Jennifer Ávila, Honduran journalist, artist, and documentary filmmaker, will speak in Bellingham, Washington, on Tuesday, October 16, 2018, at Christ the Servant Lutheran Church (2600 Lakeway Drive). Ávila is the co-founder of Contra Corriente, a multimedia, youth and women-led media platform.
Everyone is invited to a "not-luck" meal (you are NOT expected to bring any food, but you may if you wish) served from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m., to be followed by Jennifer Ávila’s presentation, “The Silencing of Dissent: How Freedom of the Press is Threatened in Honduras.”
Ávila is the featured speaker in Witness for Peace Northwest’s 2018 tour and is hosted locally by the Whatcom Peace & Justice Center and the Justice Seekers of Christ the Servant Lutheran Church.
Ávila’s award-winning work has been shown in international film festivals, and has represented a crucial documentation of the ways U.S. and Honduran policy from deportations to mega-projects have affected the most vulnerable Hondurans.
Ávila spent six years at Radio Progreso, an essential bulwark of freedom of expression in an increasingly hostile environment for journalism, before co-founding Contra Corriente in 2017. While at Radio Progreso, she directed “Guardiana de los Ríos” (about the defense of rivers incarnated by Berta Cáceres), “No Se Van” (about the whys and hows of migration), and “Libertad Tiene Nombre de Mujer” (about women organizing to protect community territory).
The week prior to her visit, the Whatcom Peace & Justice Center will host a screening of “Guardiana de los Ríos” on Wednesday, October 10, 2018 at the Alternative Library (519 E. Maple) at 8 p.m.
Local business are stepping up to support the Whatcom Peace & Justice Center this month, with a number of fundraising events. Please come out and support them -- you'll also be supporting the Center!
Friday, September 7: Drinks for Good at Camber
$1 from every glass of wine, beer, and cider sold will be donated to WPJC
Saturday, September 15: Community Shopping Day at the Co-op
2 percent of the days sales will be donated to WPJC. (Plus: All month, tell your cashier you want to round up to the nearest dollar, donating the difference to WPJC).
Spread the word -- invite your Facebook friends
Friday, September 21: Drink & Dine for Peace
On International Day of Peace, eight local breweries and restaurants are participating in our first-ever Drink & Dine for Peace. Patronize them any time on Sept. 21 and they'll donate a portion of sales to WPJC.
Spread the word -- invite your Facebook friends
I am currently a student at Western Washington University. From the class on social stratification, I and my group decided to do a research on inequalities among U.S. retired and active-duty military members. We found surprising statistics that indicate the severity of the inequities that veterans face. This is my second post in a series of four on what we found. You can read part I here.
76,000 veterans are on the streets on any given night, which counts as 12.3 percent among the total homeless adult population in the U.S., according to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Taking a closer look into a survey of 5,794 veterans examining housing instability, 4,934 (85 percent) experienced brief instability, and 850 (15 percent) experienced ongoing instability. Instability in this case included homelessness, difficulty in paying for housing, frequent moves, and frequent moves with patterns of increased health and health care issues.
Does government give enough?
The brief answer would be no. Just like every living human being, veterans need secure housing, nutritional meals, and basic physical health care. Additionally, veterans need job assessment, training, and placement assistance for transitioning into the workforce after they serve. However, there is an extreme lack of help from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. Among the 18.8 million veterans in the United States, only 9 million are able to be served by the Department of Veterans Affairs.
For housing, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), using its own resources or in partnership with others, has secured nearly 15,000 residential rehabilitative and transitional beds and 30,000 permanent beds for homeless veterans throughout the country. This only covers about 3 percent of the total veteran population facing the risk of being homeless (total population at risk: 1.4 million).
For meals, nearly 3 million veterans and their families don’t have enough to eat each month. More than 25 percent of veterans reported food insecurity in the past calendar year, with 12 percent reporting “very low food insecurity.”
