Why does the English government hate Chennan Fei?

Chennan Fei

Why does the English government hate 28-year-old Chennan Fei? What horrible crime has she committed? The same crime committed by other immigrant women of color: Mabel Gawanas, Dianne Ngoza, Erioth Mwesigwa, Shiromini Satkunarajah, and Irene Clennell, to name a few. Chennan Fei is blameless. She has done everything right, and, in the spectacle of State intimidation of immigrant women of color, that counts for less than nothing.

In 2002, Chennan Fei, then 13 years old, was brought by her parents to Scotland. Her parents were on student visas. Chennan Fei grew up in Glasgow, attended school there and university in Edinburgh, developed a community of friends, fell in love in Glasgow and thrived. Glasgow is Chennan Fei’s home.

Unbeknownst to Chennan Fei, her parents’ visa expired a few years after their arrival. Then, in 2012, the then-Home Secretary Theresa May announced new, stringent restrictions on immigrants. Tucked into the new menu was the withdrawal of Paragraph 276B(i)(b) of the Immigration Rules, which allowed for settlement in the United Kingdom after 14 years’ residence. With that, Chennan Fei was thrown into limbo, and, until recently, she had no idea.

On March 23, Chennan Fei was arrested and taken to Dungavel Immigration Removal Centre. On March 25, she was moved to Yarl’s Wood and told she would be deported to China today, Wednesday, March 29.

While in Yarl’s Wood, Chennan Fei wrote: “It’s a strange feeling. Although they say it’s not a prison, I am trapped. My mind and my body wants to be liberated. I can’t seem to remember much from the last few days, and this agonising feeling just grows stronger every passing day. Being here is mind numbing, I see others losing track of the date and time. I just hope I don’t have to stay here too long. I want to come home to Scotland.”

Her partner Duncan Harkness says: “Chennan …  is deeply loved by a wide circle of friends and family … As Chennan moved to the UK as a young child, she has no friends, family or contacts in China. It would be inhumane to deport her back to a country where she has no support, nowhere to stay and no family to provide assistance.”

Chennan Fei’s local MP, Anne McLaughlin, says, “I met Chennan 18 months ago when she visited my Glasgow North East constituency to explain the circumstances surrounding her current immigration status. I was very impressed with this sensitive, intelligent young woman. Although, there is no rule or provision in the Immigration Act that deals directly with the ‘children’ of over-stayers, for Chennan to be exiled from all her friends and family in the UK is an extremely harsh decision for the Home Office to make. Chennan is now 28 years old and has lived more than half her life in Scotland. She has a Scottish partner and most definitely established a strong ‘private life’ here. Although her almost 15 years living in the UK may not be considered ‘legal’, this is through no fault of Chennan’s. She is blameless.”

Her attorney Usman Aslam, agrees, “Chennan, despite having funded her education from her own resources, having attained a degree in accountancy through the University of Edinburgh and having integrated within society and being involved in community activities, was still considered as someone who should be sent away from Scotland. The decision shocked a number of local groups with which she had volunteered. Chennan hopes to ultimately be granted leave to remain so that she can look forward to her life in the community and country that she loves.”

A friend, Annette Christie, started a petition, “Help Chennan Fei stay in Scotland“. Thus far, over 2000 people have signed. Please consider adding your name.

On Tuesday night, Chennan Fei was given a temporary reprieve, and today returned by train to Glasgow. She now awaits her next court appearance. Who benefits from such persecution? This form of structural and immediate brutality etches into the body and soul of the blameless, the individuals and their communities, that, despite all evidence to the contrary, they are the ones who bear the blame, the ones who dared to call this place home. That’s why the English government hates Chennan Fei. #SaveChennanFei

(Photo Credit: Change.org)

The Philippines factory fire was yet another planned massacre of workers

The fire at House Technologies Industry

In the Philippines, House Technologies Industries owns a three-story factory in the Cavite Export Processing Zone, also known as the Cavite Economic Zone, south of Manila. On February 1, in the evening during shift change, a fire broke out. That fire raged for two full days before it was finally put out. Fire exits were locked, windows barred, corridors far too narrow to allow for quick passage: this was no accident. Yet again, as in the Kentex fire two years ago, this fire and those workers burned to death and the workers critically injured are part of the brutal architecture of industrial production. Every report covers up more than it reveals, and the workers, charred beyond recognition, wait for nothing now. What have the owners, including the State, learned in the years since the Kentex fire? They’ve learned the art of cover-up.

