Posts Tagged ‘human rights’

A Father Takes the Necessary Steps

September 22, 2010

Five years ago today, Colombian riot police opened fire on students who were protesting a proposed free trade agreement with the United States. As the protesters scattered, an aspiring young chemist named Jhonny Silva Aranguren was unable to flee fast enough.  A physical disability kept him within range of the police, who shot and killed him.  Today his killers still go free and his father is embarking on a journey he is calling Step by Step Against Impunity. He will walk from Cali to Bogotá to demand justice for his son and others who have been killed by police. For background on the oppression in Colombia, see my previous blog here. To learn more about the march against police impunity and how you can help, visit the The Portland Central America Solidarity Committee.

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The Funeral Train Grows Longer

September 11, 2010

The scene of the Indiana derailment where clean-up worker Michael Bowling died.

How was work today? If you went to work for the railroads, things might not have been too good. In the last few months, workers have been electrocuted (in New Jersey), drowned (in Nebraska), crushed by heavy equipment (in Indiana), struck by moving trains (Alabama, New Jersey, Minnesota), or otherwise killed in the line of duty. Members of Railroad Workers United have been keeping track of all the rail-related fatalities since Mother’s Day, 2009, when the death of Jared Boehlke left a young widow and child. They have recorded twenty-nine fatalities. Twenty–nine men and women killed in the course of helping trains get from point A to point B. (more…)

Macy’s Day: Interview with Kim E. Nielsen

August 30, 2010

Kim E. Nielsen’s latest book, Beyond the Miracle Worker: The Remarkable Life of Anne Sullivan Macy and Her Extraordinary Friendship with Helen Keller, provides a rich account of the woman most of us know only as the person who taught language to a deaf-blind girl named Helen Keller. But Macy’s life was extraordinary in its own right. She lost her mother early and was sent with her younger brother to a monstrously disease-ridden and abusive almshouse. Her brother soon died, leaving the vision-impaired girl alone in the world. Through a combination of luck and pluck, she landed a spot at a renowned school for the blind. After graduating with no other employment options, she reluctantly accepted the position of governess to Helen Keller. The two women soon became famous and they would remain the most steadfast of friends for the rest of Macy’s impressive and difficult life. Nielsen is also the author of The Radical Lives of Helen Keller and Un-American Womanhood: Antiradicalism, Antifeminism and the First Red Scare. She is the editor of Helen Keller: Selected Writings. She teaches history, gender studies, and disability studies at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay.

I’m always curious about people who write biographies about really famous people. Some people might figure that the territory has already been covered. Can you say why you write about Helen Keller and now Anne Sullivan Macy?
Well, I read biographies all the time as a child. That’s the source of my love of history. It gives you facts and context but also satisfies a love of gossip. When I feel like I have to work but don’t want to, I read biographies because it doesn’t feel like work.

But I initially wrote about Helen Keller out of naïveté. Now I realize that she’s one of the most written about women in the universe, and didn’t understand that choosing her as my subject might present some obstacles in my career. But I fell into writing about her and I love it.

Then I finished writing my books on her and swore her off. I told my husband I would never speak Keller or Macy’s name again! [Laughs] I started a completely different project. Then nine months into this other project—and I don’t want to get too mystical—I was haunted by Annie. She had such an important story and no biography had been done of her since 1933. Even then, no one ever focused on her as a person of her own. She was always just an accessory to Helen. (more…)

Worker Safety Railroaded

April 28, 2010

Today is Workers Memorial Day, a day of commemoration for the thousands of people who die from workplace injuries every year. Like the 29 miners recently killed in West Virginia, or the 11 killed in the oil rig explosion this week. And like the 5,214 people killed on the job in 2008. And the 50,000 who died from occupational illnesses. Sadly, we can add two more workers to the toll from railroad accidents in the last few days.

Melinda Carter, killed on the job, April 24, 2010.

Melinda Carter, a conductor for the CSX Railroad, was killed while switching cars in a rail yard in Chicago. Early reports indicate that she was operating the trains using remote control technology, as is increasingly required of workers. She had just bought a new home for her family, for whom she was a rock. A few days later, New York Transit worker James Knell was electrocuted by the third rail while conducting track repair in the pouring rain. He had been married for two years with his high school sweetheart, after being apart for two decades.

I’ve written before about some of the particular dangers that rail workers face, and how the nature of their work means that dangers to them also represent dangers to all of us. But today I would like to ask all of us to consider the safety conditions at our workplaces, and the safety conditions of the work others are doing for us. Take the extra step to insist your employer provide protective gear (this works better if you are in a union, but even nonunion employers are required to provide a safe workplace). If you hired some guy to trim your trees or work on your roof, insist they work safely too. Pay extra for it if you have to. And if you can make a donation to an occupational health association that fights for everyone’s rights, please do! That’s a fitting way to give  tribute to the thousands of people dying at work every year in this country.

