At least 254 poor Indian women die in clinical trial. `Predictably nothing was learned’

Over the past fifteen years, at least 254 Indian women died in a clinical trial, and the response from the critical scientific community is, “Predictably nothing was learned.” Sadly, something was learned, and it’s precisely the market value of a poor Indian woman’s body.

For the past fifteen years, US National Cancer Institute (NCI) and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funded a study that involved 363,553 women from the slums of Mumbai, and from villages in Osmanabad in Maharashtra and in Dindigul in Tamil Nadu. These women are variously described as “women from modest backgrounds,” “women of the lowest socioeconomic status”, “women from the most marginalised sections of society”: “those screened were chosen for their poverty and ignorance because they would come cheap and be amenable to being used as guinea pigs without knowledge of possible consequences.”

The study divided the women into two groups, in order to compare cervical cancer death rates. The larger, luckier group of 224,929 women was offered cervical screening. The other group of 138,624 was offered no screening whatsoever. At least 254 poor, poorest of the poor, women in that second group died of cervical cancer.

Three years ago, discussing another clinical trial, Satinathi Sarangi, of the Bhopal Group for Information and Action, noted, “These are people with no other options, people with reduced autonomy. . . India is increasingly becoming a colony of U.S. corporations.”

From Bhopal to Mumbai to the villages of Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu, and beyond and between, the colonization continues. This is merely the most recent in a series of clinical trial `scandals.’ Last year, India’s Supreme Court heard a case involving Gardasil, PATH, and poor, dead girls in rural Gujarat and Andra Pradesh. This year’s scandal involves a different locale and the same population, poor girls, poor women.

And the discussion always ends up focusing on `ethics’, `corruption’ and `conflict of interest’. That’s a reason the discussion never gets anywhere. Framing the issues as ethical presumes that ethics was ever a part of the operation. It wasn’t, and it isn’t.

When critics argue that the latest clinical trial actually may have impeded the development of “indispensable, lifesaving public health infrastructure,” there can be neither surprise nor contradiction. The same industry has forsaken research into cheap cancer curing drugs for the more lucrative long shots: “What is scientific and sexy is driven by what can be monetized, and that becomes the norm.”

From Mumbai to Manhattan, the message is clear: monetization becomes the norm. From the economies of manufacturing and sales to the economies of research and development to the economies of clinical trials to the economies of health, the name of the game is intensifying extraction of value from women’s bodies, turning health, illness, and death into investment opportunities.

254 poor Indian women died, and here’s the lesson: You can always further monetize poor women’s bodies. You can always further monetize poor women’s illness. You can always further monetize poor women’s deaths. You can always get away with murder … if the dead are poor women, and especially poor women of color.

The people do not celebrate Greece’s return to the debt market

On April 11 2014, Angela Merkel was welcomed by the Greek Prime Minister to celebrate the return of Greece to the official speculative bond market, which means to the free market of debt. “Capitalism is all about borrowing so psychologically and symbolically our return to the markets has been hugely important” declared a professor of economics in Greece. Whose psychological well being is he talking about?

Angela Merkel did not stay long in Greece, not even seven hours, understandably since about 7000 police officers were needed for her not to see any of the faces demonstrating because they have suffered and are still suffering from the austerity measures imposed to achieve the Greek return to the debt market.

Angela Merkel benevolently recognized, “I want to say that the government’s policies have led to many people suffering, and were very hard for the government to implement, but now we can see Greece keeping its promises, fulfilling its obligations, and the budget situation is better than we could have wished for or expected.” How does the psychological affect of the investors and gamblers in the debt economy connect with the suffering of an entire population? These policies have led to death and abject deprivation. Moreover, they triggered the rise of the fascist Golden Dawn, which has murdered fellow Greek citizens, and, sometimes working with police, has targeted immigrants who themselves were escaping violence or impoverishment.

The Greek prisons have been filled with many who were directly impacted by the austerity measures. The conditions of detention are dreadful. Certainly, sending a 90- year-old woman who has Alzheimer to jail for few thousand Euros is a great aid to the debt market economy. The country’s real debt has been the impoverishment of over 600 000 children, but who cares about children? Words seem to have different meanings whether we talk about the future of children or the future of investors.

