March 8, 2013
Happy International Women's Day!
In 2009, I wrote a statement for Women's International League for Peace & Freedom to commemorate International Women's Day. Their website no longer links to past statements, so I'm placing it here to share. Sadly, none of the goals have been achieved.
Women's International League for Peace & Freedom
International Women's Day Statement
8 March 2009
March 8, International Women's Day, is a day to acknowledge the need for women's equal participation in economic and political decision-making, to celebrate the extraordinary accomplishments of women, and to denounce gender discrimination and gender violence.
The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) approaches this day with an analysis of the root causes of war and injustice: the pursuit of profit, rather than the fulfillment of human need. According to Naomi Klein, the problems perpetuated by disaster capitalism include the limitation of political participation to those with "specialized" knowledge, the perpetuation of fear through the buildup of military arsenals, the threat of violence and use of force, and finally the corporate framing of news.
WILPF rejects the notion that gender equality has been achieved. While men remain systematically overrepresented in all levels of decision making, women remain economically disadvantaged; women's work is under-valued and under-paid. From child rearing to the suites of executive offices, women continue to be paid less than their male counterparts.
Women around the world are afflicted by violence; as the UN acknowledged in the Global Report on Trafficking in Persons, human trafficking is primarily a euphemism for the sexual slavery of women and girls. The crimes of rape and sexual violence continue and increase unabated during wars.
Women suffer the loss of their children. their homes and their communities during wars as well as being the targets of sexual and physical violence, and it most often falls to women to repair their homes and communities. Yet women are rarely asked to participate in the process of conflict resolution, although their equal participation is mandated by UN Security Council Resolution 1325.
WILPF started in opposition of a patriarchal world order that used violence and military to govern. Therefore WILPF began as and continues to be the voice of the voiceless: to demand participation in political decisions on all levels of society--from local elections in San Jose, Costa Rica to national elections in Sydney, Australia to Conference on Disarmament deliberations at the United Nations.
On this International Women's Day and every day of the year, the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom continues to lobby in the halls of the United Nations, picket state capitols, and rally grassroots support for political equality, the cessation of war, and the development of a socio-economic system that supports human needs.
June 2, 2012
Introducing WILPF to LA on Nuclear Abolition Day
The Greater LA Chapter of the US National Committee for UN Women hosted a Women's Peace Walk today. They were inspired by Julia Ward Howe's call for women to gather on June 2 as a Mother's Peace Day. I was honored to help the chapter organize the event and was further honored when I was asked to moderate the speakers. Thankfully, I was also able to step out of that role to introduce people to WILPF. Below is the text of my speech.
Women's International League for Peace & Freedom, WILPF, is probably the most influential peace organization you have never hard of. For almost a century, WILPF has articulated the need to address the root causes of war. We insist on ending armed conflict as a means of dispute resolution. And since World War I, we have been challenging governments to recognize the necessity of women's participation in these conversations.
In 2000, we pushed the UN Security Council to pass Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace & Security. Then, we created our Peace Women Project to monitor its implementation. Through Peace Women, we've led a translation project, ensuring 1325 is available in over 100 languages. This allows women peacemakers around the world to use it as a blueprint for creating real space for women's participation in politics in their own countries. We could use help translating it into more languages, so check out peacewomen.org for more info.
Implementing the women, peace and security agenda is the responsibility of national governments. Civil Society (that's you and me working together through nonprofit organizations) holds government accountable by monitoring this implementation. Together we can develop National Action Plans, one tool for realizing women's participation in conflict prevention and peace-building.
Last fall, the U.S. Section of WILPF hosted consultations with the State Department in five cities across the country, to facilitate citizen input into the first ever U.S. National Action Plan. We issued a report with 64 concrete recommendations on Human Rights Day, December 10, 2011. Later that month, the State Department released the National Action Plan.
Next week, WILPF U.S. will be briefing Congress on those consultations at a round table hosted by Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson and Congressman Russ Carnahan.
Here's the thing: the U.S. must fundamentally change its foreign and military policy to truly implement the women, peace and security agenda. Military intervention does not make people more secure. Access to food, health care, education, shelter, and jobs make people secure. That's what I mean when I say I'm a human security advocate. It means I respect the fundamental needs that must be met in order to make an individual secure. It means I reject the notion that a monolingual military propping up warlords can ever make Afghan women secure. It means I worry about Iraqi women whose access to basic necessities, like clean water, sewers and electricity was destroyed by the U.S. military and never fully restored.
We in WILPF recognize that creating the women, peace and security framework isn't enough. That's why we monitor all international disarmament negotiations through our Reaching Critical Will project. We provide daily newsletters during those conferences -- updates relied upon by diplomats and civil society alike to keep those processes transparent.
As today is Nuclear Abolition Day, I should tell you that WILPF and its Reaching Critical Will Project strongly supports abolishing the use of both nuclear weapons and nuclear power. We also work towards the reduction of military spending and the demilitarization of politics and economics.
Our current International Secretary General, Madeleine Rees, is leading WILPF in challenging the UN to see disarmament through a human rights framework. The security wonks have never acknowledged the way military spending violates human rights. First, we know the money be better spent on health care, education, housing, and infrastructure development. In other words on implementing the Millennium Development Goals and ensuring human security.
Additionally, selling weapons to countries where they will likely be used to violate international law should be illegal, based on the doctrine of the responsibility to protect.
Right now, Reaching Critical Will is monitoring the Conference on Disarmament. Next month, we will be monitoring the UN Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty. Check reachingcriticalwill.org for more information.
I'll be honest with you now. The Los Angeles Branch has been a bit dormant recently. So I invite you to join me in renewing the LA branch of WILPF by becoming a member or at least connecting with me so I can keep you informed about our future work. Thank you.
May 15, 2012
More Than One Woman Promoted Mother's Day in the US
Earlier in my life, I took at face-value "the progressive history of Mother's Day." Perhaps you've heard it? Someone told you about Julia Ward Howe's Mother's Day Proclamation and told you that ending war is the real reason for the day? Sorry to break it to you, but that's not true.
The reality is that Ann Marie Reeves Jarvis did something amazing in West Virginia. She organized Mother's Work Days, starting in the 1850s to improve health and sanitation. When the Civil War broke out, she asked her members to sign statements of neutrality and provided healthcare for combatants of both sides. After the war, she organized Mother's Friendship Days to encourage the reconciliation vitally needed at the end of any armed conflict. When she died, her daughter, Anna Jarvis, dedicated her life to creating a holiday to honor her mother and all mothers.
According to the Legacy Project, "In 1908, Anna persuaded her mother's church in Grafton, WV to celebrate Mother's Day on the anniversary of her mother's death, the second Sunday of May. It was to be a day to honor all mothers, and also a day to remember the work of peacemaking, reconciliation, and social action against poverty started by her mother." To expand the celebration state-wide, Jarvis needed the help of corporate sponsors. This started the commercialization of the day. The flower and card industry strongly supported the state holiday and federal legislation. Towards the end of her life, Anna Jarvis was bitter about the crass commercialization of her memorial to her mother's memory.
