I see Ché

I see Ché
on the streets
of Morocco
and Egypt
and elsewhere too

(And not just
on sale
in the market
of labels
and brand-names
and football stadiums)

I see Ché
articulated
on posters
banners
and T-shirts

I see Ché
to my left
to my right
and in between
too

(Are there women
rebelling and protesting
in the food-chain of
African-grey male-dictators
and anti-female traditions)

(Africa, our begging bowl
of structured poverty
and personal patronage)

I see Ché

Do you

(Wide-eyed at seeing our anti-hero on the streets of Darkest Africa, the week of 24-28 January 2011.)

David Kapp, david_kapp@yahoo.com

Haunts: Not just another murder, Brenda Namigadde

On February 4, 2006, almost five years ago, Zoliswa Nkonyana, “a young Khayelitsha lesbian”, was chased by a group of 20 or so young men. When they caught up with her, they clubbed, kicked and beat her to death. They tortured her to death for being lesbian, for being openly lesbian, for being a woman, for being.

It took two weeks for the news of her brutal murder to finally reach the media. The police didn’t make much of the death or its circumstances. The press in Khayelitsha, five years ago as today, is marked largely by its absence. It was `just another murder.’

Five years later, the case is still open, the trial is not yet finalized. Memorials will take place, no doubt, protests and commemorations.

Yesterday, January 26, 2011, gay rights activist David Kisule Kato was brutally murdered in Mukono, Kampala, Uganda. Kato was the advocacy officer for Sexual Minorities Uganda. Along with Julian Pepe Onziema and Kasha Jacqueline, Kato had recently won a case against Rolling Stone, restraining it from publishing photos and names of gay men and lesbian women. The High Court ruled that the tabloid violated the rights to privacy and safety. This time the news of the murder spread quickly. The Kampala police claimed, almost immediately, that they’re on the case.

In both instances, and so many others, the assault is on the right to public being, the right to access as gay men and lesbian women, to public spaces, to common and shared experiences, to mutual recognition.

Brenda Namigadde is a woman from Uganda. She fled Uganda in 2003 after her house was destroyed and her life was threatened … because her life partner was a woman. Namigadde fled to the United Kingdom, where she sought asylum. She was turned down, because of insufficient proof of `being lesbian’. Now Namigadde sits in Yarl’s Wood, and awaits, in terror, to be deported to Uganda.

One way to honor the memory of Zoliswa Nkonyana, of David Kato, of all the other gay men and lesbian women who have been brutalized, tortured, murdered, for the sin of being gay in public, for the sin of sharing their love in the common and shared spaces, is to make sure that Brenda Namigadde and other gay and lesbian asylum seekers are not transported back to the House of Death. If not, then Zoliswa Nkonyana, David Kato, and all the others, they’re just another murder.

Daniel Moshenberg, dmoshenberg@gmail.com

Criminalizing Black Women: Mom Jailed For ‘Stealing An Education’ for Her Children

I have not written about the Kelley Williams-Bolar case previously because I did not have the words to describe how I felt about it. When I first read about the case, I immediately started to tear up and my emotions were in turmoil. I didn’t understand the strong feelings and then I realized that the case recalled ancestral memories of slavery for me. Kelley Williams-Bolar was being accused of “stealing an education” for her children.

Here is some brief background on this case…

Prosecutors in Ohio brought criminal charges against Kelly Williams-Bolar of Akron and her father. The state accused the pair of “allegedly falsifying residency records of two of the woman’s children formerly enrolled in the Copley-Fairlawn City Schools.” The most serious of the charges brought against Ms. Williams was tampering with records which is a “third-degree felony carrying potential penalties of one to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine.” Her 64-year old father was charged with “one count of grand theft for aiding and abetting his daughter in her alleged deception to obtain educational services from Copley-Fairlawn schools.”

Bolar-Williams said her two girls were enrolled in the Copley-Fairlawn school system four years ago — in August 2006, according to court records — over ”safety issues.”

During the trial, several pieces of evidence were presented supporting Ms. Williams’ claims that she was in fact living with her father when she enrolled her children in the suburban school district. However what was also made clear was the lengths to which the school district went to “prove” that she was in fact not a resident in their catchment area:

School officials, according to trial testimony, hired a private investigator in an attempt to document the activities of Williams-Bolar on more than a dozen school mornings.

