A blog by the Franciscan Sisters of Perpetual Adoration about justice and peace issues

Posts tagged ‘polls’

A year on the sidelines

This week marks one year until we will elect our next president. Campaigning has already been in high gear for months — months of campaigning and yet, if we had cast our votes this past Tuesday, what knowledge of the country and the candidates would we have actually had?

Media coverage rarely connects the policy statements of candidates (even if they are making them) with the lived reality of the people. Often media’s only focus is a “bump” in the polls. We are not engaged in a popularity contest; we are engaged in choosing a leader who will impact not only North Americans, but the world.

It seems important then that we take the time to know what poverty, the environment, education, immigration, militarism, racial inequities, gender inequities, children, the elderly, health care, etc., look like in America today. We deserve to know what is needed, not just what will play as a sound bite.

Let’s travel to the margins, past the flashing signs of Donald Trump’s hair and Hillary Clinton’s granddaughter Charlotte, to see the world and the election through the eyes of the people and the earth who will bear the burden of our decision next November. I propose a “year from the sidelines” — a year in which we ponder what is needed in a leader, in a party, in ourselves, and in our communities from the perspective of those left behind or blamed by power.

To begin, I would like to share The Rag Blog’s Halloween at Hutto by Elaine J. Cohen that looks at the connection between immigration and militarism. It is easy to talk about stopping people from coming; it’s harder to understand why they come and how the United States is intimately connected to the forces driving people to the border here and the borders in Europe. This blog looks at migrants from Latin America in connection with our own militarism in their region.

Barred window inside of Hutto Detention Facility. Photo courtesy of thewire.com

Barred window inside the T. Don Hutto Residential Center Detention Facility. Photo courtesy of www.thewire.com

As we sat in the waiting area of the Hutto “Residential” Center, an unexpected spectacle unfolded before the three of us who had come to visit. It was Halloween in Hutto.

Originally Peggy Morton and I had planned to take Maria Luisa, field organizer for the School of the Americas Watch (SOAW), to Karnes, another family detention center in Texas, that morning. It was October 30, when thunder and torrents of rain poured down on the hill country.

Still, I left my apartment on St. John’s at eight. In the time it took to walk from my building’s entrance to my car, I was soaked to the bone. Driving south on Lamar was an exercise in focus and I’m sure I cashed in a few of my good karma points as I drove with limited vision and somehow got to Wheatsville South at nine to meet them.

Peggy’s husband, Fred, had told her that a tornado had touched down in San Marcos — near our usual route to Karnes. We went to Peggy’s house where my wet clothes were put in the dryer. We decided that if the rain slowed down we would go north, rather than south — and visit with women at Hutto. Their hunger strike had just begun and we agreed that visiting there would be an excellent first visit to a Detention Center for Maria Luisa.

Over cups of hot tea and vegan pozole, the three of us shared stories about immigration, violence shaped and honed by this country’s military might and the extraordinary connectedness of decades of violence in Central America and the number of refugees coming across the border.

Maria Luisa Rosals had come to Austin on a southern/border states journey to learn about conditions here and share knowledge about the complicity of USian interests as manifest in the instruction of violence at the School of the Americas.

Protests began in 1990 at the School of the America’s base at Fort Benning outside of Columbus, Georgia, and have continued despite the change of name to the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC). In a few weeks, the vigil will have its 25th anniversary. Many readers of The Rag Blog are familiar with the organization and its work. For those of you who aren’t, I refer you to the SOA Watch website — because the story today is really about the 27-plus immigrant women on hunger strike in Taylor, Texas.

Though as Peggy, Maria Luisa, and I spoke, it became obvious to us that, in fact, the hunger strike of immigrant women incarcerated under U.S. policy is very much related to the work of the SOAW. Peggy, an active member of the Hutto Visitation Program, has been visiting a woman who has been incarcerated there for over a year. As is my custom, I will not refer to her by her real name. Let’s call her Juana. All three of us signed up to visit Juana, who greeted us with delight.

The Corrections Corporation of America continues to assert ‘there is no hunger strike.’

