Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Eloise Pepion Cobell (1945 – 2011) was a Native American tribal elder in the Niitsitapi Blackfoot Confederacy. She was also known as the Yellow Bird Woman. In addition to her prestigious role in the tribe, she led an active and engaging life as a banker and rancher.
The Niisitapi (Blackfoot) people lived in the Northern Plains that occupied territory in the region that is now parts of Canada and the United States. Their history in the region is a long and involved (see images below).
The Blackfoot Confederacy represents a conglomerate of four so-called, “First Nations” - Siksika (Northern Blackfoot), Kainah (Blood), South Pikuni (Piegan, located in Montana), and North Pikuni (Peigan, located in Alberta). All of these nations share a common language and heritage. Traditionally, they had a way of life centered around buffalo hunting.
The South Pikuni reside in Montana and the North Pikuni reside in Alberta, Canada. Tragically, there was a fifth group called the Small Robes that is no longer extant – the members of this group were wiped out by the smallpox epidemic of the 1830s.
The Blackfoot culture was rich in spirituality. According to the elders of the tribe ( ) -
“Plains Indian culture was steeped in religion and ceremony. The world was an uncertain place, and people needed the help of supernatural powers.
Help was obtained from the spirit world in the form of visions and dreams. In these dreams people were instructed in the use of sacred objects, songs and rituals. These objects and rituals became part of the sacred Medicine Bundles.
Medicine Bundles were the most powerful religious possession in Plains Indian culture. They were owned by individuals but could bring power, luck or health to anyone who honoured them. Ownership of a bundle brought long life, success and social prestige.”
Cobell was born on the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana. She had eight siblings and was the middle child. Her great grandmother was Mountain Chief one of the esteemed leaders of the Blackfeet Nation. She grew up on her family’s cattle ranch in harsh conditions without the benefit of electricity or running water.
In spite of the poverty of her upbringing, she attended Montana State University but had to curtail her education to care for her dying mother. Following her mother’s passing, she moved to Seattle where she met and married Alvin Cobell a kinsman. They had one son, Turk Cobell. Ultimately, she returned to the reservation to assist with the management of the family ranch. She soon became treasurer for the Blackfeet Nation.
Cobell founded the Blackfeet National Bank – the first such bank on an Indian reservation. For her efforts and remarkable accomplishment, she won a McArthur genius award. Ultimately, twenty other tribes joined the bank to form the Native American Bank. Cobell became the Executive Director of a non-profit called, the “Native American Community Development Corporation.”
On account her business and bookkeeping expertise, in 1996 Cobell was the lead plaintiff in a law suit against the federal government that challenged the country’s mismanagement of the trust fund that involved half a million Native Americans. She pursued this suit that effectively demanded the government account for its distribution of fees from Indian-held resource leases. This class-action suit was referred to as, “Cobell v. Salazar.”
This suit stems from the General Allotment Act of 1887 mandating that Indian reservations be divided into parcels for individual rather than collective ownership. The government than determined that many allottees were not capable of managing their own lands. As a consequence, the Department of the Interior (DOI) held these lands in trust, resulting in leasing the allotments for agricultural or mining activities. The revenues from these leases and royalties were supposed to the placed into individual Indian money accounts (IIMs) by the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) to be paid to individual land owners. It is the management of this distribution that was effectively challenged in the suit.
Finally, the suit was successful and a settlement was reached with the government. In response to this settlement, Cobell said that, “"Although we have reached a settlement totaling more than $3.4 billion, there is little doubt this is significantly less than the full accounting to which individual Indians are entitled. Yes, we could prolong our struggle and fight longer, and perhaps one day we would know, down to the penny, how much individual Indians are owed. Perhaps we could even litigate long enough to increase the settlement amount. But we are compelled to settle now by the sobering realization that our class grows smaller each year, each month and every day, as our elders die and are forever prevented from receiving their just compensation."
Without Cobell’s unrelenting determination to right a grievous wrong done to her people, the injustice may have never been recognized and finally corrected.
Tuesday, May 8, 2018
Rose Mapendo was born in Mulenge within the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 1963. She was a member of the Banyamulenge Tutsi tribe. Mapendo grew up in a Christian household. As is customary for women in her culture, she was married at the young age of sixteen years. In 1994, she moved to the city of Mbuji-Mayi where her husband could successfully pursue his career as a butcher her children could go to school.
