the importance of an intersectional approach. Where are the women? Everywhere. Three Black Women resigned within a month. White Women teachers told their children to call anyone who was White a teacher, and to call anyone who was Black an assistant. The children age from three months to five years. What are they learning at the juncture of race and gender?

Black women are slotted into lower paying positions and then forced to accept them. Black women are demeaned and told by the administration to tough it out. When Sibongile Khumalo perceived that she was being treated differently than her White colleagues, she went to the executive head of Curro Waterfall, Graeme Waite, who told her she could stay or she could go. “It was a way of killing my confidence or something because, by that time, I was destroyed. Only resilience kept me going. I told myself that I’m not going to leave this school until I can prove a black person is competent,” explained Sibongile Khumalo.

The three Black Women teachers stayed, and stayed in the assistants’ staff room. Finally, a group of parents began investigating and found racist practices in employment and culture. They wrote to Curro Group CEO Andries Greyling and demanded that Waite be fired. As of now the staff rooms are allegedly no longer segregated by `rank’ and Waite continues as executive head of the preschool.

The issues raised here – salary, culture, dignity, happiness – affect all workers and all people, but not necessarily in identical ways or with identical impact. Women workers struggle with the killing of their confidence in ways that are particular to their being positioned as women workers. What happened at Curro Waterfall was racist sexist, with the two parts intensifying each other and the whole. When it came to the three Curro Waterfall teachers who demanded justice, remember this: All the women were Black, all the Blacks were women, and all of them were brave.


(Photo Credit: Mail & Guardian / Wikus de Wet)

Trying to kill DCQ18 and Ali: Australia is still not shocked by the torture of innocents on Nauru

Wednesday, June 20, was World Refugee Day. Some 65 million people are refugees, out of a global population of  7.6 billion. Congratulations, world. While eyes rightly and firmly fixed on the horror show that is the United States reception of asylum seekers, refugees and migrants, with an occasional glance at the horror show that is the Italian reception of asylum seekers, refugees and migrants, it would be understandable if you missed this week’s horror show that is Australia’s ongoing torture of asylum seekers, refugees and migrants. This week, the week of World Refugee Day, Australia allowed a dying man to leave Nauru for palliative care in Australia. This week, Australia was forced to allow a Somali refugee permission to go to Australia for necessary and lifesaving medical attention. There are 65 million refugees. These are two.

Ali is a 63-year-old Hazara refugee father of six who has spent five years on Nauru. He is in the last stages of advanced lung cancer. He has pleaded for months to be allowed to go to Australia where he might get decent care. The Australian government refused. Thousands of Australian doctors pleaded to have Ali transferred to Australia. No dice. Faith groups, activist groups, women’s groups, sports groups, and individuals mobilized. The Australian government refused. Finally, today, Ali was moved to Australia. Ali is a formally recognized refugee. Nevertheless, he only gains passage when he’s about to move onto the next realm. What is asylum in that world, in our world?

A 30-year-old pregnant Somali woman, known as DCQ18, has also been on Nauru for five years. She too is a formally recognized refugee. She is twelve weeks pregnant. She is a survivor of infibulation, also known as female genital mutilation. She has tried to commit suicide. She is persuaded that pregnancy and childbirth would be fatal. Doctors agree. She wants to terminate the pregnancy. Doctors agree that that would be a good thing for her, in the circumstances. Abortion is illegal on Nauru. Australia has offered Taiwan as a solution. Doctors agree that Taiwanese doctors, though first caliber, have no experience in treating women who have undergone infibulation. The court agreed, and DCQ18 will be transferred to Australia for medical care. Australia formally recognized DCQ18 as a refugee in November 2014, and since then she’s been dying on Nauru.

This week, Iranian refugee and prisoner on Manus Island for the past four years, Behrouz Boochani, wrote, “The one thing that remains consistent over all this time is the unrelenting affliction. We are forgotten people discarded on forgotten islands. The question remains: “Who will be the next to be sacrificed? Whose death will enable our innocent voices to be heard in the media again? Whose death will function as another message to the world that we are locked up in these island prisons?”