According to a report released by the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights, “Nearly all those interviewed … believed that many were trapped inside and have died. The stream of people desperately seeking to go out of the building was too big for the employee’s passageways and fire exits to accommodate. There were accounts that the fire exits were locked, forcing escaping workers to break windows as their means of egress. Workers claim that the company’s exit stairs land inside the building, or in the delivery section within the company compound. There was no exit that lands on the streets. A witness shared that he did not see anyone who escaped using the same exit he went out of, only through passageways and windows.

“There were accounts that windows were tightly screwed on window sill and witnesses saw workers including a pregnant woman jumped out from the third floor window. Other witnesses narrated that on their way out, they left behind workers on the floor, unconscious. They also saw flames rapidly chasing the escaping workers. Relatives of those who were injured also told that their relative was able to escape by crawling over and stepping on unconscious bodies on the floor, whom they presumed dead.

“The National Building Code of the Philippines (Republic Act 6541) and the Occupational Safety and Health Standards prescribed specific design, size, width and dimension for fire exits and passageway, particularly in structures for different loads and those that contain highly combustible materials for safer egress and other. Examining the accounts, the law’s prescriptions were amiss in the HTI fire, the biggest fire in the country’s history of Export Processing Zones (EPZs).”

In its conclusion, the Commission notes, “There were more women working in the Quality Control in the 3rd floor including a pregnant woman who jumped out from the 3rd  floor window and more possibly trapped. From the reported 126 workers injured brought to hospital … there were 25 women … Where were those women workers? What happened to that pregnant woman? The distance from the ground floor to the third floor is high, as vertical clearance alone from the 1st to the 2nd floor, where containers are brought in, is estimated to about 18 feet (5.49 meters) high.”

We have been here before. The State can find violation of safety regulations, or not, and the trade unions can protest working conditions and demand an independent investigation, but the factories and sweatshops go up, bars cover the windows, doors are locked from the outside, and no one does anything. This is the second fire at the HTI factory in four years. In the first fire, HTI was exonerated of any fault. After this fire, HTI called in employees and told them to keep quiet. Some say the company forced them to erase video and photo evidence from their phones. Some say the company only counted full time employees in its tally. HTI is the largest employer in the Cavite Economic Zone.

From the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory on March 25, 1911, in New York, to the Kader Toy Factory in 1993 Bangkok, to the Zhili Handicraft Factory in 1993 Shenzen, to the Tazreen Fashions Factory in 2012 Dhaka, and to the Kentex Manufacturing Corporation in 2015, to the House Technologies Industries in 2017, the architecture is the same, as are the smoke, stench, exploitation, workers and bosses. The factory was built as a slaughterhouse. When the flames burst and the workers’ bodies exploded, there was no accident. Today, March 26, 2017, we begin the 117th year of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire Era, in which we can eradicate epidemic diseases and yet stand by and watch as the factory fires grow larger, more intense, and more lethal, and women jump from windows to the hard earth below.

After the fire

 

(Photo Credit 1: CTUHR) (Photo Credit 2: Rappler / Naoki Mengua)

Yukon First Nation women water protectors organize to save the Peel Watershed, the planet … and our soul

Protect the Peel

Today, March 22, World Water Day, Canada’s Supreme Court heard a case concerning the fate of the Peel River Watershed and of the three Yukon First Nations who live with the river. This case has gone through the courts for three years, but it has gone through the land for centuries. First Nation women water protectors decided enough was way too much, and they’ve organized, for the water, for their nations and communities, for the planet, and for our soul.

For Roberta Joseph, Chief of the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, the struggle engages betrayal and redemption: “Six rivers flow from the Yukon’s northern mountains down through boreal forest, tundra and wetlands to the Peel River, which runs north to the Arctic Ocean. Along the way, these rivers drain 68,000 square kilometres, an area larger than Nova Scotia. The Peel Watershed is intimately known by three Yukon First Nations—the Tr’ondëk Hwëch’in, the First Nation of Na-Cho Nyäk Dun, and Vuntut Gwitchin First Nation—and the Tetlit Gwich’in in the Northwest Territories, who have hunted, harvested, and lived on the land and the rivers for millennia. The parties ended up in court due to the Yukon government’s betrayal of its agreements with the three First Nations. In 1973, Yukon Chiefs presented Canada with the historic document Together Today For Our Children Tomorrow, convincing the federal government to begin negotiating a modern-day treaty with Yukon First Nations.

