thou shalt be thin: obesity hysteria and the eating disorder epidemic

This ad for Yoplait Light reduced-calorie yogurt, which I saw on TV last Sunday night, was supposedly pulled from circulation. The National Eating Disorder Association petitioned General Mills because the ad promotes a mindset associated with eating disorders. Instead of negotiating every bite of food, anxiously calculating if we've earned the right to eat a dessert, as this woman does, how about asking ourselves, Am I hungry? And maybe, even if we're not particularly hungry, if it's not habit or routine, and it's food we really like, how about enjoying a small slice of cheesecake?

Whether or not this one ad continues to air, advertising that perpetuates the message that eating is bad - but buying our product is good - is legion. When I wrote about eating disorders in the 1990s, several therapists referenced current ads and said, "That is an advertisement for exercise bulimia." (Exercise bulimia is another term for compulsive exercise, the attempt to purge food consumption through excessive calorie burning.) Eating disorders are closely linked to advertising and consumerism, as companies constantly play on our insecurities about body image, seeking to induce us to buy, buy, buy.

This recent ad controversy brought to the surface something I've thinking about for a long time. In a culture obsessed with a belief that most people weigh too much and are too large, what happens to people already obsessed with weighing less and being thin? Put more simply, as we fixate on obesity, what happens to people with eating disorders?

Society's obsession with body size received a fresh veneer of legitimacy when it became accepted wisdom that an "obesity epidemic" now threatens the health and lives of Americans and Canadians. Obesity, we have learned, is an alarming health risk. Being fat causes terrible diseases, those diseases take a terrible toll on society, and we can reduce the risk of disease if we reduce our weight. Body shape and size are now seen as predictors of health - even though the evidence does not support that claim. (More on that below.)

This accepted wisdom has given rise to new heights of fat-phobia. One website counts 18 weight-loss-themed TV shows worldwide, and while some of those listed are no longer running, newer shows such as CBC's "Village on a Diet" have taken their place.

Healthy eating and regular exercise are both important to maintaining good health. Public education about healthy eating and exercise choices is a very worthwhile goal - and making healthy choices affordable and accessible to all people should be a societal priority. But it's not.

At best, the cultural obsession with body size takes the form of brow-beating people to change their behaviour, never an effective model. At worst, it's all about shame and humiliation, and perpetuating stereotypes of people our culture declares unattractive. Meanwhile, the constant emphasis on weight-loss likely fuels the very unhealthy quest for thinness that dominates so many lives.

Everyone must lose weight

I want to share something I overheard at the gym, a scene that seems so cliched, you may think I am inventing it, but I assure you I heard exactly this. Two women and a little girl, the daughter of one of the women, were getting ready to swim. None of them were heavy by any standard. The women were thin and the girl had the perfect shape of a healthy, active child. She was, I'm guessing, around 8 years old.

The women were talking about dieting. One said, "I only lost one pound this week." The other replied, "I was so good all week, but I didn't lose anything."

Then the girl said, "I was good, too. I think I lost weight."

Both women immediately said, "You don't have to lose weight," and "You don't have to worry about that."

That's the right response, but I wonder if those women are aware of the damage that they've already done. They are both thin - yet both are dieting, tracking their weight, and referring to their eating as "good" or "bad". As a recovered obsessive dieter, I recognize that talk and all it implies. These women are probably always trying to push their weight a bit lower. They have tremendous trouble losing any weight because they have no extra weight to lose, so they end up thinking and talking about their eating habits a lot. Some of that talk takes place in front of this girl. The girl sees what her mother looks like, knows her mother is dieting, and internalizes the message that when we look like that, we should diet.

Like all children, that little girl learns by example what is expected of her. Even someone as thin as her mother must lose weight.

And of course this girl, like all children in our culture, is bombarded with images that thin is beautiful and fat is ugly. She receives those messages from hundreds of sources over the course of her lifetime. But a girl who grows up in a home with a lot of talk about weight loss and dieting is at greater risk for acquiring a distorted body-image and an eating disorder.

And what about the women themselves? They may, like so many women, struggle with constant restriction, guilt and recrimination. I never fully appreciated the burden of weight-obsession until I liberated myself from it.

Here's another snapshot from the gym. I noticed a card where members could sign up to participate in Live Right Now, CBC's healthy-living program, which at times is an extended commercial for their principal sponsor, President's Choice (the brand of a major Canadian supermarket chain). Upon closer inspection, I was taken aback to see that the card was a "weight loss pledge" - not a pledge to go to the gym more often or to eat a healthier diet, but a pledge to lose weight.

This is a YMCA, mind you, where the emphasis is usually on health, rather than weight. By my observation, most people at this gym don't need to lose any weight. Losing a few pounds will not decrease their risk of heart disease, diabetes or cancer; in fact, a few extra pounds may extend their lives. So why should members pledge to lose weight? What will a weight-loss pledge do, except make people feel bad when the promise goes unfulfilled?

Perhaps for some people, being challenged to lose weight will lead to more healthy eating and exercise habits. But if the goal is healthier habits, why not say that? Why put the emphasis on weight loss?

This speaks to the central myth behind the so-called obesity epidemic. Fat doesn't cause disease. Unhealthy eating and lack of exercise are risk factors for diabetes and heart disease; weight and size, absent other factors, are not.

Body size is often associated with unhealthy eating and a sedentary lifestyle, but not always. One person eats healthfully and has an active lifestyle, but is considered overweight. Another person sits at a desk all day, eats junk food, and watches TV all night, but is thin. The active "overweight" person is at lower risk for heart disease and diabetes than the thin couch potato.

Fat phobia and our genetic potential for weight gain

We live in a fat-hating world.

Body size is the last frontier of ridicule. Progressive Torontonians gleefully bash their city's Mayor Rob Ford over his appearance - as if there aren't enough real reasons to criticize the union-busting, environment-hating, racist mayor - and those of us who object are self-righteous curmudgeons. We are socially conditioned to find fat people unattractive, to the point where many believe that attraction to larger people amounts to sexual deviance. We associate fat with laziness, and a slew of other negative traits. Fat people are unsightly and should keep themselves hidden. (My mother tells me it "doesn't look nice" when heavy women wear tank tops or shorts. Apparently heavy women should be uncomfortable all summer because the sight of their large limbs might offend someone's eyes.)

One reason fat-bashing is considered acceptable is the underlying assumption that people can choose whether or not to be heavy - a belief that if fat people just tried harder, they could be thin. For the vast majority of heavy people, this is not so.

It's been proven - many times, over many different studies - that weight is only slightly less malleable than eye colour. You can change your weight for short periods of time, but your body will eventually return to its old shape, the shape for which it is genetically programmed. Anyone who permanently keeps off significant amounts of weight must either obsess on her weight for the rest of her life, or is genetically predispositioned to be thin, and the weight gain was a temporary condition.

I realize this may seem counter-intuitive, since people in first-world countries are heavier now than they were 50 years ago or 50 years before that. Our median weight has increased. But so has our median height: each generation is, on average, taller than the previous one. Try blaming that on junk food and video games.

The fact is, as more people have adequate access to nutrition, their bodies are able to express their full genetic potential to store fat. This has been proven again and again. For a good summary of the evidence in this regard, see Gina Kolata's groundbreaking (and highly readable) book, Rethinking Thin, which I wrote about here.

What else has been proven many times over? Diets don't work. Whatever current eating program is being promoted - low-fat, low-carb, high-protein, food combining, whatever - it will always yield the same results: temporary weight loss, followed by larger and more stubborn weight gain.

In which I briefly place my own experience in this context

Full disclosure: I'm overweight. Not obese, but heavy, a result of my hard-won decision to stop dieting and enjoy eating, combined with my funky metabolism, likely caused by fibromyalgia.

I was somewhat chubby growing up, but not fat. For example, I was never teased for being heavy and never called fat. (These days I notice that the trolls who hang around wmtc and JoS try to insult me with fat name-calling. It's interesting how anonymous men play that card, assuming it is hurtful.)

Twice - once in university and again in my early 20s - I gained a significant amount of weight, and both times lost it through heavily structured diets. The second round of dieting set me on a path of diet addiction and obsession with the scale that lasted more than 10 years. Writing an article on compulsive exercise for Seventeen magazine, then later a book, I discovered my own disordered thinking about food. I worked with a nutritionist therapist to learn how to eat again. And none too soon. Once I had fibromyalgia, my body changed radically, and I began to slowly and steadily put on weight.

Now I eat, I exercise, I'm healthy, I'm overweight, I'm happy.

I include this information because when one writes critically about obesity hysteria, readers tend to make assumptions. You are free to ask me questions about my own experience if you want.

Fat is a capitalist issue (apologies to Susie Orbach)

The combination of these two powerful myths - fat causes ill health, and fat is a personal choice - allows us to take an individualistic, anecdotal approach to what is, in reality, a societal problem. Just as we blame people for their own poverty and cling to the belief that a positive attitude can "beat cancer", the personal-choice approach alleviates the need to create systemic change, or even to commit social resources to the issue. (Social resources? My taxes aren't going to help lazy fatties keep their hands out of the potato-chip bag!) A morbidly obese woman on a TV show is supplied with a personal trainer, time to exercise, healthy food and a support network. Et voilà, she loses weight! If she can do it, you can do it. (But you'll have to do it on your own.)

Clearly, individual choices matter - in all things in life, and certainly for our health. But we don't all have access to the same choices. The single greatest predictor of health is not a choice. It is poverty. Poverty is the strongest predictor of virtually every measure of health: infant mortality, low birth-weight, incidence of disease, risk of being a victim of violent crime, chances of surviving serious disease, age of death.