These plans, however, were severely disrupted with the outbreak of genocide against the Tutsi people that began in neighboring Rwanda. On April 7, 1994 members of the Rwandan army murdered ten Belgian peacekeepers as part of strategy to eliminate the Tutsi people from Rwanda. In three short months, the Hutu- led government of Rwanda, killed an estimated one-half to a million innocent civilian Tutsis. This madness ultimately spread to the DRC. Mapendo and her family attempted to hide from the invading troops but were eventually found and captured. They were taken to a prison camp on the night of September 23, 1998
She remained in that camp for sixteen months. Her existence there is hard to imagine. The government ordered the extra-judicial killing of all the men; Mapendo’s husband was among them. The camp lacked sanitation, medical care and the food provided was woefully inadequate. During this time, Mapendo was pregnant with twins. In order to save her own life, she was coerced into giving her seventeen-year-old daughter to a soldier for sex. Mapendo managed to give birth under abysmal conditions and tied and cut the umbilical chords with a piece of wood. She wisely named her newborns after two of the camp’s commanders. This strategy ultimately saved her life: for, when orders from the government came to have the prisoners executed, one of the commanders had her and her family were transferred to another prison facility in Kinshasa, capital of the DRC. Within weeks they were delivered to a human rights center and ultimately to a Red Cross center in Cameroon through an American effort to resettle Tutsi refugees.
Finally, in 2000 Mapendo and her children received refugee status and settled in the United States. In 2007, she received word that her eleven-year old, daughter was alive, and Nangabire ultimately rejoined her family in the U.S.
Once securing the safety of herself and family, Mapendo could certainly have chosen to quietly pursue her new life. However, this is not what she chose to do. Instead, she chose the path of forgiveness and women’s empowerment. She was compelled to tell her story. As a result, a PBS documentary entitled, Pushing the Elephant was released that describes Mapendo’s mission and experiences culminating in the reunion with her daughter.
The following is an audio excerpts from that film (hosted by Michel Martin) –
“And now we meet a remarkable woman. Her name is Rose Mapendo. She was the 2009 United Nations Humanitarian of the Year. She is from the Democratic Republic of Congo. She is an advocate for global health and women's empowerment and a mother to 10 children. But those words don't really capture her story, which is both remarkable and all too common. That story is told in a new documentary called "Pushing the Elephant." It premiered this week as part of the PBS series "Independent Lens."
And, again, I have to say that this conversation does touch on the issue of sexual violence and thus might not be suitable for all listeners. With that being said, Rose Mapendo is with us from Tempe, Arizona. Welcome, thank you so much for joining us.
Ms. ROSE MAPENDO (2009 United Nations Humanitarian of the Year): Thank you, Michel.
MARTIN: The documentary tells your story of surviving the violence that your family encountered doing what many people call the African world war. Certainly, living through those events had to have been incredibly painful. I must tell you that watching the film is painful. But recounting those events time and again must also be painful. And I wanted to ask why you were willing to do it.
Ms. MAPENDO: First of all, it is to raise the awareness and to tell a story of the innocent people. And I truly believe I just survive for reason. It was a choice for me to be a voice even though I knew nobody will change my past. Because I think the people can learn from the past to fix the present.
MARTIN: Just to some of the things that you lived through, which are recounted in the documentary, at the time that your community was invaded, your husband was killed, you were captured with how many children at the time? Seven, at that time. Correct?
Ms. MAPENDO: Yes.
MARTIN: You were separated from one child. And while you were imprisoned in, really, what can only be called a death camp, women and children were really just kept there to die with terrible conditions. You found that you were pregnant with twins and this presented a terrible dilemma, not just because the conditions that you were suffering were so terrible, the children were very sick. There were no conditions.
But, also, that if you revealed that you were sick in any way, you would be taken away. And many people who were ill, understood to be ill, were taken away and never seen again and it was assumed that they were killed. You talk about how at times you did pray that you would not survive this, that you just could not take any more. And I did want to ask, how did you find the strength?
Ms. MAPENDO: The strength, I believe, is the strength from God, because first of all, I grew up in a Christian house, but I was rejected that, like, resentful, according for what I have been through, but it was a pregnancy situation. Because in my belly, it was - the skin was came off because sleep on the cement. The lice was everywhere.
And of course I still hungry. Like, when you feel hungry, when the baby's inside, you feel like baby is look like he want to jump - to pass through your mouth. And I became weak and my body changed to yellow. And when I stood and I would feel dizzy, and I fell sometimes, down. And I thought my life was really freezing, stopped, and I thought I cannot pass. And I said, no matter what, there is a God - creation.
I came from somewhere and that God always give people choice. I believe in a God who put them in that situation. God can use people. And I made a decision to forgive the people who thought I am their enemy. And when I changed that, when I made the decision to forgive them, I became free from angry.
MARTIN: You made the truly remarkable, what many people consider the truly remarkable decision, to name your newborn twins after two of the prison guards.
Ms. MAPENDO: Yes.
MARTIN: Why did you do that?
Ms. MAPENDO: When you name somebody mean you love the person. But the decision to name the commanders who killed my husband, it was the way I try to think I can save my children's' life. And that way to try to tell them I am not your enemy. I know nobody understood, but I do that because I forgive you no matter what. I am one of your people.