Inserted in the neoliberal logic of a debt economy Merkel affirmed, “I firmly believe that after a very, very tough phase, this country harbors boundless possibilities still to be exploited.” Ask the cleaning women who have been fighting for their rights. They know who is going to be exploited because they already are. They understood that the “so called” labor market has been deregulated thanks to this tough phase that allowed employers to force them to sign blank contracts. They know the Greek State has organized its own defection and is now subservient to private enterprise.

Angela Merkel took the time to meet with Greek entrepreneurs but did not visit the hospitals or the schools. For example, she could have visited a social community clinic run by Sophia who would have told her, “The philosophy [of our work] is not to subsidize the state, this is not our job.” She would have explained that in Greece today there is no democracy, “Democracy is for people to live better isn’t it? With dignity, with hope for the future. That does not exist anymore!”

Why weren’t these principles of democracy praised by Angela Merkel while she was on Greek soil?

Greeks have organized, and new sites for European solidarity are being formed. New political forces are also rising and elections may change the course of the well orchestrated debt economy. Alexis Tsipras, the leader of the growing Greek leftist party Syriza, has long voiced other views about the debt. In 2012, he explained, “The European citizens should know, however, that loans to Greece are paid into an `escrow’ account and are used exclusively to repay the loans and to re-capitalize near bankrupt private banks. The money cannot be used to pay salaries and pensions, or to buy basic medicine for hospitals and milk for schools … If there is a risk for taxpayers losing their money, it is created by austerity.”

The money other European nations loaned to Greece never went to the Greek people. It was just a displacement of wealth for the advancement of neoliberal finance and power. However, populations are also lost when facing this capitalist delirium. This is part of the program, and it allows policies to continue with their brutal devastation. The efforts that many in Europe thought to be made for a better future have produced misery. Greece’s unemployment is at a record high 28%. More women are unemployed than men, and women and youth make up the bulk of unemployment. The public debt is still at 177% of the GDP. 23.7% of Greeks, and 30.4% of children, are under poverty line. As Greece’s social cohesion has been swiftly ripped apart, the goals of these policies have become clear.

For many including some economists, the solution is also clear. The European Central Bank should take social responsibility and buy back the debt. It is time for the people through struggle to reclaim politics in Europe and elsewhere and thereby create the conditions for a radical transformation. Instead of falling into the trap of a standard of debt that Angela Merkel wants to celebrate with the Greek neoliberal establishment, we must celebrate our social cohesion, our community, and the promise of democracy.

It’s not the system, it’s the heart

“Once in a while a letter of anguish makes its way out of one of the detention facilities for Haitian refugees, as this one to [the] President … did a few weeks ago: `We did not flee our country in search of food and drink, like they say. You know this as well as we do, and yet you treat us like animals, like old rags forgotten in some corner. Do you think that in acting that way you dissuade us from our purpose? Do you think that you are thus morally destroying us? You are wrong.’ The letter, signed by 38 Haitian women [in] detention, went on: ‘This is a cry of despair, a final call to your nobleness, to your good judgment, to your title as a great power. We would be honored by a satisfactory answer from you, an answer to these luckless refugees who ask only for the charity of liberty.’

Those words were published April 24, 1982. The President was Ronald Reagan. The detention center for the 38 Haitian women was Fort Allen, in Puerto Rico. The article also reported, “Thirty-three (Haitian) women have been on a hunger strike for a week, protesting for freedom. Three are being fed intravenously. Physicians there report that the long incarceration has created widespread depression in the camp.” Those women were at Krome Detention Center, in Florida. Fort Allen is no longer used as a detention center. Krome is, very much so.

It’s 32 years since those Haitian women sought asylum, since they met the hard hand of mercy, as administered by the United States. The women then understood what women asylum seekers today understand. Being a refugee in the United States is hard, being an asylum seeker in the United States is somewhere between purgatory and hell, and being a woman asylum seeker is to inhabit and to be inhabited by a hell designed for women.

