15 May 2008

Bloggers unite for human rights: modern-day slavery

Today, bloggers across the world are taking action to write about human rights (Bloggers Unite May 15, 2008). At first when I agreed I was pretty pumped. And thought this would be really easy to do. Write about the different human rights abuses that take place on the daily.

But there in lies the difficulty. They take place so often, that I found it hard to even narrow down the choices so I would not be rambling on incessantly.

I'll focus on slavery today.

No, not chains, the middle passage, and welts on black men's backs.

Modern-day slavery. Yes. It still exists. In the United States of America. It did not end with the 13th Amendment in the mid 1800s. "Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction" (text of the US Constitution from 1865)

It still happens. It is camouflaged in different ways -- has been since it "ended". I have learned about the concept, taught about it to my students, and recently learned of John Bowe's book "Nobodies: Modern American Slave Labor and the Dark Side of the New Global Economy." Bowe defines a slave as " a person not free to leave their job, held in place by violence or the threat of violence, to be exploited by someone else." After the legal abolition of slavery there were Black Codes that would punish African Americans with forced labor when they committed even the smallest crimes (I suppose the amendment was likely written with this sort of thing in mind), Codes that would only allow them to buy land in rural areas (plantations), the idea of tenant farming. There are still indentured servants who come to this nation to help someone by working for them, and then are indebted indefinitely as they work to pay off the ticket over here, the food they are provided, the clothes they are given, etc. This is 2008.

According to the Human Rights Center, "forced labor is prevalent in five sectors of the U.S. economy: prostitution and sex services (46%), domestic service (27%), agriculture (10%), sweatshop/factory (5%), and restaurant and hotel work (4%)."

Most of these people do not go out asking for help when they suffer the horrid conditions they endure. They are afraid of the repercussions -- after all, many are illegal immigrants, and people who still have a semblance of pride, and they do not want to have to give up the little money they have earned. And, just like most of you, they are not super trusting of the police. Human trafficking is a federal crime, and a lot of the agents/officers involved need to be better trained in how to deal with the victims of these crimes.

Now, this slavery is not always a free-labor arrangement. Many of these modern-day enslaved people make some money. The operative word, though, is some. In many cases, they are not given enough money to survive on their own.

The Human Rights Center recommends that the government take the following action to help curb human trafficking and the forced labor of human beings:
  • Start awareness campaigns about it actually existing here in the US
  • Ensure better legal protection for agricultural, domestic, garment, and food service workers
  • Correct migration policies that basically encourage business owners to use forced laborers
  • Increase the training of officials involved in dealing with the criminals and victims involved
  • Strengthen the protection and rehab programs for survivors of forced labor conditions

Most importantly, people need to make sure they are paying their workers a living wage. And if you don't have a posse working for you, make sure you do what you can to get your legislatures to ensure people earn a living wage.

A living wage.

Enough money to actually be able to get a place to stay, buy food for each member of the household, pay bills, have enough clothing to withstand the elements and feel comfortable about going out in public, and find some mode of transportation (public or individual).

Free the Slaves
Vital Voices

To report a suspect case of trafficking call 1.888.428.7581 (Department of Justice Trafficking in Persons and Worker Exploitation Task Force complaint line)

12 March 2008

United in Oil

I won't even open this with a lie. I am lacking a lot of information about the oil war in Nigeria. So much so that I heard the term "bunkering" for the first time last month. For the record, "bunkering" is when ordinary Nigerians tap into pipelines and refine it for sale to gain personal profit. It started as a means of survival for some who were being driven to the very edge of their existence by the callousness of oil companies whose arrogance is costing Nigeria dearly.However, as is usually the case in these sort of situations, there are no longer any good or bad parties.

Rabble- rousers like Asari-Dokubo whose Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND), one of many such "movements" whose initial aim to disturb the destructive practices of big oil conglomerates has degenerated into the farce of kidnapping and terror, now hold the oil-rich Niger Delta in a vice-like grip. MEND and other groups now prosper from arms proliferation and the desperation of the people to wage a war that seems as though it will perpetuate, while the government in its desire for oil control and denial of adequate compensation to the Niger Delta has also begun to lose the trust of the companies whose business they protected by shunning the welfare of Nigerian citizens in the affected areas.I admit I am not very knowledgeable on these matters so I might come off sounding a touch dogmatic and undetailed. I will come back to this matter when I have done my research. But in anger at the kidnap of a dear friend's mother, I have written a poem.