The VA’s specialized homelessness program provides healthcare to 150,000 homeless veterans and other services to 112,000 veterans, which covers about 5-7 percent of the veteran population facing being homeless and broke. Almost 2 million veterans are living without health insurance along with 3.8 million members of their households. Among uninsured veterans, 25 percent said they couldn't get medical care because of costs, 30 percent delayed care due to costs, and 50 percent hadn't seen a doctor within the past year. Interestingly, one study found that veterans are significantly less likely to be accessing community clinics; instead, they rely on shelter clinics and street outreach for medical care.
The Washington Post and Kaiser Family Foundation conducted a nationwide poll of veterans from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Half of the respondents in the poll said their readjustment to civilian life was difficult, and 56 percent rated the job assessment help from the government as “not so good” or “poor” (to be noted, 51 percent of individual homeless veterans have disabilities).
There is an extreme insufficiency from the VA’s support. Retired veterans continue to rely on the civilian welfare state to fill gaps, such as getting child welfare services and food stamps. Government money for veterans, while important, is very limited, and available services are often at maximum. It is highly critical, therefore, that community groups reach out to help provide support, resources, and opportunities from non-profit organizations. At the same time, we also should know the importance of advocating for better government spending for veterans instead of on new wars.
In the next blog post, we will look at the issue of mental health that veterans experience after they serve.
Written by Kexin Zeng
WWU student, Sociology Department.
During my summer quarter at Western Washington University, I took a sociology class on social stratification which examines the social causes and consequences of inequality in America on the perspective of social distribution of wealth, power and status. For my group project near the end of the quarter, we chose veterans as our general topic, and we did our research on inequalities among U.S. retired and active-duty military members. We found surprising statistics that indicate the severity of inequities that veterans face. In a series of blog posts, I will share what we found.
Nation of War
The U.S. initiated the Iraq war from 2003 to 2011 and the Afghanistan war from 2001 to present. Currently, the U.S. is also participating in the Syrian war. Since the existence of the country, there have only been 20 years when this country was not participating in war. At $618.8 billion in 2016, military spending accounted for more than 53 percent of the federal discretionary budget. The U.S. leads the world in military spending. If you combine all of the military budgets of every country in this world, the U.S. has half of the total. There are 1,000 U.S. military bases worldwide.
A Peek into the Veterans Homeless Population Boost after 9/11
Nearly half of veterans who are homeless served after 9/11. After the Vietnam War, it took 5-10 years for veterans to end up on the streets. There are 3.3 million veterans who have served since 9/11. Among veterans who are homeless, 47.6 percent are under the age of 35. It takes less than 3 months after discharge to end up on the streets. Along with homelessness, post 9/11 retired veterans have the highest percentage of service-connected disability, at 34.1 percent.
In my next blog post, I will examine and demonstrate U.S. government’s role of addressing the issue of homelessness among veterans.
Written by Kexin Cherie Zeng
WWU student, Sociology Department.
Before I left for Palermo, an old friend of mine asked, "Of all the possible causes, why Gaza?" It was a question echoed by the owner of the place where the Al Awda was docked the last few days before departing. He asked a couple of times whether we had anything to do with the efforts to rescue migrants sailing from Libya. (I overheard him on the phone talking to someone, explaining that we were "pacifists").
In Italy, as an Italian, it's a difficult question to answer. There are other issues, much closer to home, which seem urgent: the worsening domestic climate in Italy, with the increasingly noxious xenophobia promoted by Interior Minister Matteo Salvini being the most prominent (by no means the only) one.
However, for me, the answer is simpler, because I am a U.S. citizen. Israel is by far the leading recipient of U.S. military aid, to the tune of over $3 billion a year, and it receives crucial diplomatic, bipartisan support from our government. If we could move public opinion in the United States against Israel's routine violations of international law (the blockade of Gaza, settlements in the West Bank, their separation wall, and more broadly the occupation of Palestine), there is every reason to believe that those violations would stop.