In several hours of the videotaped surveillance — much of which was shot under cover through a wrought-iron fence — the jury saw Williams-Bolar dropping off her children at a school bus stop within a short walk of her father’s home on Black Pond.

However, when Williams-Bolar took the stand in her own defense on Friday, O’Brien introduced evidence showing that she had 2008 and 2009 W-2 statements from her employer, Akron Public Schools, sent in her name to the address of her father in Copley Township.

Williams-Bolar works as a teaching assistant with special-needs children at Buchtel High School.

The defense also produced 2005 mailed correspondence to Williams-Bolar — more than a year before her children were enrolled in the schools — from the Copley-Fairlawn district. It, too, was sent to her father’s home.

More specific details about the trial can be found here. On January 15th, Ms. Williams was convicted by a jury after 7 hours of deliberation. She was sentenced by the judge to 10 days in jail, three years of probation and community service for falsifying residency records. As if this were not enough, here is more from the judge in this case:

Cosgrove noted Williams-Bolar faces another form of punishment.

Williams-Bolar, a single mother, works as a teaching assistant with children with special needs at Buchtel High School. At the trial, she testified that she wanted to become a teacher and is a senior at the University of Akron, only a few credit hours short of a teaching degree.

That won’t happen now, Cosgrove said.

”Because of the felony conviction, you will not be allowed to get your teaching degree under Ohio law as it stands today,” the judge said. ”The court’s taking into consideration that is also a punishment that you will have to serve.”

Williams-Bolar addressed Cosgrove briefly before being sentenced, saying ”there was no intention at all” to deceive school officials.

She pleaded with Cosgrove not to put her behind bars.

”My girls need me,” she said. ”I’ve never, ever gone a day without seeing them off. Never. My oldest daughter is 16.

”I need to be there to support them.”

Williams-Bolar’s two girls, now 16 and 12, are attending schools elsewhere. They left the Copley-Fairlawn district before the 2009 school term.

Ms. Williams-Bolar was interviewed later and expressed stunned disbelief that she would be jailed for this offense. She believed that if she were convicted she would be sentenced to probation at most.

Kelley Williams-Bolar took an extended pause, pondering as she sat in jail Thursday.

Tears came to her eyes as seconds ticked away. She’s a single mother of two daughters in the middle of a 10-day jail term — a convicted felon — all because of the school the girls attended.

Years ago, she said she took her daughters from Akron’s public housing after their home was burglarized and placed them with their grandfather in Copley Township.

Take a step back to consider everything that is at play in the story of Ms. Bolar-Williams. Here you have a black single mother who was living in public housing with her two daughters. After a traumatic incident of their home being burglarized, she moved her daughters to their grandfather’s home so that they could be safe and attend a good school. A school district spent thousands of dollars to hire a PI to investigate this black woman and her children. Why exactly was this? Are public schools in Ohio so flush with extra cash that they can afford such luxuries? If Ms. Williams and her children had been white would the school have gone to this trouble to expose them as supposed ‘criminals?’ I think that any fair-minded observer would have to say ‘no’. Now we have a tragedy on our hands with lives being destroyed. A 40 year old woman who was putting herself through college to become a teacher is having that dream dashed. What lesson do you suppose her daughters are learning in all of this? Are they learning that America is a just society? Are they learning that they can ‘be anything that they want to be’ when they become adults?

I would say that they have learned a bitter lesson about American INjustice and oppression. This is a form of state violence that the Williams family has been subjected to. Ms. Williams has been accused of defrauding the district for over $30,000 in educational costs because her daughters did not meet the residency requirement. At least four lives have been destroyed over $30,000? Surely that cannot be just!