Julia Ward Howe wrote her proclamation in 1870 and promoted June 2 as a Mother's Day for Peace starting in 1872. The celebrations fizzled out after she stopped personally funding them.
I truly appreciate Howe's writing. I love that her perspective evolved over time - she wrote "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" in support of the Civil War because she was an ardent abolitionist. But after seeing the carnage of that war and the Franco-Prussian War, she became a pacifist. I agree with her that people need to come together to figure out how to solve conflicts without resorting to violence. But I am frustrated by the inaccurate history perpetrated by most progressive organizations, from Democracy Now to CODEPINK to WILPF US. To be clear: I have a mountain of respect for all three of those organizations, but I also want to honor history accurately.
Interested in honoring Howe's June 2 Day of Peace?
Say firmly: "We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies, Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience. We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs."And if you're in LA, join me at the Women's Peace Walk, sponsored by WILPF LA and the Greater LA Chapter of the US Committee for UN Women.
March 16, 2012
Dependence on Chinese Production Deserves Factual Storytelling
Today, This American Life announced that it is retracting Mike Daisey's monologue on Apple in China. This weekend a new episode dedicated entirely to factual coverage of Apple's suppliers in China and revealing Daisey's lies will air.
Daisey's response? His only regret is allowing This American Life to air excerpts of his monologue as factual journalism. Never mind the fact that he knew before the piece aired that the program was fact-checking his work. Never mind that he knew that the most poignant vignettes of his monologue were entirely fictional.
There are two things that need to be said about this debacle. First, not every story on This American Life is factual. Am I the only one sick of David Sedaris talking as a mouse? But they're pretty good about differentiating between story telling and telling the story of life. Daisey, on the other hand, claimed that his entire monologue was based on meeting actual people.
The second thing I must admit is that fiction can deepen people's understanding of current events and history to a much greater degree than fact. The classic example is Grapes of Wrath. A more recent, and more flawed, example is Acts of Faith. There is deep power is story telling. Characters drawn by an expert hand can deepen our understanding of The Other and help us grapple with the shades of grey created by the human condition.
Nevertheless, Westerners, especially white males, need to get over themselves in their great attempt to decipher humanity. I'm not just angry that Daisey lied to This American Life producers and thinks his theatrical focus should justify his lies. Here is an excerpt from the press release:
Daisey's interpreter Cathy also disputes two of the most dramatic moments in Daisey's story: that he met underage workers at Foxconn, and that a man with a mangled hand was injured at Foxconn making iPads (and that Daisey's iPad was the first one he ever saw in operation). Daisey says in his monologue:Let me be clear: putting words in the mouths of workers injured in the production of your prized technology, making them claim to appreciate the majesty of your toy, is not and will never be acceptable appropriation of another human being.
He's never actually seen one on, this thing that took his hand. I turn it on, unlock the screen, and pass it to him. He takes it. The icons flare into view, and he strokes the screen with his ruined hand, and the icons slide back and forth. And he says something to Cathy, and Cathy says, "he says it's a kind of magic.Cathy Lee tells Schmitz that nothing of the sort occurred.
Exploiting people, especially people whose language and culture you don't even pretend to try to understand, is worse than paying them to work for your company. Daisey does admit one thing in his monologue - that he knew nothing about China before starting on his journey to find out where his Apple products come from. From where I sit, putting words in the mouths of victims is more heinous than not letting them speak for themselves. Why do white people do this over and over again? It really isn't that hard to honestly translate people's reactions to the world around them. And if you don't think that's dramatic enough to hold an urban audience's attention for 90 minutes, then maybe you haven't done enough research.
I am glad the NY Times reported factually on the manufacturing of Apple products and I'm glad global consumers are challenging Apple to maintain higher standards in the production of their products.
Let's just be clear on a few things: if you can't speak a Chinese language, if you haven't studied modern China, and if your one experience of China involved paying an interpreter to help you see one urban area then you are in no position to speak for Chinese people. Whether presented as fact or fiction, the idea that a white man with zero understanding of China can speak for a man mangled in the production of iPads is ludicrous.
The best fictional indictments of economic problems are based on factual reporting. Steinbeck wrote newspaper accounts from migrant farm camps in California before starting his book. The accuracy of his depictions is why his book was burned when it was originally published - the 1% never want to admit they're exploiting the 99%. But for goodness sake, don't think neocolonial crusades are going to change global manufacturing.
I'm excited about the technological improvements in the new iPad. And I'm hopeful that the public will be holding Apple more accountable for its production process. I also worry about the environmental, health, and cultural damage done to China by its rapid modernization. I worry about the Chinese government's denial of individual human rights in pursuit of collective progress. Though my husband is Chinese and I've read The Joy Luck Club, I wouldn't attempt to write Chinese characters without extensive additional research. It's time US storytellers learn the limit of their gifts. The human experience may be universal, but each person's story deserves to do more than justify your material consumption.
October 13, 2011
Mic Check: There Is No Voting in Consensus
One of the things that fascinates me most about Occupy Together is the use of consensus decision making. As a national and international board member of Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), I experienced this decision-making process for eight years. And I'm sad to see that the essence of consensus does not seem to have been brought to General Assemblies.
Consensus is about discussing an issue completely, from all sides, and allowing all people involved in the consensus process a chance to speak. It's about building group beliefs from the ground up - through shared knowledge and empowering the members of your community, you can build towards and reach consensus. There are ways to use a mixed model of decision-making. For example, WILPF makes almost all decisions by consensus, but chooses to vote to elect people to leadership positions. Choosing a human representative is to me the only reason to modify the consensus process. Perpetual blocks show that the group moved too fast from community building to reaching consensus. Of course, in the General Assembly model it could also mean that people new to the public square haven't been fully integrated into the community before being given a voice in the General Assembly.
I'm writing this because tonight I attended my first Occupy LA General Assembly. I'm not sure how many more I'll be able to attend in the near future, as I'm getting married next weekend, so I'm a bit wary of giving public suggestions to the group. But I can say clearly and definitively - if you're facilitating a meeting and call for a vote and then use the symbols of consensus, you have not created consensus. You have created a modified voting system that adds up sparkles to majority rule.
What does consensus look like? It starts by having a clear, realistic agenda. It starts by putting only one or two items on the table for a discussion by a decision-making body during a 1-3 hour period. The process of taking a stack means empowering facilitators to decide when under-represented voices are moved to the top of the stack, rather than allowing five white guys to suck up all the time available for a particular point of discussion. And it means leaving the discussion open until everyone has been able to speak, rather than rushing through "temperature checks" and "voting."