Increasingly, asylum seekers, like Cecilia Cortes or Marco Antonio Alfaro Garcia, find their application for asylum has turned them into “long term detainees.”

This week, the ACLU Foundation of Southern California, the ACLU of Northern California, the National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC), and the law firm Reed Smith LLP, today filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of thousands of immigrants fleeing persecution who have faced months of detention while they await reasonable fear determinations, the first step in seeking protection in the United States when someone is forced to return following a deportation order.

That’s promising. But it’s been promising now for thirty some years, with court case after court case, individual victory after individual victory, and then the return, or worse the leap forward, to the same old same old.

What the Haitian women knew was this: it’s not `the system’ that’s broken. It’s the heart. All the clever distinctions, such as political and economic, are heartless and inhumane, because they erase the core suffering and thus the possibility of hope.

It’s that time of the year, the time for sermons and speeches about liberty, emancipation, and love. Here’s mine: Love thy neighbor. Let none be treated like animals or like rags. Heed the cry of despair and the call to your own nobility. Practice the charity of liberty. Study the wisdom of the 71 Haitian women who wrote, who starved, for your freedom as much as for theirs. Make that wisdom yours.

Canada’s walking zombies: women prisoners

Across Canada, federal prisons have routinely prescribed psychotropic drugs, and in particular quetiapine, to women prisoners. Women prisoners, friends and families, and advocates have long complained that the women’s prisons are a factory for zombie production, that women go in with some problems and come out stone cold zombie. They were right.

Howard Sapers, the Correctional Investigator of Canada, has been on the case since last year, when he was informed, by the Canadian Press and CBC, that the Correctional Service Canada had told them that, basically, it didn’t have data on prison prescriptions. It had general information but nothing specific.

The conditions in women’s prisons are specific.

Sapers found that, of 591 federal women prisoners, 370 are on psychotropic drugs, prescribed by the prison staff. 63% of women prisoners are on heavy medication, with dangerous side effects. The more local, the more vicious are the numbers. For example, in the Nova Institution for Women in Nova Scotia, the Joliette Institution for Women in Quebec and the Fraser Valley Institution for Women in British Columbia, the prescription rate is around 75%. Three out of every four women is being given drugs. By contrast, in 2001, the prescription rate was around 42%.

Why are so many women on quetiapine? Not to schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, which is what quetiapine is meant for. No. In Canada’s federal prison system, quetiapine is the go-to drug for any sleeping discomfort, for women, that is. Further, many of the women prisoners are given multiple psychotropic drugs.

There’s a special fate in store for women prisoners: “Women are prescribed more psychotropic medications than men, both in the community and in prison. Prescribing psychotropic medication in the prison setting is particularly problematic given the hierarchical relationship between psy and correctional mandates – where psy care is executed through a correctional system that inherently prioritizes security and carceral power over therapeutic care. Due to the fact that provincial and federal correctional systems are responsible for providing mental health care to prisoners a power imbalance exists between psy and medical experts and the correctional administrators to whom they are accountable and the prisoner-patients. It is important to remember that a prisoner’s ability to refuse medication is not always guaranteed; medication orders are often written into the prisoner’s correctional plan and thus become compulsory.”

For Aboriginal women prisoners, it’s worse. For women in provincial prisons, it’s worse. For all women prisoners, however, the prison produces a mass population of women “walking zombies.”

Current and former women prisoners report now what they reported three years ago. They were given drugs, without explanation. They received little to no real counseling. They couldn’t say no. They were prisoners, after all, and they were women prisoners. If the state wants women to become walking zombies, so be it.

The ordinary everyday torture of schoolchildren

Everyday, across the United States, children leave home and go off to school, where they are routinely tortured. It’s the price of running an efficient country.

Across the United States, school systems are being charged with Taser abuse of children, and especially of children of color and children living with disabilities. The U.S. Department of Justice has charged Wake County, North Carolina, for violation of students’ constitutional rights. Eight students are named in the complaint. They’re all Black. The violation consists of overly high rates of arrest and use of extreme violence, including use of Tasers, pepper spray, and choke holds.