Weight, too, is inextricably tied to poverty and class. People with higher incomes have more access to fresh, healthy food, and more time and opportunity for exercise. If you doubt that affluent people have more discretionary time than poor people, think about how many tasks you can pay others to do for you. If you never pay others to work for you - no dry-cleaning, lawn care, child care, dog care, sewing, painting, repairing, cooking, shopping, researching (because, perhaps, you are saving for your retirement), I hope you will recognize that as a choice of privilege rather than a fact of survival.

Poor people's diets are often full of empty, unhealthy calories, and their time is more constrained by the need to constantly stretch every dollar. Do you know what a "food desert" is? Food deserts are found in every North American city. They are neighbourhoods without fresh, healthy food choices, where the purchase of healthy food entails lengthy and expensive treks, often on several methods of public transit. Why do food deserts exist? Because poor people aren't good consumers. Low-income neighbourhoods are not good profit-generators, their residents don't have disposable income, so quality supermarkets don't set up shop there. Such is the insanity of food production and distribution in a capitalist system.

We can collectively exhort fat people all we want, but until we decide to eradicate poverty, the weight - and more importantly, the health - of large segments of our society will not change.

In The Social Determinants of Health: The Canadian Facts, researchers Juha Mikkonen and Dennis Raphael write:
The primary factors that shape the health of Canadians are not medical treatments or lifestyle choices but rather the living conditions they experience. These conditions have come to be known as the social determinants of health. This information – based on decades of research and hundreds of studies in Canada and elsewhere – is unfamiliar to most Canadians.

Canadians are largely unaware that our health is shaped by how income and wealth is distributed, whether or not we are employed and if so, the working conditions we experience. Our health is also determined by the health and social services we receive, and our ability to obtain quality education, food and housing, among other factors. And contrary to the assumption that Canadians have personal control over these factors, in most cases these living conditions are – for better or worse – imposed upon us by the quality of the communities, housing situations, work settings, health and social service agencies, and educational institutions with which we interact.

Improving the health of Canadians requires we think about health and its determinants in a more sophisticated manner than has been the case to date. Social Determinants of Health: The Canadian Facts considers 14 social determinants of health:
1. Income and Income Distribution
2. Education
3. Unemployment and Job Security
4. Employment and Working Conditions
5. Early Childhood Development
6. Food Insecurity
7. Housing
8. Social Exclusion
9. Social Safety Network
10. Health Services
11. Aboriginal Status
12. Gender
13. Race
14. Disability
My friend Dr. J has covered this issue much more thoroughly, in his excellent post Fat phobia, the "obesity epidemic" and the medicalization of inequality. He points out that "much of the 'obesity science' is arbitrary" and the oft-repeated claim that obesity contributes to "300,000 deaths a year" in Canada is a myth, practically plucked out of thin air.
Not only does the supposed problem "fat = unhealthy" not stand up to scrutiny, but the supposed solution of lecturing people to "stop eating fat" doesn't reduce weight or the supposed obesity-related illnesses. The Women's Health Initiative followed 50,000 women for years, telling one group to eat a low-fat diet while the control group followed their usual diet. The results: "Women assigned to this eating strategy did not appear to gain protection against breast cancer, colorectal cancer, or cardiovascular disease. And after eight years, their weights were generally the same as those of women following their usual diets." Despite the simplistic call for "good lifestyle choices", people can choose health in the same way that they can choose housing, income, working conditions, the food they eat, the air they breathe. In the market, people's ability to make choices depends on their socioeconomic condition.
Where does this leave people with eating disorders?

Dieting is a multi-billion dollar industry, feeding our insecurities to sell us snake oil. If dieting actually worked, the industry would put itself out of business. The diet industry thrives on failure, and that's easy to do, since failure is a fact of dieting. Big Pharma, too, is always part of the picture. As Kolata demonstrates in Rethinking Thin, diet studies never lack for funding, as the pharmaceutical industry quests for its Holy Grail: the magic weight-loss pill.

Researching an article, I once tracked the after-school ads on MTV. A full one-third of ads marketed weight loss - either through diet plans, exercise equipment, low-calorie food, or meal replacements - while another one-third sold junk food and sugar-laden beverages. The rest were for cars and electronics. And in between ads, there was a parade of impossibly thin women and artificially pumped-up men. The picture is pretty clear. It's almost a mandate for eating disorders.

By any count, millions of North Americans struggle with eating disorders. But all estimates must be low, as the behaviour almost always takes place in secret. Unless someone goes off the deep end, she (or, increasingly, he) may not show up in any statistics. People who are sexually abused are more likely to have eating disorders than the general population; eating disorder diagnoses are often lost as seemingly more pressing problems like substance abuse and self-injury are dealt with. In fact, both cutting and eating disorders are addictions.

The best known expressions of eating disorders are anorexia and bulimia, but most eating-disorder behaviours overlap, meaning people are likely to engage in several: restricting, purging, exercising in harmful ways and to an unhealthy degree. Eating disorders, like many mental and emotional issues, are best seen on a continuum. The girls and women who starve themselves to death or near-death are at one end of the spectrum, but less obvious "disordered thinking" about food and body image is incredibly widespread; the conversation I overheard at the gym is a typical example.

For the last 20 years, eating disorders, body dissatisfaction and diet obsession have been appearing in younger and younger children. With boys, it's often associated with supplement use, exercise (especially weightlifting) obsession and binge eating; with girls, it's often associated with restricting ("dieting") and purging.

To me, it seems obvious and inevitable that the current anti-fat hysteria must be increasing the prevalence of eating disorders. We already believe everyone is too heavy and eats too much. How can we also believe millions of people are too thin and eat too little? Better to just ignore that, and keep telling everyone they're too fat.

From the National Eating Disorders Association (stats with sources downloadable as pdf:
In the United States, as many as 10 million females and 1 million males are fighting a life and death battle with an eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia. . . . Because of the secretiveness and shame associated with eating disorders, many cases are probably not reported. In addition, many individuals struggle with body dissatisfaction and sub-clinical disordered eating attitudes and behaviors. For example, it has been shown that 80% of American women are dissatisfied with their appearance.

• For females between fifteen to twenty-four years old who suffer from anorexia nervosa, the mortality rate associated with the illness is twelve times higher than the death rate of ALL other causes of death.

• Anorexia nervosa has the highest premature fatality rate of any mental illness.

[A 2003 review of the literature showed:]

• 40% of newly identified cases of anorexia are in girls 15-19 years old.

• Significant increase in incidence of anorexia from 1935 to 1989 especially among young women 15-24.

• A rise in incidence of anorexia in young women 15-19 in each decade since 1930.

• The incidence of bulimia in 10-39 year old women TRIPLED between 1988 and 1993.

• Only one-third of people with anorexia in the community receive mental health care.

• Only 6% of people with bulimia receive mental health care.

• The majority of people with severe eating disorders do not receive adequate care.

[From public opinion surveys on eating disorders:]

• Four out of ten Americans either suffered or have known someone who has suffered from an eating disorder.

Dieting and The Drive for Thinness

• Over one-half of teenage girls and nearly one-third of teenage boys use unhealthy weight control behaviors such as skipping meals, fasting, smoking cigarettes, vomiting, and taking laxatives.

• Girls who diet frequently are 12 times as likely to binge as girls who don't diet.

• 42% of 1st-3rd grade girls want to be thinner.

• 81% of 10-year-olds are afraid of being fat.

• The average American woman is 5'4" tall and weighs 140 pounds. The average American model is 5'11" tall and weighs 117 pounds.

• 46% of 9-11 year-olds are "sometimes" or "very often" on diets, and 82% of their families are "sometimes" or "very often" on diets.

• 91% of women recently surveyed on a college campus had attempted to control their weight through dieting, 22% dieted "often" or "always".

• 95% of all dieters will regain their lost weight in 1-5 years.

• 35% of "normal dieters" progress to pathological dieting. Of those, 20-25% progress to partial or full-syndrome eating disorders.

• 25% of American men and 45% of American women are on a diet on any given day.

• Americans spend over $40 billion on dieting and diet-related products each year.
There you have it: "Americans spend over $40 billion on dieting and diet-related products each year." The branding of Fat as Public Enemy #1 generates massive profits, confirms our stereotypes, and absolves us of the need to create real social change. No wonder we refuse to admit that it's simply not true.

* * * *

Special shout-outs and hat tips to my friends Dr. J of your heart's on the left and Julie Devaney, health and disability activist, creator of My Leaky Body. I had a difficult time selecting a quote from Julie's relevant post, so please just go read the whole thing: The Body-Shaming Epidemic.


another stranded canadian needs our help: naser bader al-raas

Naser Bader Al-Raas, a 28-year-old Canadian, is in prison in Bahrain. He has been tortured. His passport has been confiscated, so he cannot leave that country. He has a heart condition, and may be in desperate need of medical attention.

He needs our help.

Al Raas's plight began in March, when he went to visit his sisters, who live in Bahrain. He went to the airport for his return flight - then vanished. When his family in Ottawa next heard from him, he had been released from prison, where he had been tortured.
But his identification, cellphones and Canadian passport have all been confiscated.

“Police told him not to contact the Canadian embassy and not to say he was arrested,” said Sadeq Al Raas.

But six weeks later, three charges, including kidnapping, were laid against him and a group of about 10 others.

The family has requested help from several human rights organizations.