MARTIN: One of the most difficult things, I think, for any parent, though, is to see a child suffer. And your son, John, was beaten every day that you were in the camps. And your daughter, Amy, essentially saved his life. And what happened is that you made the decision to essentially give Amy to a soldier for a sex partner.
Ms. MAPENDO: Yes.
MARTIN: And I'd like to ask you if she has forgiven you.
Ms. MAPENDO: Yes. My daughter - I didn't - first of all, I love my daughter. I did - she knew I did not do because I hate her. She understood exactly the situation. And this is not - sometimes I think this is not our shame. It is not my shame either. It's not my daughter's either. It is the government's shame. I love my children. This is not my shame. And my daughter, I believe my daughter, she's forgiven. And we talked. I told my daughter before, I said, my mom, I will not left you behind, because even though my daughter, she survived, but she pay a lot price. And I believe one day she's going to tell her own story -it will be in the public.
MARTIN: Well, as I said, it is a remarkable story and we do appreciate you being willing to talk about these very difficult things. As we are speaking now, there are many parts of the world which are in conflict, as you know. In the Ivory Coast is in the midst of a terrible, you know, political conflict, which has already led to the loss of life. There are a number of places around the world which are in conflict. What do you feel - what do you think we can draw from your story?
Ms. MAPENDO: I believe it's everybody's responsibility to take the action to save these people's life. There is many thousands of people who are seeking for life, who need my help, who need my voice, who need your voice, who need the world's attention to save their life. If I forgive somebody, if I united by myself with somebody who kill my last husband, or somebody who tortured my life, somebody who kill my own people, you can try the best to unite with that person.
It's not to change the past, it's to change the future for your family, for your neighbor, for your friend. That's change your family. You know, be better, let our children pursue the happiness like everybody because the past is gone.”
It is stories like these that need to be told regardless of how uncomfortable it might make the reader feel. Otherwise, to remain in ignorance, is to allow this colossal inhumanity to continue. There is, in fact, a powerful women’s movement arising in all of Africa and it needs the world’s encouragement and support.
Wednesday, April 25, 2018
Nadia Murad Basee Taha (Murad), was born in 1993 in the village of Kocho in Sinjar, Iraq. Her family members are part of the Yazidi ethno-religious minority. Their livelihood was faming. The Yazidis have come into focus and captured the world’s attention on account of the fact that the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) has made repeated attempts to annihilate them. It has been estimated that there are some 700,000 members of this community living in the countries of Iraq, Armenia and Georgia and other parts of the world. Taha has become an international voice of conscience in regards to her peoples’ plight. The vast majority of the Yazidis reside in northern Iraq around Mt. Sinjar
Who are the Yazidis?
As mentioned earlier, estimates put the global number of Yazidis at around 700,000 people, with the vast majority of them concentrated in northern Iraq, in and around Sinjar. The following description is taken from a report that appeared in The Guardian in August of 2014 authored by Raya Jalabi.
“A historically misunderstood group, the Yazidis are predominantly ethnically Kurdish, and have kept alive their syncretic religion for centuries, despite many years of oppression and threatened extermination.
“The ancient religion is rumoured to have been founded by an 11th century Ummayyad sheikh and is derived from Zoroastrianism (an ancient Persian faith founded by the philosopher Zoroaster (~630 – 550 BC), Christianity and Islam. The religion has taken elements from each, ranging from baptism (Christianity) to circumcision (Islam) to reverence of fire as a manifestation from God (derived from Zoroastrianism) and yet remains distinctly non-Abrahamic. This derivative quality has often led the Yazidis to be referred to as a sect.
“At the core of the Yazidis’ marginalization is their worship of a fallen angel, Melek Tawwus, or Peacock Angel, one of the seven angels that take primacy in their beliefs. Unlike the fall from grace of Satan, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, Melek Tawwus was forgiven and returned to heaven by God. The importance of Melek Tawwus to the Yazidis has given them an undeserved reputation for being devil-worshippers – a notoriety that, in the climate of extremism gripping Iraq, has turned life-threatening.
“Under Ottoman rule in the 18th and 19th centuries alone, the Yazidis were subject to 72 genocidal massacres. More recently in 2007, hundreds of Yazidis were killed as a spate of car bombs ripped through their stronghold in northern Iraq. With numbers of dead as close to 800, according to the Iraqi Red Crescent, this was one of the single deadliest events to take place during the American-led invasion.
The Yazidis had been denounced as infidels by Al-Qaida in Iraq, a predecessor of Isis, which sanctioned their indiscriminate killing.”
ISIS fighters invaded the village of Kocho where Murad was a student. She was nineteen years old at the time when she witnessed the massacre that followed resulting in the death of 600 inhabitants including six of Murad’s brothers and step-brothers. The younger women were forced into slavery. She was one of 6,700 women taken prisoner by ISIS. As a prisoner she was beaten, tortured and raped when she made a failed attempt to escape her captors.