In Syracuse, New York, two students and the New York ACLU are charging the school system with similar violations. In the case of one student, Trevon Hanks, his crime was breaking down and crying. Hanks had been out of school for medical reasons, and had tried to make up for lost time. On his eighteenth birthday, he found out that he would not graduate on time, and he broke down, literally. Crying, in a near fetal position on the floor, the school police came and assaulted him, including using a Taser. As in North Carolina, the stories are the tip of an iceberg.

The iceberg extends beyond this school system or that.

In Texas last year, Noe Niño de Rivera was Tasered by two school police officers. Niño de Rivera collapsed, fell to the floor, and suffered severe brain hemorrhage. After 52 days in induced coma, Niño de Rivera is not expected to fully recover … ever. Staff can’t use Tasers in juvenile detention, but in the school corridors, it’s all good.

In Wisconsin, students, parents, advocates struggle with a system-wide over reliance on seclusion rooms and physical restraint. In Luzerne County, Pennsylvania, students, parents, advocates continue to struggle with the aftermath of the “kids for cash” regime, in which thousands of children were sent off to juvenile detention, and sometimes adult prisons, for minor, and status.

In Santa Ana, California, a 14-year-old boy was tagging a tree with graffiti, when a police officer happened by. The officer jumped on the boy, who called out for help. The officer put the boy in a chokehold. The boy continues to cry out for help. “Stop fighting me,” shouted the officer. “I’m not fighting you,” replied the boy. Witnesses called on the officer to stop. One witness, Elvia Fernandez, tells the boy, in Spanish, “Relax. Don’t move.” The officer shouts at her to stop speaking in Spanish.

Seclusion rooms. Tasers. Choke holds. Harassment. Intimidation. Much of this is directed at students of color and at student living with disabilities. On one hand, the school system has always bullied its minorities. Some must learn to accept their roles as the persecuted. But there’s more. School systems invest in `scientific’ seclusion rooms and `technologically advanced’ Tasers. School police are trained in the most efficient ways to disable an offender.

What is lost in this porridge of science and technology? Children. Some children, by their very presence, impede the efficient engine of education. They must be punished, and they are. They must be tortured, and they are, across the entire nation.

Saziso Nkala spent over five years in prison awaiting trial

Saziso Nkala spent five years and two months in prison, in squalor and degradation, awaiting trial for a crime she never committed. In 2006, Zimbabwean immigrant Saziso Nkala was arrested for robbery and sent to the Johannesburg Women’s Prison, or Sun City, to await trial. When arrested, she was a single mother with a seven-year-old son. In May 2011, after five years and two months, her case was thrown out of court for lack of evidence. At the age of 32, Nkala was unemployed, broke, without any compensation from the State, and struggling to make a life with a boy now 12 years and a stranger. When Saziso Nkala left Sun City, she carried the mark of prison, for, while inside, she had contracted tuberculosis. Innocent until proven guilty. Free.

For years, Saziso Nkala lived in a cell with 36 beds, and life was hard: “That side, if you are sick, they don’t care – especially if you’re a foreigner… one lady was dying in the cell. We called the warders, but they said they were busy having breakfast. Then she died. Inmates who die in the cell after lockdown are left with the other inmates in the cell until morning. If you start getting labour pains and the door is locked, it’s locked. You bang (on) the door for help – and if they eventually come – they only come to the window. They will not open till the following day…”

They will not open till the following day.

This week, the South African Parliament heard that the number of long-term remand prisoners, prisoners awaiting trial, is declining, as a result of new regulations implemented last year. That `improvement’ means that since last year the number of remand prisoners who had been behind bars for two years or longer dropped from 2200 to 1816. While that is a reduction, it means that 1816 people, innocent until proven guilty, have been imprisoned for two years or longer. According to the Department of Correctional Services, as of Tuesday, of 157,394 prisoners, 43,735, or 27.8 percent, are remand prisoners.

