Brothels in Bellevue Busted

So, yesterday 12 brothels operated out of high end apartments were shut down in Bellevue, 12 men and 1 woman arrested for promoting prostitution according to the Seattle Times and 12 trafficked women from Korea freed, with two related websites also shut down.

“Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said King County is the first jurisdiction in the country to charge ‘an organized group of sex buyers’ with promoting the prostitution of women from South Korea, who are brought to the U.S. to work as prostitutes and are shuttled between major cities.”

About the websites KING 5 reports:

Sheriff John Urquhart says two websites — thereviewboard.net and kgirldelights.com — were seized and shut down. The “K” in kgirldelights.com stands for Korean. Police say the websites were used to rate, discuss, and promote the prostitution of women.

“Information shared on the site was used to exploit the foreign-born women, mostly from Korea, who were also being shuttled from one city to the next on a monthly basis. Organizers of the network encouraged sex buyers to consistently visit the most desired prostituted persons advertised so that they would be kept in the Seattle area longer,” said the sheriff’s office in a statement.

Ironically, kgirldelights was set up by  owner of TheReviewboard.net and 50 0f his most prolific posters who formed an invitation only group called “The League” to avoid police notice, according to the Seattle Times. Most of those arrested were members of “The League”.

KING 5 says:

Urquhart said kgirldelights.com was run by “The League,” made up of a group of businessmen. The women were forced into prostitution to pay debts, often being held against their will. King County Prosecutor Dan Satterberg said some of the women were forced to work every day, up to 14 hours, servicing up to 10 Johns per day.

As the Seattle Times notes: “‘Many of the members made comments that indicated they were aware these girls were more than likely trafficked and had little choice in choosing to work as prostitutes,’ say the charges.” Indeed, the KING 5 story includes a link to some of their comments and posts to TheReviewboard.net:

An example:

Since it was her first day I asked if she was nervous. She didn’t understand. I tried, “scared?” Out came the phone as I spelled it, s…c…a…r…e…d. Suddenly a pained look came over her face. I actually thought she was going to cry. “Yes! I scared!” and she buried her head on my chest and embraced me tightly for a moment. Oops maybe not a good question to ask. But soon she looked up at me and said “thank you.” I’m not sure what for but breathed a sigh of relief.

Of course, if you’re to believe SWOP, echoed these days by Amnesty International, the johns and pimps/madams/brothel owners, as well as “sex workers” themselves are supposed to rescued those trafficked. Hmm, that didn’t seem to happen, and there were 22,000 members/johns on TheReviewboard.net board who would have seen these kind of reviews. The reviews of obviously trafficked women should been noticed by the “sex workers” in SWOP themselves as they shared the website.

Wait, SWOP is upset about this. Upset that the review websites have been shut down.  KING 5 says:

In a bizarre twist, prostitutes held a protest in the lobby of the sheriff’s office while he and other law enforcement officials were briefing news reporters at a press conference.

The prostitutes showed up to protest the closing of the website, thereviewboard.net, which they claim allowed them to assess clients and determine who is safe and who is not.

“Sites like this allow us to screen clients and advertise without standing on the street corner,” said Maggie McNeill, who says she is a prostitute.

“’It (the shutdown) increases the odds a sex worker needing to make rent will take an unverified client,’ Savannah Sly, president of the Sex Worker Outreach Project, wrote in an email.”

Of course, these websites weren’t at all safe for the Korean women being trafficking. It’s not clear to me at all from the documents what kind of screening is done of the men (other than in the KING 5 video, it says they were screened to make sure they weren’t cops), although some of the advertisements for the women mention “standard screening” or requiring references. Mostly these sites seem to be for screening the women being sold. I doubt they get to rate the customers.

In fact, as the Organization for Prostitution Survivors (OPS) says that: “Contrary to misinformed perceptions, review boards such as these are NOT a safety net for women in prostitution. Rather, these boards simply promote the market for commercial sex to a point where women are considered chattel and violence against women is encouraged and promoted.”

As survivor leader Alisa Bernard points out in another KING 5 story “the fact that one of the more prominent sites is gone provides some sign of progress.

‘That means there are 18-to-20,000 men who are not buying sex on that site,’ she said. ‘They have officially lost their victim population.'”

Oh, wait, I almost missed the spin on the local SWOP Seattle site. In addition to stating their concern “about collateral damage the website’s closure will have on adult workers in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest”, they suggest that:

“Migrant sex workers, especially Asian migrant workers, are often inaccurately labeled as trafficking victims,” Savannah Sly, SWOP-USA Board President and former Seattle-based sex worker, said. “I don’t doubt that King County prosecutors will wave this is a victory against human trafficking, highlighting the presence of migrant Korean sex workers on TRB to indicate abuse. Just because a women came to the U.S. and works as an escort does not mean she did so involuntarily. These assumptions are blatantly racist and xenophobic. Many migrant workers in the sex trade, domestic work and agriculture emigrate and work voluntarily. It’s criminalization and stigma of sex work and immigration status that makes these workers so vulnerable, not the work itself.”

Sure. We’re all xenophobic if we’re concerned about trafficking. Women are just migrating because they want to see the inside of a brothel and strange naked men in a foreign country.

 

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Abandoning Native & First Nations’ Women

Amnesty International’s lack of concern for the fact the poor and minorities are targeted for prostitution has been particularly disturbing. Especially disturbing regarding Native American and  Canadian First Nations’ women, whose rights were focused on during AI’s Stop Violence Against Women campaign.