Murad ultimately did escape when her captor unwittingly left the door unlocked in the house where she was imprisoned. She was eventually smuggled out of ISIS-controlled territory and was safely transported to a refugee camp in the neighboring town of Duhok. In February of 2015, she gave her first testimony of her horrific ordeal to reporters. Murad moved to Germany, taking advantage of a refugee program sponsored by the German Government.
The following, is the statement Murad made to the UN Security Council on December 18, 2015 -
Ladies and gentlemen, Delegates of the Security Council, Good afternoon.
“I would like to thank United States for calling for this debate and for inviting me to speak.
“It is with great sadness, gratitude and hope that I stand before you today as one of the few survivors of one of the world’s oldest ethnic and religious group now threatened by extinction.
“I am here today to speak on the way the so-called Islamic State trafficked us, transformed the Yazidi women into Sex slaves, and the way IS committed a genocide against my people. I am here to tell what has happened to me and my community that lost hope is headed to the unknown, I am here also to speak on behalf of those who remain in captivity.
“I am here to speak about a global terrorist organization that came to end our existence, culture and freedom, to speak about the nightmare that change life for a community overnight.
“Before August 3, 2014, I was living with my family in Kocho village with my single mother and brothers and sisters, our village was beautiful, we were living in peace. But on August 3rd, the militants of the Islamic State, attacked our areas and we found ourselves faced with a brutal genocide. These large groups of armed men of various nationalities in uniforms with weapons, had decided that the Yazidis were infidels and had to be eradicated.
“The Islamic State didn’t come to kill the women and girls, but to use us as spoils of war, as objects to be sold with little or to be gifted for free.
“Their cruelty was not merely opportunistic. The IS soldiers came with a pre-established policy to commit such crimes.
Islamic State had one intention, the destroy the Yazidi identity by force, rape, recruitment of children, and destruction of holy sites they captured, especially against the Yazidi woman where the used rape as a mean of destruction for Yazidi women and girls and ensuring these women will never return to a normal life.
“On August 15th, the Militants called us to the school building, where the separated men from us; I witnessed from the second floor of the school, they took the men and killed them, including 6 of my brothers and step brothers who were killed, and 3 who escaped the mass killing with Creator Blessing.
“We, the women and the children, were driven away to another area. Along the way, they insulted us, they were forcefully touching women and girls.
“I was taken with some other 150 girls to Mosul, in a building in Mosul, there were thousands of Yazidi women of children and who previously captured by ISIL to be offered as gifts.
“A militant approached me, he said they would take me, I was looking down, I was terrified, when I looked up, I saw a big man, he looked like a minister. I cried, I said I won’t want you, I told him you are too big for me, I am a little girl. Another militant walked in, I was still looking down, I saw his feet, he had small feet, I begged him to take me for himself, I was so scared from the big militant.
“The one who took me asked me to convert, I did not, he then one day asked me for “marriage”, I told him I am sick, most of the captive women there had their menstrual period due to the fears. Then he one day forced me to dress for him and put make up, I did, and in that black night, he did it.
“He forced me to serve his militant squad, he insulted me by forcing me to dress improperly. And I was unable to bear more rape and torture, I decided to escape, but I failed and I was captured by on the guards.
“That night, he beat me up, forced to undress, and put me in a room with 6 militants. They continued to commit crimes to my body until I became unconscious.
“After three months of abduction, finally I was able to escape. Now I live in Germany. Thanks to Germany who accepted to treat me.
“But it was not only me who suffered, it was a collective suffering, The Islamic State gave us two choices, covert of die, for those who accepted to convert fearing their lives, their men were killed, women were enslaved and children were recruited.
“To date, 16 mass graves have been found, including a mass grave of 80 women who they didn’t desire, therefore decided to kill. more than 400,000 Yazidis are displaced, more than 40 percent of our areas remain under control of IS, and the liberated areas are not habitable because of the destruction and Yazidi fears to return and live in their homes with peace.
“Over the past week only, more than 70 Yazidi women and children drowned on their way through dangerous paths to Europe, thousands are seeking and exit, a great percentage see immigration in the only choice.
“Mrs. President, Ladies and gentlemen:
“The Islamic State have made the Yazidi women a fuel for human trafficking.
“I am presenting to you our requests and I have hope that humanity has not died, yet:
- Bring back more than 3400 women and children currently suffering under the mercy of those who lost every bit of mercy.
2. Recognize the mass killing, enslavement and human trafficking committed as a genocide, I appeal to you to find a way to open a case before the International Criminal Court.
3. Liberate our land, Liberate Kocho so that Kocho people can bury the remains of their dead, provide Yazidi Areas and other threaten minorities Areas with international protection so we can return one day and live in peace, I also request that you allocate an international fund to compensate victims and build our areas.