“The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade is aware of a Canadian citizen who was detained and is currently prevented from leaving Bahrain,” wrote spokeswoman Priya Sinha.

“Consular officials in Ottawa and at the Canadian Embassy in Riyadh (Saudi Arabia) are in contact with local authorities and are providing consular assistance.”

The Canadian embassy in Riyadh has assisted, Al Raas said, but now tell him they can’t do anything because Al Raas is being charged in a military court.
Al Raas' family has turned to the government for help, but so far, have been met with silence.

Here's how you can help.

1. Sign this petition in support of Al Raas.

2. Like the Free Naser! Facebook page and share it with your network.

3. Write to your MP about Al-Raas. Here's a sample letter:
Dear Member of Parliament,

As your constituent, I am writing to bring your attention to a matter of great urgency. Naser Bader Al-Raas is a Canadian man who has been arrested, imprisoned and tortured in Bahrain. The secret police have confiscated his passport, which means he is unable to return to Canada. Naser is currently awaiting trial in Bahrain.

It is critical that he return home as soon as possible. Naser suffers from serious heart and lung problems. He has had two open-heart surgeries and requires special medication for his condition. He needs to return to Canada for medical treatment.

In March of this year, Naser traveled to Bahrain to visit family. He was kidnapped and imprisoned by secret police. He was physically and psychologically tortured. During this time, Naser was repeatedly forced to sign papers while blindfolded.

After one month of torture, Naser was charged with various crimes, including the abduction of a policeman. He “confessed” to these crimes while being tortured. He is currently awaiting trial.

Naser’s family in Canada has requested help from the Government, but they have not yet received a response. It is imperative that the Government intercede on Naser’s behalf as soon as possible. I hope that you will help in any way you can, especially by applying pressure in Parliament for an intercession on Naser’s behalf.

[You can send links to two news articles if you like: here and here.

Please let me know if I can count on your support. I look forward to hearing your position on this matter.

I hope you'll take a few minutes to help.

handmade soaps, equal marriage, and stop the tar sands: i discover lush

As part of my work for the video surveillance project, I was wandering around the Square One mall, when I saw this sign in the window of Lush.

I went inside to ask for more information: there was a petition, a postcard drive, and an excellent pamphlet from Freedom To Marry. The manager told me about some of the company's past political actions, including Stop The Tar Sands and anti seal hunting campaigns.

I am very impressed! Most corporate chains define their social responsbility in the blandest and least controversial way possible. With Stop The Tar Sands, Save Our Seals, and Freedom To Marry, Lush is bound to take a lot of static in both Canada and the US. They'll certainly gain some business, too, but corporate social responsbility is usually all about middle-of-the-road.

Lush sells beautiful handmade soaps, all cruelty-free and ethically sourced. As much as it pains me to plug a competitor of my friend Stella Marie Soaps, shipping charges from Rhode Island may be prohibitive for Canadians, or you may need to touch and smell your soap in person. Or maybe you need a quick gift, and mail order won't work. In those cases, think Lush.

Extra special thanks to Dharma Seeker for turning me on to Lush.


lessons from canada post lock-out and back-to-work legislation

The members of Canadian Union of Postal Workers engage in labour actions. In response, their employer, Canada Post, locks them out. The Harper Government tables back-to-work legislation. The Opposition launches the longest filibuster in Canadian history.

What have we learned?

1. Stephen Harper and his government hate organized labour.

2. Stephen Harper and his government will always side with big corporations against working people.

3. Jack Layton and the New Democratic Party are a real opposition, taking seriously their responsibility to oppose.

4. The Liberals suck.

OK, lessons 1, 2 and 4 were already well known, and I strongly suspected and assumed lesson 3. I didn't think Jack Layton would achieve the pinnacle of his party's power and then become Michael Ignatieff. But it was still so exciting to see.

Lessons for the future:

1. Keep fighting.

Jack and the Orange Crush are prepared to support our struggles. We finally have a strong, clear voice in Ottawa. Let's stand together to fight for the rights of all working people.

Tim Harper in the Toronto Star: NDP stood up to bulldozer without getting crushed

Have you thanked Jack Layton and Libby Davies?


alice walker: why i'm sailing to gaza

Alice Walker has written a long, thoughtful essay about her experiences in the Palestinian territories, and her decision to participate in Freedom Flotilla II - Stay Human, the international convoy of ships bringing hope and humanitarian aid to the besieged people of Gaza.

Perhaps some of the people visiting wmtc from a link in a National Post column (short version: Canadian Boat to Gaza is full of anti-Semites, there is no siege of Gaza) will read it. Not likely, I know, but worth a try.

You can read it Walker's excellent piece on Rabble's Canadian Boat to Gaza blog or on Walker's own blog, Alice Walker's Garden.
Why am I going on the Freedom Flotilla II to Gaza? I ask myself this, even though the answer is: What else would I do? I am in my sixty-seventh year, having lived already a long and fruitful life, one with which I am content. It seems to me that during this period of eldering it is good to reap the harvest of one's understanding of what is important, and to share this, especially with the young. How are they to learn, otherwise?

Some of this narrative I have written before, but in the interest of completion, I will reiterate here: On December 27, 2008, one of my two sisters died, just as the Israeli military began massively bombing the Gaza strip, an assault that would continue for 22 days and nights. She was older than me, and had been sick practically all her life. Stress of many kinds had separated our spirits, though love remained. Even with so much distance between us I felt, when she died, as if I'd lost part of myself. It was amazing, the grief. And then I learned, that same day, of a woman in Gaza who had lost five of her daughters to the bombing; she herself was unconscious. Immediately I felt: I must go to her and tell her that even though I am an American and paid with my taxes for some of the grotesque weapons of mass destruction rained on her family, I did not sanction devastation of her life, or, if she survived, her grief.

That was my first trip to the Israeli dominated territories of Palestine.

What I found left me speechless and helped inspire a small book: OVERCOMING SPEECHLESSNESS: A POET ENCOUNTERS THE HORROR IN RWANDA, EASTERN CONGO, AND PALESTINE/ISRAEL. For months I found it impossible to talk about what it had felt like to walk among the rubble of what had been people's homes, hospitals, libraries, and schools. I found old people sitting in the pulverized remains of homes they'd sacrificed generations of labor and love to create, and was told of people wounded so badly they were rotting (from the tungsten DIME contained in the bombs) from the inside out. The water system had been destroyed, the sewer system also. What remained of The American School was a mountain of rubble. I sat there in its ruins, in despair. Five things besides people and animals one must never assault, I believe, are: water, homes, schools, hospitals and the land. The Israeli military had deliberately destroyed or made impossible for the Palestinian people to use, all of these.

About a year later, I was on my way to Gaza a second time. In Cairo I accompanied Jodie Evans of CODE PINK to talk to an official of the Red Crescent. We begged this official to permit entry to Gaza of the 1400 people who had come from all over the world to march for peace with the Palestinian people, who had been "put on a diet" by the Israeli government and denied food and medicine or the ability to escape their confinement on the tiny Gaza strip. The official was a nice man, a good man, I felt. I don't think it was easy for him to tell us we could send only a few dozen of the 1400 people into Gaza, one bus, and very little of the millions of dollars worth of humanitarian aid CODE PINK and other organizations had gathered. Though the children of Gaza are dangerously malnourished (those who haven't died) because of the years-long siege and blockade, we were not allowed to send much sustenance to them, including items such as milk or juices, "because" we were told "they are liquid."

This year, watching news of the Spring uprising at Tahrir square in downtown Cairo, I've often wondered if our man from the Red Crescent was there; whether he recalled our visit; Jodie Evans' relentless haggling to be permitted to help a sick and desperate people, whose children were being destroyed before their eyes, as well as before the eyes of the informed world. I hoped he was one of those who rallied in the street, and who testified later, after the deposition and arrest of Hosni Mubarak, that, yes, indeed, we must open the (Egyptian) Rafah gate (the only exit from Palestine not controlled by Israel) and let the people out.

How are the people to rebuild their bodies and their homes, their hospitals, schools, apartment buildings, ministries, water systems, sewerage system, their greenhouses, if they are denied materials sent to them from people outside their prison? That is the question. Illegally controlling the waters of the Mediterranean approaching the Gaza strip, the Israeli military, against all international law, unilaterally attacks boats and people trying to break the embargo of goods and materials.

My last visit to the Palestinian people was in April 2011, when I was invited to speak at a TEDxRamallah program that took place in Bethlehem. After this astonishing daylong event of meeting and listening to Palestinian activists and artists, available I believe on Youtube, I joined Palfest, the Palestine Literary Festival that takes place each year, bussing a caravan of writers, poets, musicians, artists, from town to town in the occupied West Bank to interact with whoever shows up. As I did this, I was almost returned to speechlessness by what I experienced there.

First of all, my partner, Kaleo Larson, and I entered Palestine (which one can only do by going through Israel) by way of Jordan. Already, in Amman, in our hotel, my computer mysteriously vanished: it would be returned to me later, while I was in Ramallah, with all references to future activity regarding Israel removed. Then there was the experience of the Allenby bridge border crossing. There, as we approached the first check-point with our Arab driver, we felt the change. He became more cautious and tense. Sure enough, he was coldly informed by one of the armed soldiers that he could not drive us, and our bags, to the bus waiting on the other side of the building that would take us hopefully into Palestine, but must put us out on the street. Which meant we had to drag quite heavy bags a good distance, without our driver's help or guidance. We had no idea where we were exactly or even what we were to do next. However we did know that if we ever visited Palestine again, and it was still not liberated from Israeli control, we would not bring suitcases but backpacks.


