Friday, September 1, 2017

Arriving in Acedemia

They want me to regurgitate in my own words the academic babble we have been listening to and reading back at them in the form of essays, critical annotated bibliographies, comments in class and in analyzing human rights violations within United Nations guidelines.  I can do that I have been part of grass roots human rights movements since 1971.  But let me tell you the anarchist in me will never surrender to the structured maze of human rights protection bureaucracy which in the long run may help in academia but everyday I look at this stuff wanting someone from the ivory tower to go out and do something from the heart an action, an act of generosity anything besides go around spouting intellectual concepts that take up time instead of taking action. 

My class mates are the inspiring part of this program.  It's the personal stories that are making the difference.

At a glance, we will be reading thousands and thousands of pages on academic works, writing more than 10,000 words just during this term.  I’m lucky English is my first language I can’t imagine doing this with English as my second or third language.
I am the oldest person by at least a decade maybe more.  Just not one of the gang.  Luckily we all have so much work we don’t have time for any socializing.  I have organized a gay film social event.  LBGT rights are mentioned almost every day country by country, community by community, human rights violation by human rights violation followed by what is being done or suppressed, it’s daunting.

Before I came I didn’t know why I wanted to be in this program, for more than two years I thought of coming here setting the stage exploring what human rights looks like in my home town by doing internships but I didn’t have a clear reason.  After on one week here I can tell you that at home I was bursting at the seams about the situation in my country but knew that problems were worst in other parts of the world.  Back home I did some writing for speeches for  Toastmasters not all on politics but enough so that my fellow toastmasters knew I had leftist politics and probably more left than they have but here in the master’s program so far I have written three thousand words worth of papers on different human rights issues, I get to research and explore situations like the LBGT human rights violations in Jamaica, the war crimes during the Bosnian war when after the war for the first time in history men were convicted of sexual violence during armed conflict, I get to read about how some in the international human rights community are proposing bringing cultural, gender and national diversity to the language and culture of the United Nations.  This is just the beginning of this amazing journey.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Hope Got Me Here

Me a graduate student?  It was so farfetched that I didn’t dream it.  But here I sit on the window seat of my student accommodations drinking my morning coffee and listening to the Birds in Salaya, Thailand the home of Mahidol University where I will be attending the graduate program in Human rights.

What I think about how I got here one word comes to mind “HOPE.”
I have struggled with hope most of my life.  Hope for a better life every day, and hope for a better world for all of us.

Wikipedia says that hope is an optimistic attitude of mind that is based on an expectation of positive outcomes related to events and circumstances in one's life or the world at large.

After a google search I started thinking what is the difference between hope and faith because the google search on hope brings up all kinds of religious and faith quotes.

This difference between faith and hope is based on your acceptance of the outcome that you are having hope on or faith in.   Faith is accepting the outcome as the best even if it’s not the outcome you wanted; Hope is an action predicated on uncertainty with optimistic thoughts on the outcome.

One of my favorite quotes was by Taylor Swift “To me, “FEARLESS” is not the absence of fear. It’s not being completely unafraid. To me, FEARLESS is having fears. FEARLESS is having doubts. Lots of them. To me, FEARLESS is living in spite of those things that scare you to death…  It’s FEARLESS to have faith that someday things will change.”   The faith here for me is Hope.  My sister has called me fearless many times but I do have fear and I think I overcome that fear with hope. I am not a religious person and have a lot more hope than faith. 

When I think about this next journey of my life I am filled with hope.  Hope that there are so many people making this world a better place for everyone.  I would like to share four Personal stories of hope with you that happened on this journey called life.

I opened house to foster kids, teenage girls.  Shortly after a girl was placed in my home I started knitting a Christmas stocking for them with their name on it.  I didn’t realize at the time but that act of knitting gave hope to the girl that just arrived and to everyone in the household that that girl would be with us and a part of our family when the Christmas holiday came. 

Before I left for the Peace Corps I was nervous.  But I was consoled by my sister and my daughter when they each wrote letters to me as goodbye presents.  My sister, Zoe, gave me so much hope in her goodbye letter and my daughter, Lani, confirmed this in her letter to me writing, “I am so proud of you! You have grown and changed so much during my life time and I am very lucky to have you for my mother.”  Getting a vote of confidence like this from my daughter means the world to me.  In Mali every time I read these it gave me hope in the work I was doing and I got teary eyed.