4. Open your borders for my community, we are victims of a genocide and we have the right to seek a safe place where our dignity will be preserved. We request that to give Yazidis and other threatened minorities the choice to resettle, especially to the victims of human trafficking, as Germany Did.
5. Bring an End to ISIL, I have seen them, I have lived the pain they caused. We have to bring all human traffickers criminals and Those who committed a Genocide to justice so that the women and children in Nigeria, Syria, Somalia, and everywhere in the world can live in peace. These crimes against women and their freedom shall stop now.”
This statement paints a compelling and moving story of the experiences of a young woman and is an indictment of the abhorrent and extremist behavior of those who are apparently “possessed” by a fanatical ideology that sanctions such unimaginable brutality in the name of religious belief. It is also illustrates the remarkable persistence, courage and strength of character of Murad in the light of her horrendous experiences in her native Iraq.
Sunday, April 15, 2018
Saturday, April 14, 2018
William Wilberforce, born in August of 1759, was a powerful advocate for the abolition of slavery in the then extensive British Empire. Great Britain’s involvement in the promulgation of slavery was, for most part, driven by economic and commercial interests that spanned the globe. The industrial revolution that began in England, was essentially financed by its colonial activities that embraced slavery.
Wilberforce was born into a wealthy and influential family in Hull, in the East Riding of Yorkshire, England. Following his father’s untimely death in 1768, his mother sent her nine-year old son to his affluent uncle and aunt who had residences at St. James’ Place, London and Wimbledon. He eventually became very attached to his “new” family. His mother, however, was a member of England’s traditional Anglican Church and was concerned about her son’s exposure to Evangelical Christianity and had him return to her at the age of 12. It was his Aunt Hannah who was especially influential in this regard.
At eighteen years of age (1777), Wilberforce attended St. John’s College in Cambridge University. He was not an exceptional student; he already had an inheritance and was not particularly motivated. However, there be became close friends with William Pitt who would later become Prime Minister (1783-1801 and 1804-1806). Nearing the end of his stay at Cambridge, Wilberforce decided to run for Parliament and won a seat at the age of 21 as an independent.
While he was in Parliament, he distinguished himself as an eloquent speaker. There, he met James Ramsay in 1783 and for the first time the subject of slavery was discussed. The Reverend James Ramsay (1733 – 1789) was a ship's surgeon, Anglican priest, and was a leader in the abolitionist movement. This relationship signaled a change in Wilberforce’s perception. Between 1784 and 1786, Wilberforce seemed to have experienced an intense religious conversion. As a result, he was tempted to abandon his political ambitions; however, his good friend and mentor John Newton encouraged him to use his political position to push for social reform. John Newton was an Anglican clergyman and former slave ship master who eventually spoke out against the slave trade. In 1789, Wilberforce witnessed his country’s loss of the American Colonies after its defeat in the American Revolutionary War. This may have impressed upon him the reality of a shrinking British Empire as further encouragement for the need for major reform.
Using his new-found religious conviction, Wilberforce began to lead, guided by conscience. The slave trade and the abhorrent character of slavery, inspired him to become a forceful advocate for the abolition of slavery and the slave trade. He was encouraged by Sir Charles Middleton to represent the cause in Parliament. Charles Middleton was a British Royal Naval officer who, in his later years, played a critical role in the abolition of the slave trade in the British Empire. He was also influenced by the writings of Rev. James Ramsay (as mentioned earlier). Furthermore, in 1787, Wilberforce was introduced to Thomas Clarkson who gave him a copy of his treatise on slavery entitled, “Essay on Slavery.” They joined together in a collaborative effort to abolish the slave trade that lasted nearly a half of a century.