I have a niece who startled me once by saying: Auntie, I simply can't imagine what you all went through, under segregation. She and her husband live in the American South, apparently in peace, in an integrated neighborhood that would have been unthinkable only forty years ago. They are blissfully the parents of twins, recently born, and, with the exception of floods, droughts, tornadoes and windstorms, life appears to be vastly different and better for black people, now that Jim Crow laws are history, than it was when I was young.

However, beginning at the Allenby Bridge crossing, on our way into Occupied Palestine, I began to want my niece, bogged to the neck with her twins as she is, to observe the scene with me. Because it was tantamount to stepping back into our own past of segregation (United States apartheid) with its, for us people of color, rigidly enforced brutality and fifth class "citizenship."
Auntie, I simply Can’t Imagine It! Joining the Freedom Flotilla II To Gaza

pulitzer-prize winning u.s. journalist comes out as undocumented immigrant

There's an excellent and eye-opening story in today's New York Times Magazine. Jose Antonio Vargas was born in the Philippines, and came to the United States at age 12. He has lived the American dream, fighting for a quality education, pulling himself up by his bootstraps, working very hard and applying his considerable talents in all the right ways. And still, to this day, he cannot obtain US citizenship, and is at risk for deportation.

Vargas shows tremendous courage. He's taken a huge risk to bring his story to light in an attempt to change the insane system. The Obama Administration has deported almost 800,000 people in the last two years. Any one of those stories could be this one.
One August morning nearly two decades ago, my mother woke me and put me in a cab. She handed me a jacket. “Baka malamig doon” were among the few words she said. (“It might be cold there.”) When I arrived at the Philippines’ Ninoy Aquino International Airport with her, my aunt and a family friend, I was introduced to a man I’d never seen. They told me he was my uncle. He held my hand as I boarded an airplane for the first time. It was 1993, and I was 12.

My mother wanted to give me a better life, so she sent me thousands of miles away to live with her parents in America — my grandfather (Lolo in Tagalog) and grandmother (Lola). After I arrived in Mountain View, Calif., in the San Francisco Bay Area, I entered sixth grade and quickly grew to love my new home, family and culture. I discovered a passion for language, though it was hard to learn the difference between formal English and American slang. One of my early memories is of a freckled kid in middle school asking me, “What’s up?” I replied, “The sky,” and he and a couple of other kids laughed. I won the eighth-grade spelling bee by memorizing words I couldn’t properly pronounce. (The winning word was “indefatigable.”)

One day when I was 16, I rode my bike to the nearby D.M.V. office to get my driver’s permit. Some of my friends already had their licenses, so I figured it was time. But when I handed the clerk my green card as proof of U.S. residency, she flipped it around, examining it. “This is fake,” she whispered. “Don’t come back here again.”

Confused and scared, I pedaled home and confronted Lolo. I remember him sitting in the garage, cutting coupons. I dropped my bike and ran over to him, showing him the green card. “Peke ba ito?” I asked in Tagalog. (“Is this fake?”) My grandparents were naturalized American citizens — he worked as a security guard, she as a food server — and they had begun supporting my mother and me financially when I was 3, after my father’s wandering eye and inability to properly provide for us led to my parents’ separation. Lolo was a proud man, and I saw the shame on his face as he told me he purchased the card, along with other fake documents, for me. “Don’t show it to other people,” he warned.

I decided then that I could never give anyone reason to doubt I was an American. I convinced myself that if I worked enough, if I achieved enough, I would be rewarded with citizenship. I felt I could earn it.

I’ve tried. Over the past 14 years, I’ve graduated from high school and college and built a career as a journalist, interviewing some of the most famous people in the country. On the surface, I’ve created a good life. I’ve lived the American dream.

But I am still an undocumented immigrant. And that means living a different kind of reality. It means going about my day in fear of being found out. It means rarely trusting people, even those closest to me, with who I really am. It means keeping my family photos in a shoebox rather than displaying them on shelves in my home, so friends don’t ask about them. It means reluctantly, even painfully, doing things I know are wrong and unlawful. And it has meant relying on a sort of 21st-century underground railroad of supporters, people who took an interest in my future and took risks for me.

Last year I read about four students who walked from Miami to Washington to lobby for the Dream Act, a nearly decade-old immigration bill that would provide a path to legal permanent residency for young people who have been educated in this country. At the risk of deportation — the Obama administration has deported almost 800,000 people in the last two years — they are speaking out. Their courage has inspired me.

There are believed to be 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. We’re not always who you think we are. Some pick your strawberries or care for your children. Some are in high school or college. And some, it turns out, write news articles you might read. I grew up here. This is my home. Yet even though I think of myself as an American and consider America my country, my country doesn’t think of me as one of its own.
Read it here: My Life as an Undocumented Immigrant. Many thanks to James for alerting me to this.


thank you, new york!!! marriage equality comes to my home state

New York State, thank you for doing the right thing!

Forty-two years after Stonewall, same-sex couples have the legal right to marry in New York State. Whoo-hoo!

New York is the state of birth, of my parents' birth and even one grandparent's, my home for 44 years (minus my time in Philadelphia), and in so many ways, the place of my heart. At one point, it looked like I'd be ashamed of my home state, but now I am proud of it.

A special shout-out must go to Jason West, the former mayor of New Paltz, New York, a straight guy who said, this is ridiculous, and married same-sex couples in a parking lot. When I Googled "New Paltz mayor married same sex couples" to find West's name, this turned up: Awaiting a Big Day, and Recalling One in New Paltz.

I remembered this because I feel a personal connection to New Paltz and nearby Minnewaska State Park, related to our trips upstate with our dogs. I love that this happened in that same little college town.

We're getting there. It's an insane process, it's a no-brainer, it's long overdue, and it's happening way too slowly... but we're getting there. It's only a matter of time before this happens nationally in the US.


if the world sucks, why hasn't anyone told me? i respond to joe denial

"If that's really happening, why don't I see it in the news?"

I bet many of you may have encountered a question like this one. You're speaking to a co-worker or a classmate, or discussing an issue on a blog, or you've wandered into the comments section of an online news story. You offer a wider perspective, and you meet with a question like this one.

If millions of women are being beaten by their husbands, why don't I ever hear about it?

If First Nations people are getting cancer in unprecedented numbers, why haven't I read about it in the newspaper?

If the United States really has military bases all over the world, how come I don't know about it?

This person is not criticizing the mainstream media for not covering this issue; that's not what the question means. He's questioning the validity of a statement of fact, implying that you are grossly exaggerating an issue or even fabricating it.

If working conditions in these factories are so bad, why haven't I...

If inmates in US prisons are routinely raped and murdered, why haven't....

I've heard all these, and so many more. I've responded to each question, but I've never stopped to unpack the question itself. What's behind this irritating query? Why does this right-wing male - the only person from whom I've ever heard this question - need to deny the existence of very real issues?

If so many teenage girls are starving themselves, why don't I ever hear about it?

First, the question assumes that what this guy - call him Joe - hears and sees in the mainstream media equals What Is Happening. Joe's drive-time radio, CNN or Fox during dinner, and thumb-through of the local tabloid on his lunch break constitutes the sum total of What Is Happening. Maybe Joe also spends a lot of time online, reading headlines and some stories at mainstream news sites.

According to Joe Denial, then, if we subtract sports, weather, celebrity gossip, random crime, oddball pet stories, missing person stories, terrorism scares, and political downfalls, the remainder of what's broadcast on The News equals everything that is going on in the world. In this view, the mainstream media is a conduit to the rest of the world. News is not selected, edited and packaged, it is simply broadcast, all of it, like a giant feed from Planet Earth straight to CNN. And if it isn't in the mainstream media, it hasn't happened.

Second, Joe Denial assumes that he has seen all the news: every lengthy newspaper feature, every op-ed that references important studies (studies that often prove the very facts he is denying), every investigative news show, every magazine story. Because, of course, ongoing issues such as violence against women or environmental toxins are not "news". Unless a study is released or a sensational story breaks, these issues don't qualify as news and are reported on as features. So unless Joe D. follows every feature in every media outlet, he's not going to hear about these issues.

What's more, the above phrase "are reported on as features" ends with an implied "...when they are reported on at all". Aboriginal people getting cancer at rates alarmingly higher than those of non-Native people is not considered news, because aboriginal people are less important to the media, because they are not perceived as consumers of the products sold by the media's sponsors. Violence against women is accepted as part of our culture and only worthy of mention if an incident can be reported as a sensational crime story. Prisoners are unworthy of commentary at all; they are subhumans who deserve whatever they get, lest we be accused of being "soft on crime". And US imperialism, well, we don't look too closely at that. We have always been at war with Eastasia.

So far I've come up with these possible replies to Joe Denial's question. One, the mainstream reports on only a small fraction of what happens. Two, you don't see every media story. Three, these issues are not given high priority in our society.

But there's another possibility: the question may be a smokescreen.

Perhaps my friend Mr. Denial knows very well that just because he hasn't seen or read about something doesn't mean it's not happening. He's using the lack of visibility as a rhetorical device to deny the existence of the issue.

This leads to a different question: why do some people deny the existence of very real, well documented problems? Why is it important for so many people to pretend that a spectrum of issues - violence against women, environmental racism, prisoner abuse, US imperialism, and almost anything else you can think of - do not exist?

Here I can only speculate, and poorly at that, as this mindset is the most foreign culture I've ever visited.