Real democracy doesn't just take place in General Assemblies. Using committees to hash out particular issues can be truly empowering, particularly for people of all genders and ethnicities who feel uncomfortable stepping up to speak in front of a large group. Accepting that participatory, consensus-based democracy is extremely slow and more gratifying the pseudo-consensus could be the first step to a real paradigm shift. And if you're worried that going through this process wont produce "demands" to declare to the media, stop answering the questions posed by the media and instead focus on the message you can fully speak. Tell them why you yourself got involved in the Occupy Together movement. That's something you can speak about without participating in a single General Assembly.
October 12, 2011
LA City Council in Solidarity with OccupyLA and OccupyTogether...
Today, the second largest city in the country went on record in support of the OccupyTogether movement. The city council didn't just vote in support of OccupyLA, they also called into question corporate personhood and the banking industry. They connected to people's movement with their own inability to act on city-wide banking regulation. This caused the banksters to rise in opposition to the resolution. Ironically, no one mentioned corporate personhood - neither the people opposing the resolution nor those who spoke in support. Item 33 was their 3-page resolution in support of OccupyLA and Occupy Together. (pdf) They made minor modifications on the banking "whereas" clauses and passed the resolution with 11 ayes. Below is the text of my two minute speech.
My name is C.J. Minster. I am a native Angeleno and a peace activist with CODEPINK: Women for Peace. While I applaud the City Council of Los Angeles for writing a resolution in solidarity with Occupy LA and the Occupy Together movement, I am here to remind you that responsible banking is only one part of the way to fund change. In July of this year, the City went on record calling on Congress to Redirect Military Spending to Domestic Priorities (pdf) by withdrawing all troops and contractors from Iraq and Afghanistan and cutting the Pentagon budget. You must act on the resolutions you've already passed and direct the DC legislative office of the City of Los Angeles to connect the needs of our city to the wasteful spending on war and the Pentagon.
As well crafted as your resolution in support of the Occupy LA movement is, we the 99% will not be silenced by pretty words. We care as much about your actions as your votes. And we are deeply troubled by recent reporting that the staff of Mayor Villaraigosa and Councilmember Perry helped secure a $1 million community redevelopment block grant to lure architecture firm Gensler from Santa Monica to downtown LA. Our regional economy doesn't benefit from shell games across city lines, nor do we need tax payer money wasted lining the pockets of rich corporations. To pay for the needs of the 99%, the U.S. must tax the rich and corporations, not give them handouts. And the U.S. must immediately withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan and implement the more than $1 trillion in Pentagon budget cuts outlined by the Sustainable Defense Task Force.
Thank you for using your voice, as the representatives of the second largest city in the country to amplify the voices of the 99%. I urge you to pass this solidarity resolution and work to ensure it is used in tandem with your anti-war resolution to end wars, stop economic injustice, and fund jobs. Together, we can prioritize human needs over unfettered, militarized capitalism.
October 7, 2011
Meeting the Leader of the Tunisian Resistance @ Occupy DC
I went to DC three weeks before my wedding because there are two things that matter to me right now: marrying the love of my life and ending the Afghanistan War. In her memoir, A Woman Among Warlords, Parliamentarian Malalai Joya reminds us that on July 6, 2008 the U.S. military bombed a wedding party in Nangarhar Province killing forty-seven civilians including the bride. As my wedding approaches, it is more important for me to ensure that no more Afghan brides are murdered by the U.S. military than it is for me to write a dj set list.
Last weekend, I attended an organizing meeting of the New Priorities Network, which is working to build deep connections locally and nationally between labor, economic justice, racial justice, religious, and peace organizations. We know our work will last longer than any election cycle or war, and we are committed to breaking down the barriers between our movements for justice and peace. Right now, we're focused on four core priorities: end the wars / cut the military budget, tax the rich & corporations, create jobs, and save social services (education, housing, the Women, Infant, Child (WIC) program that provides vital maternal health and food subsidies to low-income families, social security, Medicare, Medicaid, the Environmental Protection Agency and a host of other domestic programs that are the social safety net here in the U.S.). These four priorities are not our only concerns, and we know they can only be sustained by building a new economy based on renewable energy.
Earlier this week, I observed the Rebuild the Dream Conference. In the past, CODEPINK has disrupted this annual event hosted by the Campaign for America's Future because of their refusal to acknowledge that ending the wars is a vital part of building a secure America. This year, the conference included ending the wars as part of their platform for change and provided space for Nelini Stamp, an organizer with the Working Families Party, who has participated in Occupy Wall Street since Sept 17, to address the plenary about the Occupy Together movement. Our Make Out Not War stickers were the most sought after and people were really receptive to receiving information about Occupy DC at Freedom Plaza, which began yesterday.
My week in DC culminated on the first day of Occupy DC. Preparing for the day, I met Ann Wright, one of the courageous foreign service officers who resigned when the U.S. declared war on Iraq. Ann's story is particularly inspiring to me, as I left college with the goal of becoming a career diplomat. I am so grateful I never got off the list of eligible hires, since my true calling is to be a citizen diplomat.
First I helped give away over one thousand CODEPINK stickers, including the highly sought after Make Out Not War stickers. Then, a thousand of us created a human 99% which was photographed from the top of a nearby hotel with the Washington Monument in the background. (I'm in the lower left corner of the nine near the percent sign.) We marched in the streets of DC, stopping at the Chamber of Commerce to hand in resumes from the jobless and under-employed among us, since they claim to be job creators.
Our day was capped off with a concert and a Skype call with our brothers and sisters in the Afghan Youth Peace Movement in Afghanistan. While I listened from the side of Freedom Plaza, a gentleman approached and asked if I spoke Arabic. Unfortunately, I do not. Thankfully he is multi-lingual and we were able to chat in English.
Jamel Bettaieb is one of the leaders of the Tunisian uprising and is the head of the largest trade union in Tunisian. He is in DC to share the story of his people with our leaders - from the White House to Freedom Plaza. Jamel reminded me that we Arabs and Jews are cousins. For centuries, we have lived peacefully side-by-side in the Middle East with our Christian cousins. It is the political class that creates conflict, not our ethnic or our religious differences. Regardless of country, there is something about the power of ruling that corrupts people. Some pundits say the American Autumn is nothing like the Arab Spring, since we have no dictator to overthrow. But when Jamel spoke about the high rate of unemployment among college-educated Tunisians, and the continuing lack of economic growth in his country, I knew I had made a friend fighting the same global system of injustice. Whether the 1% calls themselves democratic representatives, corporate overlords, or dictators the effect is the same on the 99%. Jamel is staying in DC for a two-month fellowship and he let me know that he's got a real hankering for a good Kosher meal. Did you know that the Muslim and Jewish dietary laws are basically identical? Unfortunately, I'm on my way home to celebrate Yom Kippur with my fiancé, but I'm sure my sister CODEPINKers will find him a Kosher meal real soon.