The following is Wilberforce’s impassioned speech in support of the abolition of slavery to the Parliament in 1789 in its entirety –
“When I consider the magnitude of the subject which I am to bring before the House—a subject, in which the interests, not of this country, nor of Europe alone, but of the whole world, and of posterity, are involved: and when I think, at the same time, on the weakness of the advocate who has undertaken this great cause—when these reflections press upon my mind, it is impossible for me not to feel both terrified and concerned at my own inadequacy to such a task. But when I reflect, however, on the encouragement which I have had, through the whole course of a long and laborious examination of this question, and how much candor I have experienced, and how conviction has increased within my own mind, in proportion as I have advanced in my labours;—when I reflect, especially, that however averse any gentleman may now be, yet we shall all be of one opinion in the end;—when I turn myself to these thoughts, I take courage—I determine to forget all my other fears, and I march forward with a firmer step in the full assurance that my cause will bear me out, and that I shall be able to justify upon the clearest principles, every resolution in my hand, the avowed end of which is, the total abolition of the slave trade. I wish exceedingly, in the outset, to guard both myself and the House from entering into the subject with any sort of passion. It is not their passions I shall appeal to—I ask only for their cool and impartial reason; and I wish not to take them by surprise, but to deliberate, point by point, upon every part of this question. I mean not to accuse any one, but to take the shame upon myself, in common, indeed, with the whole parliament of Great Britain, for having suffered this horrid trade to be carried on under their authority. We are all guilty - we ought all to plead guilty, and not to exculpate ourselves by throwing the blame on others; and I therefore deprecate every kind of reflection against the various descriptions of people who are more immediately involved in this wretched business. Having now disposed of the first part of this subject, I must speak of the transit of the slaves in the West Indies. This I confess, in my own opinion, is the most wretched part of the whole subject. So much misery condensed in so little room, is more than the human imagination had ever before conceived. I will not accuse the Liverpool merchants: I will allow them, nay, I will believe them to be men of humanity; and I will therefore believe, if it were not for the enormous magnitude and extent of the evil which distracts their attention from individual cases, and makes them think generally, and therefore less feelingly on the subject, they would never have persisted in the trade. I verily believe therefore, if the William Wilberforce’s 1789 Abolition Speech National History Day 2007 61 wretchedness of any one of the many hundred Negroes stowed in each ship could be brought before their view, and remain within the sight of the African Merchant, that there is no one among them whose heart would bear it. Let anyone imagine to himself 6 or 700 of these wretches chained two and two, surrounded with every object that is nauseous and disgusting, diseased, and struggling under every kind of wretchedness! How can we bear to think of such a scene as this? One would think it had been determined to heap upon them all the varieties of bodily pain, for the purpose of blunting the feelings of the mind; and yet, in this very point (to show the power of human prejudice) the situation of the slaves has been described by Mr. Norris, one of the Liverpool delegates, in a manner which, I am sure will convince the House how interest can draw a film across the eyes, so thick, that total blindness could do no more; and how it is our duty therefore to trust not to the reasonings of interested men, or to their way of colouring a transaction... As soon as ever I had arrived thus far in my investigation of the slave trade, I confess to you sir, so enormous so dreadful, so irremediable did its wickedness appear that my own mind was completely made up for the abolition. A trade founded in iniquity, and carried on as this was, must be abolished, let the policy be what it might - let the consequences be what they would, I from this time determined that I would never rest till I had effected its abolition.”
After years of concerted effort during which time public sentiment in favor of abolition grew, Wilberforce put forth a bill called the Slave Trade Act that made it illegal for slave owners to participate in the trading of slaves with the French colonies. Although this bill fell short of an entire ban on the slave trade, it reduced the slave trade by 75% - it was a masterful piece of legislation. It became law in 1807.
However, the battle was not yet won. Finally, in 1833, the Slavery Abolition Act was passed. This act made slavery illegal in most parts of the Empire. Just three days after this monumental reform in British law and custom, Wilberforce died on July 29, 1833.
Without Wilberforce’s persistent and undaunted efforts to end the support of slavery In the British Empire, it probably would not have happened in a timely fashion. It would take some thirty years before President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation (January 1, 1863} that ended slavery in the United States in the midst of the disastrous American Civil War.
Saturday, March 31, 2018
On February 19, 1942, the executive order (EO) 9066 promulgated by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The following is the full text of this executive order –
“Authorizing the Secretary of War to Prescribe Military Areas
Whereas the successful prosecution of the war requires every possible protection against espionage and against sabotage to national-defense material, national-defense premises, and national-defense utilities as defined in Section 4, Act of April 20, 1918, 40 Stat. 533, as amended by the Act of November 30, 1940, 54 Stat. 1220, and the Act of August 21, 1941, 55 Stat. 655 (U.S.C., Title 50, Sec. 104);
Now, therefore, by virtue of the authority vested in me as President of the United States, and Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, I hereby authorize and direct the Secretary of War, and the Military Commanders whom he may from time to time designate, whenever he or any designated Commander deems such action necessary or desirable, to prescribe military areas in such places and of such extent as he or the appropriate Military Commander may determine, from which any or all persons may be excluded, and with respect to which, the right of any person to enter, remain in, or leave shall be subject to whatever restrictions the Secretary of War or the appropriate Military Commander may impose in his discretion. The Secretary of War is hereby authorized to provide for residents of any such area who are excluded therefrom, such transportation, food, shelter, and other accommodations as may be necessary, in the judgment of the Secretary of War or the said Military Commander, and until other arrangements are made, to accomplish the purpose of this order. The designation of military areas in any region or locality shall supersede designations of prohibited and restricted areas by the Attorney General under the Proclamations of December 7 and 8, 1941, and shall supersede the responsibility and authority of the Attorney General under the said Proclamations in respect of such prohibited and restricted areas.