Apparently this case is causing a lot of controversy in Ohio as well it should. Reporter David Scott writes about some of the reaction. However, I want to point to the words of commentator Boyce Watkins who wrote this:

This case is a textbook example of everything that remains racially wrong with America’s educational, economic and criminal justice systems. Let’s start from the top: Had Ms. Williams-Bolar been white, she likely would never have been prosecuted for this crime in the first place (I’d love for them to show me a white woman in that area who’s gone to jail for the same crime). She also is statistically not as likely to be living in a housing project with the need to break an unjust law in order to create a better life for her daughters. Being black is also correlated with the fact that Williams-Bolar likely didn’t have the resources to hire the kinds of attorneys who could get her out of this mess (since the average black family’s wealth is roughly 1/10 that of white families). Finally, economic inequality is impactful here because that’s the reason that Williams-Bolar’s school district likely has fewer resources than the school she chose for her kids. In other words, black people have been historically robbed of our economic opportunities, leading to a two-tiered reality that we are then imprisoned for attempting to alleviate. That, my friends, is American Racism 101.

This case is a textbook example of how racial-inequality created during slavery and Jim Crow continues to cripple our nation to this day. There is no logical reason on earth why this mother of two should be dehumanized by going to jail and be left permanently marginalized from future economic and educational opportunities. Even if you believe in the laws that keep poor kids trapped in underperforming schools, the idea that this woman should be sent to jail for demanding educational access is simply ridiculous.

In her own words, Ms. Williams said from jail:

”If I had the opportunity, if I had to do it all over again, would I have done it? . . . ,” she said. After almost a half-minute of silence, she answered her own question.

”I would have done it again,” she said. ”But I would have been more detailed. . . . I think they wanted to make an example of me.”

Yes indeed, the state of Ohio wanted to make an example of a black single mother trying to find a way to ensure a successful future for her children by giving them a chance to have a good education… Welcome to America in the 21st century, still racist and unjust.!

Mariame Kaba, http://www.usprisonculture.com/blog/.

(This first appeared here at Prison Culture. Thanks to Mariame Kaba for writing it and for sharing it with Women In and Beyond the Global.)

Haunts: Mental health haunts the prison state

For prisoners living with mental illness, the situation today, in the face of severe budget cuts following decades of imposed austerity in the name of efficiency and the pursuit of profit, is a hellhole.

In Jamaica, prisoners living with mental illness are trapped in a human rights nightmare. Prisoners living with mental illness require more supervision and more assistance, and that means an investment of resources. Instead, those prisoners living with mental illness are left to fend for themselves and for one another. That means those prisoners living with mental illnesses stay for long periods in soiled clothes and environments, suffer rapid deterioration and decline, and spend longer periods in prison than healthy prisoners. Not surprisingly, the situation is particularly lethal for elder prisoners.

In Canada, 35 per cent of the 13,300 prisoners in federal penitentiaries have a mental impairment requiring treatment. That’s triple the 2004 estimations and way higher than the general population. It’s a flood. And what happens when someone with mental illness goes into prison: “The mind-bending isolation of a segregation cell brings no peace to a depressed or unhinged mind. Nor does an environment of slamming cell doors, fear and intimidation.”

And what is isolation … really? If it’s long-term, it’s torture. According to Dr. Atul Gawande, “The people who become psychotic in solitary confinement are people who often have attention deficit disorder or low IQ or issues of prior mental illness. … There’s a very high rate of psychosis and people flat-out going crazy under the confinement conditions. And so, then what I puzzle over is, does it actually reduce our violence in our prisons? The evidence from multiple studies now is that not only that it has not reduced violence, it’s increased the costs of being in prison.”

Long-term solitary confinement is torture because it targets those living with mental illnesses. The same could be said for prisons and jails.

In the United States, somewhere between 16 and 20 percent of prisoners are living with mental illnesses. In California, there are nearly four times as many people with serious mental illnesses in jails and prisons than there are in hospital. Ohio reports that the mental health system “has shifted the problems to prisons and homeless shelters.” Arizona and Nevada have the highest ratio of prisoners living with mental illness. Some call this a tragedy. Some say prisons and jails have become the new asylums. Prisons and jails have become the New Bedlam, and we are all the wardens.

A thirteen-year-old girl in Ottawa kicked in the back window of a police cruiser. The State determined that she was mentally ill and had her institutionalized. Where? Ottawa “shifts the problem” to Utah: “the … province’s Ministry of Health and Long Term Care … has funding arrangements with U.S. facilities to provide residential treatment to Ontario residents”. After nine days, the girl was deemed too violent, and `shifted’ to a children’s hospital. Now the parents face the possibility of having to pay astronomical hospital fees while their daughter faces the near certainty of incurring further criminal charges. Only prison awaits her. This is the practice of `shifting the problems.’