September 27, 2011
The Ignorance of Imperialism
When I was in junior high, I read the Foundation Series by Isaac Asimov. It laid out a vision of the rise and fall of empires that had a profound impact on my understanding of macro-history. Reading Andre Gunder-Frank’s ReOrient: Global Economy in the Asian Age in college provided me factual underpinnings for my understanding of the hubris of military might and Eurocentrism.
You could say I implicitly understand the limits of imperialism. The unifying principle in any empire is the belief that your way of life is superior and must be spread. Empires are built many ways – by conquering people’s beliefs by imposing religious beliefs through superior weaponry; by conquering people’s lands by introducing diseases that kill the majority of the population; and by the economic tyranny of “free-trade” capitalism. The macro-historical view I began to see in college was crystallized by reading Chalmers Johnson and Naomi Klein.
I fundamentally believe in pluralism and self-determination. Simultaneously, I believe in universal human rights.
It is on this backdrop that I entered anti-war activism. My focus remained corporate personhood and the root causes of war long after the U.S. put boots on the ground in Iraq and Afghanistan. I reasoned that other people were in the streets fighting against these wars and it was important for me to take the long view of history. Eleven years into that strategy, I realized that unless you relate your fundamental beliefs to current events, you'll be hard-pressed for attention among progressives, let alone The Media. And that's about the point when I joined the CODEPINK national team.
The ignorance of imperialism is writ large in Iraq and Afghanistan. The American Empire Project published Peter Van Buren’s book today, We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People. He was interviewed today by Dave Davies of Fresh Air.
Over the weekend, I facilitated a teleconference with Dr. Rashad Zaydan, founder of the Knowledge for Iraqi Women Society. I was frankly surprised to hear how strongly she denounced the veracity of the article "Fight for Women's Rights Begins All Over Again," by Rebecca Murray on the Inter Press Service site. Dr. Zaydan challenged us to see Iraqi women's rights in the context of human rights. She reminded us of the many economic and social rights enjoyed by Iraqis prior to the U.S. invasion — the Iraqi government ensured all citizens had basic food stuffs, free education for both genders, free medical care, and housing. After the occupation, none of those things have been guaranteed, and the killing of many Iraqi men has created an expanding population of widows without means to provide for their families. Additionally, the war and occupation have destroyed Iraq's electrical grid, leaving most people without access to continuous electricity. She reminded us that there must be justice and peace. It is not acceptable that occupying soldiers rape and murder with seeming impunity, further exacerbating the failed state created by the initial invasion. Dr. Zaydan recommends completely withdrawing all troops and war-profiteering-contractors by the end of the year and allowing Iraqis time and space to re-develop their country.
You can listen to our complete conversation with Dr. Zaydan by calling (661) 673-8609, entering access code 780252# and then entering reference number 1 when prompted.
Unfortunately, the situation in Afghanistan is no better than in Iraq. International human rights lawyer Tzili Mor spoke with CODEPINK LA on International Peace Day. She served eight months as the Gender Justice Adviser based in Kabul for the International Development Law Organization (IDLO) primarily on the establishment of special violence against women prosecution units and related issues around access to justice for women. According to Ms. Mor, there are laws in Afghanistan that protect women's rights, but the process of implementation is slow and many layers of work must be done. While women have returned to the Afghan legal field as prosecutors and judges, people of all genders can allow their personal biases to affect their job performance. For example, a female prosecutor might suggest to a man that his wife be imprisoned for misbehaving when the wife reports that she was the victim of domestic violence. Additionally, cultural norms can have the force of law - on some roads, police pull women off buses, claiming they have broken a law by traveling without their husband or father. No such law currently exists in Afghanistan, but in some areas women serve 5 year prison sentences for this "offense," though sentences vary widely. Despite these disturbing anecdotes, there are many areas of Afghanistan where women are respected, equal members of society. It is vitally important to continue supporting women's participation in Afghan society, politically, legally, and culturally. As Laura King pointed out in the LA Times, Afghans know the presence of Westerners makes targets of everyone nearby.
In the coming weeks, we will continue to demand an immediate end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as part of Occupy Wall Street, the encampment at Freedom Plaza, and throughout the country. Additionally, on October 7, a member of the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan will be speaking at Pasadena Community College, and the event will be video streamed on the Afghan Women's Mission website. And if you're near San Diego, attend an in-person Conversation with Dr. Rashad Zaydan at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice Theatre on October 13.
I hope you will join us in challenging empire. Between the U.S. diplomats based in the Middle East who can’t speak Arabic and the soldiers tasked with killing people one hour and helping rebuild the schools destroyed by the U.S. military the next, it’s a wonder that the U.S. empire hasn’t already collapsed under the weight of its hubris. I remain hopeful because progressives are gathering in the streets to demand fundamental change, to demand Make Jobs, Not War.
cross-posted with the CODEPINK blog.
August 7, 2011
See The Whistleblower
The Whistleblower is a political thriller starring Rachel Weiscz. It is now playing in LA and NYC, with more cities being rolled out in the coming weeks.
Larysa Kondracki, the director and co-writer of the film spent two years researching the reality of peace-keeping operations in Bosnia before writing the script. Weiscz plays Kathyryn Balkovac, a Nebraskan cop who goes to Bosnia as a Dyncorp employee, part of the international police task force. Like many people, she chose to work overseas because of the high pay without taxes.
C.J. met director Larysa Kondracki at a special screening of The Whistleblower on Wednesday, August 3.
The first time I saw the film, I was overwhelmed with horror. It was more difficult to watch than any film on a battlefield, because the war in this movie takes place on the bodies of enslaved women. Years ago, I heard that there were more slaves in the world today than at any point in human history. I thought that was hyperbole until the cold truth was dramatized for me.
Even more shocking is that the drama is true.
Everything that is portrayed in the film actually happened. It did not necessarily happen to those characters, but it happened. The sadness and the tragedy is that not enough was done. --Madeleine Rees, former Head of Office in Bosnia and Herzegovina, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Ms. Rees is portrayed by Vanessa Redgrave in the film. Though it may be unclear from simply watching the drama, she was instrumental in shining light on the situation in Bosnia. So much so that she was pushed out of the UN and filed a discrimination lawsuit. While Rees was able to find employment after leaving the UN (she is currently the Secretary General of Women's International League for Peace and Freedom), Balkovac is struggling to find meaningful employment, though she did publish a memoir of her experience.
Rees explains how human rights has framed her work and what she's doing now to challenge the idea that immunity equals impunity:
July 1, 2011
Social Media for Nonprofits
In June, I led a plenary discussion on communication at the national congress of Women's International League for Peace & Freedom. The idea was to introduce individual activists to social media and encourage them to participate.
Anyway, I wanted to share my background research, so here it is:
June 5, 2011
WILPF Secretary General Madeleine Rees speaks to WILPF US
WILPF's highest office is Secretary General. We are honored that for the last year, our Secretary General has been Madeleine Rees, who previously worked at the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and who is portrayed by Vanessa Redgrave in a new movie, The Whistleblower, about the obscene human trafficking in Bosnia that accompanied international peacekeepers. Below is a rough transcription of her speech. (I apologize for being too tired to get down every word.)