Although the Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the private business that runs Hutto, continues to assert “there is no hunger strike,” we were assured that the strike was real. Moreover, the women are highly motivated and optimistic. I asked Juana if I had her permission to mention her in my writing and she said that the women wanted “everyone” to know that, Yes, they are on hunger strike and that No, it’s not because the food is so bad (even though it is terrible) and it is an insult for whoever is telling those lies (hmmm, the CCA comes to mind) to pretend it is not about the absolute injustice that they are incarcerated for their attempt to escape from domestic, cartel, and state violence.

We laughed and exchanged stories about our families and talked a lot about tamales. Peggy was worried that talking about food wasn’t a good idea — but it seemed to cheer Juana — talking about something from her culture. When Maria Luisa and Juana discovered they were from the same area in Guatemala, there were broad smiles and, I believe, some comfort to Juana. In front of her was someone who knew where she came from — and had also come to the U.S. as an immigrant.

It seems that our visit to Hutto took place on the day that the CCA had encouraged its employees to costume up for Halloween. I’m serious. As we sat in the waiting room we watched as an angel in black tulle and a black halo left. A Thor-like Viking came on shift. The costumes were elaborate and at one point Maria Luisa and I caught each other’s glance and I whispered, “This is surreal.” Her eyes widened in agreement.

In the visiting area, the guard was straight out of the Flintstones. When Juana began to cry, I went up to the guard to ask for some tissue. I remarked on her costume, casually asking, “So, what are you?” She broke into a large smile (the first I’d seen) and said, “I’m a cave woman.” Fortunately, she didn’t appear to have a club. I wouldn’t swear, however, that she didn’t have one, hidden under the desk.

While immigrant women languish in this for-profit prison, the jailers play out their domination fantasies as Dark Angels, Vikings, and Neanderthals. Juana shook her head at the strangeness of the display. I suggested that Halloween was kind of like carnival and she managed a crooked smile. As we left, and we had our final hug (one is permitted at the beginning and another at the end of a visit), she again asked me to make sure to tell as many people as possible about their strike and how unjust is their detention.

In the days that have passed since I started this piece, participation in the hunger strike has grown enormously. This coming Saturday, November 7, 2015, there is a call to come to Taylor and show your support for the hunger strikers.

Sofia Casini of Grassroots Leadership reports of “the continuing escalation in numbers of women inside, far beyond the initial 27. We’ve seen retaliation in the form of solitary confinement, two of the strikers transferred to Pearsall Detention Center, threats of deportation, and citations for not leaving their quarters to eat. ICE continues to deny the strike is happening. Loco!”

The rally will be held across from the baseball field to the side of the detention center (1001 Welch St, Taylor, Texas 76574) this Saturday at 2 p.m. Sofia explains that “this time was chosen because it’s when the women are let outside — the hunger strikers asked us to come then so they can see us and gain strength from our presence. Even if they’re brought inside quickly, we’ve been told from women that in past rallies they can still hear the loud, amplified music — let’s raise our voice so high they can hear us, too!”

I was recently reminded that there may be readers who are unfamiliar with the complex mix of politics, racism, and greed that has brought us immigrant detention. Yet I worry that I have written so much about various aspects of the issue in the past year that some of the material may appear redundant. Am I laboring to explain that which I’ve already laid out? Finally I realized that I can’t assume that the earlier pieces have been read.

The School of the Americas Watch, with its insistence that we recognize and expose the complicity of the American Military in the training of the perpetrators of so much violence in the Northern Triangle, absolutely connects to the women on hunger strike in Hutto. It is precisely that violence which has driven them here.

But what of the violence that is the experience of the thousands of immigrants locked up in immigrant detention? Could it be that the monster personas I saw at Hutto were more than Halloween fun? Were these employees of one of the worst private prison corporations really showing us something about what it means to be a guard in a prison incarcerating the victims of violence?

It is the image of the Dark Angel walking around the Hutto detention prison that I can’t shake.

Read more articles by Elaine J. Cohen on The Rag Blog.