“Today, most Yukon First Nations have reached agreements with the Yukon and Canadian governments. The First Nations whose traditional territory includes parts of the Peel River watershed signed their Final Agreements in the 1990s. In these agreements, First Nations yielded control of much of their traditional territory in exchange for a meaningful role in land-use planning for these settlement lands and guaranteed surface and subsurface rights to smaller fractions of their traditional territory.”

In 2004, the Yukon government established a land use commission to consider the disposition of the Peel Watershed. In 2011, the commission issued its final report. According to Roberta Joseph, “The ‘Final Recommended Land Use Plan’ called for 80 per cent protection of the watershed (55 per cent permanent protection, 25 per cent interim protection), with 20 per cent open to roads and industrial development. First Nations have always called for 100 per cent protection of the watershed, but accepted this compromise. Then, the betrayal occurred.”

In July 2014, the Yukon government released its own report, without consultation with First Nations, and it called for 29 per cent protection, and leaving the remaining 71 per cent open to “development”. There are currently nearly 8000 mining claims waiting for the floodgates to open. In 2014, the Yukon First Nations joined with conservationist groups CPAWS Yukon and the Yukon Conservation Society and sued the government.

As Roberta Joseph explains, “We do not want the government to carve up the Peel Watershed with roads and industry. We do not want the government to be rewarded for betrayal with a second chance to overturn the collaborative, democratic land-use planning process. The Final Agreements are supposed to be a meaningful partnership, and the Yukon government did not honour the spirit of these agreements. That is why we appealed to the highest court in the land.”

Elaine Alexie, a Tetlit Gwich’in First Nation member, adds, “What’s most precious to us is the water. If anything should happen to that water, it will directly affect us … I spent half my childhood in the Peel. I see it as a place that I have a connection to as a Tetlit Gwich’in woman. Once a year I go up the Peel, because it’s such a part of who we are.”

Roberta Joseph agrees, “The Peel Watershed is a place where the rivers run clear, the herds of caribou are healthy, and grizzlies have the room to roam. Please visit www.protectpeel.ca to learn more about this irreplaceable landscape and how you can help support the campaign to protect it.”

Roberta Joseph

 

(Photo Credit 1: The Guardian / Tyler Kuhn) (Photo Credit 2: CBC News / Cheryl Kawaja)

Ending the War on Drugs: It’s time to have the conversation


History of the War on Drugs: From Prohibition to Gold Rush
, the video we did with dream hampton, Jay Z and Molly Crabapple, has officially won best nonprofit video of the year!!! Thank you to all who voted and shared!! Be with me for a moment as I share some thoughts about why this was important:

Winning this award helps us center the critical importance of ending the drug war–for those of us who value human rights, freedom, justice, compassion and dignity. Make no mistake. The drug war started by Nixon in 1971, was a direct response to the civil rights movement. Period.

Ending the drug war is not only about ending a set of intricate series of policies rooted in racism, xenophobia and false morality. It’s about transforming a way of thinking that would even allow those policies to be enacted and thrive. That way of thinking has helped make us the world’s largest incarcerator. It has provided a disturbingly large range of people cover when police kill our kids and our elders. It has allowed us to shrug as our own neighbors and family members struggled and died. It has destroyed families, ripping children from their parents’ arms. It has created a created a nation evermore deeply committed to the horrific, really, the demonic, notion that some lives are valuable and others wholly expendable.

Our movement is a big tent and as such we hold space for everyone but unlike many other movements for justice and peace, we also hold space the most disenfranchised, the most harmed: the poorest, the darkest, the criminalized, those least afforded civil rights because of where they were born or the gender they identify/don’t identify with or the person they love–and of these groups of people, those additionally disparaged because of their involvement with drugs. Our work is noble and life-saving because our work speaks for the least of these, for people often rejected by their very families and scapegoated by all of society.

