Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Conditioned to Kill

I am still in the process of reading the book, "The Death of Innocents" by Sister Helen Prejean. The book is excellent, and I find myself shocked by the details of Dobie Gillis Williams and Joseph O'Dell's stories, as well as those of many others sentenced to death over the past thirty years.
In the chapter on Joseph O'Dell, Prejean describes the excuses judges, religious leaders, lawyers, jail workers, and regular citizens have used to justify killing individuals as punishment for their "supposed" crimes. Below is a small excerpt from this chapter.

"It is usually only in hindsight that societies recognize that they have engaged in torture. Until then, torture is normal and justified and even sanctioned by religious beliefs. I remember reading about a member of the military in Algeria whose task it had been to extract information from the "enemies of the government" and then to "dispose" of them. He told how he would gag and tie these persons hand and foot and fly them over the sea in a helicopter, split open their abdomens with a mechete, and push them into the sea. It's what "everybody was doing," he said, and at the end of the day he'd go home to his family and not think any more about it. In the furture, when we look back on this practice of the death penalty , won't the "strap down" teams and death row guards and wardens have their own stories to tell about how they participated in the torturous death os fellow human beings?

They are already telling the stories." (Page 109-Hard Cover Edition)

This passage made me immediately think of how humans, like any other animal, can be conditioned to perform acts that are reprehensible. The excuse, the phrase that we often use to separate our spirit, our heart, our conscience from those acts, is that it is our job. In other words, we have been conditioned to execute a task, and conditioned not to feel responsible for the consequences of that act.

Now, we are conditioned from birth to do millions of things with both good and bad results. It is specifically those things that cause harm to others, that I am directing my points to. Whether it is domestic violence, the emotional or physical abuse, manipulation, and control of another human being; child abuse; bullying; or the way we learn to place value on peoples lives (some being of less value than others based off of race, sex, religion, culture, personal history, criminal activity, drug use, weight, attractiveness, intelligence, physical ability). In sum, thoughout history humans have been conditioned to carry out violence against one another to maintain the power of a ruler, a country, a race, a religion, a sex, a government, a policy, or an individual. The death penalty, along with slavery, occupation, imperialism, war, terrorism, or violence between individuals, within homes, on school grounds---all can be lead to the need of one person/group to maintain power over another. Our way of "disposing" criminals (innocent or not) will neither stop criminal activity, bring back the dead, appease God, or help society.

We are conditioned by the media, by our teachers, by our parents, by our friends-and by our government every single day. It is our responsiblity to be aware of how and why we are being conditioned, and to what end?

Please take the time to read Sister Helen Prejean's books, they are filled with invaluable information.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

When books find us....

It's funny how some poems instantly speak to you-their timing running perfectly parallel to whatever it is that makes their content relevant-as if the author had you in mind. Often it seems that we don't find books or poems or films, but they find us. They magically sense those in need of their medicine. Managing to place their pages underneath our noses, briming with excitement, until our eyes get caught in their soothing words and phrases, and at that moment they know, they have found us.


Finding Comfort

The Poet With His Face in His Hands

You want to cry aloud for your
mistakes. But to tell the truth the world
doesn't need any more of that sound.

So if you're going to do it and can't
stop yourself, if your pretty mouth can't
hold it in, at least go by yourself across

the forty fields and the forty dark inclines
of rocks and water to the place where
the falls are flinging out their white sheets

like crazy, and there is a cave behind all that
jubilation and water fun and you can
stand there, under it, and roar all you

want and nothing will be disturbed; you can
drip with despair all afternoon and still,
on a green branch, its wings just lightly touched

by the passing foil of water, the thrush,
puffing out its spotted breast, will sing
of the perfect, stone-hard beauty of everything.
~Mary Oliver

I came across this poem in the April 4, 2005 Edition of the New Yorker. It describes for me, the often desperate need of all of us to let go, to open the flood gates and allow all our pain, frustration, and regret to gush out like water from a broken dam. Unfortunately, the reality of such an outpouring of emotion is that it causes those around us much discomfort and irritation. To see our mothers cry, feels like watching the foundation of a large building crumble. We place an ample burden on those we expect to be strong. However, nature is presented as forgiving, comforting, and resilient to our tantrums and break downs. The strength of Mother Earth is all enduring-she accepts us in any form.
The poem also seems to say that the poet, has become unwanted-even irritating. His or her sorrow on paper no longer has any weight, any value. The poet placed in today's fast paced world, feels out of place and unable to articulate his pain.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

The Business of War

Sometimes, I can't believe that our nation, our leaders, are engaged in a war with Iraq. I like to think that I am dreaming, or pretend that we are still living in the pre-9/11 naïveté that allowed us all to feel so safe. As I glance through the daily headlines on Yahoo! News, I come across another horrifying reminder that I am not dreaming, that we are at war, and that our nation is responsible for destroying a nation that was already in shambles.