Some of this denial seems to be a knee-jerk, unthinking reaction: if a progressive person is against it, I must be for it, and if I can't be for it (because who will actually say "violence against women is fine"?) then I must deny its existence.

Some of the reaction seems to stem from an underlying belief that "lefties" - as anyone who is not rigidly right-wing is called, even very moderate liberals - are heavily invested in portraying the world as a dismal place and in protest for its own sake. I'm guessing this belief relieves some cognitive dissonance: Why are these people making such a fuss? I don't see anything wrong, and I don't want to believe there are so many things wrong with my world. Therefore, they are making a fuss over nothing, because that's what they do.

Some people hate and fear change of any kind. Reasonable people may disagree on the best solution to a problem, but questioning the existence of a problem short-circuits all possibilities. If nothing's wrong, there is no need to change.

Finally, some of this ingrained, knee-jerk denial reacts against an entire worldview, one that sees women, people of colour, poor people, and others outside the imperialist-patriarchal power structure as important. Joe Denial's belief system says exactly the opposite, although not in those terms: the world was fine until you people got so uppity.

The sad part is that Joe is a working-class guy who stands to benefit greatly from my worldview. Sadly, he identifies more with his oppressors, because they are largely white and male, than with the people whose vision would offer him a better life.

That's why it's worth taking a deep breath and answering his question.


harper government brings (more) international shame on canada, and kills untold numbers in the process

The Globe and Mail, emphasis mine:
Standing Alone, Canada blocks push to label asbestos a hazardous chemical

Canada has single-handedly blocked listing chrysotile asbestos as a hazardous chemical, the United Nations confirmed Wednesday, even as the Conservative government maintained its silence back home.

At a summit in Switzerland, Canada's delegation ended days of silence and speculation by opposing the inclusion of asbestos on a UN treaty called the Rotterdam Convention.

“Yes, I can confirm they intervened in the chemicals contact group meeting this afternoon and opposed listing,” Michael Stanley-Jones of the UN Environment Program said in an email.

Vietnam, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan also initially opposed the listing. However, Mr. Stanley-Jones said one-by-one they switched positions after India announced it would support the listing.

That left Canada as the lone voice against the listing. “All had consented when Canada announced its position opposing listing,” Mr. Stanley-Jones said.

Listing asbestos on Annex III of the convention would force exporters such as Canada to warn recipient countries of any health hazards. Those countries could also then refuse asbestos imports if they didn't think they could handle the product safely.

Asbestos use is so tightly controlled in Canada that it is effectively banned. The federal government is spending tens of millions of dollars to remove asbestos from public buildings, including on Parliament Hill and from the prime minister's residence.
Gerald Caplan:
Exporting death: Another popular Harper foreign policy

What do you call a country that deliberately sells products abroad that will kill many people? You call it Canada. What do you call it when a state action kills a large numbers of defenseless people? You call it a crime against humanity. So how can exporting death by Canadian asbestos not be a crime against humanity and how can a state that does so not be guilty of committing such a crime?

Why does the International Criminal Court not issue warrants for those Canadian and Quebec government officials who are promoting the sale of deadly asbestos to poor countries where the death of many people is guaranteed? The reputation of the young court has been sorely undermined by its focus solely on Africans accused of terrible crimes. Canada's promotion of asbestos offers an opportunity to redress the balance.

It’s also nothing less than criminal that we need yet another column on this issue. Every lethal aspect of the asbestos trade has been comprehensively exposed. It’s received prominent coverage by the mainstream media throughout the country, including Quebec, where the only asbestos mine is now located. . . . .

The case needs no further documentation. Except for some corporate interests and the paid hacks who shamelessly support them, no one doubts that asbestos, of whatever variety, is a cancer-causing killer. Here’s the bottom line: Asbestos can never again be used in Canada and 52 countries have banned it outright.

Every health organization you’ve ever heard of has condemned both the Canadian and the Quebec governments for actively promoting asbestos exports. According to the World Health Organization, more than 100,000 people worldwide die of occupational exposure to asbestos each year. As one of the top five asbestos exporters in the world, Canada is a major contributor to the carnage. Yet it continues, with the active support of Stephen Harper and Jean Charest.
Canadians talk about Canada "becoming the US", and they often miss the mark, not truly understanding the giant they fear. But here we have it: exceptionalism, profit-driven obstruction of health and environmental improvements, exporting death to third-world countries, junk science, industry above all.

Shame, shame, shame.

petition: negotiate, don't legislate

Please sign a petition opposing the Harper Government's back-to-work legistlation.
Minister Lisa Raitt,

I am urging your Government not to introduce or support back-to-work legislation aimed at ending Canada Post’s lockout of members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers. Back-to-work legislation is an infringement on the right of all workers everywhere to free collective bargaining and only encourages Canada Post to remain entrenched in its demands.

Instead of introducing back-to-work legislation, your Government should:

- require Canada Post to immediately lift its lockout of members of the Canadian Union of Postal Workers

- require Canada Post to reinstate the recently expired Urban Operations Collective Agreement. Once this is done, CUPW members will return to work

- require that Canada Post give their negotiators a new mandate to arrive at a new Collective Agreement with the Canadian Union of Postal Workers that enshrines the principles of respect, dignity, and a sharing of the benefits of new technology.

Workers are part of the economy and your government's 'economic recovery' shouldn't be hurting us. Back-to-work legislation is unjust and unnecessary.

The Federal Government participates in the promotion of the ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work. Enacting legislation ordering locked out CUPW members back to work is in violation of these basic principles.
Sign here.

why the canadian boat to gaza? david heap on cbc radio

My friend (and wmtc reader/commenter) David Heap was on CBC Ontario Morning radio yesterday, speaking from his hotel room in Athens, Greece, about why he'll be on the Canadian Boat to Gaza, as part of Freedom Flotilla II - Stay Human.

Listen here.

rally for postal workers, rally for all workers, rally for public services

This morning in Toronto, locked-out postal workers and their supporters will rally at the legal offices of Canada Post, to protest the collusion of Canada Post and the Conservative Government to strip workers of their legal right to collective bargaining - and in defence of good working conditions, wages and benefits for the next generation of Canadians.

I can't make it to Dundas Square this morning, and chances are, you can't, either. But we all need to rally, in every way we can. We need to write letters, speak to our friends and co-workers, speak out to the government. We need to take to the streets, both physically and virtually. We have to stand up for the kind of Canada we want to live in.

Even if you don't care about good jobs in your community - which you should - you probably care about decent public services. In Toronto, misplaced public anger over the 2009 sanitation strike has allowed mayor Rob Ford to leverage his plan to privatize trash collection.

Now, instead of taxes being put back in the City, Toronto taxpayers' money will disappear into the pockets of private companies. Taxes won't decrease and promised cost-savings will vanish, along with accountability and environmental mandates. Because, contrary to myth, public services are cheaper, more efficient and more accountable than privately contracted services. That's how services came to be public in the first place: to clean up corrupt private services that drained public coffers and held cities hostage.

Cutting public sector jobs means cutting public services. On the federal level, the Harper Government has no right to talk about belt-tightening when it found $50 million in pork-barrel G8 gifts for Tony Clement's riding. More importantly, we must recognize "austerity" for what it is. In response to the global economic crisis, the Harper government created a deficit. Now they use that as an excuse for ideologically-driven budget cuts.

A couple of weeks ago, Toronto Star columnist Thomas Walkom pointed out that the Harper Government is still downplaying, double-talking and lying about its own budget. If the federal budget wasn't such an affront to Canadians, if it isn't going to hurt us, why do they continue to lie about it?
The curious contradiction of Harpernomics
By Thomas Walkom

There is a curious disjunction between the rhetoric and reality of Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s economic policy. Call it the contradiction of Harpernomics.

On the one hand, the language is moderate and soothing: Keep a firm hand on the tiller; avoid sudden movements; given that the world is a scary and unsettled place, prudence is best.

When Finance Minister Jim Flaherty tabled his budget this week, he used precisely these kinds of calming words.

Sure, we’ll be doing a bit of cutting here and there, he said. But don’t sweat it. We’re only talking about trimming up to $4 billion a year from $80 billion worth of direct program spending. That’s just 5 per cent. Chill out.

Yet the reality of his plan is quite different.

First, he’s not planning to cut just $4 billion. He’s planning to cut up to $4 billion every year for four years. As his budget document points out, the cumulative total of these as-yet-unspecified cuts is $11 billion.

But that’s on top of the cuts that the government announced in past budgets but that have not yet kicked in. The cumulative total of these, according to Flaherty’s own figures, is at least $9.7 billion.

Add the two together and you get more than $20 billion in planned cutbacks between now and 2015. That’s not 5 per cent of federal direct program spending. It’s closer to 25 per cent.

Which is radical surgery.

So what gives?

The most obvious explanation is that the government is being dishonest....
As Walkom writes, now that the Conservatives have their majority,
...the Conservatives are using the deficit as an excuse to continue dismantling the parts of government they’ve already signalled they don’t like — such as health and safety regulation, veterans’ disability pensions and job training."using the deficit as an excuse to continue dismantling the parts of government they’ve already signalled they don’t like — such as health and safety regulation, veterans’ disability pensions and job training.

This would move Canada in the direction Harper wants it to go. But I suspect the Prime Minister knows his cuts could also threaten jobs and income should the world economy take another turn for the worse.
In Greece, citizens are continuing to fight, thousands taking to the streets daily, refusing to passively accept economic policies that make ordinary working people pay for the profit-making disasters of a few. Sadly, we won't see that kind of push-back in Canada, but we have to do what we can.