Furthermore, working on the case of Palestine helps to expose the underlying hypocrisy of U.S. foreign policy more broadly: It was hard to listen with a straight face as Vice President Biden called on Russia to end its illegal occupation of Crimea in 2015, knowing that our government provides crucial support for the longest military occupation in modern times -- though all the national media successfully did so. Media behavior will be unsurprising to anyone who has read the indispensable "Manufacturing Consent" by Herman and Chomsky. I think it's worthwhile to bring up Herman and Chomsky's "Propaganda Model" particularly in this case because, even in "liberal" Bellingham, I have heard the anti-semitic lie that "the Jews control the media" -- a lazy, bigoted, outdated explanation for a phenomenon that is much better understood by reflecting about the corporate institutional structure of the media.
Returning to why should we care about the Israeli occupation of Palestine in particular, when there are so many other issues: The moral thing to do is to reflect on one's own responsibilities, rather than accusing others. So for example, when we name Israel's polices as "settler colonialism," for a citizen of the United States the appropriate reason would be to reflect back upon the similarities to our own history. There is a widely circulated map that shows the decreasing amount of land controlled by Palestinians. I found out in Palermo that it was explicitly inspired by a similar map that showed the decreasing amount of land controlled by Native peoples in what is today the United States. Even the official narratives are very similar: our own Declaration of Independence refers to the "merciless Indian savages" who were defending their homelands from an expanding settler colonial enterprise. In today's words, the Natives would probably be described as "terrorists."
Perhaps few other incidents highlight the closeness of Israel's ties to the United States (and reinforces our resposibility for speaking out about U.S. support for Israel) as the Israeli attack on the USS Liberty in 1967. Israel was at war with its neighbors (a war that Israel started, with tacit U.S. approval, at the end of which it was occupying the West Bank and Gaza), and their air force and navy attacked the USS Liberty in international waters, killing 34 people, wounding over 100, and severly damaging the ship. One of the survivors, Joe Meador, is sailing on the Al Awda towards Gaza. In my limited interactions with him was a gentle, soft spoken man with a sharp sense of humor. At the end of lunch on Friday, he deadpanned that he had not yet received his meal (though of course he had), and we all laughed and said that he would probably find that same composure handy when he will be interrogated by the Israeli Defense Forces.
Discussing the exact details of the USS Liberty incident would take us down a long, unnecessary road. But it's instructive to compare it to another, much more famous naval incident, that took place in the Gulf of Tonkin (Vietnam) in 1964. (Veterans for Peace sponsored a play about the Gulf of Tonkin incident at Bellingham High School a few years ago).
President Johnson used a (likely fictitious) attack on the USS Maddox in the Vietnamese Gulf of Tonkin by the Vietnamese navy to greatly expand the scope of the U.S. invasion of South Vietnam. Notably, no U.S. service members were killed, and the USS Maddox suffered only minimal damage.
On the other hand, the very real and deadly attack on the USS Liberty is virtually unknown to the general public, and merely represents a momentary blip in the decades-long relationship between the United States and Israel. Again, it's worth saying that the difference in our governments' reactions in the two cases is best explained by the logic of power: the lives of U.S. soldiers and sailors are completely expendable in the pursuit of global domination, they only become sacrosanct when they are attacked by official enemies and can be used to stir up xenophobia and promote war. It's worth saying this to pre-empt and refute the anti-semitic trope that "the Jews control the government," which was even hinted at in the Cascadia Weekly some years ago. (To learn more about Israel's subservience to U.S. global power, as well as more background about the 1967 war, I recommend "The Fateful Triangle" by Noam Chomsky, available in the WPJC library).
What about the other people who were involved in the flotilla? What were their motivations for participating?
I certainly can't speak for them, but fortunatly they have spoken for themselves: Below is an interview with Zohar. The media team was preparing statements and videos from the other participants as well.
Written by Matteo Tamburini
I grew up in Pistoia, Italy. My father and all his family were Italian. My mother’s family was primarily composed of Irish immigrants to the United States. Lucky to have dual citizenship, I moved to the United States in 1999 to go to college. Since 2009, I have been teaching (and learning) Mathematics at Northwest Indian College, a college chartered by the Lummi Tribe. I have served on the Board of the Whatcom Peace and Justice Center since 2010. My primary cultural commitment is my dedication to study the Afro-Brasilian artform Capoeira Angola, under the guidance of my teacher, Mestre Silvio Aleixo dos Reis, of the International Capoeira Foundation, who I have been learning from since 2008.