In her Aug. 12, 2015 blog post, An Open Letter to Amnesty InternationalThe Tuff Muff, an Assiniboine woman, points out the contradiction of AI Canada’s 2004 No More Stolen Sisters report and their subsequent campaign for the Canadian government to take action on the (as of 2012, according to their current online petition) 1,017 missing Indigenous women in Canada and their new policy decriminalizing johns and pimps:

You see, I admire the commitment Amnesty International once had for fighting against oppression towards my indigenous sisters. You fought hard for a national inquiry into the missing and murdered aboriginal women of Canada. You brought this issue to the attention of people around the world. Though your efforts have been largely ignored by the Canadian federal government, they have not gone unnoticed by indigenous women, such as myself, in Canada. However, I am shocked at your recent policy calling for the decriminalization of johns and pimps. I feel dismayed at your willingness to promote men’s right to buy, sell and profit from women’s exploitation. Prostitution in Canada largely affects indigenous women; a reality you so readily acknowledged in your report, Stolen Sisters. Poverty, addiction, homelessness, inter-generational violence and mental illness leave women exceptionally vulnerable to pimps and johns but you knew this already, didn’t you?  Why, I ask, promote an industry that exists off the backs of the most impoverished women? Why choose to stand behind those who profit from the human rights violations that occur in prostitution?

She goes on to point out the racism, classism and sexism of the policy and  the intersectionality (something AI claims to value these days) between those oppressions:

In Stolen Sisters, you pointed out that previous physical or sexual trauma pushes young indigenous people into prostitution. As a front-line anti-violence worker, I am well aware of the profound harm incest and childhood sexual abuse can have on women in prostitution. When the statistics tell us that 84% of prostituted women in Canada have experienced incest or childhood sexual abuse, the connection between the two is crystal clear. Why are you so blind to this reality?

Prostitution is classist, racist and sexist. You’re familiar with those concepts, right? When an institution such as prostitution disproportionally targets poor women of colour, the intersectionality between these oppressions is obvious. With your new policy, however, you’ve decided to side with the rich, mostly white, men of the world who buy and sell women.

In her article in January 14, 2015 The Globe and MailReal change for aboriginal women begins with the end of prostitutionCherry Smiley, from the Native Women’s Association of Canada praises their Canada’s new prostitution law for the decision to “to criminalize johns, pimps, and third-party advertising for sexual services, and to decriminalize prostituted women in most circumstances,” also  providing some “investments in support and exiting services.”

She goes on to point out that:

Some opponents have claimed this new legislation reproduces colonial state violence against aboriginal women and girls by increasing police power. What this analysis fails to recognize is that prostitution is not a traditional activity for aboriginal women and, in fact, is “the world’s oldest oppression.” It is a system, like Canada’s residential school system, that has been imposed on our aboriginal communities. Prostitution is part of the continuum of colonial male violence against aboriginal women and girls, telling us incorrectly that we are disposable in life and that predators can harm us without recourse. The end point of that continuum is the thousands of missing and murdered aboriginal women and girls, an ongoing massacre that continues to tell us that we are disposable, even in death, with no official inquiry or accountability.

Smiley further points out how indigenous women are especially funneled into prostitution by inequalities and notes that: “In the same ways that those who came before us were funnelled into the residential school system ‘for our own good,’ the attempts to now funnel us into the system of prostitution, and to support the rights of pimps and johns, is also being incorrectly portrayed as being for our own benefit and protection.”

Ironically, AIUSA made those connections between racism and colonialism regarding Native American women in prostitution in a November 2, 2011 blog post New Report on Prostitution and Trafficking of Native Women in Minnesota, in the aftermath of their 2007  Maze of Injustice report on sexual violence against Native American women, making the same kind of points that fall on deaf ears now with AIUSA leadership.

Citing The Garden of Truth, by the Minnesota Indian Women’s Sexual Assault Coalition and Prostitution Research & Education“the first study detailing the personal experiences of Native women who have been prostituted and trafficked in Minnesota:

The research team interviewed 105 women to assess the life circumstances that led them to prostitution. The study found about half of the women met a conservative legal definition of sex trafficking which involves third-party control over the prostituting person by pimps or traffickers.

Chronic poverty, rape, homelessness, childhood abuse, and racism – elements of the trafficking of women – were clear themes in respondents’ answers. Among the report’s findings:

62% saw a connection between prostitution and colonization, and explained that the devaluation of women in prostitution was identical to the colonizing devaluation of Native people.

One woman stated, “When a man looks at a prostitute and a Native woman, he looks at them the same: ‘dirty’.”

52% had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at the time of interview, a rate that is in the range of PTSD among combat veterans. Moreover, 71% presented symptoms of dissociation.

92% wanted to escape prostitution.

How did Amnesty International get from their previous Stop Violence Against Women campaign to their current decision decriminalizing pimps and johns?

While AI will deny it (even while AIUSA Board members lunched with SWOP at the Western Regional, and posted a picture on Twitter), it’s hard not to wonder about the memo from British Escort Agency owner Douglas Fox talking about going against AI’s SVAW team in the UK and urging sex worker allies to lobby AI.

Further reading:

Letters from survivors to Amnesty International have just been published in CANCER inCYTES, “a public health e-magazine that discusses the healthcare needs of disadvantaged populations. We educate the public about the link between childhood trauma, cancer, and social injustice.”

http://www.cancerincytes.org/#!v4-iss2moore/cun6

Remembering John Trudell

John Trudell passed into the spirit world this week, on December 8.  Best known for his Native American activism in the 60s and 70s, and in more recent years for his poetry and music.