Tell Stephen Harper you oppose the anti-labour "back-to-work" legislation and the anti-people budget.

Tell Jack Layton you applaud him for speaking out against both, and you expect him to continue to oppose this budget at every turn.

Tell Canada Post to bargain fairly with CUPW.

Support locked-out postal workers in every way you can.


watching the watchers: ipsi research day today

The project I've been working on - my summer position as a research assistant - is in the spotlight today, as two of the IPSI research teams give a public progress report.
IPSI Research Day - Proportionate Digital ID + Video Surveillance
Sponsor: Identity Privacy and Security Institute (IPSI)

This is a free, open, public workshop. . . . The focus of this year's IPSI Research Day is on two research projects dealing respectively with:

* an experimental, minimally disclosing digital ID wallet we refer to as Proportionate ID

* a study of private sector video surveillance installations and signage in relation to PIPEDA compliance we refer to as Smart Private Eyes

Both projects have been funded by the federal Office of the Privacy Commissioner. For further details, see the links below.

This workshop is intended to present provocative works in progress and promote lively discussion reflecting a variety of perspectives around contemporary technological design and policy development issues.
The portion I'm involved with is Smart Private Eyes. We - the public - are being watched everywhere, and despite laws governing access to information about this surveillance, we're still largely in the dark about it. The watchers hold most of the cards; this project is an attempt to correct the balance.

On a personal note, it's been an interesting challenge to prepare for a Monday presentation while working on my day-job all weekend, with people accustomed to doing everything at the last minute! Fortunately for me, my fieldwork partner is a terrific young woman, an undergraduate, which means (among other things) that she can stay up late doing all kinds of work long after I've bitten the dust.


gardenette update

My little garden-ette is going gangbusters.


cody dirt 005

The rose bush is to Cody's right.





Here you can see how pathetic the rose bush had become.

And now:




canadian boat to gaza send off today; female nobel laureates call on united nations to do the right thing

This morning in both Toronto and Montreal, many of the Canadian delegates of the Canadian ship Tahrir, will meet the media before boarding their flights to Turkey. The Tahrir will set sail for Gaza as part of Freedom Flotilla II - Stay Human, an international flotilla of more than 1,000 civilians protesting the Israeli siege of Gaza.

The delegates on board the Tahrir include Jewish, Muslim and Christian Canadians - politicians, artists, peace and human rights activists, and small business owners, some of whom have taken part in previous flotillas.

Dylan Penner, leading member of Independent Jewish Voices Canada (and also an organizer with the Canadian Boat to Gaza) and Vivienne Porzsolt from Jews Against Occupation in Australia, will be joined by Harmeet Singh Sooden, who was kidnapped in Iraq in 2005 and held for 4 months (along with Canadian James Loney while participating in an international Christian Peacemaker Teams delegation), as well as Muhammed Hamou from the London Muslim Mosque.

Also on board the Tahrir will be Former Chief of the Ardoch Algonquin First Nation and professor of Indigenous Studies at Queen's University Robert Lovelace, Canadian Voice of Women for Peace Co-Chair Lyn Adamson, Quebec Solidaire representative Manon Massé, small business owner Sue Breeze from BC, Toronto book publisher and children’s mental health activist Kate Wilson, Toronto filmmaker John Greyson, and Mary Hughes-Thompson, co-founder of the Free Gaza Movement. Hughes-Thompson was on board the Free Gaza that broke the siege of Gaza in August 2008, and was part of the support team for the first Freedom Flotilla in May 2010.

* * * *

Four female Nobel Prize laureates have written an open letter to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, calling on him to support the safe passage of Freedom Flotilla II. Mairead Maguire, Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi, and Rigoberta Menchú Tum ask the UN for two key actions that so far have not been forthcoming: to appoint an international representative to inspect and seal the cargo of the boats of the Freedom Flotilla II, so the Israeli government can be sure the boats are carrying only humanitarian supplies, and to call on all member governments to support the safe passage of the Freedom Flotilla II.

If the UN cannot take these simple steps to support peaceful humanitarian intervention in human suffering, what good is it?
June 10, 2011

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon
United Nations
New York, NY 10017 USA

RE: Inspection and sealing of Freedom Flotilla II cargo

Dear Mr. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon,

We are writing to urge you to use your good offices in support of the humanitarian needs of the people of Gaza.

In our view, you can support the people of Gaza with two key actions. First, by appointing a representative to inspect and seal the cargo of the boats of the Freedom Flotilla II—thus assuring the Israeli government that the boats are carrying humanitarian supplies such as toys, medical supplies, cement and educational materials. Equally important, we strongly urge you to use your authority to call on all governments to support the safe passage of the Freedom Flotilla II. We are disappointed to learn of your recent efforts to persuade member governments from stopping the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza on the Freedom Flotilla II. We urge you to reconsider and instead encourage member states to lend support and ask Israel not to use force against legitimate humanitarian initiatives undertaken by civil society to help ease the suffering of the people of Gaza who are facing a humanitarian crisis of devastating scale.

The Freedom Flotilla II, organized by 14 national groups and international coalitions and carrying approximately 1500 ‘freedom riders,’ is set to sail to Gaza this month. Sailing in the spirit of promoting human rights, prosperity, and social responsibility, the aim of the Flotilla is to alleviate the humanitarian crisis faced by the citizens of Gaza.

The blockade in Gaza is clearly having a harmful impact on the people of Gaza, and
indeed UNDP and other agencies report high levels of malnutrition and other disturbing health problems. According to a report by the World Food Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization, the level of “abject poverty” among the Palestinians of Gaza has tripled since the imposition of the blockade, with 61 % of households not having enough food. The blockade has crippled the Gaza economy and destroyed Palestinians’ livelihoods and homes.

We believe our requests to you are in keeping with UN Security Council Resolution 1860 of January 2009 as well as the 2010 UN Human Rights Council fact-finding mission on the attack on Freedom Flotilla I, which are calling for a lift of the blockade to allow humanitarian assistance. We urge you to do all you can to support this nonviolent international humanitarian effort, to provide UN representatives to inspect and seal the cargo, and to appeal to all governments to allow safe passage of the Freedom Flotilla II.

Thank you for your attention to this important matter. We look forward to your positive response.

Mairead Maguire (1976)
Rigoberta Menchu Tum (1992)
Jody Williams (1997)
Shirin Ebadi (2003)


the big man is gone: clarence clemons dead at 69

What terrible, sad, shocking news. Clarence Clemons, the Big Man, the heart and soul of the E Street Band, has died.

My heart goes out to Bruce, who must have lost a brother today, as well as all the other E Streeters, and Clemons' four sons.
Mr. Clemons’s first encounter with Mr. Springsteen has become E Street Band lore. In most tellings, a lightning storm was rolling through Asbury Park one night in 1971 while Mr. Springsteen was playing a gig there. As Mr. Clemons entered the bar, the wind blew the door off its hinges, and Mr. Springsteen was startled by the towering shadow at the door. Then Mr. Clemons invited himself onstage to play along, and they clicked.

"I swear I will never forget that moment," Mr. Clemons later recalled in an interview. "I felt like I was supposed to be there. It was a magical moment. He looked at me, and I looked at him, and we fell in love. And that's still there."
Clarence lived a wonderful life. He carried within him a love of people that made them love him. He created a wondrous and extended family. He loved the saxophone, loved our fans and gave everything he had every night he stepped on stage. His loss is immeasurable and we are honored and thankful to have known him and had the opportunity to stand beside him for nearly forty years. He was my great friend, my partner and with Clarence at my side, my band and I were able to tell a story far deeper than those simply contained in our music. His life, his memory, and his love will live on in that story and in our band.

New York Times obit here.


bill ayers: "as public space contracts, the real victim becomes truth, honesty, integrity, curiosity, imagination, freedom"

A while back in my Intellectual Freedom and the Public Library course, I encountered an interesting shift of ideas. Larry Alexander, while arguing that freedom of expression is not a human right (I disagree!), points out that free speech is less about the right of the speaker, than the rights of potential listeners. Alexander uses the example of a government banning the works of Karl Marx. Marx himself is dead, so his rights cannot be infringed on; if Marx is banned, our opportunity to encounter his ideas - and so, our own freedom of expression - are being denied.

This was the central issue in Canada's refusal to allow George Galloway entry into the country. Galloway is not a Canadian citizen, so his Charter rights were not being infringed, but ours were. Canadians have - or are supposed to have, anyway - rights of freedom of association and expression. We have a right to see, meet and hear anyone we choose, and if those people pose no threat to the security of the country, we have a right to do so in our own towns and cities.

And this right should not be contingent on our agreement with the political views of the sitting government.

I was reminded of all this as I read this essay by Bill Ayers, who has, once again, been barred entry into Canada, ostensibly because of his radical past. In The Guardian:
In January this year, I was invited by the Ontario Confederation of University Faculty Associations (OCUFA) to address the Worldviews Conference on Media and Higher Education to be held on 16 June 2011 in Toronto. The topic would be "The responsibility of academics to contribute to public debates in the media."

I told the organisers then that while I would love to attend, I had been denied entry into Canada twice in the past few years – once in Calgary, and later at Island Airport – and that while lawyers on both sides of the border were engaging the issue, we were being met again and again by bureaucratic gibberish and classic rule-by-no-one. The president of OCUFA sent a letter to the Canada Border Services Agency hoping to resolve the matter, and received a boiler-plate response: "The CBSA is charged to ensure the security and prosperity of Canada by managing access of people and goods." I explained that my participation in the conference would jeopardise neither, and promised to spend a lot of money while in town, but I got the same response.