As soon as it’s said that someone uses or sells drugs, all other questions seem to fall away. Did they actually harm anyone else? If so, how and what’s a way to respond to that harm that restores all to whole? Was that person themselves a target of harm? How does that factor in the equation? Since every society in recorded history has used drugs, what is the way to respond to that without hurting people? What keeps people alive and safe????? These are questions even the progressives among us have sometimes shirked, but it’s time to have the conversation.

 

 

 

(Image and Video Credit: YouTube / Drug Policy Alliance)

At the Koshe Garbage Landfill, most of the dead were women and children

Koshe Garbage Landfill is the only landfill site in Addis Ababa. Hundreds of people live in the shadow of the dump’s mountains of trash. Their communities are on the landfill itself. Hundreds of people, adults and children, work on sides of those mountains of trash. On Saturday, March 11, one of the mountains of trash in the Koshe Garbage Landfill collapsed. As of today’s count, 115 corpses have been pulled out from the rubble. 75 of them were women. Of the initial 35 who were pulled out, almost all were women and children. Now the streets are filled with the wailing of women. Ethiopians demand answers. We all should.

Many will ask what happened? What causes garbage mountains to collapse? What caused this particular mountain of trash to collapse? Urban development? Construction? “A simple failure of an oversteepened slope”? What causes garbage mountains to grow? Who builds a city in which hundreds of people spend their lives as scavengers, climbing, descending and burrowing into mountains of trash? What happened Saturday in the Koshe Garbage Landfill?

What happened, as well, to women and children? How is that slightly over 65% of the dead are women and children? How is that human stampedes and urban garbage landslides have the same toxic gender mathematics of mortality? What does it mean that women and children are the sacrifices to the human forces that built and build landfills choked by ever-rising mountains of trash?

The planet of slums has produced a global archipelago of garbage mountains on which mostly women and children work and live. And in that brave new world, there is never a surprise that when the mountains collapse, as they regularly do, the overwhelming majority of the dead are women and children. There was no accident in the Koshe Garbage Landfill last Saturday; there was instead a planned massacre of women and children. Ethiopians demand answers. We all should.

 

(Photo Credits: Tesfa News)

Watch where you walk

Watch where you walk

Watch where you walk
we are advised
by folks in the know

don’t do a midnight
or an early hours one

(boyfriends bury
their girlfriends
in backyards)

don’t frequent the hotspots
police cannot be everywhere

behind closed doors
in gated mansions
in ivory towers
be-suited in committees

(you know dangerous areas
places like home like school
like the workplace like)

Watch where you walk
twin knifes mom and sister
famine on the horizon
for millions of children
(what way our grant fiasco)

femicide is the order
women besieged
sexual assault the daily custom
(in the broad light of day)

(a woman or girl raped
every 25 seconds down here)

Watch where you walk
International Women’s Day
and our 16 days anti-abuse campaign
has long since passed us by

Watch where you walk

‘Watch where you walk’ – cops (People’s Post Athlone, 14 March 2017). “Boyfriends bury their girlfriends in backyards” (Cape Times, January 31 2017), “Twin ‘knifes’ mom, sister” (Cape Times, February 6 2017); and “Millions of children are facing famine” (Sunday Argus, January 29 2017)

(Image Credit: 702)

What happened to Raynbow Gignilliat? The routine torture of solitary confinement

Raynbow Gignilliat

“They didn’t treat her for two months and she was left in a manic state. Basically, in all aspects, I would call it torture,” said attorney Jack Jacks, discussing the final months of Raynbow Gignilliat’s short life. Raynbow Gignilliat, 39-year-old mother of three, was arrested in October 2013. She was sent to the Sandoval County Jail, in Bernalillo, New Mexico, where she spent two months in solitary confinement. Then she was sent to an emergency room. Then, against doctors’ orders, she was returned to solitary. In January 2014, Raynbow Gignilliat was sent to the New Mexico Behavioral Health Institute. In the Spring 2014, Raynbow Gignilliat was released from the hospital and all charges against her were dropped. By June 2014, Raynbow Gignilliat was dead. The reports say she “committed suicide”, but her family and supporters know that Raynbow Gignilliat was killed by State torture.