Today, the bodies of more than 50 people were recovered from the Tigris River in Iraq. Additionally, another 19 Iraqis were found lined up and shot in a soccer stadium in Haditha. Residents there believed these victims — all men in civilian clothes — were soldiers abducted by insurgents as they headed home for a holiday marking the birthday of the prophet Muhammad.

We read these articles, we discuss the deaths, and yet I do not think that anyone in Washington feels their heart skip a beat when confronted with the number of deaths in Iraq, especially those of Iraqis. We lose the connection with words dealing with death, especially when it has occured on foreign soil. I, myself, can not understand the pain of losing 19 members of my community in one day, because I have not known that experience. We have not had battles on American soil since Pearl Harbor. Our homes are not bombed, our roads are not blocked, our families kidnapped, etc. The great loss we suffered on 9/11 was horrifying, and yet I think we forget that day-we forget the sadness, the need to end mass killings and war. Our leaders, took no time to reflect, no time to understand the motives behind that blow. Instead our administration took their opportunity to cash in on revenge and supply American companies in the war industry with more business.

The business of war, functions off of two main elements:
1) greed of big business and government
2) creating fear among the populace.

9/11 was a successful short-term and long-term terrorist attack because it crippled our nation in fear in the short run, gave our leaders the ability to engage in the business of war, and therefore strengthen the terrorist movement, and encourage more recruitment for terrorist forces. That is what is so frightening about our current administration, they understand that having an enemy, producing more enemys, is profitable to their business. Therefore, they will never cease to warmonger. It is to their financial benefit.

I would appreciate any comments, thoughts, etc.

Monday, April 18, 2005

Immigration and Domestic Violence

In this issue of the East Bay Express (a Bay Area newpaper) the cover story is an article about how threats of deportation, financial abuse, green card status, and child custody matters are used against women who have recently immigrated to the United States. Considering I work as a Domestic Violence Advocate, I was very happy to see this article given so much attention in the EBE.

The article is very well written, and interestingly enough I have met many of the women quoted in the article. The stories of the women are compelling, and yet sadly too common. Please take the to read the article. If you would like to get a sense of the stories, a clip from "Nancy's Story" is listed below. The East Bay Express website is: www.eastbayexpress.com.