As most of you know, I worked in Bosnia for many years and before that I worked in Latin America, wherever there was a war zone I was there to deal with what was happening with women. When I was in Bosnia, it was when all these things were coming together in what was happening.
May 11, 2011
Bridging the Divide: Attend a WILPF Congress as a CODEPINKer
People who know my political beliefs know that I've been expressing my views as a member of Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) since 1999. That's a long time to be involved in one volunteer activity.
People who know my recent history know that I left a successful advertising career to become the CODEPINK Bring Our War $$ Home organizer in March.
This summer, I have the opportunity to bridge the chasm between the two organizations. I'll be attending the WILPF National Congress, "End War: Local 2 Global" as a representative of CODEPINK. Hopefully, I wont go into debt to do it.
I'm excited to go to the WILPF national congress to discuss SMART campaign planning. I also look forward to discussing CODEPINK activities to end the overt and covert US-initiated wars (in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, and Libya) and the illegal occupations supported by the US (in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Palestine).
When I made the leap from advertising to peace activism, my salary did not stay the same. Without a lot of support from my personal network and the WILPF community, I will go into debt for this trip.
If you believe in deeper connections within the peace movement,
If you believe women's peace activism will be stronger if closer ties are created between CODEPINK and WILPF,
If you believe my perspective is valuable for the future of WILPF,
Then I ask you to please Donate to my WILPF National Congress Travel Fund.
While I have received contributions generously donated by the WILPF LA Branch and four WILPF members, I'm still short.
Total Funds Still Needed: $557.30
After the WILPF Congress Committee let me know they are eager to have me participate as a CODEPINK representative, I applied for a scholarship from WILPF National. The scholarship committee cannot provide a full scholarship and has not yet awarded me any funding.
You may be wondering why CODEPINK isn't paying for my involvement. In the past, organizations interested in having the participation of our staff have paid transportation and lodging for the staff's participation. Additionally, the WILPF Congress is scheduled two weeks before a major activity for my CODEPINK campaign. I am deeply grateful for the flexibility CODEPINK has shown in allowing me to participate in this WILPF event.
Please support my participation in the WILPF Congress. Any amount you give will be greatly appreciated - from $5 to $500 - every little bit helps.
May 1, 2011
Follow the Money: Looking at the Economic Crisis @ LAT FOB
Would like the panel to address how we got in this crisis and ways we can move forward.
Moderator read a passage from Scheer's book, The Great American Stick Up. If you had the power, as emporer Scheer to make one change what would it be?
Scheer: I didn't think you would ask that broad a question. The short thing I would do, not as an emperor, but as a responsible leader of the country, would be to save people from foreclosures. ...We've made money cost next to nothing for banks and corporations, and we've done nothing to save people and their homes. And the bankrutcy courts need to force banks to do what is in their long term interest, to save people's homes...The longer term efforts I would suggest something the radical John McCain suggested, which is to reverse the Financial Services Modernization Act, reverse Glass Steegil. I think we need a restoration of that barrier because the banks are become larger...I believe in democracy, and that was unfortunately what was distorted by that legislation. I would also reverse the commodities future modernization act. That says there will be no regulation of these new financial instruments. I would reverse that and put these new financial gimmicks under the reins of real regulation.
I'd like to nationalize the biggest banks. I don't think these people do much in terms of jobs creation, but they're swindlers. They're liquidity traps. Yes, I would put the big banks under public control, but I know it's not going to happen in my lifetime.
Moderator: reads from Farmer's book, which begins with a quote from John Adams. The role of the federal reserve is misunderstood...The truth is that without the Fed controlling the interest rate, the economic history of the 21st century might have been more catastrophic than it was....The fact that post WWII business cycle were much less erractic than preWWII business cycles proves it is learning how to do this." Do you think the Fed is doing the right thing?
Farmer: First let me say something of Bob's statement, which I agree with completely. ...Did the Fed do the right thing? My response is absolutely yes. The way to think about the institution, there's a lovely part of the Wizard of Oz where it moves from black and white to color. Quantitative easing, involved a huge expansion of the Fed's balance sheet but didn't create a huge increase in the money supply. The move to color that I refer to, in the past the Fed had one tool which was to raise or lower the interest rate and now it can change the composition of its balance sheet. The Bank of England is under huge pressure to raise its interest rates, and there's hawks that have put the Fed under pressure to raise the rates.
Moderator: could they be too late?
Farmer: No, the answer is we have unemployment almost 9%. For me, its the misery of unemployed people that is far more important. The one instrument argument that has occurred in the past sees commodity prices as the same thing as house prices and asset prices, which isn't the same thing at all. The composition of the balance sheet, which is not just federal securities, but also mortgage backed securities, ...What I've been arguing is that they should also be directly controlling the stock market.
Moderator reads from Paul's book. "It's not the endless cycle of elections that sees little time for governance....The worst thing about California's fix is that under the current state of California there is no fix."
Paul: Well, that was a transition from the federal reserve to California governance....In California we've created a very bad problem. We've gone through cycles of boom and bust, prosperity and poverty. We have never had a founding moment that crafts a government that fits who we are as a people. We obviously have an economic challenge in this state, but so does the whole country. We were hit very hard by the housing bubble, harder than most of the country. If you leave out the moribound housing sector...without the housing part of the economy, we're going to be hurting. If you look at the rest of the economy, since 2009 we've actually been doing better than the rest of the country...This government that we've been improvising doesn't allow us to do what we need to do. To allow the poeple who we elect to make the decisions that move us forward. We have 3 government systems in fight with each other - Majority rule elects the state legislature. 2/3 votes required to pass most things in the legislature allow minority view. And then we pile on the system of initiatives and direct democracy. We have been limiting the ability of the people we elect to govern to do anything. The legislature has been reduced to janitors that sweep up after the messes we the voters have made. ...If we don't fix our governing problems, we're going to kill the things that matter for the future: education, infrastructure, which we can't do without a real founding moment that creates a government that is real, accountable, and can actually act.
moderator: I'd like to pose a question to all panelists. This is the greatest national debate. The country and the state face massive budget gaps. In order to reduce the budget gap, do you raise taxes or cut services, or a combination?
Scheer: While I love the Festival Of Books, which my wife happened to launch...I am appalled that there is only one panel to deal with this enormous crisis. I don't want to fall into the trap of pretending we can.
