Current Events, Volunteers

“The Kurdish Bike: Life in a Village in Kurdish Iraq” Forum at the Humanist House on 10.22.17

By Abiola A, a student volunteer from San Jose State University

This was a talk about Alesa Lightbourne’s experience in Kurdish Iraq where she went there to teach abroad but ended up learning about herself and the new country she was living in. Her book and her presentation were about her time there and the experiences she had with the people there in 2010.

Her story started with her son asking her a simple question, “if you could do anything, what would you do?” She turned her answer into action and decided to teach abroad in Kurdistan with the Peace Corps. She explained the origins and demographics of the Kurdish people which started with them spread out among the lands of Iraq, Iran, Turkey, and Syria. They are the world’s largest group of people without a country and have been a people since 500 B.C. The idea of “divide and conquer” was prevalent in the tactics of leaders like Winston Churchill and others like him, because they knew how much power people like the Kurds had if they united. Also, leaders knew the Kurds lived where the world’s major oil resource was. Having them split among their enemies’ lands made them easier to control.

When Alesa was there, she asked some men on the street what they wanted in life and they all said they wanted to be free and unified in Kurdistan. They were all once promised that they would be free but just like many other treaties, it fizzled out and the promise was never kept. Failed policies like that and the Al Anfel genocide are the reasons why Kurdistan is in the present state. The Al Anfel genocide led to the destruction of 4,000 of 4,655 towns, ruined their agriculture, and killed many men while placing women into concentration camps and brothels.

As for the Kurdistan Alesa lived in, she had an unexpected and last-minute change of plans in terms of her teaching. She expected to teach adults at a university but ended up teaching middle school because the students’ last teacher was kidnapped and they were without a teacher for two months. It was an adjustment for her because they have a stricter structure for teachers to follow for those grade levels compared to college students. For example, administrators and other staff would walk by the classrooms to make sure the students were on the scheduled lesson (by checking their page number) and made sure the teachers didn’t sit down every day.

Through teaching her students she learned the harsh reality of female genital mutilation. A girl went up to her and asked how Alesa felt when she was mutilated. Alesa was shocked learning that such a young girl thought it was normal all over the world for girls and women to have their clitorises cut off. Alesa found herself in conflict of learning to be tolerant of aspects of other cultures, including genital mutilation. She also was aware of how Kurdish women weren’t allowed to do things many women could do freely in the states like even riding a bike. She dressed like a man (or more gender neutral than she usually dressed) and explored Kurdistan on her “Blue Angel,” bike. While exploring she met a woman named Bezma, who was studying to become an English teacher. Alesa became well acquainted with Bezma and her family and learned how similar her life can be with people on the other side of the world, despite their apparent differences.

I don’t want to give too much away about her book but after attending her presentation, it was clear that it was a life changing experience. So much so that enriched her life in a way that motivated her to tell her story to the world in her book, The Kurdish Bike: Life in a Village in Kurdish Iraq.

If you haven’t read it, go check it out!

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Current Events

In the Fields of the North / En los Campos del Norte

Within the intimate beige walls of History Park’s Arbuckle Gallery, History San Jose is currently displaying In the Fields of the North / En los Campos del Norte, an exhibit with hard-hitting oral histories and sobering photographs that bring to light the mistreatment and poor working conditions migrant workers face in trying to make a life for themselves.

This exhibit, translated into both English and Spanish, is a collection of works by David Bacon—a photojournalist, activist, and former union organizer. For over 30 years, Bacon traveled with these laborers during harvest seasons and even crossed borders with them as they searched for work.

Upon entering, the crackling of old black-and-white footage coming from a small television in the back greets visitors. The sounds of a rousing speech delivered by Cesar Chavez during the Delano Grape Strike and the voices of the United Farm Workers of America singing in unison fill the gallery.

The photographs on the walls depict workers of all ages toiling in the fields. Men, women, and children alike are shown packing celery and picking jalapeño chilies. The angle of the photos is what is most striking. Bacon gets up close and personal; he chooses to take many of the pictures from either at or below the eye level of the worker. This low perspective makes the photographs immersive and almost authentic. It is as if we are also bent over, laboring alongside the other workers in the field.

Bacon also delves into the home lives of these people, capturing photos of them in shacks and workers’ cabins. In these pictures, the workers stare directly back out at the viewer with intensely somber expressions as their eyes tell of sacrifice and struggle.

Scattered throughout the gallery are snippets of the oral histories of some of the migrant workers, including an aspiring rapper and a mother who longs to go back to school. They are touching, visceral, and raw. As they speak of the hopes, dreams, sacrifices, hardships, and pain of the workers, they also force us to confront the stories that make us most uncomfortable. They serve Bacon’s purpose of reminding us to not forget the humanity of those who produce our food.

Further into the gallery, there is an area for people to sit and read books relating to the lives and labor of migrant workers. This space is complete with beanbag chairs, bookshelves, and tables. It is a place for visitors to contemplate what they have already seen and to explore those topics from a different perspective, whether it is through one of the picture books, the biographies, or the informational books.