I'm in Chicago today, and a video of my talk has been sent to the conference. One irony in this situation is that the injured party in all of this is not me primarily, but the people who, for whatever reason, wanted to engage me in conversation. After all, I will talk to myself all day, and probably disagree and argue with myself as usual. But what of the Canadians who thought it might be useful to have a dialogue? Tough luck: your government is vigilantly watching over your security and prosperity.

There's another irony, of course, in the government preventing me from exercising the very responsibility I was invited to address. This is a basic issue of free and open debate and the democratic exchange of ideas – not one of a potential threat to the nation's security.

The technical issue here is that the border guard who turned me back in Calgary said that, according his computer, I had quite a lengthy arrest record. True, I said, arrests from sit-ins, occupations, and antiwar activities 40 years ago, and all misdemeanours. Well, he responded, you have one felony conviction, and that's why you will not get into Canada today.

But I don't have any felony convictions. Prove that you don't have any, he said.

Years and a lot of lawyer's fees later, I'm still having trouble disproving a negative, if you get the Catch-22 here. . . but wait! I just realised that some of those fees are, indeed, contributing to the prosperity of Canada! OK, I'll stay out.

I entered Canada a dozen times in the preceding decade – taking my kids to the Shakespeare or skiing in Banff, attending research conferences, speaking at universities – and have been to scores of other countries from Cyprus to China, Hong Kong to Beirut, the Netherlands to Chile. But perhaps those countries lack the thorough security sense of Canada.

As the public space contracts, the real victim becomes truth, honesty, integrity, curiosity, imagination, freedom itself.
Read it here: Can Canada really be scared of free-thinking?


the true cost of tomatoes, or slavery and poverty continue to haunt the fast-food industry, and how you can help

I have blogged several times about the horrific conditions endured by the people who pick tomatoes in Immokalee, Florida, working for fast-food giants like Burger King, Taco Bell and McDonald's, and supermarket giants like Kroger, Stop & Shop, Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. For important background, see the norm is disaster, the extreme is slavery, and a side order of human rights. (An update on one point in that earlier post: in April of this year, the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that migrant farm workers do not have the right to unionize. It would cause the farmers too much hardship!)

The Coalition of Immokalee Workers has been campaigning for some head-slappingly obvious improvements, like ending slavery - not "slave-like conditions", but actual slavery - and a "penny-a-pound" wage increase. The penny-a-pound, paid for not by growers but by the mega-corporations that contract them, amounts to a huge wage increase for the impoverished workers, yet costs the corporations less than $300,000 annually. These are companies that reap upwards of two billion dollars in revenue each year, so $300,000 is something like a looney to you and me.

Mark Bittman - "The Minimalist" chef and food writer par excellence - reports that the campaign is working, but it needs our help. In this excellent essay, Bittman draws the inextricable connections between labour, food, health and the environment that pervades this issue. This is an excerpt from Bittman's "The True Cost of Tomatoes"; I hope you'll click through and read the whole thing.
Mass-produced tomatoes have become redder, more tender and slightly more flavorful than the crunchy orange “cello-wrapped” specimens of a couple of decades ago, but the lives of the workers who grow and pick them haven’t improved much since Edward R. Murrow’s revealing and deservedly famous Harvest of Shame report of 1960, which contained the infamous quote, “We used to own our slaves; now we just rent them.”

But bit by bit things have improved some, a story that’s told in detail and with insight and compassion by Barry Estabrook in his new book, “Tomatoland.” We can actually help them improve further. . . .

Most of the big purchasers, like Wal-Mart and McDonald’s, want firm, “slicing” tomatoes, because their destination is a burger or a sandwich, so the tomatoes are picked at what is called “mature green,” which isn’t mature at all but bordering on it. Tomatoes with any color other than green are too ripe to ship, and left to rot; I’ve posted a couple of pictures I took of those on my blog. The green tomatoes are gassed — “de-greened” is the chosen euphemism — to “ripen” them; the plants themselves are often killed with an herbicide to hasten their demise and get ready for the next crop.

The process, not to put too fine a point on it, is awful, but the demand is there — Florida ships about a billion pounds of tomatoes a year — and the main question has not been quality but fairness to the workers. (Estabrook profiles a successful Florida tomato farmer who’s gone organic, but since it’s inarguable that this is a locale and climate that’s hostile to tomatoes in the first place, that can’t be easy. Here’s the reality: you’re not going to get a billion pounds of good tomatoes out of Florida. Ever.)

Unlike corn and soy, tomatoes’ harvest cannot be automated; it takes workers to pick that fruit. And not only have workers been enslaved, they have been routinely beaten, subject to sexual harassment, exposed to toxic chemicals (Estabrook mercilessly describes the tragic results of this) and forced to wait for hours to find out whether they have work on a given day. Oh, and they’re underpaid.

One of the bright spots, discussed in Estabrook’s book is the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW), founded in 1993. The CIW has two major goals: the first is to put the last nail in the coffin of slavery, a condition that sadly still exists not only among farmworkers but others. “And this,” Laura Germino, who has worked on the campaign since its inception, said to me when I visited last month, “is not ‘slavery-like,’ or ‘exploitation’ — it’s actual slavery, as defined by federal law.” (There are super links around this issue on the anti-slavery campaign’s Web site, and reading them is eye-popping.)

You’ve probably heard of the other goal, which is the CIW’s Campaign for Fair Food; it’s garnered as much attention as any labor struggle in the country in recent years, and more on the farmworker front than anything since the early work of Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers.

These outrages have been the CIW’s focus, and the agreement they signed last November with the Florida Tomato Growers Exchange begins to address them: through the core “penny-a-pound” increase in the price wholesale purchasers pay, workers’ incomes could go up thousands of dollars per year. The agreement also provides for a time-clock system in the fields, which has led to a shorter workday and less (unpaid) waiting time; portable shade tents for breaks (unbelievable that this didn’t exist previously — I spent a half-hour in the open fields and began to melt); reduced exposure to pesticides; worker-to-worker education on rights; a new code of conduct for growers with real market consequences if workers’ rights are violated; and more.

The breakthrough for the CIW came in 2005, when after enormous consumer pressure Yum! Brands, which controls Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and KFC, signed the agreement. (And you know what? Good for them.) Since then, Subway, McDonald’s, Burger King, the country’s largest food service operators (Sodexo, Aramark and Compass Group) and Whole Foods have signed as well.

Progress, clearly. What’s missing are traditional supermarket chains, and the CIW has targeted — largely for geographical reasons — Ahold (the parent company of Stop & Shop and Giant); Publix (the dominant chain in Florida); Kroger (next to Wal-Mart the biggest food retailer in the country); and Trader Joe’s, which, in an attempt at “transparency” (odd for a chain known for its secrecy), published a letter explaining why it was refusing to sign the agreement. Really, guys? If McDonald’s and Burger King can sign a labor agreement, it can’t be that onerous; you should do it just for karma’s sake.
Read it here: The True Cost of Tomatoes.

canadian boat to gaza: we will not be intimidated by threats or lawsuits

A message from the Canadian Boat to Gaza, to anyone who thinks they can bully the boat into submission:
We will not be intimidated by threats or lawsuits

It has been brought to our attention that a lawsuit has been filed against the Canadian Boat to Gaza seeking over $1 million in damages as well as an injunction seeking to block our fundraising and other activities. The alleged damages mentioned in the claim occurred years before the inception of our project.

It is our view that this lawsuit has no substance and that the Canadian Boat to Gaza, the Tahrir, has both the legal and the moral right to sail with the Freedom Flotilla 2. To date, we have not been officially served with legal notice of this suit and first heard about these claims, and the baseless allegations they contain, through media outlets.

We remain absolutely clear that the Canadian Boat to Gaza has not been, is not, and has no intention of breaking any laws. It is the blockade of Gaza that is illegal under international law. We have a legal and moral obligation to challenge the blockade, given the failure of the international community to act. That is why we plan to sail to Gaza: to challenge the illegal and immoral siege and the Canadian federal government's support for it.

As was clearly stated in the Federal Court of Canada ruling in the George Galloway case last year, sending aid to Gaza does not constitute supporting terrorism nor does it incriminate the donors: "To characterize the delivery of a convoy of humanitarian aid as 'providing a support function' or 'financial backing' amounting to an agreement to participate in the affairs of a terrorist organization is overreaching on the interpretation of the law."

We plan to transport humanitarian supplies and export goods from Gaza aboard the Tahrir. We continue to extend the invitation for neutral third parties to inspect the boat and its contents and to verify our cargo.

We will not be intimidated by threats or deterred by frivolous lawsuits. We will sail to Gaza, more determined than ever.

Canadian Boat to Gaza
The first Freedom Flotilla that sailed to Gaza included seven ships, carrying nearly 700 passengers from 36 different countries. The Flotilla was attacked by Israeli commandos: they killed nine passengers, injured more than 50 and imprisoned everyone on the boats.

But a call to freedom will not be stopped. Freedom Flotilla II - Stay Human - groups from 14 different countries and international coalitions, carrying approximately 1,000 people - sets sail in a few days. Several of my friends will be onboard the Canadian Boat to Gaza. Their courage and willingness to take this action inspire me daily.

You can read more about the Canadian Boat to Gaza - including its mission and an excellent FAQ - at Tahrir.ca.


"abortion saved my life" and other tales of human rights

What does abortion access look like to women who don't have any? What does it mean to be unable to obtain an abortion when you need one?