We have 44 million living under the poverty level. It takes up back very far. We have 50 million people who have lost their homes or are in serious danger of losing their homes...We have an enormous crisis in this country. It is a crisis made by the federal government...We had 23 states in this country that had control of the interest rates that was stripped away by the federal government...The state did not have power to control CountryWide, which was based in California...so basically the power was taken away from the state. Why is Wisconsin struggling over what is really chump change when AIG was bailed out? ...The fact is that the jewel of Orange County where I was sentenced for 10 years is Newport Harbor, which was created by the WPA. ...The big corporations get what they want and the rest of us are scrambling around. Now getting to the debt, which is a serious problem, I don't like it getting mixed up with entitlements. Entitlements can be fixed by raising the premiums on those that can afford it. Social security is not in trouble until 2047...The money is there, it can be obtained. This idea that we're going to tax teachers that are going to school...The thing that is sacrosanct that hasn't been touched is the defense system. And we're fighting people who can buy all their weapons for $150 at Home Depot. We spend more in per capita dollars than we did at the height of the Cold War...
Roger: I'm going to say a lot less than that. THere are two issues that we need to face with the budget. Everybody knows that we need to either increase taxes or cut spending. ...At least the trigger for the current budget crisis is the recession...The second problem is that when we were going through years of plenty, we thought they would last forever and under Bush we cut taxes and that shouldn't have happened....As Neils Bohr said, 'predictions are very difficult, especially about the future.'...Long term, we need to put regulatory systems in place.
Paul: It's incorrect. In California, the income tax accounts for about a 1/3 of our financing. ...The enormous transfer of income and wealth over the last 40 or 50 years....the rates on the high income were higher when Reagan was governor, but still we're getting a lot of income from them. We are having an argument in California over half a penny of the state's output. ..During the dot com boom, we cut taxes pretty steeply in California...in real life, do we really notice? In January, when Jerry Brown was elected, a pollster went out and did a poll and one of the questions was "are you aware that in 2009 the legislature passed temporary taxes?" Only 39% knew the taxes were enacted? Then pollster asked if taxes had hurt them and 44% said yes, the taxes had hurt them. ...not a single person can name how much they pay in state and local taxes in a year. The reason we stay stuck is that we have this system that doesn't allow us to make decisions. 1/3 of one house of the state legislature can keep us from moving forward....Most Californians are unaware that we made big spending cuts.
question: Why we can forecast fraud?
Scheer: We don't live in an Athenian democracy...The reason they were opposed to wars by the way, Washington warned us against false patriotism....we have to stop laboring under this mythology that we live under a representative democracy...we have false demagogues that find all kind of false targets like immigrants who want our jobs or poor people who want houses...we don't live in that kind of society. I find it appalling. I don't blame the public. I don't think they're informed. I traced that - how did the media cover this? It was appalling. It was cheerleading for the banks. We don't even have labor unions of any real strength. We don't have a progressive, populist movement. ...A.J. Liebling said 'Freedom of the press is guaranteed only to those who own one.'...corporations aren't great. They shelter their profits abroad. They don't care about people here.
Farmer: The question is about fraud. Everytime Berlosconi commits a crime, he changes the law so it isn't a crime anymore....what went on with the financial services industry was quite different. The regulations were removed, so what happened wasn't a crime anymore....Financial crises like the one we just observed is a little bit like diseases. ...When it came to 2008 and Lehman Brothers was allowed to crash, at that point it was a little bit like refusing to treat someone with small pox because they refused to buy insurance....we need to bail out good banks, and allow bad banks to fail..and you need to read my book to figure out how to do that.
Paul: I was in the press at the time...What good is it if the value of your house going up? The only value is that you could borrow against it...It was a crazy thing to allow us take out huge amounts of equity...
Question: Who owns the Fed?
Farmer: The Fed was created in 1915 by Congress. The profits of the Fed is returned to the government every year. The reason for an independent central bank - if the Fed is subjected to political pressure...there are pressures leading up to elections that there's a pressure to ease. The banks owns the Fed.
Scheer: I'd like to challenge the assumption that individuals were responsible. ...What happened, is that houses were made part of securities. This is not something Adam Smith knew about or even Ronald Reagan knew about. That is at the heart of the problem and we haven't even begun to discuss it...and then you change Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac into for-profit industries.
Farmer: I think you need to put yourself in the head of the people who were doing this at the time. Most of these people didn't believe they were defrauding the people. In 1987, the stock market crashed and it was the longest stock market crash including the Great Depression....it's that single incident that changed the whole mentality of the people involved in the financial industry...they convinced themselves that they were creating wealth, and the wealth was real. Now they were wrong. They were benefiting from tax payer bailouts in case things went wrong. If you were running that, you would try to persuade yourself that you were the good guy.
Paul: Had an acronym: IBG, UBG - I'll Be Gone, You'll Be Gone. Lots of people on Wall Street understood what crazy risks they were making and had a number they were trying to reach, and they would leave.
Question: what tax rate would you impose on small business owners say earning more than $250,000 a year who employ many, many millions of people?
Scheer: First of all, I am a small business owner of TruthDig.com ...We're basically talking about continuing tax cuts of the Bush administration....what I'm appalled with is that big businesses, like GE and Bank of America who pay no taxes...we spend a lot of money on big government and big defense to make the world safe for these businesses, and then we've changed the laws - in terms that we don't regulate labor or the environment around the world...to me it's not a game. I think these people really are horrible.
Paul: A small business owner, an individual proprietor, pays taxes based on how much income he takes out of the business. He has a lot of control over whether to take the money out or re-invest in the business. We have a progressive tax system....I have no problem with the rates going back to where they were.
Farmer: The solution is going to include tax increases on some of us, most of us.
We haven't lived in an unregulated economy for at least 215 years. The moral hazard problem has not been solved, it needs to be solved. My plan is not to support any individual bank, but to support a mutual fund of all banks' stocks. We don't want to give an incentive to any individual bank to gamble with our money.
Scheer: I think there's a big difference between the moral hazards of investment banks and people who have run up their credit cards and have 30% interest...With the individual, we broke down completely what was in the small print. ...I love Ron Paul, not for everything he's ever said or ever done, but for having one guy in Congress who wants to make the Fed transparent.
Farmer: Transparency yes, getting rid of the Fed no.
After the panel, Chung and I went to The Nation booth and ran into Robert Scheer. We bought a copy of his book, The Great American Stick Up, which he signed for us. We also grabbed free copies of The Nation, even though I'm a Kindle subscriber.
April 30, 2011
American History: Blood & Backrooms @ LAT FOB
Jim Newton: editor at large, LAT and wrote book Justice for All: Earl Warren and the History He Made. He won three elections to be California governor. He is the only governor who won the nomination for both parties and I daresay that will be a record that stands. I was drawn to the sense of paradox about him. In 1942, he was an enthusiastic and unapologetic proponent of Japanese internment and 12 years later was the author of the Brown v. Board of Education decision. The first case he won a conviction in was a leftist who was prosecuted under a syndicalist law and one of his last cases was a Supreme Court case that invalidated the syndicalist laws. The Eisenhower book that I just finished came about out of my Warren book. Unlike Warren, whom I felt like I knew from the beginning of my research, Eisenhower I was left sure about. Eisenhower appointed Warren to the court, and very quickly tensions grew. I came to Eisenhower thinking I would be a critic of him. I learned things - I had only seen him through the lens of civil rights and domestic affairs and the work I had done shown almost no light on his foreign affairs. I end the book with the understanding that he was a truly tremendous American president. He was the first American president to have an atomic bomb and didn't use it. ... I venture to say there are very few political figures of his time who could have held off the pressure to use the atomic bomb.