We Nigerians are united in substance
United in oil
Divide it we boil I
n rage from scores of old-aged sores
That bleed and burn like misplaced ointments
Mislaid maps that chart a displaced peoples’ past.

We are in thrall to mute oil barrels
That have commanded our daily lives
Since 1958, the year when, buzzing like beehives
We discovered it, crude and black
Like baked blood
We drilled it, fluid and cracked
Like a fake flood
And stuck it in pots like honey for sale
Sweet and fresh to slake the thirst
Of the fat cats
In whose best interestNigeria exists

United in Oil
Divide it we boil
Ignited we blow
Chancers like Asari- Dokubo
Malcolm X to the soft preaching
Of the Ogoni Martin Luther King- Ken Saro Wiwa
Hanged by the powers that be
For daring to write his own history
And now we are fed on the dubious gospel
Of pious preachers who are themselves sinners
Killers and spies who masquerade in the blood of the dead
Revolutionaries and leaders who sell their souls to armed dealers

United in Oil
We should borrow a leaf from Yugoslavia, the USSR
You cannot force a people to be together
United in oil
We should have ended it at Biafra
Accepted that you cannot patch wood with fire
United in oil United by oil
Enthralled by mute barrels, empty barrels
Making noise as prices catch fire
And light up the green- fingered elite
Whilst the river Niger runs red and black
With blood of bodies and crude from spilled vats
You will cry the day you see bodies roasted like groundnuts
United in oilunited with oil united we’re oil united on soil
That beggars its spoils
United in oil,
Look around you, the shooting.
United, Recoil.

04 March 2008

A poem by Emmanuel Ortiz

This is an old poem, but it always touches me. It still rings so true, and there are a lot of other nations/people/situations that can be added since this poem was written years ago.

Before I start this poem, I'd like to ask you to join me
In a moment of silence
In honour of those who died in the World Trade Center and the Pentagon last September 11th.

I would also like to ask you To offer up a moment of silence For all of those who have been harassed, imprisoned, disappeared,
tortured, raped, or killed in retaliation for those strikes, For the victims in both Afghanistan and the US

And if I could just add one more thing,
If it's not too much to ask . . .

A full day of silence
For the tens of thousands of Palestinians who have died at the hands of US-backed Israeli forces over decades of occupation. Six months of silence for the million and-a-half Iraqi people, mostly children, who have died of malnourishment or starvation as a result of an 11-year US embargo against the country.

Before I begin this poem,

Two months of silence for the Blacks under Apartheid in South Africa, Where homeland security made them aliens in their own country. Nine months of silence for the dead in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Where death rained down and peeled back every layer of concrete, steel, earth and skin And the survivors went on as if alive. A year of silence for the millions of dead in Vietnam - a people, not a war - for those who know a thing or two about the scent of burning fuel, their relatives' bones buried in it, their babies born of it. A year of silence for the dead in Cambodia and Laos, victims of a secret war .... ssssshhhhh.... Say nothing ... we don't want them to learn that they are dead. Two months of silence for the decades of dead in Colombia, Whose names, like the corpses they once represented, have piled up and slipped off our tongues.

Before I begin this poem.

An hour of silence for El Salvador ...
An afternoon of silence for Nicaragua ...
Two days of silence for the Guatemaltecos ...
None of whom ever knew a moment of peace in their living years. 45 seconds of silence for the 45 dead at Acteal, Chiapas 25 years of silence for the hundred million Africans who found their graves far deeper in the ocean than any building could poke into the sky. There will be no DNA testing or dental records to identify their remains. And for those who were strung and swung from the heights of sycamore trees in the south, the north, the east, and the west...

100 years of silence...