From the moment Raynbow Gignilliat encountered the so-called criminal justice system to today, almost three years after her death, from beginning to end, this is a story of State violence, viciousness and brutality. Raynbow Gignilliat had been diagnosed with bipolar disorder. For most of her life, she had managed her mental health without medication. Then, things fell apart, largely due to a messy divorce and custody battle. In late October 2013, Raynbow Gignilliat was arrested on a domestic battery charge, following a dispute with her mother, with whom she was living. Her mother called the police, hoping they would take her daughter to the hospital. Instead, they arrested her and sent her off.

After about two weeks in custody, Raynbow Gignilliat was moved into solitary confinement, also known as segregation. Remarkably, there are no records to explain this move. Once in solitary, Raynbow Gignilliat’s health deteriorated swiftly. Staff watched as she covered herself in feces, punched herself, dunked her head in her toilet water, hallucinated, screamed. Staff watched Raynbow Gignilliat’s increasing and intensifying dementia for six weeks. Finally, they sent her to an emergency room, where doctors said she should be sent to a psychiatric hospital or she would die. Instead, she was returned to solitary confinement, where she sat for another month, begging for help in the only way she could, through self-harm.

Finally, in January, Raynbow Gignilliat was moved to a hospital where she received treatment. While there, all charges against her were dropped. When Raynbow Gignilliat was released from the hospital, she was free … to kill herself. Her family says the damage had already been done. She was not the same woman.

Last week, Sandoval County agreed to a settlement of $1.8 million, to be distributed to trust funds for each of Raynbow Gignilliat’s children. The jail’s medical provider, Correct Care Solutions, has also settled, for an undisclosed amount. Sandoval County is quick to note that its insurance company covers this sort of thing, and so Sandoval County is only on the hook for $15,000.

Meanwhile, the case of Raynbow Gignilliat led to the discovery of the abuse and torture of Sharon Vanwagner, who was also booked in the Sandoval County Jail in October 2013, who lives with psychosis and delusions, who spent three months in solitary confinement, who deteriorated rapidly and dramatically, and whose charges were ultimately dropped.

What happened to Raynbow Gignilliat and Sharon Vangwaner, what is happening to so many women living with mental illness in county jails across the country? “Basically, in all aspects, I would call it torture.”

 

(Photo Credit: KOAT TV)

More than a single International Women’s Day, this is an international movement

Every year, since the 1900s, International Women’s Day has been offered as a celebration of women’s achievements. This year was different. Women went to the streets not to celebrate but to demand. The international women’s strike also called “a day without a woman” has been organized in more than 50 countries. Women took the streets in the Middle East, Asia, Africa, Europe, Australia, and the Americas.

In 1975, Icelandic women showed that if women stopped all their activities at home and at work, the country could not function. That day started an important movement in Iceland, certainly, since the country elected the first female president, and elsewhere as well.

In October 2016, women in Poland, threatened by a total ban on abortion, organized. They were followed by women in South Korea, Argentina and Sweden. On January 21st, after inauguration of the new sinister president in the United States, women went to the streets and women around the world took the streets in solidarity.

On March 8th, women again showed their solidarity. They called a strike. The strike was a call to end unfair wages, austerity, inequalities and wage inequalities in particular, precarious work, patriarchal control of women’s bodies, femicides, and more.

It should be the responsibility of the state to bring these demands to reality. Instead, many states have moved away from their responsibilities, which is why women took the streets worldwide. The state is now more involved in supporting the neoliberal economic order than to be the guarantor of the well-being of women and men. Every year, the World Economic Forum publishes The Global Gender Gap Report. This year’s report says that the economic gender gap has regressed to the level of 2008. According to the report, equal pay between women and men is now unattainable for another 170 years.

There is no natural evolution to equality, justice and dignity for women. This strike is the beginning of an international organizing and solidarity movement for women.

In many countries, it is not always easy to strike for women. In the United States, many school systems shut down, as in Alexandria, Virgnia; Princes Georges County, Maryland; and many other counties, because women called in to take the day off. In the United States, with each day’s executive order, the danger for women and humanity becomes more real. Responding to this clear and present danger, the United States-based organizers aimed to repoliticize the day.