In Mali my friend Koro always was hopeful.  Her and her husband live in a space that in 10X15 divided into two rooms, they have not running water, no electricity, and they struggled and work hard for their daily needs and have very few daily wants.  Koro always had a uplifting thing to say to me as she did her laundry by hand in a plastic tub just outside her front door.  She always greeted her neighbors made jokes and laughed.  She taught me hope has nothing to do with money, she taught me hope is about community, hope is about caring and when you care about others that caring comes back to you and fills you with hope.

The other day I was in the check-out line at Costco there was a Muslim woman in front of me, she had forgotten money and credit card.  As she walked away with her head down and Costco employees started rolling her cart away to put the food back the woman behind me asked the cashier how much was the bill and then offered to pay for it.  The woman ran after the woman walking away, caught up with her and after a short conversation they both started walking back, the cashier stopped the person rolling the cart away.  I took a deep breath and said out loud “I am start going to crying.”  I gave the women who was paying a big hug and told the other woman to have a good day.

I held my tears back until I got outside and put on my sun glasses, I cried all the way to my car and then some.  I wasn’t sad I was so full of hope in that moment.  It’s moments like this that make me think we can get over this national trend that has swept our country.

Think about hope in your life, ask yourself where do you get hope how do you spread that hope in your life, in your community and in the world.  Hope makes such a big difference in changing things for the better.

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

What does the Democratic Party Stand For?

I just joined a democratic meet-up group not too long ago.  The first email I read that was sent out talked about the rise of property taxes and wanted to discuss why this was happening and how the cost of housing was rising beyond most of our means. 

As I re-read it several times to make sure it wasn't a republican group I joined I thought I would show up at the meeting with property tax information like where every cent of your property taxes go, and how property taxes are levied according to the value of property and how those property values are rising.  The county is transparent on this issue and with one call anyone can find out this information.

I decided not to waste my time going to the meeting. 

Then I started getting the emails that seemed to try to guilt trip me into going to a meeting and then yelling emails assuming that I was complacent and not interested in be active.

This how I spend my week, I go to a Muslim Civil rights organization and talk to Muslims who are under attack now more than ever.  I write a blog on political issues, go to Black Live Matters demonstrations, and other grass roots actions.

Today I am going to Olympia to protest the electoral college.  On January 21st I will go to the women's march here in Seattle.

My friends  say t that marching in the streets will  do nothing to change.  But what I say to them is that we need to change the narrative and let's face it the press is not reporting on our issues in a positive light because they get their sound bits from the republican types like right to lifers, white supremacist, and other FOX news types.  One action that inspired me was when the Democrats orchestrated a sit-in in congress  for gun control and the press actual reported on something other than the NRA point of view.

So when trying to organize and no one is showing up  consider your what your doing is not working and not blame the very people you hope to inspire to stand up and take action with you.

Thursday, December 15, 2016


The true security risk today in protecting the United States is our inability to make reasonable decisions on policy issues without the mask of fear. We need to reason with a level mind and not give in to fear and gut responses. We need to stand up for our Muslim brothers and sisters who are in more grave turmoil than we are, not only in their home land but all over the world. In their home land Muslims face religious fanatics imposing strict laws and discriminating against other forms of Islam that are different. They are being forced from their homes; have no access to health care because more than half the hospitals have been destroyed; they are subjected to unthinkable atrocities by who ever the ruler of the week is.

They face discrimination and fear in the rest of the world as they are lumped in with these religious fanatics. Muslim student’s in this country are subject to bullying; Muslims are victims to hate crimes, and many attack innocent Muslims who have no connection to terrorist to avenge and take out their anger. We are seeing this on a grand scale in the presidential campaign with several presidential candidates fueling the average citizen and this os some subliminal level gives people permission to carry out hate crimes in the name of America.

Despite the lack of any concrete evidence, Japanese Americans were suspected of remaining loyal to their ancestral land because of the large Japanese presence on the west coast. In the event of the Japaneses invasion America Japanese were feared as a security risk. It is my hope that the Justice Department today in 2015 no matter who is Attorney General will maintain their commitment made October 19, 2011 to use criminal and civil rights laws to protect Muslim Americans and to continue their top priority in a return to robust civil rights enforcement and outreach in defending religious freedoms and other fundamental rights of all US citizens in the workplace, in the housing market, in our schools and in the voting booth.

At this time we are headed to a situation similar to that of the Japanese Americans interment camps. Did we not learn anything from this and what followed WWII. Were we not educated on the degradation Japanese internment camps did to respectable American citizens and their families. What are you going to do to stop fueling a similar movement against Muslims? I hope my fellow Americans and elected officials like you stand up against this.