Looking over the detritus of Holocaust death camps, philosopher Giorgio Agamben saw the work of homo sacer: “he who is exiled from political belonging, exposed to persistent structural violence and the risk of a meaningless death.” This year, Australian feminist historians Catherine Kevin and Karen Agutter looked at the mess of Australian immigration policy and saw the work of femina sacer: “subject to extreme reproductive coercion, bereft of political belonging and politically meaningful only insofar as they convey a warning to those who would travel to Australia by boat to seek asylum.”

Australia casts a shadow on the U.S. – Mexico border as that border casts a shadow on the Mediterranean as the Mediterranean casts its shadow on the waters around Australia. At the center of that shadow is a darkness and a silence, an insistence that the violence committed against some particular people means less than nothing, that their deaths mean less than so much dust and ash to be swept off and forgotten. The work of asylum seekers once had something to do with life-to-come. Now, they are forced into the administration of their own endless, agonizing dying. That must end … now. Shut down the detention centers today.


(Photo credit: The Guardian)

Where are the girl refugees, asylum seekers, children?

The United States government launched a new, and to many eyes and ears, fascist program for asylum seekers and people crossing into the United States. Touting questionable lines from the Bible and making false claims about the law, Trump and Sessions have proudly announced a zero-tolerance program, ignoring the catastrophic history of such programs in the past, in which everyone is charged with a criminal offense and sent to Federal prison. If they are with children, the children are taken from the parents, often by force, and sent off, with the excuse that “the law” says that children can’t go with their parents to prison. There is no such law, but that doesn’t matter. What matters is `deterrence.’ What matters is the imposition of force and violence on the most vulnerable.

Stores have been turned into giant child detention centers, and military bases are being turned into child prison camps. One former store in Brownsville, Texas, is currently holding 1500 boys… or it was a week ago. Today, probably more. According to Rochelle Garza, an immigration attorney based in Texas, “What’s happening is atrocious. It’s really unbelievable to separate a child from their parents, children as young as five. The parents don’t know where their child ends up. They’re being pushed through the criminal system and immigration system without any knowledge of where their children are and their children don’t know where their parents are. That’s against the whole point of unaccompanied minor reunification process. The whole thing is garbage right now. The kids are not being sent to any parent. It doesn’t make any sense.” Meanwhile, prison staffs and administrators are complaining that they’re not ready to “handle” the influx of children. Children.

Where are the girl refugees, asylum seekers, children in this unholy mess? We see pictures, such as the one above, of girl infants, toddlers, children weeping, crying, screaming, trembling, and then … they’re gone. Into the night and fog. Where are the girls? Is anyone paying any attention to the specific needs and identities of girl children? Yesterday, the Office of Refugee Resettlement updated its “Fact Sheet”. Here’s the one sentence that in any way alludes to gender: “In FY 2017, approximately half of all children referred were over 14 years of age, and over two-thirds were boys.” That is the full extent of the Office’s concern for girls. Nothing. Less than nothing.

Children and parents are entering the United States together. The children are not “unaccompanied minors” until they are ripped from their parents’ arms, arms which lovingly protected them on the long and arduous journey to the north. Now those children are being shipped like so much freight, sent hither and yon across the country with less than no regard for the children or for their parents or grandparents. In response, the State quotes the Bible. Where are the girl refugees, asylum seekers, children in this unholy mess? A specter haunts the United States, and it is that of the disappeared.


(Photo Credit: Slate / John Moore / Getty)

#NiUnaMenos: In Argentina women made history by insisting women’s autonomy must matter

In Argentina today, the lower legislative house, la Cámara de los Diputados, after long and intensive debate, voted to decriminalize abortion. The vote was 129 in favor, 125 opposed. The bill now goes on to the Senate, which is not expected to pass, but these days … who knows? Across Latin America and the Caribbean, where 97 percent of women live in countries with restrictive abortion laws, today’s legislative step by the Argentine lower house is viewed as a clear breakthrough, a historicmoment. Around the world, women and their supporters are watching and hailing the event as historic as well. Today’s vote is historic because of what it portends for women’s access to real reproductive health services, rights and power. Today’s vote is equally historic because it indicates that women are making historic, step by step, year by year. Today’s Argentine vote occurred at all because of the work of Ni Una Menos and their supporters, who began breaking rules and making history when they refused to accept femicide and other forms of violence against women as an “unfortunate but inevitable” aspect of Argentina machismo. They said, No more! They yelled, Ni una menos! And they have caused the ground to tremble and the walls to shake. Ni una menos! #NiUnaMenos!