I hereby further authorize and direct the Secretary of War and the said Military Commanders to take such other steps as he or the appropriate Military Commander may deem advisable to enforce compliance with the restrictions applicable to each Military area here in above authorized to be designated, including the use of Federal troops and other Federal Agencies, with authority to accept assistance of state and local agencies.
I hereby further authorize and direct all Executive Departments, independent establishments and other Federal Agencies, to assist the Secretary of War or the said Military Commanders in carrying out this Executive Order, including the furnishing of medical aid, hospitalization, food, clothing, transportation, use of land, shelter, and other supplies, equipment, utilities, facilities, and services.
This order shall not be construed as modifying or limiting in any way the authority heretofore granted under Executive Order (EO) No. 8972, dated December 12, 1941, nor shall it be construed as limiting or modifying the duty and responsibility of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, with respect to the investigation of alleged acts of sabotage or the duty and responsibility of the Attorney General and the Department of Justice under the Proclamations of December 7 and 8, 1941, prescribing regulations for the conduct and control of alien enemies, except as such duty and responsibility is superseded by the designation of military areas here under.”
It ordered all Japanese American to vacate their places of residence and move en masse into concentration camps setup up to accommodate them. This occurred in the midst of World War II after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. Although the United States was already at war with Nazi Germany, no such mandate was imposed upon the many German-Americans living throughout the country.
This mass evacuation imposed a severe burden on the lives of those citizens who were forced to abandon their homes and properties for the “duration” of the war.
In 1940, Walt and Milly Woodward from Bainbridge purchased the weekly publication, the Bainbridge Review. Two months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (December 7, 1941) that precipitated the declaration of war against Japan, they pledged in a front-page editorial to, “strive to speak the truth, unafraid. whether it be on a national interest or something purely local.”
They lived up to this promise to their readership; for, the day following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, they warned that, “There is a danger of a blind, wild hysterical hatred of all persons who can trace ancestry to Japan. That some of those persons happen to be American citizens…easily could be swept away by mob hysteria.” They attempted to raise the awareness of their subscribers to the loyalty of their Japanese-American fellow citizens by stating in their newspaper that, “These Japanese Americans of ours haven’t bombed anybody…They have given every indication of loyalty to this nation. They have sent…their own sons – six of them – into the United States Army.”
As a result of the EO, 272 Japanese Americans were forced to abandon their homes, properties and friendships and moved to Manzanar – one of the ten Japanese concentrations that were erected throughout the nation. Manzanar was located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains in California's Owens Valley and ultimately housed 10,000 individuals.
This courageous and tenacious couple continued to speak out throughout the war regarding the injustice of the forced and massive relocation. As a matter of fact, their publication was the only newspaper throughout the entire country to take such an unpopular position. The Woodwards actually hired high school students – Paul Ohtaki, Sa Nakata, Tony Koura and Sada Omoto to report from Manzanar on the daily lives and challenges facing the inmates of that camp.
After the war, Walt and Milly Woodward remained strong local activists of the Bainbridge Island community especially in regard to local schools, construction of a new library and public transportation. Walt ultimately stepped down as editor of the Review in 1963; the newspaper was sold in 1988. Walt worked for a time on the editorial board of the Seattle times Milly returned to her career as a high school teacher and died in 1989. Walt passed away in 2001 at the age ninety-one.
Walt and Milly Woodward were recognized posthumously by the Asian Journalists Association for their outspoken opposition to the involuntary internment of Japanese-Americans. They were recipients of the, Special Recognition Award.
Finally, on March 30, 2009 (the sixty-seventh anniversary of the internment), the ground-breaking ceremony took place to begin construction of the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial to honor those Japanese-Americans of Bainbridge Island who were moved into concentration camps.
Wednesday, March 21, 2018
Arthur Waskow is the founder of the highly recognized and acclaimed Shalom Center (https://theshalomcenter.org). Waskow was born in 1933 and spent his young life in Baltimore, Maryland. As a young man he got his undergraduate degree at John Hopkins and eventually a doctorate in United States History at the University of Wisconsin at Madison (1963). At the time of his graduation, the United States was in the midst of social and political turmoil revolving around two distinct issues - the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights Movement.
From 1959 to 1961, in the midst of his academic studies, he was passionately involved in disarmament and civil-rights in the role of a legislative assistant for U.S. Congressman Robert Krastenmeier of Wisconson. From 1961 to 1963, he was a Senior Fellow of the Peace Research Institute. This work inspired him to help create the Institute for Policy Studies and acted as a Fellow there until 1977.
Throughout the troubling era of the sixties, Waskow was a vociferous and relentless advocate for world peace and non-violent action against social injustice. He wrote extensively on these issues including literally hundreds of articles and many books. In 1968, he was a part of the Washington DC delegation to the Democratic National Convention of 1968.