The withering of the welfare state has produced national programs, public policies, and popular ethics of `shifting the problem.’ In the United States, in the past fifty years, the number of psychiatric beds has been reduced by 90 percent. In the 1950s, there was one psychiatric bed for every 300 persons. Now, it’s one bed for every 3000. Where have those beds gone, where have those resources gone, and most importantly where have those people living with mental illness gone? Prisons. Jails. The New Bedlam. They went into the hellhole, they are in the hellhole, and we are the wardens.

Dan Moshenberg, dmoshenberg@gmail.com

Nobel Women’s Initiative: Statement to condemn the assassination of a women’s human rights defender in Ciudad Juarez

As women Nobel Peace Laureates, we are gravely concerned about the murder of human rights defender Marisela Escobedo Ortiz last 16 December 2010, while she protested the continued impunity in the homicide of her daughter Rubi Marisol Frayre Escobedo.

Rubi’s boyfriend murdered the 16-year-old in August 2008. As demonstrated by numerous national and international reports, the authorities acted in the same manner as they have acted in the last 17 years in reaction to the murder of women: they did not investigate nor punish the assassin, even though her mother provided all proof and even presented the confessed assassin.

We are particularly concerned that Marisela Ortiz Escobedo’s murder took place as we reach the one-year anniversary of the Inter-American Human Rights Court’s judgment against the Mexican State for not preventing and duly investigating the violence against women in Ciudad Juarez – the disappearances, sexual violence, and murders of women as well as the aggression against family members and defenders who demand justice for these cases.

As the Inter-American Court points out in its sentence, Mexico has maintained its discriminatory culture and policies against women, which are the primary cause of femicide and subsequent impunity. Between 1993 and 2001, the years analyzed in the Campo Algodonero judgment, there were 214 registered cases of women murdered in Ciudad Juarez. The journalistic register from 1 January to 15 December 2010 shows 297 women murdered in that same city—an alarming increase. Almost all of the cases go unresolved. Mexican authorities have not initiated the effective implementation of the provisions in the Inter-American Court’s judgment, as evidenced by these unfortunate events.

We know that this is not an isolated case, and that the violence against the human rights defenders who bravely fight against femicide in Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua is a constant issue in Mexico.We are alarmed that the demands for justice and the denouncing of gender discrimination threaten the integrity and life of the victims’ families and human rights defenders in Mexico. We know that Marisela Ortiz Escobedo’s family continues to live in imminent danger.

We call on the government of Mexico to take action, without delay, to ensure justice, effectively comply with the Campo Algodonero judgment, and prevent any attacks on the families of the victims and human rights defenders.

Betty Williams, Ireland (1976)

Mairead Maguire, Ireland (1976)

Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Guatemala (1992)

Jody Williams, USA (1997)

Shirin Ebadi, Iran (2003)

Wangari Maathai, Kenya (2004)

For more information, please contact: Rachel Vincent, Nobel Women’s Initiative 613-569-8400, ext. 113 or 613-276-9030

 

Thanks to Just Associates and the Nobel Women’s Initiative for sharing this, and for their work and labor. This first appeared here: http://www.nobelwomensinitiative.org/images/stories/Mexico/STatement_Jan_17_2011.pdf

The State expresses its grief, and Felani is dead

Children, girls and boys, are being killed by Indian soldiers on the India-Bangladeshi border. Each time it happens, the State claims grief and promises never again. The most recent girl to suffer this indignity, last week, was a fifteen-year-old girl named Felani:

“Indian border forces have handed over to Bangladesh Rifles (BDR) the body of ‘Felani’, 15, who was shot dead on Friday as she had gotten entangled in barbed-wire while crossing the border.… In the meeting, BDR condemned the brutal killing of the teenaged girl. BSF had expressed its grief over the incident and assured that such incident will not take place in future.”

What is to done with the grief of States expressed each time border troops kill or maim someone? What is the worth of their repeated assurances? Where is the future in which border guards will not shoot at children caught on barbed wire? And what is the name of the space that separates the dead body of 15 year old Felani, about whom the State is silent, and `the incident’ over which the State expresses its grief?