Two years ago, in October, under the banner of Ni Una Menos, women declared a general strike against all violence against women. Women had already been organizing against violence against women for two years. Argentine women had been organizing as well for thirty years, in various encuentros and other structures. They decided, Enough is enough! They organized the first national women’s strike in Argentine history, and they shut the nation down. At the time Ni Una Menos argued, “Behind the rise and viciousness of the femicidal violence lies an economic plot. The lack of women’s autonomy leaves us more unprotected when we say no and so leaves us as easy targets for trafficking networks or as `cheap’ bodies for both the drug and the retail markets … While the average unemployment in Argentina is 9.3 percent, for women it is 10.5.” At the center of the web of intersections lay women’s autonomy.

Two years later, Ni Una Menos women, and their supporters, brought that argument to halls of Argentina’s congress. They filled the streets. They told story after story after story of those who had had to endure the pain and danger of illegal abortions. Studentsled, occupying schools, filling the streets. Workers joined in. From the mass demonstrations two years to today’s vote, the women of Argentina, as an organized self-identified autonomous political movement, have mobilized in every way, day by day by day. They have taken the stories and turned them into educative moments. They have taken the educative moments and turned them into votes. They have taken the swords and plowshares and turned them into women’s power. At the center of all this is the simple and complex understanding that women’s autonomy lies at the center of everything … or there is nothing.

When today’s vote was announced, the shouting inside and outside the legislature was described as “louder than when Lionel Messi scores a goal.” Today’s vote was historicand, for some, revolutionary. In Argentina today, women made revolutionary history possible, once again, by insisting and forcing the State to take on that women’s autonomy must matter. Ni Una menos! #NiUnaMenos


(Photo Credit: Pagina12 / Bernardino Avila) (Image Credit: Le Monde)

Claudia Patricia Gómez González, Razan al-Najjar: Two facing mirrors in the labyrinth we are

Claudia Patricia Gómez González

“Let us enter into the nightmare, into nightmares …. It only takes two facing mirrors to construct a labyrinth” Jorge Luis Borges

Razan al-Najjar was buried on Saturday, June 2, in Gaza. On the same day, June 2, Claudia Patricia Gómez González was buried in Guatemala. According to some reports, both Razan al-Najjar and Claudia Patricia Gómez González were 20 years old. Israeli soldiers shot Razan al-Najjar in the chest and killed her. A US Customs and Border Patrol shot Claudia Patricia Gómez González in the head and killed her. From militarized border to militarized border, slaughter of the innocents is the order of the day. The torture and murder of young unarmed women trying to make the world a better place is our contemporary fearful symmetry.

Claudia Patricia Gómez González was Mayan Mam, enjoyed life, studied hard. She grew up in San Juan Ostuncalco, a largely poor indigenous community outside Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, where she was raised mostly by women relatives. By all accounts, Claudia Patricia Gómez González was both happy and ambitious. She studied accounting, obtaining a certificate in 2016. She couldn’t get a job. She applied to Guatemala’s only public university and was rejected. Her only local option, educationally, was to attend a private university, which was beyond her family’s financial means. And so Claudia Patricia Gómez González headed north, crossed the Mexico – US border, and then was shot and killed. The US Customs and Border Patrol first tried to lie, claiming that Claudia Patricia Gómez González was armed, that she assaulted an officer. Fortunately, a nearby resident caught much of the events on her cellphone, and so, without explanation, the agency changed its story. Now it claims it will investigate. Claudia Patricia Gómez González’s family know better. Her aunt, Dominga Vicente, explained, “This is not the first person dying in the United States. There are many people that have been treated like animals and that isn’t what we should do as people. Don’t treat us like animals.” Another aunt, who wants to remain anonymous, added, “She wanted to live her dreams, make something of her life. I was waiting for her to call, but the call I got was to tell me she was dead. This is a nightmare. I am so sad.” Claudia Patricia Gómez González’s mother, Lidia González, wonders, “Claudia was a good girl and a good student. My daughter didn’t do anything wrong, it’s not fair that immigration killed her – why did they do that?” Why did they do that?