Despite reports of `improved conditions’ in South Africa’s prison system, the situation remains grim, according to The State of South African Prisons, a report released this week by the National Institute for Crime Prevention and the Reintegration of Offenders, or NICRO. This report considers only sentenced prisoners.

According to NICRO, South Africa’s prisons’ maximum capacity is 118,154 people. Of that, 25,000 places are held for remand prisoners. The total prison population is 162,162. When NICRO finished its study, 49,695, or 31%, were remand, and 112 467 were sentenced prisoners. That means a national level of overcrowding reaching 137%. It also means that remand prisoner overcrowding was at 200%. Today, remand prisoner overcrowding is at 175%.

Women make up 2% of the sentenced prison population. 45% of sentenced women prisoners have committed `economical crimes’. For men, it’s 22%. 10% of sentenced women prisoners are in for `narcotics’ offenses, while for men, it’s 2%. Proportionally, more women prisoners are awaiting trial than are men prisoners. Most `economic crimes’ are survival crimes. How many women awaiting trial are in for the crime of being poor? How many are remanded because they cannot afford bail? How many are Saziso Nkala? For too many women, innocent until proven guilty has become guilty until you can show a receipt. Who will compensate for that bill?

Anne Nasozzi was deported to Uganda on Wednesday 9th April

Openly lesbian Anne Nasozzi was deported to Uganda last night. Despite threats to the entire gay and lesbian community, Anne Nasozzi was deported, from the United Kingdom, to Uganda. Despite death threats against her personally, Anne Nasozzi was taken from Yarl’s Wood to the airport, where she was put on a Kenya Airways flight. There is no asylum, there is only disgrace, injustice, violence, visited more often than not on women.

Until December of last year, Anne Nasozzi lived in a village, where she earned her keep by renting out ten rooms. Remarkably, Nasozzi chose to rent her rooms to gay women, and so, thanks to her courage, eleven lesbians lived together, formed community together, and built a kind of haven together, for each other.

In December, a mob of `neighbors’, councilors, and members of Anne Nasozzi’s family attacked the house. Much of the property was razed to the ground. Residents who couldn’t get away were severely beaten. Anne Nasozzi escaped.

She fled to a friend’s house. There she managed to secure the deed to her house, the only thing still standing on her property, sold it, and fled to England. She arrived in England in December. From December until yesterday, Anne Nasozzi was imprisoned in Yarl’s Wood. That’s the State response to women, and especially African women, who seek asylum.

Anne Nasozzi describes being shipped to Uganda as “assisted suicide.” She’s too kind. It’s torture and murder, and it’s a disgrace.

Reports suggest that, in Uganda, those `suspected of homosexuality’ are hunted, imprisoned, and tortured. The State recently raided a clinic famous for its clinical and research work in HIV and AIDS, the Makerere University Walter Reed Project. Why? Because the clinic was “recruiting gays”, this according to the police spokesperson. The gay and lesbian community is being hunted and persecuted and worse. There is no question about this.

At the same time, the Uganda Human Rights Commission released a report yesterday that documents a dramatic increase in the number of people illegally detained and in the incidence of torture, cruelty, and inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Dangerous overcrowded prisons are ruled by an iron hand of violence. This awaits Anne Nasozzi.

If there is a rule of law in this story, it’s the law of man’s inhumanity to man … or better to women. The endpoint of efficiency driven, fast-track so-called asylum procedures is disgrace. This disgrace is not a state of being nor is it an affective domain. It’s a transitive verb, a relentlessly vicious and violent campaign to strip ever more grace from those who cherish it the most, from those whom we should cherish. There is no asylum, there is only disgrace and violence. Anne Nasozzi was deported to Uganda yesterday. Remember that.

Boys will be boys, and girls will be jailed

Girls are entering into the juvenile `justice’ system at an alarmingly increasing rate. One reason is that girls are arrested more often than boys for status offenses and are more severely punished for those offenses. The thing is those `offenses’ are not crimes. That’s what makes them `status’ offenses. If the girls were older, there would be no offense, no crime.