Apparently Felani and her father left their home in Bangladesh ten years ago and crossed into India. They were on their way home because a marriage to a local boy had been settled. Felani’s father successfully scaled the border fence. Felani got tangled up in the barbed wire and started to scream. The Indian Border Security Forces heard the screams, saw the girl, came, shot her and waited for her to die. Some say she bled and screamed for four hours, others say for less time. Whatever the duration, Felani, a fifteen- year-old girl, hanging upside down from the border fence, riddled with bullets, bleeding and screaming, died. The BSF then waited and finally cut her down and carried her away, hands and feet bound to a pole, like so much animal carcass. A day or so later, they arranged the meeting where they returned the body and expressed grief … over the incident.

Bangladeshis, and Indians, have expressed outrage at the incident and shock and disgust at the photographs. But who expresses grief at the border fence?

According to a Human Rights Watch report issued just last month, the Border Security Forces at that particular border are `trigger happy’. Children, such as 12-year-old Rumi Akhter Nipa, are routinely, randomly and indiscriminately shot. What do girls, like Rumi, want? According to Dr. Abdus Samad who treated her, she simply wants a daily life, to start school. What do children, like Rumi Akhter Nipa, get? “A pattern of grave abuses”. And, as Felani’s story suggests, they are to be considered the lucky ones.

The borderland is a graveyard. As long as the State, any State, is ruled by security first, as long as the borders are considered primary and the crossers, with or without documents, are secondary, the borderland will remain a graveyard. That is the reason that “despite numerous complaints no member of the BSF has been arrested, much less held to account in civilian courts.” Hundreds of Bangladeshis and of Indians have been killed and not a single member of the BSF has been arrested. Felani is not alone.

Grief emerges from graves, not from incidents. Apologies cover incidents, shrouds cover the bodies of the dead. The State of India expresses its grief? And Felani is dead.

Dan Moshenberg, dmoshenberg@gmail.com

Black Looks: In Haiti, toilets are a human right: From poo to compost in 6 months

I met Sasha Kramer the co-founder of SOIL [Sustainable Organic Integrated Livelihoods] one Sunday afternoon at a Haitian family wedding party high up on the top of a hill in Pernier district of Port-au-Prince.    About 20 of us piled into the flat bed truck and drove up and up at some points the road was so steep and so full of rocks and holes I feared those in the back would fall off.  Sasha and her colleague Nick were already there and later Nick would give a “best man” speech in fluent Kreyol, which was pretty impressive.  As in most Haitian gatherings there was a great deal of singing – I always wonder why hymns always sound so much better when sung in one of the many African languages or in Black churches! This is a whole other story so I will leave it aside for now.

Sasha arrived in Haiti in 2004 working for a Human Rights organisation. Two years later she and her friend Sarah Brownell founded SOIL and started putting up toilets in Cap Haitian in the north of the country.  We think about the right to food, water and shelter but most often forget the sanitation – what goes in must come out – there is no way to avoid it.  And Haiti along with water supplies desperately needs a sanitation system starting with collection of market waste which following SOIL’s vision could be turned into compost for farmers.

After the earthquake Sasha came down to Port-au-Prince to help out and met Rea Dol and began helping out with the emergency food distribution along with Rea’s family, friends and neighbours. Everyone worked day and night buying food, packaging it into plastic bags and distributing to anyone in need. Shortly after the earthquake SOIL were approached by Oxfam and asked to build 200 toilets in the camps across the city. There were moments of panic as they did not feel they were ready but recognising the desperate need managed to gather together a team in PAP and began building the toilets.

The philosophy behind SOIL which they describe as  ”liberation ecology” is

dedicated to protecting soil resources, empowering communities and transforming wastes into resources in Haiti. We believe that the path to sustainability is through transformation, of both disempowered people and discarded materials, turning apathy and pollution into valuable resources. SOIL promotes integrated approaches to the problems of poverty, poor public health, agricultural productivity, and environmental destruction. We attempt to nurture collective creativity through developing collaborative relationships between community organizations in Haiti and academics and activists internationally Empowering communities, building the soil, nourishing the grassroots.

Toilets too are a human right.