Berta Cáceres is most known for her fight to stop the construction of a single dam in southwestern Honduras. This fight is emblematic of the larger struggle Berta devoted her life to, which she waged against a system of oppression made up of corrupt governmental institutions, US-backed security forces, and transnational corporations. Berta fought for environmental rights and the right to self-determination for her people, the indigenous Lenca, and for all the people of Honduras.
Berta founded the organization COPINH, or the Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, in 1993. COPINH’s purpose is to defend the Lenca people and the waterways and natural resources they depend on from destructive logging, mining and hydroelectric megaprojects, and from the military police that use repression and violence to defend these projects.
Through COPINH, Berta revitalized the Lenca culture, and organized her people to protest against land grabs by logging and hydroelectric companies. The English version of COPINH’s website states, “We have stopped at least 50 logging projects that would have deforested our land and forests and 10 hydroelectric dams that threatened Lenca communities, including the huge Tigre Dam project on the border of Honduras and El Salvador.”
Berta and other community members led COPINH in a blockade against the construction of the Agua Zarca dam, which would have polluted the waters of the Gualquarque River, seen as sacred by the Lenca. Combined government police and military forces used violence to attempt to silence the protestors, and in 2013, Tomas Garcia Dominguez, a leader of COPINH, was killed by a member of the government of Honduras. Nevertheless, Berta and COPINH persisted.
The blockade was ultimately successful, and construction of the dam ceased once DESA, the Honduran corporation behind the dam, pulled out of its contract with the Honduran government. However, the threat to COPINH and its leaders only increased. Berta repeatedly received threatening text messages; she believed that her actions were being monitored and that she was at the top of the Honduran government’s hit list of activists. After going into hiding briefly in 2013, Berta said: “They follow me. They threaten to kill me, to kidnap me; they threaten my family. That is what we face.”
Berta asked the government of Honduras for protection, but received essentially none. “She had filed 40 reports of threats against her. They knew she was under threat, but they failed to protect her,” said Berta’s mother, Austraberta Flores.
In 2016, Berta was killed by six gunmen who had broken into her own home. Berta’s murder resembled an organized military operation, and in fact three of her assailants had ties to the Honduran military. One of these three had previous worked as head of security for DESA, and a fourth suspect was a manager of the dam project.
Berta died at the hand of the same corrupt forces she lived to defeat, but her message and spirit are enduring. Even now, Berta’s face can be seen spray-painted on buildings in COPINH’s stronghold, the city of La Esperanza, with the words “Berta Vive!” spray-painted underneath. Berta’s family carries on her fight, both within Honduras and in the the United States, and during protests, organizers and activists continue to chant: “Berta didn’t die, she multiplied!”
As I watched Berta Cáceres’ acceptance speech of the 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize, I was struck by the universality of her words. She spoke of the Lenca’s connection to the spirits that protect their rivers, and of the sacrifice made by the Lenca to protect the rivers, in turn protecting the well-being of humanity and of the planet. She spoke of the need to wake up, to shake ourselves free of the shackles of capitalism, material greed, racism, and patriarchy, in order to prevent us from destroying ourselves.
Berta’s message is the one that we need to listen to if we are to reclaim our world from the forces that threaten to destroy it—if we are to create a world that preserves indigenous cultures and the environment instead of corporate profit and violence.
If you’re interested in getting a more in-depth look at Berta’s life and the circumstances surrounding her death, the following films are great resources:
Written by Sam Bottman
About me: My name is Sam Bottman. I started volunteering at Whatcom Peace & Justice Center in May 2018 after hearing about the organization online and getting excited about its mission. I’ve been interested in learning about US foreign policy for a while, and the true motivations behind the United States’ involvement in the government of Honduras and those of other countries. Through volunteering with WPJC, I hope to spread awareness of the injustices that my country is implicated in and join alongside those organizations and individuals who are fighting to end them.
We invite the WPJC community to contribute fact-checked submissions on local, national and global current events. Linking to original sources and articles is required. Submissions may be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org for review.