As a whole, the exhibit challenges people’s stereotypes about migrant workers and the perceptions that these workers come just to take away American jobs. It shows us that despite the arduous nature of the labor, migrant workers continue to endure it for the hope of a brighter future and a better quality of life for their children.

Bacon makes the point that awareness needs to be brought to the plight of migrant workers, but at the same time, he demonstrates that they are a resilient people; they are to be admired, not pitied. They have always found ways to overcome their hardships through solidarity, whether it was street protests or the formation of social justice organizations.

The next time you visit the grocery store or the supermarket, the next time you take a bite out of that strawberry, take a moment to think about where your food came from and the people who made it possible for you to complete your meal.

In fact, it is best said by Alma Flor Ada’s Gathering the Sun, one of the picture books in the gallery bookshelf: “Gracias te doy, campesino, por los frutos de tus manos.”

“Thank you, farmworker, for the fruits your hands have brought me.”

Take a visit to History Park’s Pacific Hotel to see this thought-provoking exhibit for yourself: History San Jose Website.

It will be on display until June 3.

Thank you Lan, a SJPJC Volunteer for writing this piece and sharing these important reminders.

Current Events

Genocide of the Rohingya People

In wake of the recent catastrophes occurring in and around the Gulf of Mexico (including Hurricanes Maria, Harvey, Katia, AND Jose; both earthquakes within Oaxaca and Puebla; and the United States’ political controversy of North Korean engagement) the attention of the United States media has retracted from the genocide of the Rohingya, which continues to this day.
The Rohingya, a Muslim-majority group of people situated in the north-west of Myanmar, bordering Bangladesh, have faced wave after wave of violence over the past half-century. For many years, the Myanmar government has consistently been placing pressure upon the Rohingya to evacuate. The government has restricted their rights to work and travel, and only limited numbers can enter certain professions like law and politics.

This conflict has resulted in many outbursts between the forces. It is believed that at least 1,000 Rohingya deaths have occurred to date from the Myanmar government. More than 270,000 people have fled to Bangladesh from the pressure of the Myanmar military, with others trapped on the border. Meanwhile, Bangladesh repeatedly denies them refuge as they view the Rohingya as an economic burden.

In an effort to investigate the genocide, the UN has been denied the visa rights to enter the country. British Prime Minister has ordered to cease training the Myanmar military until the forced migration and ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya halts. But in the meantime, where are the Rohingya people to take refuge: India and Australia have refused entertaining their company and only Thailand has offered temporary shelter.

With news of the natural disasters flooding United States airwaves, we must still keep in mind the atrocities being done in the world and take action against institutions that place human rights secondary to politics.

By Cameron, a SJPJC Intern.

Current Events

Referendums Refuted

World maps may seem different in a few years, adding more national identities and differing country borders to the existing diagrams. Many movements for national sovereignty have surged within the past few months, especially in Iraq, Cameroon, and Spain.

While the call for an independent Kurdistan has been apparent for over a decade with a referendum taking place in 2005, Israel has just recently openly supported the idea, legitimizing its plea for independence. Even though 92.7% of voters within the Kurdish northern region of Iraq supported annexation, the rest of the Middle East opposes an independent Kurdistan, especially to those nations with a large Kurdish population, including Turkey, Iran, Armenia, and Syria. The majority of opposition relates to a concern of the large oil deposits where Kurdistan would be located. Additionally, validating Kurdistan in Iraq allows for other Kurds to substantiate secession from their respective countries. Facing extreme opposition, the future of an independent Kurdish nation looks wary; however the resilient will of the Kurdish people shines brighter with hope than it ever has.

The most televised referendum occurred recently in the Spanish state of Catalonia. Though the Spanish government claims that the demonstration was illegal, 2.3 of the total 5.3 million citizens within the state of Catalonia voted, and just under 90% of them backed Catalonian independence. The Spanish government tried to intervene, injuring 844 people and closing off 319 of the 2,300 polling stations in the process. While the Spanish government claims the vote to be illegal, the extent to which they opposed it seems questionable: At what point does separatism allow violent conflict by government-sanctioned police?

The most explosive and yet least covered calls for independence happened within the last week in Cameroon. Over the past decades, conflicts between the English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions with the French-speaking eastern regions. Last year, protests flared up with the national imposition of regulated French-taught schools. Within the last week, calls for independence from Cameroon have been violently throttled, resulting in 30 deaths, 50 wounded, and more than 200 arrested. The government has even sanctioned the restriction of internet use within the western regions in order to silence the separatists.

Rather than administer to the interests of the separatist groups, the national governments of Iraq, Spain, and Cameroon are completely disregarding the struggles of their constituents. This conflict of independence or national unity is larger than simply the idea of freedom and concerns existing economic ties, religious sects, GDP contribution, and political majority. However, government efforts to address minorities’ struggles seem virtually nonexistent, harming national unity, which is evident in how fervently these separatists are fighting to claim independence.

 

If you would like to learn more of the latest news on any of these situations, read the articles below:

Iraq: http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/iraq-rouhani-turkey-erdogan-meeting-1.4327874

Spain: http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-41503429

Cameroon: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-cameroon-politics-separatists

 

This article was written by Cameron, a SJPJC Intern.