There is already an excellent tribute to his life in Indian Country Today:

http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2015/12/08/remembering-life-and-legacy-john-trudell-162697

Quote from an F.B.I. memo: “He is extremely eloquent, therefore extremely dangerous.”

One quote of John Trudell especially resonates with me:

HumanBeing

Not only given the state of the world, but especially given the still unbelievable (to me) struggle of the prostitution survivors (and the at least 89% of those currently trapped in the life) to be heard by Amnesty International. That AI would consider the commodification of women (and sometimes men) for sale to (mostly) men acceptable is something I still find incomprehensible.

See the Woman

She has a young face
An old face
She carries herself well
In all ages
She survives all man has done

Rest in Peace, John Trudell. . .

 

Listen to the Survivors #EndDemand

I never imagined Amnesty International would make me aware of and passionate about a human rights issue by being on the wrong side of it. Now that I’m leaving Amnesty International over their “sex worker” policy (which decriminalizes not just those prostituted, who we all agree should not be arrested; but pimps and johns, by any other name), becoming discouraged and finding no hope of change from within, I’m going to start from the beginning (and the ending, for me & AI) with prostitution survivors.

I should note The Feministahood’s What Amnesty Did Wrong is  an excellent starting point on this issue (with several follow up blog posts & articles now listed at the end). I’ll be getting into a lot of those issues in the future, but to me, it comes back to the survivors and the vast majority of those still in prostitution who want to get out and the human rights violations what AI calls “sex work” really involves.

AmnestyDon'tTurnYourBackOnMe

Like a lot of people, I knew nothing of Amnesty International’s proposed policy on “sex workers” until the so called “celebrity letter” in July, just before the Amnesty International International Council Meeting (ICM) in Dublin. Except I tracked down the original letter from the Coalition Against Trafficking in Women (CATW), and realized there were over 400 signatures, most of them from leaders of organizations including anti-trafficking, women’s human rights and, something new to me at the time, prostitution survivor organizations – from as far away as the Philippines and Ireland to as close as Seattle – all trying to help women exit, talking of the real harms involved (in prostitution, not just trafficking, and that they aren’t so easily separated), and calling for the Nordic Model – decriminalizing of those selling themselves, but consequences for the buyers as well as the pimps and brothel owners.

Those survivor organizations started to speak out more as AI’s vote at the ICM in early August in Dublin came closer, from an op-ed in the Seattle Times co-written by Debra Boyer, the director of Seattle Organization for Prostitution Survivors (OPS) to a press conference in Dublin by SPACE International (Survivors of Prostitution Abuse Calling for Enlightenment). As Rachel Moran from Ireland points out in the video below “I think that Amnesty, if they were looking at this issue coming truly from a perspective of human rights, they couldn’t possibly arrive at this position…”

A couple quotes from Bridget Perrier, a First Nations woman from Canada especially stood out to me:

“Prostitution is very sad. It picks the girls. It picks the girls who are fractured.

“For me, it wasn’t work. It was abuse.”

Bridget was quoted also in an article in the International Business Times: Sex trade survivors: ‘Amnesty wants to decriminalise every human rights violation intrinsic to prostitution’ just before the ICM vote:

Bridget Perrier is the co-founder of public awareness organisation Sextrade101. A First Nations woman from Canada, she was lured into prostitution at the age of 12 and trafficked across the country for 10 to 12 years. She says prostitution places Canada’s indigenous women at risk.

“I was the perfect candidate for prostitution, based on my race and gender, and I was under pimp control for 10 years,” she says. “I live in a country where aboriginal and indigenous women are going missing and being murdered by the droves. I have seen serial killers targeting women specifically because of their high-risk lifestyle and their involvement in prostitution. Decriminalising the commercial sex industry does not make it any safer.”

Sadly, Amnesty International did not listen, and  passed their DECISION ON STATE OBLIGATIONS TO RESPECT, PROTECT, AND FULFIL THE HUMAN RIGHTS OF SEX WORKERS in language so vague many are still hoping it doesn’t really call for the decriminalization of pimps and johns.

These questions are further answered (and the reality covered up) in their Q&A: POLICY TO PROTECT THE HUMAN RIGHTS OF SEX WORKERS.

Our policy is not about protecting “pimps”. Third parties that exploit or abuse sex workers will still be criminalized under the model we are proposing.

But there are overly broad laws, like those against “brothel keeping” or “promotion” that are often used against sex workers and criminalise actions they take to try and stay safe. For example, in many countries two sex workers working together for safety is considered a “brothel”.

So AI is for decriminalizing third parties (which generally means people like pimps and brothel owners), but only to protect “sex workers” accidentally accused of pimping or brothel owners and somehow there will be laws to distinguish third parties that exploit and abuse workers will still be criminalized.

The johns? The ones who drive the whole trade, including underage and trafficked women (or men)?  They also have to be decriminalized supposedly to protect the women (totally misrepresenting the Nordic Model):

Even though sex workers are not directly criminalized under the Nordic model, operational aspects – like purchasing sex and renting premises to sell sex in – are still criminalized. This compromises sex workers safety and leaves them vulnerable to abuse; they can still be pursued by police whose aim is often to eradicate sex work through enforcing the criminal law.