Moderator: You used the term "Warrenism," and I'm wondering if you could discuss his progression from progressive Republican to the right...
Jim Newton: Ike misunderstood Warren's politics. They were both internationalist Republicans. I think he saw him as a like-minded figure. He didn't see that Warren grew up in the California progressive tradition. When Eisenhower appointed him, he misapprehended his politics at the outset. Scott Powe is probably the best scholar of the Warren court. He pointed out that Warren became better at every job he did, and I think that's true.
Six boxes of documents on the writing the farewell address where Ike famously named the military industrial boxes recently came to light. His speechwriter took them with him and they were stored in a house boat in Minnesota. What this shows conclusively is that Eisenhower was intimately involved in writing the speech from the get go. Almost everything about the speech changes from the first draft except the passages on the military industrial complex.
Moderator introduces Thomas Powers, writer of The Killing of Crazy Horse. What brought you to this story after your long history of studying the CIA?
Thomas Powers: One of the reasons I was attracted to Crazy Horse was that it didn't have any nuclear weapons in it. I stumbled across it while at the Custard battlefield at Little Big Horn field in 1994. If any of you have been there and stood on Custard Hill, you look out to the South and see a string of crosses heading out in your direction. The drama of it is very vivid and you can feel the impetuous flight of these soldiers who fell. You see roughly what Custard would have seen or what the Indians who were attacking him would have seen. The only difference is a train in the middle distance that leaves once a day with coal. ... The tribe that came with Custard inherited the battlefield, in effect. Writing a book about Crazy Horse required a lot of literary decisions that I had never had to deal with before in my life, the biggest was what kind of book was I trying to write? Telling a story, or describing, explaining and judging of large and complicating things. But the thing that drew me to history originally was the compelling nature of stories that wouldn't let you go. I decided that's what I wanted to do. It was an incredible cast of characters...the killing of Crazy Horse which took place in 1877 was in some ways a minor event, but had a devastating effect on Souix Indians. They resent it and there are still factions that were happy with it and whose ancestors did what they could to make sure Crazy Horse didn't survive that day. ...I had to make a decision that went deeply against my own nature: I love to explain complicated things; I love to judge things...I had to develop the discipline to just not do that, to just allow the narrative to tell the story. For those of you who are interested in writing history or writing narrative about the real world, I encourage you to read the ancient authors...particularly Thucydides on the Peloponnesian Wars and Josephus on the Jewish Wars and Plutarch on the ancient life of Caesar. The Jewish War involved among other things the siege of the city of Mosada.
Custard was a hero of the Civil War and at a certain moment he divided his forces and started down the river to attack the Sioux villages. His scouts told him that the Sioux village was the biggest Indian village around and tried to tell him not to attack the village until reinforcements arrived. Exactly what happened after he attacked is difficult to discern. None of Custards troops survived, though several thousand Indians survived and lived to recount the story. You're in a position to understand what did happen. The battle that ensued was decided at a certain point by Crazy Horse. When the military determined that, they decided that Crazy Horse was a dangerous man who had to be killed...
James Jesus Angleton taught me how to hold multiple accounts in my head at the same time. He was the head of the CIA. ...explained how to create a deep chrono, a deep chronology. Put all accounts into chronological order and makes it difficult to hide a secret event. Basically, what I did was take all sources, with all contradictions and without judgment in chronological order...
A series of moments in the last hours of Crazy Horse's life from his fatal wounding to the hours later when he died...as soon as he realized the army had broken every single promise to him, he made an effort to break free which was impossible to do since he was surrounded by 1,000 soldiers...a soldier pierced him with a bayonet through his back, which seems to have pierced his kidney and his lung....rather than make an attempt to make a decision between different accounts of the moment of his wounding, I put them all in, but briefly and only the things where the detail was not as important as the dramatic moment. ...I wanted to capture some of the intensity and rapidity with which events unfold.
The accounts are in English now. The accounts were given in Lakota and transcribed at the scene by people who grew up with Lakota as their first language. ...I never considered writing a traditional biography, because I wanted to understand the answer to the question, why'd they kill him? Over time, the question in my mind became why did Crazy Horse let them do it?
Question: Obama is compared to Eisenhower, do you have an opinion?
Jim Newton: Haven't heard the comparison much, but it is a reasonable comparison. Eisenhower confronted the Suez Crisis in 1956 and to the amazement of the Third World sided with Egypt over Britain and France. Eisenhower is a great example of governing from the middle.
Question: Mr. Newton, I've heard for a number of years that the phrase "military industrial complex" included "Congressional," is that true?
Newton: The phrase "military industrial Congressional complex," is given and said to have been considered, but doesn't exist in any of the drafts of the text. It is a friendly farewell to the Congress. I think it would have upset the tone he was trying to set.
Question: In regards to Earl Warren, in his decision in Brown v. Board of Education was as much an apology for what he had done to the Japanese in internment and why he wanted to get a unanimous decision.
Newton: I don't think that's right. I agree that many people frame it that way. I think he thought he did the best he could in a pressing national security environment with Japanese internment. His memoir published posthumously is the only place he mentioned regret. He wrote "I have come to regret," and his publisher added "I have come to deeply regret." ...It is to Warren's lasting credit that he created a unanimous decision.
Question: How do you decide when to use your opinion or suspend judgment when writing history?
Powers: When you're working in a field of this kind, you have to start with a suspension of judgment. Just hold back and listen to what makes you feel uncomfortable. I was forming judgments all the time, but I wanted the text to be a text of narrative, rather than a text of judgment.
Powers: Crazy Horse elected to trust what he was told until the moment when he couldn't trust it anymore.
Newton: Eisenhower felt it was important to build an arsenal and never use it. I don't think he saw it as bolstering the military industrial complex. What he was concerned about, as time had gone on, we no longer had the ability to convert civilian industries into arms industries and it was the permanent nature of the arms industry that he was concerned about. One of the things that motivated him around all this was the ads that the military industry took out in aerospace magazines. ....One of the very first speeches of his presidency was The Chance for Peace speech...the military industrial complex was not a late development in his presidency.
Newton: Eisenhower chose to see the decision in Brown v Board of Education as an order from the court that he had to obey.
History, Identity & Purpose: California, Chicanos, and Beyond @ LAT FOB
Hector Tobar, LAT columnist moderating the panel. Our first author is Mario T. Garcia. His book is Blowout: Sal Castro and the Chicano Struggle for Educational Justice.