Razan al-Najjar was locally well known when she was killed. Razan al-Najjar worked as a volunteer emergency medical worker at the border separating Gaza and Israel. She always wore a white paramedic’s uniform when she served as a medical worker. She was well known at the demonstrations, rushing in to help anyone injured. She did this to help people, to make the world a better place, and to promote the advancement of women, everywhere but in particular in Gaza. Razan al-Najjar said, “Being a medic is not only a job for a man. It’s for women, too.” According to one eyewitness, Razan al-Najjar rushed to help an elderly man who had been hit in the head by a tear-gas canister. According to others, Razan al-Najjar and other paramedics were walking, arms raised, towards the fence in order to evacuate injured protesters. In either case, Razan al-Najjar was shot in the chest by an Israeli soldier … indisputably. A month before she was murdered, Razan al-Najjar explained, “We have one goal, to save lives and evacuate people. And to send a message to the world: Without weapons, we can do anything.” Razan al-Najjar’s mother, Sabreen al-Majjar, mourns: “I want the world to hear my voice … what’s my daughter’s fault? She will leave a large emptiness at home.”

There is a large emptiness left in so many homes today, around the world.

Some think that when two mirrors are placed opposite each other, they create infinity, a reflection that passes back and forth endlessly. The Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges knew better. He knew that two mirrors create a labyrinth, and that that labyrinth is not only the stuff of nightmares, it is nightmare itself, at the center of which is a monster, part human part beast. In the depths of Argentina’s dirty wars, Borges understood that the cruelty and violence at the heart of the labyrinth was not necessarily that of the human nor that of the beast. We are the nightmare, we are the monster at the heart of the labyrinth, we are the labyrinth itself, and Claudia Patricia Gómez González and Razan al-Najjar are the reflecting mirrors that did not create the labyrinth but were instead shattered by it. Rest in peace Claudia Patricia Gómez González. Rest in peace Razan al-Najjar. There is a large emptiness left today; why did we do that?

Razan al-Najjar


(Photo Credit 1: The Guardian) (Photo Credit 2: 972 Magazine)

Why does the United States hate Roxana Hernández?

Roxana Hernández

Roxana Hernández died, or was murdered, last Friday. Roxana Hernández was a 33 year-old transgender woman from Honduras. Roxana Hernández was one of about 60 transgender women who participated in the migrant caravan that brought together asylum seekers from Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala. The vast majority were from Honduras, because Honduras is the epicenter of violence in Central America, and in particular for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and all gender nonconforming people. Some call it the Refugee Caravan, and others call it the Stations of the Cross Caravan. Having traveled over 2000 miles – on foot, by train, by bus – Roxana Hernández arrived at the United States border where she presented herself, applied for asylum, was detained and thrown into the infamous icebox for five days, transported to a detention center, transported to a hospital, transported to death. Roxana Hernández did not die of pneumonia nor did she die of HIV-related causes. She was murdered, by the United States. The Stations of the Cross begin with betrayal. We betrayed Roxana Hernández and condemned her to a slow, agonizing, torturous death.

Roxana Hernández fled the general violence of Honduras and, especially, the violence against transgender women. Hers is the story of hope. She made it to the United States. On May 9th, she presented herself as an applicant for asylum. She was held for five days in the freezing cells, known as the icebox. Three years ago, the American Immigration Council reported on the deplorable, abusive, inhumane conditions in the cells known as the icebox. At that time, three years ago, the Council noted that the conditions of the icebox had been decried in 2013, and then again before that. Last year, Amnesty issued a report describing Honduras as one of the most dangerous places on earth for transgender women. In their report, Amnesty noted that the violence against Honduras was [a] not new and [b] had been fully documented for years. None of this is new, and none of it is surprising. Roxana Hernández should have been an easy and welcome candidate for asylum. Instead, she was dumped into a freezer.