The anti-choice movement in the US has succeeded beyond most of our worst nightmares. Although early abortion is still technically legal, many necessary later procedures are not. And crucially, it's almost impossible to obtain any abortion - not in "a few backwaters," as some would have us believe, but everywhere. This means that if a woman doesn't have the resources or ability to travel, she is either forced to carry her unwanted pregnancy to term or find an illegal abortion provider.

Abortion access isn't about convenience. It's about human dignity, self-determination, and the basic human right to control our own bodies. It's about punishing women for having sex. And it's often about life and death. From Salon, here's a harrowing personal story that illustrates the horror of the current reality, and the life-saving potential of safe, legal abortion.
I'm a mom, and I love my sons more than anything. And it is because I love them that I had an abortion at 20 weeks. It was my fifth pregnancy (I'd had two earlier miscarriages), and, as it turned out, my last. There was trouble from the beginning; I didn't experience any of the normal indicators of pregnancy, so I was already ten weeks along when I found out. I hadn't so much as missed a period; in fact, I was seeing an OB/GYN because of the increased heaviness in my cycle. When we found out, I talked it over with my husband and we debated an abortion before deciding we'd try to make it work. My doctor told me that my pregnancy was very high risk and that she wasn't sure of a good outcome. Per her instructions, I took it very easy because I wanted to give the baby the best possible chance. But I kept having intermittent bleeding and I knew there was a good chance I wouldn't be able to carry to term.

I was taking an afternoon nap when the hemorrhaging started while my toddler napped in his room when I woke up to find blood gushing upward from my body. Though I didn't know it at the time, I was experiencing a placental abruption, a complication my doctor had told me was a possibility. My husband was at work, so I had to do my best to take care of me and my toddler on my own. I managed to get to the phone and make arrangements for both of my children before going to a Chicago hospital.

Everyone knew the pregnancy wasn't viable, that it couldn't be viable given the amount of blood I was losing, but it still took hours for anyone at the hospital to do anything. The doctor on call didn't do abortions. At all. Ever. In fact, no one on call that night did. Meanwhile, an ignorant batch of medical students had gathered to study me -- one actually showed me the ultrasound of our dying child while asking me if it was a planned pregnancy. Several wanted to examine me while I lay there bleeding and in pain. No one gave me anything for the pain or even respected my request to close the door even though I was on the labor and delivery floor listening to other women have healthy babies as the baby I had been trying to save died in my womb.

A very kind nurse risked her job to call a doctor from the Reproductive Health Clinic who was not on call, and asked her to come in to save my life. Fortunately she was home, and got there relatively quickly. By the time she arrived, I was in bad shape. The blood loss had rendered me nearly incoherent, but she still moved me to a different wing and got me the painkillers no one else had during the screaming hours I'd spent in the hospital. After she checked my lab tests, she told us I would need two bags of blood before she could perform the procedure. Her team (a cadre of wonderful students who should all go on to run their own clinics) took turns checking on me and my husband. They all kept assuring me that soon it would be over, and I would feel much better. My husband had to sign the consent for surgery (I was clearly not competent enough to make decisions), and they took me away along with a third bag of blood to be administered during the procedure.

Later I found out that the doctor had taken my husband aside as they brought me into surgery. She promised him she would do her best to save me, but she warned him there was a distinct possibility that she would fail. The doctor who didn't do abortions was supposed to have contacted her (or someone else who would perform the procedure) immediately. He didn't. Neither did his students. Supposedly there was a communication breakdown and they thought she had been notified, but I doubt it. I don't know if his objections were religious or not; all I know is that when a bleeding woman was brought to him for treatment he refused to do the only thing that could stop the bleeding. Because he didn't do abortions. Ever.

My two kids at home almost lost their mother because someone decided that my life was worth less than that of a fetus that was going to die anyway.
Pharygula notes:
The story also highlights the subversive strategy the right wing has followed: there is now a serious dearth of doctors trained to do abortions, so when a necessary abortion case shows up in an emergency, you've got a muddle of the self-righteous and the ignorant, all incompetent to do anything, milling about with their thumbs up their asses. She might as well have stumbled bleeding into a church and asked for help . . . which is exactly what the Coathanger Coalition wants them to do.

Imagine if someone showed up in an emergency room having a heart attack, and for religious reasons, no one had any training in using a defibrillator, and the only one available was in an underfunded clinic across town. That's the direction we're going, only we're suppressing information and skills that would help just women's lives. Which makes it OK, I guess. No men will die of a placental abruption, so it's a low priority.
A paper in the McGill Journal of Medicine looked at the need for increased abortion training in medical schools. [Emphasis mine.]
One organization, Medical Students for Choice (MSFC), is currently surveying medical schools in the U.S. and Canada about their individual curricula. The preliminary results of MSFC's study of the reproductive health content of preclinical medical education found that nearly 40% of the more than 50 schools surveyed do not teach any aspect of abortion in the preclinical years. Indeed, the study found that, on average, more class time is dedicated to Viagra than to abortion procedures, pregnancy options counseling, or abortion law and policy. This glimpse into U.S. and Canadian medical curricula reveals that abortion is not a standard component of preclinical education.
There is a movement among many future and current doctors to specifically train abortion providers; many men and women are attending medical school expressly for this purpose. But how will that movement fare if the US Congress de-funds medical schools that teach abortion?

Right now, individual activists and privately funded organizations scramble to fill the ever-widening gap. Abortion Support Network helps women in Ireland obtain abortion services. I wrote about ASN and my connection to it here. This is from ASN's June bulletin:
Women we’ve helped

May was an exceptionally busy month for ASN. We heard from 26 women, many of whom had situations even more difficult and complex than the “norm”. We are incredibly grateful to our funders, who provide us with the means to help these women when they call, and to our phone coordinators, who deal with each of these women with compassion and care. Women we heard from this month included:

A woman who had funds but no passport. We were able to advise her on getting to England without one.

A single mother who spent weeks struggling with misinformation on the internet before finding ASN. After booking flights she only had £120 for the procedure, and we gave her a grant for the balance. She sent this email upon returning home: “Hi there, i just wanted to say thank you for all your help and support for last week. Right up until last wednesday i could [barely] eat, or sleep, but now thanks to you i can move on and continue making a better life for my kids, i wanted you to know how grateful i really am for all your help, many thanks”

A mother of a young baby, who became pregnant both times despite taking birth control pills. By the time she was able to confirm the pregnancy and get a scan she was 22 weeks pregnant. We were able to pay the balance of her procedure as well as provide two nights’ accommodation.

A woman whose abusive husband prevented her from getting an abortion, and was only able to could come to England for the procedure after leaving him. We bought her flights and negotiated a reduced fee at the clinic.

A single mother of three who accidentally called an anti-choice crisis pregnancy agency and had one of their “counsellors” calling her several times a day telling her that abortion is murder and that the doctors in England are all butchers who would leave her permanently damaged. We were able to help her pay for the procedure and provided two days accommodation – as well as much needed reassurance and unbiased support.

A teenage girl living with her parents but unable to tell them about the pregnancy. We were able to help her make an appointment at a local family planning clinic for support as well as provide her with info on clinics in England and supporter with a grant towards her abortion.

The mother of a pregnant teen. We were able to give them information about Women on Web, saving them the cost of travelling to England and paying privately for an abortion.

A mother of two living in a refugee camp in Ireland. She had no money and no visa. We were able to put her in touch with an organisation that helped her with her visa and to find a clinic that would provide her with a free procedure.

A woman in a relationship with a man who is against abortion and who threatened her when she said she was considering a termination – including a threat that he would paint “murderer” on her house if she didn’t carry the pregnancy to term. She said, “I always thought I wouldn't do this, but you can't judge anyone, you don't know until you're put in that position."

A woman who only found out she was pregnant after undergoing a major operation. Despite facing serious health problems, numerous complications with this case meant she and her husband had to obtain an abortion in a hospital in England.

ASN thanks these women and men for sharing their stories with us, and for permitting us to share them with you. We also thank the clinics, counsellors and other groups who ensure that these women receive the care they need.

A Woman we Didn’t Help (for all the right reasons!)

We wanted to share with you the story of a woman who, in the end, did not receive a grant from ASN. We were contacted by the mother and sister of a 14 year old girl in the very early stages of pregnancy. Initially, they wanted to fly to England immediately for the termination, but we advised them to wait a week or two in order to see a local family planning clinic (which can save the cost of a consultation fee in England) as well as save them the cost of last minute plane tickets. The girl’s mother had to borrow money to pay for the flights and ASN planned to give a £200 grant towards the procedure.

While she was at the clinic, the girl was quite distraught and kept talking about adoption. The clinic gave her some time to think about her decision, but ultimately decided it best to send her home until she was more secure in her choice. The clinic manager told her to go home and think, but also assured her that if she changed her mind again, the clinic would give her a free procedure, and that ASN would help her pay for her flights.

We wanted to share this story with you because it illustrates exactly what “pro choice” means. Even if women (or a girl in this case) have made multiple phone calls, booked plane tickets, and crossed international borders, the most important thing we can do is to listen to women and allow them to make their own decisions.
ASN, Haven Coalition, NNAF, Women on Web and other, similar groups do amazing, necessary work. But as governments everywhere cut services, and more and more is left to charities, activists and volunteers, more and more women will fall through the cracks.

"Abortion Saved My Life," by Mikki Kendall, on her blog, and on Salon. That page at Salon has lots of links to very good pro-choice reads; see the lower right sidebar.