In reality, laws against buying sex mean that sex workers have to take more risks to protect buyers from detection by the police. Sex workers we spoke to regularly told us about being asked to visit customers’ homes to help them avoid police, instead of going to a place where sex worker felt safer.

I didn’t quit in August, as there was hope we could change things through internal process at AIUSA (and ultimately AI, at the next ICM).

That was not to be with the “sex workers” union SWOP and the other “sex workers” having their own panel and being well organized (and having the ear of AIUSA leadership) and student groups, whether lobbied or it’s what they’re teaching in college, buying into it.

I couldn’t help but think being a “rent boy” who gets to choose your customers by whether they’re cute or being an American Courtesan (again selecting customers) is not the norm for the vast majority trapped in prostitution (the most conservative estimate I’ve read is 89% would leave if they could). I also couldn’t help but notice that even their three panelists has all either been initially trafficked or underage, and sadly one serious account of violence by a john (somehow blamed on End Demand/The Nordic model, not on the violent customer).

Survivors were there as well, and have something to say:

There’s a lot more to say on this issue, and it’s sad that AI is not the one championing those really trapped in prostitution, instead pressuring us to leave if we want to speak out. I will not be silenced. I joined AI to speak out for human rights, not for their prestigious name.

Aung San Suu Kyi Freed!

I received the good news at 6:43 am this morning via text message: Aung San Suu Kyi is finally free in Burma! Even though it was really early on a Saturday, I was happy to get the news. Aung San Suu Kyi has been under house arrest in Burma (or Myanmar, as it’s officially known) for the past 7 and a half years, and has spent more than 15 of the past 21 years under house arrest. She has been adopted as a Prisoner of Conscience by Amnesty International and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.

Free Aung San Suu Kyi Rally In San Francisco

Amnesty International members and our allies have been working for her release and we’ve written many letters, circulated many petitions and held many rallies and events over the years, including the one above as part of AIUSA’s Western Regional Conference in San Francisco last week.

Our work is not done, however.  Burma (or Myanmar, as we are to refer to it as Amnesty International members) still has over 2,200 political prisoners, many of them also prisoners of conscience, in prison solely for exercising their right to peacefully protest. Take action with this link to call for the freedom of Myanmar’s prisoners of conscience!

Speaking Out for the People of New Orleans & the Gulf

As we just passed the 5 year anniversary of Katrina and the people of New Orleans and the Gulf Coast are now recovering from the massive oil spill as well, Amnesty International released a revised edition of their report, Unnatural Disaster: Human Rights in the Gulf Coast.

Amnesty’s report is available online at: http://www.amnestyusa.org/dignity/pdf/unnaturaldisaster.pdf

Looking at Amnesty’s new video of Nicolas Cage visiting the Lower Ninth Ward, I have mixed feelings about not visiting while I was there for AI’s Annual General Meeting in April. I had no idea that it could still be so barren, with vacant lots and so few houses rebuilt 5 years after Hurricane Katrina. It looks so rural, not like a neighborhood in a major American City. Yet, without an opportunity to volunteer there, I’d feel like I was gawking, maybe especially with my tendency to take too many pictures.

Thousands of public housing units were demolished in New Orleans, including units that sustained little storm damage. Redevelopment is slow, with a shift towards mixed income developments with only a small percentage of affordable housing units being built. Damaged public housing units in Gulfport and Pascagoula, Mississippi have been sold off to private entities or redeveloped into mixed income housing.

Over 82,000 rental housing units were lost in Louisiana, most of them in New Orleans. Only 38% of the lost units in New Orleans have been replaced. Rents are 40% higher than pre-hurricane levels. Even though damage to rental units was greater, a majority of federal and state funds are going to homeowner units. There are an estimated 10,000 to 12,000 homeless in New Orleans, 60% who are homeless because of hurricane Katrina. Even homeowners didn’t fare so well, 81% have insufficient funds to re-build. Mississippi and Alabama residents face similar problems with lack of funds to rebuild.

Few hospitals have reopened. Neither of the two in St. Bernard’s Parish have reopened and only 12 of 23 in Orleans Parish. Charity Hospital, the safety net hospital for New Orleans, has not reopened. Lack of mental health care and police accountability issues are also covered in the report.

All this and now the massive oil spill on the Gulf. Amnesty International has a new online action calling on our Congress members to introduce and support legislation to establish a Gulf of Mexico Independent Regional Citizens’ Advisory Council where the voices of the people most  affected by the spill would be heard, unlike after Katrina.

Both the report and action can be found online at: http://www.amnestyusa.org/katrina

Another Busy June with AI in Seattle

June has always been a busy month for our Amnesty International group, and we went into it with a busy May, some of which I’ve already posted. . . and. . . I didn’t even make it to everything. 

Untitled by AmnestyWA Justice, on Flickr

It was a nice, if overcast, day on May 22, the Saturday we took group and individual photos at Kerry Park in support of  AI Prisoner of Conscience Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma (or Myanmar, as the current military rulers call it). Aung San Suu Kyi has been under unofficial detention, house arrest and/or with restrictions on her movements for 14 of the last 20 years. In 1990, her party, the National League for Democracy, won 80% of the parliamentary seats in a general election, and the military leadership refused to cede power and instead jailed NLD party leaders and activists. 