In Washington, DC, the crowd gathered wearing red, the color of active and political dissent. Among the marchers, women from Latin America talked to us in front of the Department of Labor where the march started.

When the march reached a plaza with a podium, people were invited to reflect on the importance of the work of women in unions and their role in wage negotiations and in stopping the abuse of workers, all workers.

A speaker addressed the threat for women that the current “predator in chief” represents: “This regime cannot be taken lightly and the fight has to be taken to the next level.” The next level entails forming strong solidarity movements. Women are in thrall of the abusive patriarchal order that uses them as cheap labor, weapons of war, reproductive slave, and more. Solidarity must be international as well as national and local.

The sisters in solidarity from the restaurant industry reminded the audience what it means to work for tips: sexual harassment, and all kinds of assaults and threats. They called for fair wages. Some Congresswomen, who were in white for Trump’s first address to the Congress, came in solidarity with the movement.

The place was joyful and serious about forming new solidarities, conscious of the racial and social divisions that keep women in danger of being raped, killed, degraded, ignored, in their own rights and dignity.

Yes, Women’s Lives Matter, Black Lives Matter, Indigenous Lives Matter.

A number of women took the stage to honor the women who lost their lives in historical and contemporary struggles, shouting “Say her name!” Listen to their voices and say their names:

 

(Photo Credit 1: The Hill) (Photo Credit 2: Slate / Reuters / Brendan McDermid)

Who will remember the girls burned to death in the Hogar Virgen de la Asunción in Guatemala?

Yesterday, March 8, 2017, a fire broke out in the Hogar Virgen de la Asunción, in Guatemala. At last count, 32 girls burned to death yesterday. As with the Topo Chico prison fire, in Mexico last year; the Kentex factory fire in the Philippines, in 2015; the 2013 Rana Plaza Factory fire and the 2012 Tazreen Fashion Factory fire, both in Bangladesh; and the Armadale Juvenile Correctional Centre fire, in Jamaica in 2009, this was more than an avoidable and predictable tragedy. It was a brutal and planned massacre, and like Kentex, Rana Plaza, Tazreen and Armadale, it was femicide. And like Armadale, the State chose the most vulnerable girls and burned them, alive, at the stake. Once the requisite lamentations and invocations of the tragic are done, who will remember those girls? If history is any guide, their families and communities, a cadre of activists, and no one else.

Seven years ago, almost to the day, we reflected on the aftermath of the Armadale fire, in Jamaica: “Someone was meant to die at Armadale, and that someone was meant to be a young woman, a girl. Which girl, how many girls, remained open. But someone was meant to die there, in a fire. And someone did. And she was a young woman, a girl. And absolutely no one can claim ultimate responsibility for that until they have transformed the everyday world of ordinary women and girls in which women are the fastest growing prison population, and women are the majority of sweatshop workers.” Now, after the fire at the Hogar Virgen de la Asunción, we can add “girls under care” to women and girl prisoners and women and girl sweatshop. Yet again, while many are shocked, no one is surprised. The theater of cruelty is always played out in the open.

The Hogar Virgen de la Asunción, near Guatemala City, is variously described as a government-run “shelter”, a “home for children”, a “safe home”, a “children’s care home”, a “home for abused teens”. The only accurate part of those descriptions is that the Hogar is government-run.

By all accounts, life inside the Hogar Virgen de la Asunción has been a living, and dying, hell of torture; intimidation; sexual violence; toxic overcrowding; inadequate and rotten, infested food. On Tuesday, 40 some girls decided that they had had enough, and staged a mass escape. Riot police stopped the escape and returned the girls to the “home”, where, as punishment, they were locked in their dormitories. Wednesday morning, one of the girls set fire to her mattress. She cried out that she would sacrifice herself “so that everyone would know what they were living inside.” Everything else is silence and smoke.

Marta Lidia García, 39, mother of a 17-year-old daughter, said, “I brought her because she doesn’t follow my orders to do housework and because she was starting to go out on the streets, and I did not want to lose her. She told me that they treated her badly and gave them food with worms and that the cops who take care of them sometimes bother them.”