The toilets are pretty cool – much needed in Haiti and we could do with some in Nigeria, other parts of the global south and rural areas everywhere.  There had been some problems with the one in the school – getting the kids to put the loo paper in a separate bucket rather than the toilet was frustrating but then with no running water, having to buy water and carry buckets to flush the toilet the compost still remained a better option

The toilets are based on a compost system starting with the poo and ending up with fertilizer for growing food.  First the toilet which consists of two compartments, one for urine and the other for poo placed exactly where you would sit or stand up.

Next to the toilet is a bucket full of wood shavings and one for the toilet paper. After use, you take a handful of shavings and sprinkle over the poo. This continues until the barrel is full.  Instructions on how to use the loo are written on the door.

It is then removed through a side door, sealed and left for 6 months while it ferments nicely towards becoming compost and used to fertilizer gardens and farms.  Eventually the hope is that a complete “waste collection and transport system” will be built including a treatment plant using garden and market waste, tested to meet standards and sold at a low cost to farmers across the country.

The one I used which was near a small church and presumably used by visitors was extremely clean with absolutely no smell, no bugs, nothing and outside was a tap to wash your hands, though to be on the safe side in the time of cholera  people should try and use a sanitizer as well.

PS: If you are thinking about an organisation to donate to in Haiti then SOIL is one to consider – will write more on a couple of other transformational actions taking place.

Sokari Ekine writes and organizes at Black Looks: www.blacklooks.org/. This post originally appeared here: http://www.blacklooks.org/2011/01/right-to-toilets-from-poo-to-compost-in-6-months/. Thanks as ever to Sokari for her work and labor and for her sharing spirit.

Domestics: We are here. We are organizing. We have something.

Two years after Montgomery County, Md.,’s domestic workers law went into effect, just one worker has made a complaint under the law. Yet domestic worker organizers have a spring in their step, and that feeling took hold even before the first complaint was filed in August: They have hope.

The law requires employers of domestic workers who work more than 20 hours a week to negotiate contracts with their employees or to have them sign a disclosure form saying they refused a contract. The written contract must spell out work schedule, duties, salary, overtime, payment schedule, time off, living conditions, length of the contract, and termination details.

A domestic workers committee from advocacy organization Casa de Maryland started the lobbying efforts in 2005 for a comprehensive bill of rights. The law that passed July 15, 2008, and went into effect in January 2009 is a limited version of what was proposed. But it’s a starting point.

“We don’t have everything we asked for, but we have something,” said domestic worker Martha Alvarado. “We have to continue working for the other things we wanted. Now when we do outreach we tell them that we have that and you don’t have to be afraid or anything.”

Alvarado is a live-out domestic worker in Montgomery County. She has been active with Casa de Maryland for six years, and is a leader on its Committee of Women Seeking Justice. She said the committee does outreach at metro stations and acknowledged that many domestic workers they encounter do not know about the law.

The lack of outreach seems to be one of the biggest obstacles to the law having further reach. Montgomery County Councilman George Leventhal, one of the council members who sponsored the law, said he views the law as a major accomplishment. However, he said the government’s limited budget means little has been done by way of outreach.

“I think sadly probably most people covered by the law are not aware of it,” Leventhal said.

Members of the Committee of Women Seeking Justice and other Casa de Maryland officials have tried to fill in the gap, but ultimately Casa is short-staffed and has more egregious human rights violations that demand attention, said Ashwini Jaisingh, domestic worker organizer. In addition, domestic workers are a historically isolated population because their workplace – and sometimes where they live – is their employer’s home.

However, Jaisingh said that based on the number of calls Casa has received and what she has heard from domestic workers, the law seems to have generated an awareness of domestic workers’ issues in general. Domestic workers “feel change is possible,” she said.

In addition, Montgomery County’s domestic workers had a significant role in the law’s enactment, so they feel a sense of ownership in the movement and confidence in their power to bring about change, Jaisingh said.

The first person to file a complaint under the Montgomery County law was domestic worker Janet Gonzalez of Washington, D.C. Her attorney filed the complaint in August against her former employers alleging that they did not provide her with a contract. Gonzalez’s complaint was in conjunction with a federal lawsuit that accuses her employers, Belinda and James Caron of Dickerson, Md., of not paying her wages for more than four months and includes a trafficking claim for indentured servitude.

The complaint with the county is on hold while Gonzalez’s trial proceeds through federal court, set to start this spring, said attorney Nathaniel Norton of the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau.