I am asking you to look away from the bad advice and overcome popular opinion through education and information. In this time in the history of our nation we can not stand by and watch history repeat it’s self. I ask you not to succumb to fear and go against our values as a nation. Use your voice as an elected official, presidential candidate to stand up for the rights and safety of Muslim people living in the United States.

Sunday, October 2, 2016


I have voted in every election since Senator McGovern ran for President in 1972 because I believe voting is the foundation of our democracy. In 2008 I sat in an Africa bus station waiting for my ballot after a long struggle figuring out how to vote no matter what the obstacles were. I am still not sure my vote was counted but I got the outcome I wanted and witnessed Africa’s response to the historical event.

When I returned home from Africa in 2010 the voting landscape was changing, I read story after story on voting ID laws passing, followed by law suites going all the way to the US Supreme Court. In 2013 in the Shelby County vs Holder case the US Supreme Court struck down a key provision in the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Under this provision jurisdictions with a history of discrimination would have to get pre-approval from the Justice Department before changing any voting rules.

 Before this landmark decision 15 states were required to seek federal approval for any new voting rules. Mother Jones Magazine reported that 8 out of the 15 states passed or implemented new voting rules after this decision, Texas within two hours of the decision announced that the state’s voter identification law would immediately be implemented this law was previously blocked by a federal court under the provision that was struck down and soon after North Carolina pushed through a package of extreme voting restrictions.

The Brennan Center for Justice believes that the provision struck down prevented more than 700 voting changes between 1982 and 2006 because they were discriminatory. The Brennan Center for Justice says the biggest impact following the Shelby decision has been at the local level and sited two examples. One was in Jacksonville Florida where a voting poll was moved from a well-attended African American neighborhood to a new location across town that had no access to public transportation. In Galveston County Texas all black and Latino constable and justice positions were eliminated a move that was previously blocked under the key provision of the 1965 Voter Rights Act that was struck down.

The other side of the voter restriction advocates are those trying to find ways to bust voter turnout. An independent agency, The Government Accountability Office that prepares reports for members of Congress conducted a study to see the correlation between voter ID requirements and voter turnout. The study found that ID requirement laws impacted both young people and African-American voter turnout in Kansas and Tennessee after the voter ID laws took effect in 2012.

Voter Turnout is alarming even without voter ID laws as an obstacle. According to a Seattle Times article only 39% of registered voters voted in the 2015 General Election. When you consider a candidate can win with 51% of the votes cast that means 20% of registered voters elect a candidate. For me this raises the stakes in voting and voting becomes a responsibility. Washington State is not alone in low voter turnout.

Debates over election regulations and voter turnout are not new. They have been a staple of discussions about elections and the state of our democracy since the birth of the United States. This debate has been heated up since the US Supreme Court’s land mark case and is being played out in the current election. Presidential candidate Donald Trump accused voters in Pennsylvania of potential cheating in the coming election and called for law enforcement to be present at the polls. Hillary Clinton’s campaign implemented a voter registration program with the goal of registering 3 million new voters. In the court system the federal appeals courts have overthrown or modified voter ID laws in North Carolina, Texas, Wisconsin, Ohio, and South Dakota in the last couple of months.

This tug-a-war of regulating voting and encourage voter turnout will continue in this fashion just as the people in this country are polarized into conflicting philosophies on most of the major issues, and congress cannot build consensus and show strong leadership to unite us in common goals.

I believe Voting is a right and have learned that voting is a responsibility which gives individual’s a way of participating in our democracy. I ask you please vote no matter what your political leanings are and please encourage everyone you know to vote.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

From Mali to the Sidelines

You are probably thinking sports right now and what would I be doing writing about sports, I am not a sports fan and do not intend about writing on the subject unless it has to do with economics, politics, social issues or art all of the things I contemplate on the sidelines. Shifting this blog to just everyday American concerns and whatever strikes my fancy. My assessment of my place in the world is small because even though I live in a democracy I have one vote and that one vote does not give me a whole lot of voice. I watch the politicians, the courts, the congress do their job not always feeling that they take me or my family, or my neighborhood, or my community, or my State, or my civil rights into account. I escape into photography, the 9 to 5, my friends and family and now this blog. So how do you get a voice in these times? Letter writing campaigns, demonstrations, becoming active in a political party where only two parties really have a voice, joining the League of Women Voters, giving to the Human Rights Campaign Fund. What? Some of us just step out of the political arena and take beautiful photos, which I have done, or have families that take up so much of our time that we don’t think of becoming active, which I have done, or dong development work in remote areas of the world, which I have done, or organizing in our communities, which I have done. After much thought blogging seems one way to impact the world, the local community, my friends and family for change or at least start a conversation. We talk a lot about race it’s the one ism that is OK to fight against but what happened to sexism, classism. There is no democracy as long as the capitalist corporations on a strong hold on the elections and are treated as individuals.