Read more about Aung San Suu Kyi at: http://www.amnestyusa.org/individuals-at-risk/priority-cases/myanmar-aung-san-suu-kyi/page.do?id=1101239 

 

The  photos were part of the Stand with Suu Kyi! action by Amnesty International, to gather at least 2,100 photos in support of Aung San Suu Kyi and human rights in Burma/Myanmar, representing the 2,100 political prisoners detained in Burma. 

Learn how you can take part here: http://www.amnestyusa.org/individuals-at-risk/priority-cases/stand-with-suu-kyi/page.do?id=1691013 

Photos are online at: http://www.flickr.com/groups/standwithsuukyi 

Then Lakeside School‘s Amnesty International club hosted a Freedom of Speech Night at the Neptune Coffee House the next weekend, in the middle of Memorial Day weekend and Folklife (more on that music soon). They focused on Prisoner of Conscience cases including Aung San Suu Kyi and Shi Tao, a Chinese journalist/blogger in prison for sending an e-mail to the US about the Chinese government’s orders to play down the anniversary 1989 Tiananman Square Massacre (after Yahoo! gave up his name). 

Their entertainment included a rock group called Radio Static, who played great music of their own, and covers including Springsteen‘s Radio Nowhere

 

They also had an impressive poet, who started out by reading Shi Tao’s poem June in Chinese, then proceeded to mesmerize the audience and a guy who was standing outside waiting for a bus who came on in with his own poems: 

 

More information on Shi Tao at: http://www.amnestyusa.org/individuals-at-risk/priority-cases/china-shi-tao/page.do?id=1101243 

Radio Static has music on their MySpace page at: http://www.myspace.com/radiostaticband 

I missed our Tiananmen Square memorial this year, on June 3, as it was in the afternoon at UW and I got there too late. Our Amnesty International group took part in a Capitol Hill garage sale that weekend. I just came and bought a t-shirt. Thanks to everyone who did all the work! We also tabled a Sting concert that weekend at the White River Amphitheatre, and then Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers at the Gorge the next weekend (carpooling it to both, as I don’t drive). Those are a lot of fun, and we do get to talk to new people about AI, even if it can get frustrating trying to get signatures for our petitions at times (and challenging, literally doing it by candlelight before finally breaking down for the evening and catching the rest of the show). 

 

I’m not going to go too much into the Sting and Tom Petty concerts since I’m so far behind, and I figure everyone knows who they are and what they sound like (and Joe Cocker, who opened for Tom Petty – at least for those of my generation). Although, I’d like to get around to a review of Ton’s latest, Mojo, at a later point, as he and the Heartbreakers going to their blues roots on this one. 

 

Sting was playing with a full orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic, for this tour (with no opening act, and an intermission).  He was really impressive with the orchestra and the woman singing with him, and having so much fun with it (including howling at the moon at one point, and 4 encores!). Sting’s audience was a little more aware of who Amnesty International was from the benefits he played for AI back in the 80s & 90s. I also noticed quite a few people with Russian accents, and thought about his song The Russians (which he played that night) and the power of music in reaching people. 

 

Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were awesome and still rocking out with no signs of slowing down, and it was great hearing Joe Cocker with all those classics from the 60s. Good thing we had a full crew for the table, because there was always one of us who just had to catch one of Joe’s or Tom’s songs, until it finally got too dark and we packed up to watch the show. Tom’s is a mixed crowd politically. There were a lot of peace t-shirts along with folks who are more to the right. It was frustrating, because even most of them walked right by the table. 

I think AI needs to do a better job of reaching people, so they at least know who we are and what we stand for in the US. It’s my impression that more people are aware in Europe. I think more people should be stopping by (and I don’t count out reaching people with more conservative views – human rights shouldn’t be political). 

The Gorge itself was absolutely beautiful, as promised. I’ve got to find some way of getting there the next time Pearl Jam plays! There are times it’s real frustrating not being able to afford a car. . . 

 

More photos of the Gorge and our drive there at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/javacolleen/sets/72157624142632977/ 

Coming up solstice, the next weekend, our Amnesty International group had our booth at the Fremont Fair, as we always do. It was a rainy, dreary weekend this year (though fortunately it held off a bit for the Solstice Parade, and those bicyclists wearing only paint beforehand. . .). 

 

In addition to our usual petitions, t-shirts, buttons & literature; this year we raffled off a copy of the Pearl Jam vs Ames Bros concert poster book and a new, silver, iPod Shuffle. We were off the main track this year, near the Rocket; our new t-shirts didn’t get done because of a death in the screen printer’s family;  and it was rainy and cold much of the time. We still collected a lot of signatures and it sounds like we broke even; which is good because our main reason for being there is outreach. Let’s just say the raffle winners got a good deal and great odds, and that fortunately both items were previously won at other events by Group 4 members, then donated (the Pearl Jam book, by me, at the Backspacer Bash at Easy Street Records back in October). 

Photos from the Fremont Fair, and especially the Solstice Parade (but not the bicyclists – in keeping with community standards) at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/javacolleen/sets/72157624313617514/ 

Then last Tuesday, we had a vigil and solidarity event for Troy Davis, who is on death row in Georgia.  Troy’s evidentiary trial (ordered by the Supreme Court)  started Wednesday.  We are still awaiting the outcome, and I’m going to hold off blogging until then to do it more justice. I need to find some way to keep caught up. 