Rag metro writer Elaine Cohen moved to Austin in 1997 after she found Accion Zapatista’s website. She became involved with immigrants when she started work as a bilingual substitute for the Austin Independent School District (AISD). After another stay teaching in Mexico (2005-2010) she returned to Austin and discovered the Hutto Visitation Program and became involved in visiting women and children in Texas’ family immigration detention centers.

68,000

Photo courtesy of NBC news.

Photo courtesy of NBC news .

As we move toward November 4th and head to the polls I wanted to share a perspective that is often left out of the mainstream media. Jerry Large, columnist for the Seattle Times, drawing on the work of Professor Dana Frank, offers another look at the more than 68,000 children that fled to our border just this year. Professor Frank and Jerry Large offer us a glimpse into the worlds edited from our nightly news. As we get ready to select a new group of leaders who will make decision on issues like immigration, it can be helpful to hear the voices typically left out of the conversation.

“U.S. Has Hand in Honduran Mess” (Reprinted from the Seattle Times)

Things have gotten much worse since Dana Frank had an opinion piece published in The New York Times with this headline: “In Honduras, a Mess Made in the U.S.

This year, more than 68,000 unaccompanied children have been apprehended after crossing the southwestern border of the United States, according to the Department of Homeland Security. The vast majority are from three Central American countries, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. Frank, a history professor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, says the U.S. is partly to blame for the flood of youngsters.

I spoke with Frank last week before she spoke about the situation at the University of Washington. She lived in Seattle in the 1980s when the headlines about Central America were about wars that raged between U.S.-supported right-wing forces and leftists backed by the Soviets and Cubans.

She thought we’d learned some things from our involvement there in the 1980s, but we are back. Last time the Cold War was the justification and this time it’s the War on Drugs, and it seems, she said, that the more we support a government, the worse conditions get. Not surprising because we always seem to be in bed with the worst sort.

Her research focus has been on Honduras, which she said has been most tied to U.S. influence. The U.S. is particularly intent on preserving that relationship, she said, because in recent years some countries in Central America have elected left-center governments that are exercising more independence from U.S. influence.

Frank was researching a book on Honduras in 2009 when the elected government was overthrown in a military coup. The current president is Juan Orlando Hernandez, whom she calls “a dangerous Machiavellian thug.”

Frank said the coup changed her life and the direction of her work. People she knew were being arrested and mistreated. “I asked myself, what can I do? What powers do I have? What is my moral responsibility?”

Before the coup, Frank had researched labor issues. Her first book was “Purchasing Power: Consumer Organizing, Gender, and the Seattle Labor Movement.” She’d first gone to Central America at the invitation of women in banana-worker unions.

But after the coup she started paying attention to U.S. policy in the region, studying it in detail and building expertise. She knew how to gather and analyze facts, and how to present them in academic papers, books, newspaper articles and public testimony. She put all of her skills to use.

In recent years she has testified before Congress, the Canadian Parliament and the California Assembly about human rights and U.S. policy in Honduras.

She told me those children at the border aren’t coming in search of economic gain or in pursuit of the American dream. They are fleeing the brutality of their homelands. The numbers of children and adults fleeing grew rapidly as Honduras became the murder capital of the world, she said.

Their well-being is threatened by drug gangs, by the police and the military. The U.S. sends at least $25 million a year in aid to the government and yet, she said, drug dealers are present at every level of government.

Most of the people fleeing are coming from Honduras, and the Obama administration’s response has been to offer the government there more help and to try harder to seal our own borders.

Frank says we shouldn’t see the children as a threat to us, but ask instead whether we have helped disrupt their lives.

She believes Congress can be persuaded to push for change in our Central America policies if people here become aware of the situation there, and the role the U.S. plays in it, and then press their representatives to act.

Hondurans wouldn’t leave in droves if their country were economically stable and more humane. U.S. trade policies and financial support for the police and military are part of the problem.

And, she said, we could more effectively deal with drugs though legalization and treatment here.

Jerry Large’s column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or jlarge@seattletimes.com

 

 

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