12.10.2019

write for rights 2019 #write4rights

Today, December 10, is Human Rights Day. The date commemorates the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948, the first document of its kind.

Every year on December 10, Amnesty International holds a global letter-writing event: Write For Rights (in Canada). Hundreds of thousands of people around the world write handwritten letters calling for action for victims of human rights abuses, and offering comfort and support to political prisoners.

Every year at this time, I try to think of a different way to invite readers to participate in Write For Rights.

All through this year, I've been struggling with cynicism and despair about the state of our planet and the state of democracy. So even though all the warm and fuzzy reasons I've listed in the past (and below) are true and valid, the most important reason to Write For Rights is deadly serious. The world is seriously fucked up. Many, if not most, of us who care about the world feel helpless in the face of such enormous, complex, and intractable problems. Whether or not we will collectively succeed in make a difference on a global scale, we can each make a difference on an individual scale. Amnesty International provides us with an opportunity to do that.



Amnesty sometimes chooses the Write For Rights cases with a theme, such as activists who are women and girls, or earth defenders. This year, the cases focus on people aged 25 or under.

If a difference will be made, these are the people who will do the heavy lifting. It's our job to support them in any way we can. Amnesty letters are an important part of that support.

I've been participating in Write For Rights for many years. In the last few years, I've been challenging myself to write one letter for each of the ten highlighted cases. I give myself one week to get it done.

But that's just me. It's not all-or-nothing. It's something instead of nothing.

For every case, there are multiple opportunities to show support -- but it's the personal letter that makes the greatest impact.


* Emil Ostrovko is in prison in Belarus, one of 15,000 young people enduring long, grueling prison sentences for minor, non-violent offenses.

* Jianne Turtle is a young teen from the Anishinaabe community of Grassy Narrows. She is fighting for environmental justice for her people, whose communities have been devastated by mercury poisoning. Canadians may have heard of Grassy Narrows but not understand the issues. Here's an opportunity to learn and to help.

* In China, a young father and husband is probably in one of China’s secret concentration camps for Uyghurs. Up to one million Muslim people have been disappeared and locked up in these camps, where they are brainwashed with government propaganda. This is a human rights abuse on a sweeping scale.

* In Egypt, Ibrahim Ezz El-Din, a human rights worker, disappeared from the streets of Cairo. His work highlighting the need for safe, affordable housing brought him into conflict with powerful people.

* Sarah Mardini and Sean Binder are volunteer rescue workers, saving lives of refugees at sea. They face up to 25 years in prison, for the "crime" of saving lives.

* In South Sudan, 15-year-old Magai Matiop Ngong has been sentenced to death for causing an accidental death while trying to protect a family member.

* Marinel Sumook Ubaldo fights for justice and dignity for survivors of climate change in the Philippines. She needs our support.

* José Adrián had the bad luck to be targetted by the police in Mexico, although he had done nothing wrong. His life and his family's well being continues to be in jeopardy.

* On International Women's Day, 16-year-old Yasaman Aryani and her mother walked through a women-only train with her hair visible. Yasaman handed out flowers, and spoke of her dream of a future where Iranian women could decide for themselves whether or not to cover their heads in public. A video of her gentle action went viral. Yasaman was jailed and interrogated, and faces 10 years in prison.

* In Nigeria, Nasu Abdulaziz was shot and wounded for defending his home and his community. Joining a mass movement protesting forced evictions and destruction of homes and communities, Nasu continues to fight against government terrorism.

* * * *

For good measure, I'll also re-run the 10 cheerier reasons that you should participate in Write For Rights.

1. It's easy. Amnesty makes it really easy to participate. Read, type, send.

2. You can do do it from any computer. No meetings to attend, no schedule to keep. Just more of something you do all the time anyway: typing.

3. It's free. No need to donate money. The most this will cost you is postage.

4. You'll feel good about yourself. Enjoy that warm buzz you get from voluntarily helping other people. There's nothing quite like it.

5. You can choose how much to participate. Write one letter, write two letters, write three. Spend 10 minutes writing or spend an hour.

6. You can choose what to focus on. Write about an issue in your own country. Write about an issue in your country of origin. Write for children, or for women, or for LGBT people, or for workers, or for environmental activists, or for another issue that you care about.

7. You're busting stereotypes. We supposedly live in a selfish age where all we care about is I, me, mine. Challenge yourself to say it ain't so.

8. It works globally. Every fight against injustice begins with someone shining a light in a dark place. Be that light.

9. It works locally. When political prisoners are released, they often attest to the difference letters from strangers made in their lives: that knowing they were not forgotten helped them survive.

10. You enjoy your own human rights every day. Why not use them to help someone who can't? It doesn't take much time. It's not difficult to do. And it works.

Write for Rights in Canada

Write for Rights in the US

Write for Rights internationally.

12.02.2019

toni morrison on good and evil in literature

Graphic via
Students Exploring Inequality in Canada
For as long as I can remember, I have been fascinated by stories of forgiveness and redemption. I believe endlessly in the human capacity for redemption, and that belief that has only been strengthened as I've seen more of the world.

The stories that interest me the most are when people who suffer loss do not seek vengeance.