For the hundreds of millions of indigenous peoples from this half of right here,
Whose land and lives were stolen,
In postcard-perfect plots like Pine Ridge, Wounded Knee, Sand Creek, Fallen Timbers, or the Trail of Tears. Names now reduced to innocuous magnetic poetry on the refrigerator of our consciousness ...

So you want a moment of silence?
And we are all left speechless
Our tongues snatched from our mouths
Our eyes stapled shut
A moment of silence
And the poets have all been laid to rest
The drums disintegrating into dust.

Before I begin this poem,
You want a moment of silence
You mourn now as if the world will never be the same
And the rest of us hope to hell it won't be.
Not like it always has been.

Because this is not a 9/11 poem.
This is a 9/10 poem,
It is a 9/9 poem,
A 9/8 poem,
A 9/7 poem
This is a 1492 poem.

This is a poem about what causes poems like this to be written. And if this is a 9/11 poem, then: This is a September 11th poem for Chile, 1971. This is a September 12th poem for Steven Biko in South Africa, 1977. This is a September 13th poem for the brothers at Attica Prison, New York, 1971.

This is a September 14th poem for Somalia, 1992.

This is a poem for every date that falls to the ground in ashes This is a poem for the 110 stories that were never told The 110 stories that history chose not to write in textbooks The 110 stories that CNN, BBC, The New York Times, and Newsweek ignored. This is a poem for interrupting this program.

And still you want a moment of silence for your dead?
We could give you lifetimes of empty:
The unmarked graves
The lost languages
The uprooted trees and histories
The dead stares on the faces of nameless children
Before I start this poem we could be silent forever
Or just long enough to hunger,
For the dust to bury us
And you would still ask us
For more of our silence.

If you want a moment of silence
Then stop the oil pumps
Turn off the engines and the televisions
Sink the cruise ships
Crash the stock markets
Unplug the marquee lights,
Delete the instant messages,
Derail the trains, the light rail transit.

If you want a moment of silence, put a brick through the window of Taco Bell, And pay the workers for wages lost. Tear down the liquor stores, The townhouses, the White Houses, the jailhouses, the Penthouses and the Playboys.

If you want a moment of silence,
Then take it
On Super Bowl Sunday,
The Fourth of July
During Dayton's 13 hour sale
Or the next time your white guilt fills the room where my beautiful
people have gathered.

You want a moment of silence
Then take it NOW,
Before this poem begins.
Here, in the echo of my voice,
In the pause between goosesteps of the second hand,
In the space between bodies in embrace,
Here is your silence.
Take it.
But take it all... Don't cut in line.
Let your silence begin at the beginning of crime. But we, Tonight we will keep right on singing... For our dead.

*poem printed in "The Roots of Terror," a publication of Project South.

26 February 2008

Early morning, random thoughts

It is five o'clock in the morning. I have been up for about an hour. Thinking of all the things that I have not done to get ready for today. Thinking of all the things that are going to happen as the days go on.

Why is it that sleep is so hard to come by?

Now I am actually feeling better about the day that, for me, has already begun, but still have a million other thoughts roaming through my head.

Reminiscing on days past when life was simple and all I had to worry about was packing up enough things to wear for a trip to Nigeria. Then get there and just have fun laughing at/with cousins who are super funny tell stories of school cooks throwing their own sweat into the group's soup pot. Doesn't sound too funny, but to hear Somkele tell it, it is the funniest thing in life.

The simple life.

When I didn't really care what was going on in the government in any country because why should I?

Now that is a huge concern. What is going on in the world? Why can't we all just get along? Why can't we as the U.S. select leaders who are after the nation's best interests, rather than the wealthy, white men's best interests?

Why in 2008 is it such a big deal to have a woman successfully running for the presidency?

Why do we live in a society where people are not willing to accept their prejudices? Where people will openly say that they will never vote for a black person, or for a Latino person, or for a woman to lead their nation? Yet those are the candidates who believe in what they believe in.

Makes no sense to me. But I can understand it. Mainly because that is the way people are in this day and age. They are superficial. They are real good at repeating mantras about what they believe and what they want their society to be like, but when the chance actually comes up for that to happen, they are the first to shy away, or the first to put come to blows to keep the status quo.