Learn more about Troy’s case at: http://www.amnestyusa.org/troy 

June isn’t totally over yet, either, and I’ll be tabling the Steve Earle concert at Zoo Tunes for Amnesty International on Wednesday night (& hopefully blogging about it sooner than a month or so later. . . ) 

An Interrogator On Why Torture Doesn’t Work

On May 21, our Amnesty International group co-sponsored a talk by Matthew Alexander, author of A Chair, A Brain, and A Heart: An Interrogators Mission to  Return America to the Rule of Law.

IMG_1805

Matthew Alexander was a senior military interrogator in Iraq and led the interrogation team that gathered the intelligence that led to the successful airstrike against Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, leader of Al Qaeda in Iraq.

During his talk, Alexander spoke about how rapport building techniques work, and the importance of cultural awareness. He spoke about how torture, in addition to being generally ineffective and immoral, as the torture and abuse by Americans was a major recruitment factor for those who came to Iraq from other countries to fight.

Ironically, the theory that torture works cited even by some of our elected officials seems to come from fictional characters like Jack Bauer on 24, rather than talking to real interrogators. As Alexander noted, “If you’re going to quote Jack Bauer, why not quote Superman?”

Watch the video of the talk, courtesy of Mike McCormick of KEXP and Talking Stick TV:

Exiled Voices for Justice

Next up, I tabled two films for Amnesty International for the local Exiled Voices for Justice film series.

Which_way_home

Which Way Home, which screened at UW two weeks ago Saturday, was about unaccompanied migrant children. While I was aware of the issue, I had no idea the number of children heading north from Central America and Mexico on their own, hopping trains.

Some of the children were as young as 9. While some of them had trouble with their step-fathers, they usually were close to their mothers at least, wanting to give them a better life. Sometimes the parents sent them, as the US police officer notes above. A grandmother and a child who came at 9 were interviewed, with their faces hidden as they aren’t legal. Even though the child almost died in the desert, it was worth it to give her a chance at a better life. It’s hard to get your mind around poverty so desperate.

IMG_1064

The panel included two young men who came here themselves as children, and had found foster homes. The Lutheran Community Services’ Refugee and Immigrant Children’s Program is an organization that helps them find homes locally and took part in the panel as well.

You can find more information on how to help at: http://www.refugeechildren.net/

Lumo

Lumo, that Sunday’s movie at Seattle University, is about a young woman who is a survivor of a brutal gang rape by soldiers in the Congo. Rape very much is a weapon of war in places like the Congo, with many women like Lumo suffering from fistulas, internal damage that causes urinary incontinence and infertility.

HEAL Africa set up and the hospital for survivors where Lumo and others are treated. Learn more at: http://www.healafrica.org/

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Jeanne Muliri Kabekatyo (Mama Muliri), from the hospital, was one of the speakers on the panel. She is the pioneer of HEAL My People, HEAL Africa’s gender-based violence program.

Another speaker was Wemba Koy-Okonda, who fled the first Congolese war in 1997, and was granted asylum in the US in 2002.  Wemba-Koy founded OKONGO, an organization that both teaches newly resettled Congolese refugees and asylees English and technical skills; and serves people in the Congo in promoting health through public awareness and food self-sufficiency, condemning sexual violence against women and girls, and asking people around the world to help end violence in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Read more online at: http://www.okongo.org/

What’s fueling the war in the Congo? Mining. Mining for blood diamonds? No. Something closer to home to even more of us, maybe even especially those of us who are activists. . . 

I’ll give you a hint – Can you hear me now?

Most of us involved in human rights know to ask for that certificate that your engagement ring isn’t a blood diamond, but do we know what’s in our cell phone in our pocket or running our laptop?

Urge your US Representative to co-sponsor The Conflict Minerals Trade Act (H.R. 4128), introduced by Congressman Jim McDermott (or if you live in the Seattle area and he’s your rep, be sure to thank him).

Learn more and take action online at: http://www.amnestyusa.org/drc

Brass Bands, Mardi Gras Beads & Human Rights

I went down to New Orleans a couple weeks ago for Amnesty International USA’s Annual General Meeting (AGM), and caught some of their French Quarter Festival and explored the city as well (parts 2 & 3 of my adventures).

Mardis Gras beads! I joked that the AI ID should be on lanyards of Mardis Gras beads, updating Facebook via texting Twitter while wandering around the French Quarter Festival. Fair Trade, Union Made Mardis Gras beads, of course! I was thinking about the film, Mardis Gras: Made in China that we showed at the Seattle Human Rights Film Festival a few years back.

I know, I know. New Orleans has had a lot of human rights issues of their own to contend with since then (and the same film makers made a film about the aftermath of Katrina a few years later).

Still, I like the colorful Mardi Gras beads, not appropriate for an Amnesty International meeting. While I’d probably end up with a few, certainly our human rights organization wouldn’t be giving them out. Well, hopefully not made by our group’s POC (Prisoner of Conscience), here they are:

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I should hasten to say that none of my other strands were from flashing anything! Amusingly enough, I did have a young man yell, “All right!” when he saw mine heading out of the hotel at one point. Then he stopped mid sentence, umm maybe because he realized how old I was (I’m hitting the big 5–0 in a couple weeks), or saw the Amnesty ID. Err, I certainly hope none of these AI Mardis Gras beads went out for umm, umm . . . Never mind!

Phew! Yes, I was in New Orleans!

In New Orleans and enjoying a lot of great music and food, even though I wasn’t into the more hedonistic Bourbon St. scene. . .

I confess to staying too long at the French Quarter Festival and missing our march and rally, which included a brass band! Fortunately several Seattle members made it, including my friend, JoJo, who took this photo. I did get to hear some of the brass band, from inside the meeting with the board session that I was one of the few people to make (since nearly everyone else was marching).