Norton said he thinks the law is a great tool although it was a “bit peripheral in Janet’s case.” Gonzalez called a trafficking hotline after she saw a program on TV and was then linked to Casa de Maryland.  Her decision to come forward led three other domestic workers who had previously been employed by the same family to speak out. They are now a part of Gonzalez’s lawsuit.

Norton said the Montgomery County law “certainly didn’t hurt our case. I can see it going forward that it will help our case given that employers are required to do certain things under the code and they haven’t done them, so that helps our argument.”

Although it is not known precisely how many domestic workers there are in Montgomery County, a county-commissioned 2006 survey of 286 domestic workers showed that they were uniformly deprived of health benefits, retirement provisions, and standard breaks and holidays.

Montgomery County Office of Consumer Protection Investigator Lorena Bailey, whose office puts out a model contract for domestic workers and handles complaints, said most of the complaints she hears from domestic workers are beyond the scope of the law. Bailey said the law’s impact has been in raising awareness; “from an enforcement perspective, the numbers aren’t there.”

“The fact that we’ve just had one complaint is a testament to the vulnerability of the workers. Everyone is worried about job security. It’s difficult for an employee to file a complaint about not having a contract when they’re worried about not having a job,” she said.

For Alvarado, her hope has risen to a dream. She wants the Montgomery County Council to create a shelter for domestic workers. The shelter would provide them a temporary place to live if they need to leave their work quickly and a place to stay while they look for new jobs.

But until she can persuade the council members for a shelter, Alvarado will continue her message of outreach.

“We are here. We are organizing. We have something,” she said.

Elizabeth Owens, owens.elizabeth@gmail.com

Haunts: Children are disappearing, into the night, into the fog

Children are disappearing. Sometimes spectacularly. Sometimes silently. Sometimes `without notice’. That children are disappearing is not new. Children asylum seekers and children of asylum seekers have been disappearing into detention centers in Australia, the United Kingdom, the United States, Greece, and elsewhere. In Australia, imprisoned children of asylum seekers are disappearing into the tortured self mutilation that must serve as a kind of escape from their current everyday circumstances.  Children of incarcerated mothers are disappearing in South Africa, Scotland, the United States and elsewhere. Children in schools are disappearing into seclusion rooms, aka solitary confinement.  In the United States, children of undocumented residents are disappearing, shipped like so much baggage, back to Mexico and parts unknown, often on their own.  In Jamaica, girl prisoners disappear into prison fires that were altogether predictable and preventable.  None of this is new. We have discussed this and more before. The events are not new nor is the failure to take responsibility.

Children are disappearing. Sometimes spectacularly, sometimes silently, other times `without notice’.

In England, an inquest opens today. It’s the second time around for this inquest. It concerns the death in custody, in August 1994, of Adam Rickwood. Adam was 14 when he was found hanging in his cell at Hassockfield Secure Training Centre, a private prison run by Serco, the same people who run Yarl’s Wood in the UK and all the immigrant detention centers in Australia, most notoriously Villawood.

When Adam Rickwood, who had never been in custody before, refused to go to his cell, he was `forcibly restrained’ with `a nose distraction’, a violent and invasive chop to the nose. Hours later, he was found dead, hanging, in his cell. At the first inquest, in 2007, the coroner refused to let the jury decide if the restraint constituted an assault.  It took thirteen years of struggle on the part of Adam’s mother, Carol Pounder, before the first hearing took place. Dissatisfied with the complete opacity of the system, she continued to push, and finally, finally a second inquest has been ordered. That starts today. Adam Rickwood would be thirty years old now.

Meanwhile, across England, there are 6000 children whose mothers are incarcerated, and, basically, no one officially knows their whereabouts. According to the Prison Advice and Care Trust, or PACT, they are “the forgotten children.”  According to PACT, the mothers of 17,000 children are in prison, and of those, 6000 are not in care nor are they staying with their fathers. They are `forgotten.’ Children are disappearing, some into the night, others into the fog.

At the same time, in Ireland, eleven unaccompanied children asylum seekers went missing last year.  Six have yet to be found.  Between 2000 and 2010, 512 unaccompanied children seeking asylum were `forgotten’. Of those, only 72 were ever found by the State. Forgetting children is not an exception, it’s the rule, when the children are children of color, children of asylum seekers, children of the poor, children in prison.  Children of strangers, children of neighbors are disappearing, into the night, into the fog.