But they are girls, and they must be protected from themselves. This is the vicious cycle that has been constructed in exactly the same period that has witnessed girl power on the rise: “In a 2010 national census of youth in custody, girls comprised 16% of all detained youth but 40% of those were detained for a status offense. At one time and in some states, girls comprised more than 70% of youth detained for status offenses.” This is the United States’ program of no girl left behind. This is girls’ educational program in the United States.

Why are girls so lucky, when it comes to prison? One answer is paternalism, which expresses itself as a need to protect girls from themselves and the world; a curious comfort with “with using locked confinement to access services for girls with significant needs”; and intolerance towards “girls who are non-cooperative and non-compliant.” Boys will be boys, and girls will be jailed.

At the same time, “lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning (LGBTQ) youth are twice as likely as other youngsters to be detained in a juvenile detention facility for status offenses.” Why? LGBTQ youth often run away from home or, more precisely, from family rejection. According to one report, 40 percent of homeless youth self-identify as LGBTQ. Living on the streets means engaging in “survival crimes”, like theft. But it also involves an expanding and intensifying universe of so-called status offenses. Once again, LGBTQ youth are jailed to protect them from themselves.

This program for LGBTQ kids is the United States national education program. In schools LGBTQ children suffer harsher punishment, both formal and informal, for truancy, absenteeism, and dress code violations. A vicious school-to-prison pipeline drives the “non-cooperative and non-compliant” further and further into the ground … or else.

Today, the Treatment Advocacy Center released The Treatment of Persons with Mental Illness in Prisons and Jails: A State Survey. Here are the numbers: “In 2012, there were estimated to be 356,268 inmates with severe mental illness in prisons and jails. There were also approximately 35,000 patients with severe mental illness in state psychiatric hospitals. Thus, the number of mentally ill persons in prisons and jails was 10 times the number remaining in state hospitals.” Since 2008, the situation has worsened.

From girls to LGBTQ youth to those living with severe mental illness, the crime committed is that of living, of being alive. And what of those at the crossroads of this nightmare, what of young lesbians who are living with severe mental illness? They are marked as non-cooperative and non-compliant, many times over. They were never meant to survive.

In Athens, women cleaners reject austerity’s mess

595 cleaning women of the Greek Ministry of Finance have organized against austerity measures. They were there when Goldman Sachs coached the Greek authorities to hide the deficit with neoliberal “financial innovations” and then bet on it to make outrageous profits. They were there when the Greek authorities admitted that these “financial innovations” did not work and had to be paid for by the Greek population. They were also there when the Troika came to give the prescription of austerity measures. They cleaned the mess and emptied the trashcans.

One day they learned that their already meager salary was going to be amputated of 75% of its value. Without warning one morning they learned that they would have only 325.88 Euros to take care of their families, as many of them are single mothers and over 50 years old. Then they learned that they were to be replaced by contracted workers. For women, losing a job under these conditions means losing access to pension, health care, social protection. It means becoming part of the 62.8% unemployed women in Greece.

The women refused. They organized and showed the power of solidarity. Every day, they stand in front of the ministry and shout at the Troika personnel, at the government and all the financial puppets that come and go. They protest that they cannot be dismissed. They shout that they have rights that shouldn’t be wiped out just to serve their markets and their private interests. The Troika, the State and the stooges know that the cleaners’ meager salaries are not going to solve the Greek deficit. They remind everyone that the ministries and other public spaces are not in danger of not being cleaned anymore. Once again in the neoliberal order of things, public money will be transferred to private hands through contracted work. Ordinarily contracted cleaning work costs more, but women workers’ wages are lower since they either have no contracts or have to sign blank `contracts’ that make them vulnerable to total exploitation.

In 2009, Kostantina Kouvena, an immigrant cleaning woman who was a trade unionist for cleaning women union, was attacked with vitriolic acid because she was exposing these abuses. Her employer was a politician from the Social Democrat party, Pasok, who had created a service company. Making contracted work the norm is central to neoliberal labor policies, to the point that killing the resistance to this move is accepted.