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Photo by JoJo Tran

Our opening plenary included the moving tribute video (by The People Speak), to historian Howard Zinn, who was to be our keynote speaker before his death earlier this year. His The People’s History of the United States should be required reading in high schools and colleges, and cuts through so much nonsense. What amazed me about the video was how genuine and down to earth he was.

Bernice Johnson Reagon, veteran of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) during the Civil Rights Movement in the 60’s and member of Sweet Honey in the Rock provided further inspiration in both words and song.

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Here’s Bernice from a tribute to Howard Zinn earlier this month:

Also inspiring was the Ginetta Sagan Award, given in memory of Ginetta Sagan, who was captured while working for the Italian resistance during WWII and tortured by the fascist police; and went on to found one of the first AI chapters in the US and work to free prisoners, found the Western Region and co-found the AIUSA Urgent Action Network, among other things.

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Ginetta’s granddaughter accepted the award on behalf of this year’s recipient, Rebecca Masika Katsuva, of the Democratic Republic of Congo, who couldn’t be there.

According to the brochure announcing the award:

Katsuva, recipient of Amnesty International USA’s 2010 Ginetta Sagan Award for Women’s and Children’s Rights, has endured four sexual assaults and many other threats to herself and her family while sheltering women and child rape survivors in her home, and defending their rights in South Kivu, in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

At the end of the award, a man from Vietnam who Ginetta Sagan had worked to free asked if he could say a few words. Very moving, and a reminder that all those letters (and faxes, phone calls and e-mails) do make a difference in real people’s lives.

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We had tasty New Orleans appetizers during the Ginetta Sagan award, and next was cheesecake & resolutions. Of course, I couldn’t have the cheesecake with my health problem, but i could have coffee. We discussed the upcoming resolutions we’d be voting on the next couple days, how AI decides things and makes changes starting at a grass roots level, coming not only from AIUSA, but AI sections around the world.

AI fed me good the whole time I was there, amazingly enough, both as in recent years, due to the budget crisis, we were lucky to get an occasional coffee; and with my health problem limiting what I can eat. My vegetarian friends were not so lucky, some parts of the country don’t have much of a concept of vegetarian cuisine (other than having some vegetables out).

I made it early for breakfast with the board the next morning, and we had a discussion on what’s going on at the international level, including next year’s International Council Meeting (ICM), where every two years, representatives from AI’s sections in countries worldwide come together to have discussions and make decisions.

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Our Saturday morning focus plenary was on maternal mortality. Once again, as at our regional in San Francisco, I was shocked to learn how bad the situation was here in the US, even.  One of the panel members was a woman who lost her sister to complications after the birth of her son. Complications that the new mother and her husband (both EMTs) were not warned about the symptoms of deep vein thrombosis and told to take her to the hospital immediately if she had them. She waited all day for a call back from the doctor and as she got up to answer the phone, with her husband nearby, the clot broke loose and killed her.

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That poor women were dying of preventable conditions giving birth and following birth was clear from the first session in SF. That preventable death could happen even a woman with adequate insurance, with both her and her husband EMTs, more medically knowledgeable than the rest of us, was a shock. It’s one of those things that really makes you question the value (or lack of value) our society puts on women’s lives and health.

America has gone backwards on maternal mortality. According to Amnesty International’s report, Deadly Delivery:

Maternal mortality ratios have increased from 6.6 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1987 to 13.3 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2006. While some of the recorded increase is due to improved data collection, the fact remains that maternal mortality ratios have risen significantly.

In addition to often a lack of adequate pre-natal care and after birth care, there is a high rate of Caesarian sections (most of which, according to the doctor who spoke, are unneeded.

According to some estimates, improving the quality of
maternal care could prevent 40 to 50 percent of
deaths. For example, studies in other medical fields
show that embolism (blood clot) following surgery has
been reduced by approximately 70 percent by using
either compression stockings or drugs. However, these
simple measures are not routinely used following
c-sections, which account for 32 percent of births.

Learn more about maternal mortality in the US online and take action online to Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius at:

http://www.amnestyusa.org/demand-dignity/maternal-health-is-a-human-right/the-united-states/page.do?id=1351091

Of course, the situation is much worse in the other countries we heard from, including Burkina Faso, Sierra Leone and Peru.

Find out more and take action on ending the high rate of maternal mortality in these countries as well:

http://www.amnestyusa.org/demand-dignity/maternal-health-is-a-human-right/page.do?id=1041189

I went to vote on resolutions at Working Party A: AIUSA Membership and Policy, next. Which I found very worthwhile, as these were the issues our local group, including myself, felt most strongly about. I was disappointed they scheduled them at the same time as the workshops on AI’s priority campaigns, and a special one on fighting for the right to return after Hurricane Katrina, though.

Voting ran a little late, but there was still lunch if not seats, and I made it in time to hear the greeting from our special guest,  Nicholas Cage!

Here’s the least blurry picture, of the projection of Nick’s speech, as you really can’t make him out in the photos of him at the podium.

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Yes, I had lunch with Nick Cage!

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OK, it wasn’t exactly an intimate kind of affair (like Rosanne Cash’s meeting with Gabriel Bryne she twittered about earlier this week). Yes, that’s Nick Cage at the podium, off in the distance! He told us how great we were and then had to leave (but it was pretty cool)!