Leave the Light on for The Latehomecomer

March 5, 2010

The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir
Kao Kalia Yang
Coffee House Press, 274 pages

How many worlds are contained on one planet? Kao Kalia Yang’s moving memoir begins in 1975 in the jungles of Laos. There, the Hmong families that fought on the side of the United States in “The Secret War” are hunted down by the new Communist government.  Between the war and the subsequent slaughter, barely a third of the Hmong survive to travel to the world of refugee camps in Thailand and elsewhere. Of those, fewer still obtain the necessary medical and bureaucratic clearances required to traverse to the world of the United States or Europe.

Hmong memory stretches back before these worlds to a time when they lived in villages in the Laos mountains, and before that to when they resided in China.  Yang’s vision also extends forward to a world where human rights are respected across the globe.

Yang has rendered the journey among all these worlds in prose that transport the reader as well. At times, she uses seemingly small occurrences to hint at the unfathomable depths of the Hmong experience.  After the family cross the treacherous Mekong River, the tattered group straggle along a Thai road, where a farmer tosses some old clothes to Yang’s father. Quoting her mother, Yang writes:

“I never thought I would see clothes thrown at my husband,” she says, looking at the floor, as if all the years had not erased the memory. “When he picked the clothes off the ground and tried to wipe the dirt away, I could not look.”

This incident itself pales in comparison to the murders, the hunger and the sickness the family undergo, but speaks volumes about the ability to withstand much so long as one can retain one’s dignity.

Yet she does not downplay the terrible impact (more…)

Solidarity for Human Rights in Iran

February 5, 2010

Unite 4 human rights in Iran

"February 11th is Victory of the Revolution Day in Iran. Equivalent to the Fourth of July in the United States, it is a day commemorating liberty, independence and freedom. But the Iranian government has long violated these rights and is responsible for numerous abuses including torture, arbitrary arrests, censorship and the most recent execution of two activists accused of inciting the post-election protests on June 12th – even though these men had been held in detention long before the violence erupted.

Since blogs and websites like Twitter and YouTube were virtually the only way the Iranian people could expose the horrific treatment being inflicted on them in the days following the contested Presidential election, we expect that Iranians will turn to the Internet once again to carry their messages. That is why we are asking everyone to show their solidarity online on February 11th – whether it’s on your blog, website, or social networking profile."
Amnesty International

Courage in Colombia

December 30, 2009

Inside the Galeria.

A few weeks ago, my friend John Walsh traveled with a labor delegation to Colombia.  John is a bookbinder and a regional vice-president for Teamsters-GCC Local 767-M in Portland, Ore. Working through the organization Witness for Peace, he met with Colombian women and men who have been enduring and resisting the brutal realities of living under the thumb of multinational corporations. Many of these corporations, aided by the Colombian and United States government policies, employ paramilitaries to keep unions, peasant groups, and other social or civic organizations from interfering with their power. For years Colombia has been considered the most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists.  In 2008 alone, there were 49 confirmed assassinations of union activists.  John spoke with Anggie Tamayo, an activist in Cali who is working to bring light to the stories of those who have been murdered.  What follows is an abridged version of his interview. (Ms. Tamayo’s English is excellent, but not fluent.  In some places I have altered her wording in order to make the English flow better for the reader.)

John Walsh: I’m in the city of Cali, Colombia, and we’re at the Galería de la Memoria Tiberio Fernández Mafla.  I’m here with Anggie Tamayo, one of the people involved in creating the Gallery, and I’m going to ask her to tell us its history and the purpose.

Anggie Tamayo: It began in 1995 with a project that is called Colombia Never Again.  The idea of this project was to save victims’ memory, because we don’t want to repeat those actions that happened to them.  So we collect their testimony, because we think it is a sacred act of pain and mourning.  This project was begun two years ago, and we make different acts to commemorate the victims.  For example, we have Katherine Soto, she was a girl from the Universidad del Valle, she was killed two years ago by the army, and she was almost shown like a false positive—

JW: And people in the US probably don’t understand what a false positive is, so could you explain that a little bit?

AT: Well, a false positive is a policy of this government.  The army used to kill people like farmers, students, people that live in the country, and the [killers] say the [victims] are from the guerrillas.  So, when they say that, they used to get vacation, they used to get more money, so there are many people [killed] that are innocent .

A memorial to the life and dreams of Katherine Soto.

JW: So there was a bounty, basically, on life.  The people who killed these innocent people were rewarded for that?

AT: Yes.  So she was in San Cipriano, it is located near Buenaventura port. She was there with her friend and she was killed because they thought she was a guerilla, but she really was a student from the Universidad del Valle. She wanted to be a teacher. She had many, many dreams, and now, what we are doing is trying to continue with her dreams. (more…)