In the United States, Phylicia Simone Barnes is a 16 year old honor student from Monroe, North Carolina. In December, she was visiting Baltimore, thinking of attending Towson University, a local university. Phylicia went missing on December 28. There has been little, very little, media attention, despite the efforts of family, the Baltimore Police Department, and the FBI to draw attention to this case.  Why? Baltimore Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi thinks he knows the reason: “”I can’t see how this case is any different from Natalee Holloway. Is it because she’s African-American? Why?” When teenager Natalee Holloway disappeared, on holiday in Aruba, there was a `media frenzy.’ For Phylicia Simone Barnes, who is Black, there is fog. She is a forgotten child.

Christina Green was born on September 11, 2001, to Roxanna and John Green, in West Grove, Pennsylvania. She was one of the 50 Faces of Hope, faces of children born on that fateful day.  Like Phylicia Simone Barnes, Christina was a star student, an engaging child, bright, mature, `amazing’. She was killed on Saturday, in a volley of gunfire apparently directed primarily against Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

What becomes of hope when a Face of Hope is lost? Children are disappearing, sometimes spectacularly, amidst blazing gunfire, sometimes through a policy of practiced omission and amnesia.  In the moment, the route of spectacle or silent lack of notice seems to matter. But in the end, they are all forgotten children, and they haunt the days and ways of our world.

Dan Moshenberg, dmoshenberg@gmail.com

Brunt: Women pay for rising food prices

Youth in Algeria are `rioting’ to protest, and change the conditions of, high unemployment and high and quickly rising food prices. In Egypt, where food inflation is running at a staggering 17 percent, the women are talking once again of the food lines, and the food riots and uprisings, of 2008.

In Bolivia, shopkeepers, such as Pilar Calisaya, are battling with police because of quickly rising bread prices. As she explains, “I am not at fault”.

In China, as Xu Shengru shops for food to feed her family, she notes that cabbage, a staple, has doubled in price since last year. That’s actually the good news. Recently, rice prices rose 30 percent in just 10 days.  Pepper prices rocketed an astonishing 1,000 percent.  In Indonesia, where pepper prices are also scaling new heights at new speeds, the government is imploring citizens to plant chilies in their backyards.

In India, food inflation has `zoomed’ to 18.32 percent this week alone, spurred by onion, vegetable and milk price rises. Last year alone, the price of onions rose 40 percent.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, world food prices in 2010 hit a new high, especially cereals and sugar. Wheat prices soared, corn as well. The price of meat and of milk also rose precipitously. These are the highest prices in thirty years. Put differently, well over half the world’s population has never lived with such high prices. It’s no surprise the youth of Algeria are protesting.

The brunt is back, and yet again the analysts inform us that it’s the world’s poorest who will bear the brunt.  And yet again there will be stories of individual women, such as Pilar Calisaya, or the unnamed woman in Egypt, or the unnamed woman in Algeria facing down a row of police, or Xu Shengru, and their struggles with food political economies, but there will be no analysis or reporting on the place of women in the `danger territory’ of food provision and consumption.

As the discussions of food prices, food riots, food protests, food markets, and food counter-markets spiral, keep an eye out for structural analyses of women’s positions.

One woman who knows something about women, food, crisis, is Jenga Mwendo.   Mwendo is the founder of the Backyard Gardens Network in New Orleans. After Katrina, she began rebuilding her own home, in the devastated Lower Ninth Ward, and began building a new food political economy in the middle of food desert and in the midst of a food desertification.  She organized the rebuilding of two community gardens, the planting of fruit trees, and more. Mwendo understands that the only buffer against the predations of market control of food is community production. For some, this would be community gardens, for others, coops. In all of these, and other alternative community food experiments and projects, women historically have been the principal agents and constituency. Women still are.

Jenga Mwendo is precisely not exceptional. Women do not only bear the brunt of the devastating food market economies. Women are neither the victims nor the survivors of food catastrophes and crises. Instead, women are the change agents, from food uprisings to community gardens, and beyond.

Meanwhile, “fresh rioting broke out in Algiers today.”

Dan Moshenberg, dmoshenberg@gmail.com