Yeah, I know what I said all cynical about celebrities and AI, but this is Nick Cage! (In other words, a celebrity I’m actually a fan of. . .)

OK, back to human rights work. We had the local groups meeting next (and there was also a student one at the same time), and compared notes about what we’re doing in our groups.

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Next, I went to the workshop on immigration detention. We talked about how immigrants, including asylum seekers and torture survivors are put in mandatory detention with no hearing to see if they belong or not. They’re often housed with criminals (even though only 11% of them are accused of any crime). All this even though cheaper alternatives to mandatory detention are available (with detention costing $100 a day and alternatives for as little as $12 a day). We talked about the quotas for arresting immigrants, oops, what ICE (Immigration & Customs Enforcement, what used to be the INS) calls “performance goals”. Then we talked about what we could do locally, including visiting detention facilities and lobbying our congress members for several bills currently in the House and Senate.

I did take my one brief break for the conference here and caught about an hour or so of the French Quarter Festival (& caught a lot more Friday before, and Sunday after the conference, coming in my next post).

I came back for the 6 pm session (did I mention we started at 7:30 in the morning?) and went to the one on challenging America’s human rights record at home. We talked about the upcoming UN Periodic Review of the US that AI and other organizations are contributing papers and recommendations for (and how AI does this for all countries).

Among other things, the US still needs to ratify 4 treaties, The Convention on the Rights of the Child (we’re the last holdout, Somalia has now signed this one), CEDAW (the Convention to Eliminate All Forms of Discrimination Against Women), the one on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR), and the Convention on Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

We also talked about the rights of asylum seekers, including the fact mentioned earlier, that they are automatically detained on entry. Then we talked about the right of return for New Orleans’ residents.  Among the problems I’ve heard – public housing was torn down (and the films I’ve seen on this show that this housing was untouched by Hurricane Katrina), houses people tried to refurbish in the Lower 9th were bulldozed, many schools still not open, public hospitals still closed. . .

More information on the UN Periodic Review (UPR) at: http://www.upr-info.org/

More information on human rights post-Katrina and the right of return at: http://www.ehumanrights.org/ourwork_residents.html

We had a reception for our region after that, with some more food to graze on. I headed back to my hostel after this before checking out the AI event at the New Orleans Hard Rock (which was loud disco, that I wasn’t really into and didn’t stay long). As it took us awhile to get back with streetcar service (or, rather lack of), I missed any awards or drawings; and I don’t know if Nick Cage, who invited us all there ever showed up. ; )

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I started out the next morning at the breakfast with the Board Candidates meeting. OK, now I’m tracking down the ballot that came in the mail just before I left for the AGM. . .

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Next up was voting on the resolutions, which was actually over early by some miracle. After a breath of fresh air, I went to the session on the Membership Engagement Team report. I knew I was in trouble when I got a huge document with the disclaimer: “Do not be alarmed by the size of this report!” Although it was a useful, if dry, session for a local group leader.

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We had box lunches with po-boy sandwiches during the final plenary session, a panel on the death penalty abolition that included a former prison warden (Dr. Allen Ault) as well as an exoneree (John Thompson). Louisiana has one of the highest rates of exoneration.

Louisiana also has, probably not coincidentally, one of the highest prison rates, and worst educational system. Angola Prison in Louisiana has 5100 men, 4000 are African American. Interestingly enough, though, Dr. Ault, the former warden said that in Georgia the prison he worked at was once 75% black, 25% white; and is now 50–50; thanks to the increase in meth, which is more a white person’s drug.

Learn more about the death penalty at: http://www.amnestyusa.org/death-penalty/page.do?id=1011005 

Find out more about the program John Thompson started, Resurrection After Exoneration at: http://www.r-a-e.org/

 As our AGM wound down, AI applauded the staff of The New Orleans Marriott, our conference hotel, literally, as they all marched across the stage!

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We also thanked the AI staff and volunteers who put the conference together (and having been with the local group when we put on the 2002 AGM in Seattle, I can tell you that’s a lot of work, months before the conference begins).

Then AI volunteers and staff performed short pieces from Howard Zinn’s The People Speak, bringing history alive and adding a further fitting tribute to Howard Zinn.

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Local Group 133, from Somerville, Massachusetts, was awarded the annual Sister Laola Hironaka Award for Local Groups. Group 133 organizes the annual Get on the Bus event.

 Now in its fifteenth year, GOTB draws upwards of 1,200 participants riding buses, commuter trains, and carpooling down to New York City to take peaceful action in front of embassies, consulates and corporate headquarters in NYC in support of human rights.

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Learn more about the Get on the Bus event at: http://www.gotb.org/

Closing out with music and poetry, first local New Orleans poet and activist Asia Rainey shared powerful poetry, and sang a very moving spiritual (even though she claimed she wasn’t a singer).

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Here’s Asia with her poem, No Rainbows for the Colored (with a little singing first), at an event earlier this year. This young woman really speaks truth to power.

Then musician Dave Tieff performed Love and Freedom, a song he wrote for Amnesty International.

Finally,  Larry Cox closing out the conference with praise and encouragement for the work ahead for the coming year.

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Next year’s AIUSA Annual General Meeting, celebrating AI’s 50th birthday, is in San Francisco, March 17 -19, 2011!

More on the music, and my other adventures in New Orleans coming up.

On, and also a couple concerts, including another Flight to Mars show, since coming back!

It’s hard to find time to blog about life while you’re living it. . .