Daniel Hernandez is second panelist. Former staffer at LAT and currently lives in Mexico City. Down and Delirious in Mexico City: The Aztec Metropilis in the 21st Century.
Our final panelist is Miriam Pawel. Worked for 25 years for Newsday and LAT. Her book is the amazing The Union of Their Dreams: Power, Hope, and Struggle in Cesar Chavez's Farm Worker Movement.
Sal Castro is known in LA History for the riots on the East Side in 1968. He's known that this moment rose spontaneously, but from your book we know that he knew for decades about the ideology that led to the walkouts. One of the few Latino teachers in the 1960s. He had lived through the Mexican schools. Their children had to attend segregated, inferior schools. The tracking system of putting Mexican kids, Latino kids into vocational classes. This is what Sal Castro lived growing up in LA, born in 1933. He grew up as a young shoe shine boy. He graduated from Cathedral High School in 1952, went into the military and was sent to the South where he saw segregation. He grew up when Latinos and blacks could only go to public pools on the days that they were cleaned, hence the term 'dirty Mexican.' He was in Texas where a waitress refused to serve him and remarked that the waitress must remember the Alamo. He witnessed the kids being tracked and so forth. He helped to organize some of the kids into "the TiEms" - the tortilla movement. He knew that the problem wasn't the students, their parents: only a dramatic action will shake things up. The problem is the schools themselves and their approach to teaching Latino students. That led to the blowouts, or the walkouts of 1968. Three months later, he and twelve others were arrested. The East LA 13 were arrested for conspiring to foment the walkout and if convicted, he would have be in jail for 113 years. The community staged a sit in at the Board of Education when they refused to allow him to teach. Moved from Lincoln to Bell.
Daniel Hernandez: So my book started out. I tried to pinpoint in the book where my fascination or intrigue with Mexico City began. My parents are from Tijuana, so we don't really have any bloodline into the center or south of Mexico. I kind of had this dual understanding of what it meant to be Mexican or Mexican-American. When I was at Berkeley I met a girl who was from Mexico City. When I told her my family was from Tijuana she said "that's not really Mexican." And I thought, "really? that's not how we were perceived." She had blonde hair and blue eyes and thinking that she was Mexican really tripped me out. I got a job out of school to be a metro reporter for the LA Times and took a break between school and working in Mexico. I saw a landscape that I could not have ever imagined. An enormous bowl of grey smogginess. And the smell of corn, oil, maiz, and toxicity and man there are 20 million Mexcianos here - what is going on? ...how borders can be criss-crossed between an individual and community. Switched to the LA Weekly in March, 2006. I convinced the LA Weekly to allow me to go cover the elections in Mexico and there was a politician trying to form a power base completely around addressing the deep, violent social inequality in Mexico. I started hearing from editors who told me to go back there and write a book. At a certain moment, I decided it was important for me to get out of my comfort zone and explore it. I went to neighborhoods where I was told not to go, I went to parties I was told I wouldn't get in, I went to markets where I was told I wouldn't come out and I would come home and write. I was so stimulated, I felt like I was on this constant acid trip - over stimulation on every level. The book gradually came together. I would post a photo on my blog and an impression would come out of that. My editor told me to focus on young people and that turned out to be fun. And I would be confronted with, "So what are you? Are you a gringo, eh?" In the span of a day, I would get polar reactions.
Miriam Pawel: Your book about Cesar Chavez follows these people who joined Chavez on his struggle. It's about this larger sense of power too. But yet you show that building a movement takes work, takes patience, and sort of becomes messy at times. Tell us a little about their journeys.
Miriam: These books are all about people who felt tremendously passionate about people what they were doing. I came to this from a different route from other panelists. I spent a year at the LAT doing a series about the UFW union today and what it's become. It's not a major force in the farm movement today and if you go out in the fields today and ask them who Cesar Chavez is, they think you're talking about the boxer. As I began to talk to people who were involved in it, they were all sort of caught up in the last great social movement of this country. ...Activists all over the country who had committed their life and worked for free to change the condition in the fields, I met all these people who are literally haunted 30 years later about what they weren't able to succeed and why the UFW didn't become a sustainable union for farm workers. It's not a book about Chavez per se, it's a book about the movement he inspired. I chose to write the book about 8 characters who represent the ways the movement changed the lives of a generation. It was a part of Chavez's ability to drive these people into a movement together. It was an idea that you could send farm workers across the country and were wiling to go around the country to ask for money, "I'm a farm worker and I'm 2,000 miles from home and all I'm doing is asking you to not buy grapes." California to this day has the only law on the books to allow farm workers to join a union and protects their right to do so. Farm workers and domestic workers are the only workers not included in the National Labor Relations Act (editor's note: and government employees). It was a little like the story of the blind man and the elephant. Depending on where you were, your perspective was very different. I wanted you to be able to see as a reader what it was like to go through this experience. As the omniscient reader narrator you have an idea of where it's going. Cesar Chavez: he is an incredibly important figure in American history who in someways, because there is so much hagiography around him, that has done him a disservice. Writing about his life in all its complexity allows people to know that heroes are human and heroes have flaws. Academics and journalists have shied away from writing about Chavez in any way but celebratory, but he was brilliant and brought about significant change not just for farm workers but for everyone who joined the movement. My book only deals with the part of his work that dealt with the farm workers movement, but the larger Chicano movement is distinct from that. He's a fascinating character and the people around him were. As many of the people who were involved in the movement ended up disillusioned, sad, or angry. They left on voluntary or sometimes involuntary terms. I came about at a point when people felt that it was history and it was okay to talk about it now. How do you participate in a movement and have a democratic movement and still get things done. So people left on very kind of mixed terms, but I've never met anyone who worked even for a brief time who felt like it was the most important thing they've done in their lives. So that's what I tried to capture in very human ways, so I wanted you to be able to care about the people.
Hector: For me, Cesar Chavez is about awakening the civic spirit. I'm going to throw the mike, metaphorically speaking, over to Sal. We were talking a little bit about you before you got here and the book that you two produced together. And there was a question that Mario brought up is what the legacy of the movement you were involved in is. How is LA education different because of the movement?
Sal Castro: The producer and director asked if I would help them with the movie, the project "Walkout," about the students who walked out of school. This thing was an urban movement across the SouthWest, the entire country. My first question was who would be my love interest. ... My second question was who would play me. When I was invited to the White House in 1996, I spoke to Clinton about the fact that we're the country with the highest rate of high school and college drop outs. I'm sorry to say my statement to Obama would be the same thing..
Question from the owner of Libros Schmibros, a lending library in Boyle Heights.
Sal: We as Mexicans have been involved in every war the US has been involved in, including the Revolutionary War. We came with troops, 44 vessels that blockaded the Southern ports, and money. There is no American cemetery without a Mexican buried in it, including Gettysburg.