Waskow’s interests eventually extended to the use of renewable energy and energy conservation – he began to understand the dangers to humanity of the ongoing reality of climate change. His activism in regards to this issue took the form of his role as a Fellow of the Public Resource Center in Washington D.C.
Although his dedication to social activism remains intact, in 1969, he turned his attention to Jewish life in America. At the time, he felt it needed spiritual renewal. His new journey is reflected in his Haggadah (a traditional Passover text) entitled, The Freedom Seder.
The following excerpts from this masterful peace, show how Waskow incorporated the modern struggle for peace and social justice into the body of a traditional Jewish text in celebration of the Passover –
“For as one of the greatest of our prophets, whose own death by violence at a time near the Passover were member in tears tonight as the prophet Martin Luther King called us to know: "The old law of an eye for an eye leaves everybody blind. It destroys community and makes brotherhood impossible. It creates bitterness in the survivors and brutality in the destroyers. But the principle of nonviolent resistance seeks to reconcile the truths of two opposites-acquiescence and violence. The nonviolent resister rises to the noble height of opposing the unjust system while loving the perpetrators of the system. Nonviolence can reach men where the law cannot touch them. So, we will match your capacity to inflict suffering with our capacity to endure suffering. We will not hate you, but we cannot in all good conscience obey your unjust laws. And in winning our freedom we will so appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process."
“And as rabbi Buber said, "The revolutionary lives on the knife's edge. The question that harasses him is not merely the moral or religious one of whether he may kill; his quandary has nothing at all to do with selling his soul to the devil' in order to bring the revolution to victory. His entanglement in the situation is here just the tension between end and means. I cannot conceive anything real corresponding to the saying that the end sanctifies the means; but 1 mean something which is real in the highest sense of the term when I say that the means profane, actually make meaningless, the end, that is, its realization! What is realized is the farther from the goal that was set, the more out of accord with it is the method by which it was realized. The ensuring of the revolution may only drain its heart's blood."
“Or as the rabbi Hannah Arendt wrote, "Man the political being is endowed with the power of speech. Speech is helpless when confronted with violence. Violence itself is incapable of speech. When violence rules absolutely, not only the laws but everything and everybody must fall silent."
“But even the prophet Gandhi, who made his life a call to nonviolent revolution, warned his people, "Where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence. Unless you feel that in nonviolence you have come into possession of a force infinitely superior to the one you have and in the use of which you are adept, you should have nothing to do with non-violence and resume the arms you possessed before."
“So, the struggles for freedom that remain will be more dark and difficult than any we have met so far. For we must struggle for a freedom that enfolds stern justice, stern bravery, and stern love. Blessed art thou,0 Lord our God! who hast confronted us with the necessity of choice and of creating our own book of thy Law. How many and how hard are the choices and the tasks the Almighty has set before us!
“For if we were to end a single genocide but not to stop the other wars that kill men and women as we sit here, it would not be sufficient;
“If we were to end those bloody wars but not disarm the nations of the weapons that could destroy all mankind, it would not be sufficient;
“If we were to disarm the nations but not to end the brutality with which the police attack black people in some countries, brown people in others; Moslems in some countries, Hindus in other; Baptists in some countries, atheists in others; Communists in some countries, conservatives in other it would not be sufficient;
“If we were to end outright police brutality but not prevent some people from wallowing in luxury while others starved, it would not be sufficient;
“If we were to make sure that no one starved but were not to free the daring poets from their jails, it would not be sufficient;
“If we were to free the poets from their jails but to train the minds of people so that they could not understand the poets, it would not be sufficient;
“If we educated all men and women to understand the free creative poets but forbade them to explore their own inner ecstasies, it would not be sufficient;
“If we allowed men and women to explore their inner ecstasies but would not allow them to love one another and share in the human fraternity, it would not be sufficient.
“How much then are we in duty bound to struggle, work, share, give, think, plan, feel, organize, sit-in, speak out, hope, and be on behalf of Mankind! For we must end the genocide [in Vietnam] , stop the bloody wars that are killing men and women as we sit here, disarm the nations of the deadly weapons that threaten to destroy us all, end the brutality with which the police beat minorities in many countries, make sure that no one starves, free the poets from their jails, educate us all to understand their poetry, allow us all to explore our inner ecstasies, and encourage and aid us to love one another and share in the human fraternity. All these!”
In 1982, he became a member of the faculty of the Reconstructionist Rabbinical College, and in 1983 he co-founded the Shalom Center (https://theshalomcenter.org/). The Shalom Center’s mission is to revitalize modern Judaism. In keeping with this mission, it works closely with the National Council of Churches, Muslim groups and has aligned itself with teachers and activists in order to find common approaches to world problems including racism, poverty, climate change, the Israeli-Palestine conflict etc.
Rabbi Arthur Waskow works tirelessly in the pursuit of peace and social justice. His generosity of spirit is inspiration to all of those who desire a more peace and equitable human world.