Re-Entry: Two Years Later

Following up on my re-entry back into American culture. While in Mali all of us Peace Corps Volunteers craved , I might even say yearned for the US; for the food, the bathrooms, the facets, the washer and dryers. But arriving home in the US home brought up quite different feelings. Africa had become my home and I was homesick. So even though Peace Corps’ staff warned us it would be hard to re-enter, they said our family and friends would be happy to see us but would not understand what we were going through. They warned us people would not want to hear whole stories about what we went through and what we did; people would not understand how deeply this experience affected us. I was fortunate, my daughter came and visited me for three months while I was in Africa, and she was also accepted into Koro’s family my African Family. We had a phone call just before I arrived home and Lani said “ I can hardly wait until you get back so we can talk about Africa and how it affected us”. Africa changed both of our lives. People returning from the developing world always share the grocery store experience but what affected me and surprised me was the visit to the pet store. How would I tell Koro, my African sister, about this pet store kept running through my mind? “Yes Koro all of these things are for dogs and cats” I would recite in French in my mind and I envisioned Koro’s expression that looked exactly like she looked on her first elevator ride. The pet store also brought to mind how the pet industry has expanded and how we treat our pets like members of the family in contrast to how people in the developing world treat their dogs as utilities to eat the scrape food or guard the house. In Mali even one of the big grocery stores in Bamako was not as extravagant as the pet stores in the US. During my time working in collectives in the 1970’s we debated needs verses wants, my time in Africa gave basic needs a whole new meaning. One conversation that sticks in my mind while traveling through Europe on my way home was a conversation on a Portuguese farm I was staying at. We were talking about what would happen during a big disaster the conversation came around to healthcare then to dentist. People were concerned that they couldn’t get to a dentist during a disaster. I sat there reflecting on my point of reference which was the women I worked with in Africa whose teeth were rotten with no sign of a disaster except for poverty. I’m thinking there is no way a dentist would come to mind as a concern of during a disaster, what would worry me is clean drinkable water and basic food which is exactly the concerns of the developing world and Mali in particular and how out of touch with basic needs the people in this conversation were. My reference point for looking at the world had changed so much. My reference point was not something I shared with people very often accept to say “Because of my African experience I see things differently” most of the time without going into detail. It was never my intention to tap into that American guilt which I personally didn’t feel very often even when I went back to visit after being gone for two years from Mali. I just want people to know that things like “Fair Trade” is a luxury not many Africans can afford that so many artisans need to sell their product to food on their table. Peace Corps warned that our place in our families would have changed during the two plus years gone. After a month of being home we celebrated in style the first Christmas for me in what seemed like a long time. I always orchestrated Christmas Eve. Mostly my family would come over and my partner, Laura, and I would do what was a custom in my family. This first Christmas Laura’s family came and stayed for a week, and she orchestrated the dinner, the presents, the time and it seemed like no one listened to me anymore. It did occur to me that Laura kept up my family’s tradition the two years I was gone with the help of my sister. Laura became closer to my side of the family and my daughter while I was gone as a result we are a much closer knit family. Before I left Mali I knew that my health had deteriorated. I had a foot injury, I had developed a lymphoma on my shoulder, been exposed to TB, lost a lot weight, my hair had thinned and my overall health was not good. Peace Corps did give me vouchers for test, checkups, mammograms and TB follow up. So many doctors’ appointments, everyone pocking at me, requiring more test. It was exhausting. Finally one day when I had two test scheduled I was handed a list of side effects on some die they were going to shoot up my veins for a CAT scan and then I went to the other test and they handed me a whole new set of side effects for that test, I informed them I just couldn’t go through with the test on that day and would reschedule soon. Now two years after returning Laura says my hair is looking better but not the same as before I left, my foot is good enough to bicycle again, my lymphoma has been removed, finished with the TB medication and things are still getting better but like my outlook on life I don’t think physically I will ever be the same. Some of it is that I am in my sixty’s, in another volunteer’s words “Living in Mali is like dog years on your health” and this was sure true for me. Do I regret going to Mali in the Peace Corps, not ever. Not a day goes by that I don’t I think about and appreciate that I was a part of the community and felt like I contributed every day of my service and the changes in my outlook on the world.