As of late this afternoon, 12 of the sacrificed girls’ names have been released: Rosa Julia Espino Tobar. Indira Jarisa Pelicó. Daria Dalila López Mérida. Ashely Gabriela Méndez Ramírez. Sonia Hernández García. Mayra Haydé Chután Urías. Skarlet Yajaira Pérez Jiménez. Yohana Desirée Cuy Urizar. Rosalinda Victoria Ramírez Pérez. Madeleine Patricia Hernández Hernández. Savia Isel Barrios Bonilla. Ana Nohemí Morales Galindo. We did not want to lose them. Who will remember them, who will remember their names, once the invocations of tragedy have passed?

(Photo Credit: Prensa Libre /Estuardo Paredes)

I am a woman of color. An immigrant. A mother of two young children. A new activist.

I am a woman of color. An immigrant. A mother of two young children. A new activist. I am many other things, but what is common among all of my identities is that they are not cloaks that I can easily cast off. Each identity is intricately woven into the fabric that is me. Wherever I go, I take my whole self with me and this context is critical to understanding what I am about to share.

Recently, my husband, our friend, our 2-year-old son, and 4-year-old daughter attended a local rally in support of the Affordable Care Act. It was the latest in our efforts to be activists. Prior to the election and the weeks and months since it, my husband and I moved out of the shadows and started to find our political voice. Since the election, we are using our bodies to bring visibility to the important human rights crises affecting so many. It was especially important that we bring our children with us to this rally.

We are a biracial family, and since I am the person of color in my family, I am especially sensitive to diversity. As I looked around at the rally, I realized that I was one of very few people of color there. Still, I felt united with the people there as we listened to our Member of Congress and to the speakers, as we assembled to advocate for achieving our human rights to health care.

About two hours into the rally, my children, who had remarkably sat quietly and even paid attention to the speakers, finally got up and started to play. Though there were not very loud in their child like chatter, I was already up and trying to avoid them disturbing anyone. No one seemed to mind, except for one woman. She sharply and rudely told me, “Can you keep those kids quiet? We can’t hear the speakers. Could you move them over there or something?”

To this point, I was so captured in the spirit of unity in these types of spaces that it was easy to believe that they were inclusive. In this moment, I was reminded that unity and inclusivity are not synonymous. My family packed up our children and left earlier than we’d planned.

Since then, I must have replayed that moment in my head a hundred times. I think about what I should have said to that woman. What I know is that I can no longer be silenced. Where before I would have retreated to the shadows, the climate of this political environment compels me to stand my ground. I can no longer afford to not claim a space and lend my voice to this movement.

If only she knew that my son was born with a heart defect. If only she knew that he had open heart surgery in June before he was two and in the Fall accompanied our young family as we went canvassing for Hillary Clinton. If she only knew that the only time my children have been away from me was when I felt morally compelled to join the Women’s March in Washington. If she only knew my daughter chanted “This is what democracy looks like!” as we marched to Mar-a-Lago. If she only knew that my children tolerated their mother doing unpaid political work after work while working full time. If she only knew my children are the first and only grandchildren of a 59 year old woman bravely fighting stage IV lung cancer.

I know some would agree with that woman. To those people, I ask you to understand that child care is often unavailable and/or unaffordable for low income women, people of color, and many whom we desperately need to join our political movement. This space was as much mine and my children’s as it was that woman’s.

We often talk about privilege in this movement. I do not know that woman, and she did not know me. But in that time and space, she was in a place of privilege. We are a young family with two young children in a place we needed to be. She also needed to be there, but she had the privilege of also being able to easily move away from my children to a spot that would allow her to hear better. She also had the privilege of choosing to be tolerant and inclusive.

Our movement can never be successful until we bring people of color, immigrants, people across the socio – economic spectrum, and every marginalized group into the fold. We must be inclusive and representative of the people we claim to represent. The voices of people of color, of immigrants, and the less visible in our society must be elevated. We must demonstrate these characteristics by recognizing and respecting each other’s whole identities. Our work will never be finished until we have equal rights, equitable access to resources, and dignity for everyone. This all starts with creating the kinds of spaces where anyone is welcome.

This was an important and effective event – so important that we chose to share one of our precious 1000 Saturdays of childhood with our children to attend. I hope the organizers of all future events in this movement would somehow try to incorporate this attitude of tolerance and inclusivity into otherwise powerful and effective occasions.

 

(Photo Credit: BBC)