After five days, Roxana Hernández was transferred. She had physically, emotionally and spiritually deteriorated terribly in the short span of five days. On May 17, Roxana Hernández was transported to the hospital. On May 25, Roxana Hernández was dead. In their report, ICE agents identify Roxana Hernández as Jeffry Hernández. Even in death, Roxana Hernández was not allowed even a scintilla of dignity … and that is precisely the point. Her name was and is Roxana Hernández, and her friends called her Roxy.

According to Pueblo Sin Fronteras, Al Otro Lado and Diversidad Sin Fronteras, who together organized the Caravan, “Roxy died due to medical negligence by US immigration authorities. In other words, she was murdered, much like Claudia Gómez González was murdered by a Border Patrol agent’s bullet less than a week ago. Roxy died in the country she had sought to start a new life in, she died for being a transgender woman, a migrant who was treated neither with respect nor with dignity.”

This is the land of #JusticiaPara and #JusticeFor. #JusticiaParaRoxana. #JusticiaParaClaudia. #JusticeForRoxana. #JusticeForClaudia. A land without mercy, redemption, love or humanity. A land where we greet the vulnerable, the stranger, with death by freezer or death by bullet. And all the people shall say, Amen.


(Photo Credit: Guardian / Transgender Law Center)

Across the United States, children living with disabilities face the torture of school seclusion

In Loudon County, Virginia, 13-year-old Gigi Daniel-Zagorites lives with Phelan-McDermid syndrome, “a disorder that hampers her ability to speak.” In her middle school, one day in September, a fellow classmate took a picture of Gigi being “secluded”. Someone, teachers presumably, took a bookcase and a cabinet and built an enclosure in the corner of the classroom. Gigi was dumped in there, and two adults stood, or sat, guard. In the picture, Gigi is trying to get out or at least see over the barricades. Months later, her mother, Alexa Zagorites, is still asking questions and still getting no answers. Gigi Daniel-Zagorites and her mother are objects of the national pogrom against children living with disabilities. Like so many others, both Gigi and her mother refuse to be or become the victims that national policy intends for them.

Earlier this month, the New Hampshire Disability Rights Center released a report concerning the abusive seclusion and restraint of a 14-year-old child, called Zach, at the Sununu Youth Services Center. First, Zach was dumped into seclusion which led to two staff members throwing Zach to the ground and “restraining” him face down there. The staff fractured the child’s shoulder blade. Despite New Hampshire law, the restraint and, even more, the injury was not reported for two months. Months later, the Sununu Center continues to withhold information. New Hampshire has “restraint and seclusion” laws, but they all rely on the staff to self-report. The levels of violence form a network of threads of immediate, intimate violence and those of structural violence, all held together by the violence and suffering of family, friends, and community.

Similar stories have been recently reported in IndianaIowa, Florida, and Arizona, to name a few from only the last month or so. Across the country, children in school learn that living with a disability is a crime. It must be a crime, otherwise why would the adult staff members be punishing them so?

Last month, U.S. Department of Education released a report on school climate and safety for 2015 – 2016. It found that Iowa rates had just about doubled. For example, in 2013, 23 school districts in eastern Iowa had 2514 reported instances of seclusion or restraint. In 2015, that number rose to 4,904. A recent Iowa State report describes Davenport as in “systemic non-compliance” of Federal laws concerning the education of students living with disabilities. According to the report, the situation for students of color in Davenport is particularly dire, systemically so. Both of Iowa’s U.S. Senators are calling for a Federal investigation into the use of seclusion rooms. Davenport’s U.S. Representative Dave Loebsack has called for a ban on seclusion rooms.

The report on school climate and safety merely confirmed what we already know. In a nutshell, students living with disabilities constituted 12% of all students enrolled. 12 percent. That very small sector of students living with disabilities constituted 71% of all students restrained and 66% of all students “secluded.”

What crime have these children committed? What is their terrible sin? Why do we continue to send these children into solitary confinement? Why do we continue to torture those who are most vulnerable? When will we stop this practice? What do you think we’re teaching children, all the children in all the schools, when we torture their classmates and then call it “seclusion” and “restraint”?


(Infographic Credit: U.S. Department of Education)