The cleaning women haven’t stop fighting, and their tenacity has become an example for many in Greece, especially women who are more likely to be employed in the public sector.

Last March, the repression was even more violent as they were still demonstrating in front of the Ministry. Their solidarity has been an example that has inspired a larger European and international movement.

Over fifty thousand people from twenty-one countries went to Brussels this past Friday to demonstrate against austerity.  The message from the European Trade Union Confederation was clear: these policies are wrong and do more harm than good. Austerity measures don’t serve the people, they serve the financial markets that thrive on volatility and make victims, like the Greek population, pay the price of their gameThe cleaning women of Athens keep watch for us on the comings and goings of the virtuosi of austerity rhetoric. They tell them that they know who they are. They know that underpaid contracted cleaning/janitor works are the signs of the marginalization of women in a low wage debt economy and a sign of the rise of submissive policies that annihilate the public voice. And to that, the cleaning women of Athens say, “No!”

Wangari Maathai is smiling on Heather Maseko today

Malawian eco-warrior and organizer Heather Maseko is once again on the move.

Yesterday, Deepa Pullanikkatil, of LEAD Southern and Eastern Africa, posted a video, Zomba city cutting down historical Mbawa trees (African mahogany):

“Hello. My name is Heather Maseko. I was born and raised in Zomba. I did my primary school in Zomba, and my secondary school in Zomba, and my university at the University of Malawi Chancellor College. I am a young environmental activist who works with young people on issues of environmental management … It is with great concern that we see the natural resources of Zomba being degraded, things that have happened in the past couple of years, and it is with a sad note that we see these malpractices have come to Zomba city. What you see in my background is timber production that’s right in the city. They are cutting down Mbawa trees, which have been planted more than a hundred before just in the name of constructing a road. As planners and citizens of Zomba came down to discuss the issues, we found that there were other viable solutions in constructing the road while still maintaining the natural heritage of preserving the trees in the city. It is also with great concern that as a young person we see these malpractices done right in our cities, so that … generations will not benefit from the good climate, from the good environment, that Zomba has always had and that we have always cherished. So we’re calling on authorities, we’re calling on engineers, we’re calling on other civil societies, and every other person who is concerned with the welfare of people in Zomba and the future generations and even the tourists that come to Zomba to help us in putting a halt to this malpractice, to save these trees which are a natural heritage, which help in so many ways, including addressing issues of climate change, as a natural heritage as well, to stop this malpractice, to save these trees, and to make sure that our generation, the future generation, will enjoy both good development and a good environment.”

Zomba was the capital of British Central Africa, then of Nyasaland, and finally, until 1974, of Republic of Malawi. Malawi’s Parliament remained in Zomba for another 20 years, until 1994. Zomba is now the capital of Zomba District, whose economy if primarily agricultural, with tourism a distant second. Zomba is experiencing rapid population growth, with a population of over 130,000 and rising fast.

Born, raised, and educated in Zomba, Heather Maseko embodies all the changes of the last twenty years. Perhaps for that reason, she has been a face of environmental activism. In 2011, she was on the caravan that crossed the African continent, and ended up in Durban, at the climate change conference, or COP 17. She went to learn: “As a youth this is a platform to gain experience on the process of negotiations for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) as a future leader.”

Although the conference disappointed Maseko, that disappointment became the point. She saw first hand that environmental change has to happen from the ground up, that the local matters, and that people, and in particular young people who increasingly make up the majority of the population, must learn to organize and take power.

Heather Maseko has been doing just that, organizing, learning, and taking power. In Malawi, the Mbawa tree matters. That’s why, in 2012, Joyce Banda launched a national campaign to plant trees by planting an Mbawa tree. The Mbawa tree takes a hundred years, and more, to grow to maturity. Trust the youth to teach the world the lesson of the value of time and process.

Heather Maseko is making democracy happen, on the roadsides of Zomba. Wangari Maathai is smiling on Heather Maseko today. The democracy of people is gathering among the trees.