When Nancy came to the United States from Ghana at age 25, she never imagined she'd end up under someone else's control. A high-school teacher in her home country, she had married a United Nations worker and had his child. The couple had adopted five more kids from impoverished villages, whom her husband brought to the city for better educations. But when her husband died suddenly of a heart attack, the young widow was left to support all six. "Life was very hard for me," Nancy recalls. "I heard that the United States was a better place, the land of opportunity, so I decided to come here and better my life." Leaving the children with her mother, she came to the East Bay on her own. The only person she knew here was an uncle, who helped her get a job as a home nursing aide for an elderly woman. She sent all of her wages home for her children. Nancy was nurturing, and soon drew the attention of one of the lady's friends, a man in his seventies. He would stop by the house several times a day to chat or help out; he helped manage the bills and would drive Nancy to the grocery store. Sometimes he'd treat her to a restaurant meal on the way home. The man praised her often, saying she was a nice person and that he appreciated the care she took of his friend. Eventually he approached her uncle, saying he hoped to marry Nancy. At first, she resisted -- she was new to the United States, and the idea of being with a much older white man made her nervous. Besides, she felt she didn't know the man or his family well enough. "In Ghana, we live in a community -- before you marry somebody you know the person's mother and father and even their grandparents," she explains. "You know the good and the bad." And in Ghanaian culture, divorce is not an option. "You marry for the rest of your life," she says.
For five or six months, Nancy's admirer continued to press her and her uncle about marriage. She grew to trust him and consider him her "best friend." Ultimately, she agreed to the proposal. "He told me he'd treat me good, he had his own house, a place for me to live, and I thought, 'Why not?'"
She soon found out. After the first month of living together, Nancy discovered that her new husband wasn't the man she thought she'd married: "All he wanted me to do is just stay home." To her, it seemed as though he had married primarily because he wanted a caretaker for himself and his mother, who was in her nineties. He demanded she quit her job and stop going to nursing school, and when she refused, he made it difficult for her to continue either pursuit, sometimes physically barring her from the door. Although she would routinely get back from work after midnight, he would never pick her up from the bus stop, or even give her the keys to the house so she could let herself inside -- she had to walk home alone and knock to get in. He also tried to prevent her from taking driving lessons, convinced she would go off on her own.
For two years, her husband's controlling behavior kept Nancy isolated and dependent upon him. He forbade her to speak her native tongue, Ashanti, on the phone because he feared she might be talking about him. He would hang up on anyone who called her, even her parents in Ghana, or simply pretend she was not at home. He denied her access to the couple's joint checking account -- once when Nancy withdrew $20 from the ATM he made her pay it back to him. He didn't let her cook African food in the house because he said it stank. He also was verbally abusive, she says, calling her a "black nigger" and insulting her culture. "You African, why did you leave? Do you live in trees? Do you have roads?" she recalls him saying. "You don't even have food to eat!"
But besides Nancy's cultural aversion to divorce, something else kept her tethered to her husband: her immigration status. Nancy was in the country illegally, and didn't have a valid work permit or other documentation. Her marriage to an American citizen made her eligible for a green card, which would give her lawful permanent resident status. This process can span many years, however, and must be initiated by the American half of the couple, who must cooperate fully by filing paperwork and attending interviews on behalf of the noncitizen spouse. Nancy's husband had begun filing her paperwork, but the process was far from complete, and he made sure she knew it. "He said if I don't go along with him he will let them take me back to Africa, and it's because of him that I'm still here," she recalls. He also told her that if she was pulled over while driving, the police could have her immediately deported because of her lack of papers. He went so far as to sabotage her green card process, hiding mail sent by the immigration authorities so that she missed a crucial interview.
On two occasions, the situation at home grew so untenable that Nancy went to a police station to file a complaint and then chickened out at the last moment, afraid that her immigration status would be used against her. Finally, on the day her husband threw all of her belongings onto the porch and locked her out, Nancy felt she had no choice. She called the cops, and with the assistance of one of her college instructors who noticed her crying in class, sought help at the International Institute of the East Bay, an Oakland nonprofit that assists immigrants and refugees. To her surprise, Nancy was told that abused immigrant women have the right to petition for their own residency, independent of their abusive spouses, thanks to a relatively recent law called the Violence Against Women Act. It's not an easy process, however, and it's still evolving as legal advocates begin to address the unique powerlessness of battered immigrant women.
What's more, the law is set to expire this fall unless reauthorized by Congress, even as women's-rights advocates push for reforms that will make it a more useful protective tool. Immigration law is imperfect and complicated, and often very tough to navigate for the hundreds of battered immigrant women living in the East Bay. Many have no idea that the physical, sexual, and/or emotional abuse wrought by their spouses is illegal, or that there is any way to stop it. They are wary of the authorities, financially dependent on their abusers, and fear deportation if they come forward; two of the women interviewed for this story asked that only their first names be printed, while Nancy insisted on a pseudonym even for her first name. Because of their fear and lack of information, these women tend to remain invisible to authorities and service providers, enduring abuse for years until they turn up in desperate need of help, too bruised and bloodied to ignore. Or, like Nancy, they go to the police because they have nowhere else to go
. "

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Liberation or Defamation?

When the sexual revolution hit the US in the 1960s and 70s-in conjunction with women's liberation I'm not sure that we (women) got all that we reckoned for. As a child of the 80s, I did not participate in the movement and therefore there is a limit to what I am able to say. However, what I am interested in discussing, is the result of that movement 30 years later. Moreover, how is the media impacting visions of women for the next 30 years? Has the perception of women become fragmented, whereas a woman represents both liberation and defamation concurrently?

Some of the acheivements from that era, such as the legalization of oral contraceptives by the Food and Drug Administration in 1960, the legalization of abortion in 1973 with Roe v. Wade, and the beginning of women's sexual expression, still remain today. Although the current administration is slowing tearing away a woman's right to choose and reversing this progress. Regardless, these changes have had a profound impact on women's lives, most markedly their careers. These changes gave women the right to choose when to have children, as well as allowing women to take ownership of their bodies, their sexuality. But recently there has been a backlash against these rights.

My first focus will be the media, since it is able to capture the largest audience, and therefore impact the greatest number of people. Our television shows, our music, our newspapers, though diverse are each a representation of some part of our nation. The media represents the split-personality of our country's populace. In television media (including films and music videos) we are able to see an unquestionable fragmentation of women's role in society. She is both respected and shamed, professional and without skills, made equal and subjugated, clean and dirty, in control and controlled. Her body is both private and public, her own and yet owned.