I first came upon this idea in the book Dead Man Walking, the 1994 book by Sister Helen Prejean. Prejean is foundational for me, and this book had a profound influence on my worldview. (I already opposed capital punishment when I read it.)

Stories of people who lost loved ones to violence, and opposed the execution of the murderer, always get my attention. I don't see them as often now, as I follow US news very closely.* But the Death Penalty Information Centre gives many examples of this.

The National Coalition Against the Death Penalty has many resources for and about people seeking an alternative to vengeance, such as Murder Victims Families for Human Rights.

The ACLU published Voices from California Crime Victims for Alternatives to the Death Penalty.

Recent studies have questioned the idea that executing murderers brings "closure" to the families of victims.

For myself, a few memorable examples come to mind.

A father who lost a daughter on the attacks of September 11, 2001 spoke out against the invasion of Iraq, and against the death penalty for anyone responsible for the attacks. He said his daughter unequivocally opposed capital punishment and he honours her memory by picking up that cause.

The people of Norway after "22 July", as it is known there, refused vengeance, and refused to sacrifice human rights or civil liberties in response to the attacks.

And this powerful story, told here by Toni Morrison.
On an October morning in 2006, a young man backed his truck into the driveway of a one-room schoolhouse. He walked into the school and after ordering the boy students, the teacher and a few other adults to leave, he lined up 10 girls, ages 9 to 13, and shot them. The mindless horror of that attack drew intense and sustained press as well as, later on, books and film. Although there had been two other school shootings only a few days earlier, what made this massacre especially notable was the fact that its landscape was an Amish community — notoriously peaceful and therefore the most unlikely venue for such violence.

Before the narrative tracking the slaughter had been exhausted in the press, another rail surfaced, one that was regarded as bizarre and somehow as shocking as the killings. The Amish community forgave the killer, refused to seek justice, demand vengeance, or even to judge him. They visited and comforted the killer's widow and children (who were not Amish), just as they embraced the relatives of the slain. There appeared a number of explanations for their behavior — their historical aversion to killing anyone at all for any reason and their separatist convictions. More to the point, the Amish community had nothing or very little to say to outside inquiry except that it was God's place to judge, not theirs. And, as one cautioned, "Do not think evil of this man." They held no press conferences and submitted to no television interviews. They quietly buried the dead, attended the killer's funeral, then tore down the old schoolhouse and built a new one.
Morrison used this story as an introduction to a lecture to the Harvard Divinity School in 2012. After Morrison's death earlier this year, the New York Times published the text of the talk. I loved reading this and perhaps you will also enjoy it.

Toni Morrison on "Goodness: Altruism and the Literary Imagination".



* The US remains the only so-called developed country that still executes, keeping company with North Korea, Iran, and China. Despite more than 150 exonerations of death-row prisoners, and despite all that is known about capital punisment, 29 states still use the death penalty.

12.01.2019

maya moore's quest for justice

Long ago (in internet terms), in the early days of what we then called the Blogosphere, one of the primary functions of blogs was to share other posts and articles of interest that we came across online. Social media has taken over that function -- and much less effectively. How many people actually read links they find on Twitter? While a meme or a short video may go viral, a lengthy think-piece becomes just another passing link in the endless feed.

I stopped using this blog to share articles of interest, but sometimes I come upon something that I just can't let go. Then I need to send them out into the world again through wmtc. I have a couple of those right now. Here's the first one.

* * * *

Maya Moore, currently one of the best professional basketball players on the planet, stunned the WNBA and its fans when she announced she would not play in the 2019 season.

Her reasons are even more surprising: Moore left the game to focus on social justice. Specifically, justice for one man, wrongly convicted and serving prison time in the state of Missouri, and more generally, for a more just justice system. Moore believes this is her purpose in life, deeply connected to her faith.

Last summer, Moore's team, the Minnesota Lynx, took the court wearing t-shirts declaring "Change Starts with Us. Justice & Accountability" on the front and "Black Lives Matter" on the back, along with the names [Philando] Castile and [Alton] Sterling, two of the many African Americans killed by police. The t-shirt also displayed the Dallas, Texas Police shield, a reference to the five police officers killed by a sniper in 2016, one man's protest against police violence.

Moore became interested in the case of Jonathan Irons, currently serving 50 years for a crime he was convicted of in 1998, at the age of 16. She was so moved by the injustice of Irons' case that she decided to focus full-time on criminal-justice reform.

There's also another thread to this story. The WNBA has a salary cap of $120,000. By contrast, the minimum salary in the NBA is $98.226 million. Some fans laud female players for being less "greedy," but $120,000 may like a comfortable salary. But athletes' careers are very short and can be cut even shorter by injury. To maximize earning potential to help secure their futures, female players will also play in European and Asian leagues, essentially playing all year round with very few breaks.

When Moore stunned the basketball world with her announcement in the Players' Tribune website, she left her reasons vague. Then she sat down with sportswriter Kurt Streeter and told her story.

To read more about Moore's decision and Irons' case, see this story from June of this year, in the New York Times: Maya Moore Left Basketball. A Prisoner Needed Her Help.