Current Events

Take a Knee

Last September, quarterback Colin Kaepernick first took a knee during the national anthem. Amid a flurry of criticisms asserting that his action was un-American, he stated that he could not “show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color.” (CNN) He specifically cited the issue of police brutality as a prominent motivation for his action.

The practice of kneeling in protest can be traced back to MLK Jr., who would often do so before marches or rallies. The gesture itself is a respectful one, often used by soldiers, and was deliberately chosen because of its history and meaning. Eric Reid, who took a knee alongside the Kaepernick, stated in a NYT editorial that, “We chose to kneel because it’s a respectful gesture. I remember thinking our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy.” Since last fall, athletes have repeatedly protested in the same manner, igniting a debate regarding the role of athletes, protest, and race relations in America.

More recently, President Trump called on NFL owners to fire any players who chose to “disrespect our flag” by sitting or kneeling during the anthem, referring to protesters as “sons of *****s” during an Alabama rally. The comment was quickly condemned by many politicians, players, and citizens alike, leading to larger protests during Sunday football games. Dozens of athletes kneeled or locked arms during the national anthem, with some teams even staying in their locker rooms while it was played. In solidarity with the NFL players, celebrities Eddie Vedder, Roger Waters, Dave Matthews and Pharrell Williams also took a knee on stage.

However, the reason for the demonstrations is becoming increasingly obscured as they are put into terms of Trump. By rebranding the act of taking a knee as anti-Trump, its original purpose of calling attention to racial injustice in America is lost. NFL owners can avoid discussing race by condemning Trump’s words as divisive or disrespectful without acknowledging that there were targeted at African-American athletes. A recent statement from the President on the topic also seeks to blur this line, claiming that “the issue of kneeling has nothing to do with race. It is about respect for our Country, Flag and National Anthem.” While they were in response to Trump’s harsh comment, Sunday’s demonstrations of solidarity should not be interpreted as nothing more than another anti-Trump action. If they are, we run the risk of forgetting their greater mission as protests against police brutality and racism.

In a time when the president picks fights with the NFL, we urge you to remember the original meaning of Kaepernick’s protest and continue fighting for racial justice. For more information and opportunities to get involved, visit http://blacklivesmatter.com/getinvolved/ and http://www.naacp.org/find-local-unit/ or follow https://www.facebook.com/BlackLivesMatter/ on Facebook.

Written by Sam, and SJPJC Intern.

History

Our Brief History and Background

The majority of this piece was written for the San Jose Peace & Justice Center’s 50th Anniversary in 2007. The last few paragraphs were added to update the piece to represent 10 years later in our 60th Anniversary.

The Peace Center was founded in 1957 by individuals profoundly concerned about peace and justice issues, especially the growth of nuclear arsenals and atmospheric nuclear testing. The Peace Times newsletter  began publication in the 1950s and has been published consistently since then.

With the signing of the Limited Test Ban Treaty in 1963 and the expansion of the war in Southeast Asia, the Peace Center spearheaded local efforts to end the war in Vietnam. With seminars, flyers, TV appearances, and op-ed pieces in the newspaper, ads in newspapers, vigils in downtown San Jose and protests at recruitment centers, Peace Center volunteers mobilized public opinion against the war.

A major component of the anti-war work in that era  was draft counseling, which was offered at local schools and colleges and at the Peace Center on a regular basis every week. The San Jose Peace Center was also instrumental in assisting peace center start-ups in other communities, such as Berkeley, Modesto, and Santa Cruz.

Before and after the Vietnam war, the Peace Center made nuclear disarmament and the training in nonviolence its primary concerns, with many Peace Center members taking part in protests at the Lawrence Livermore National Lab and at the Nevada nuclear test site. Activists were also involved in the Civil Rights Movement, support work for Native American struggles and support for the Farmworkers Movement. Anti-militarism and environmental concerns converged in the struggle against rocket maker United Technologies, a producer of ozone-depleting rocket motors which was burning waste solid rocket fuels in burn pits. Protesters had he goal of converting the facility to nontoxic, non-military production and succeeded in shutting down several of the burn pits. International issues such as apartheid in South Africa and the U.S. wars in Central America were also a focus.

Meeting first in a living room, next in a basement, then a second-story room, for several years in a rented office at 235 North First St.and then in an office at Grace Baptist Church, the Peace Center was finally able to buy the house at 48 S. 7th St. in 1985  On August 5, 1990, The Peace Poles, donated by the City of San Jose, were installed in front of the Collins House to commemorate the 45th anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima and the Peace Center’s dedication to ending war.  The house on 7th St. is named after peace activists George “Shorty” Collins and his wife Evelyn, who were among the founding members of the Peace Center.

In 2007, the Center served as an umbrella group and a meeting space for a number of peace and justice groups, and putting an emphasis on ending the war in Iraq and preventing an attack on Iran, the Peace Center continued its efforts to educate and engage the South Bay community around critical issues of peace and justice.

Throughout its 50-year history, the Peace Center has been a consistent voice for alternatives to the ever-increasing violence and militarism in this country and the world. We look forward to continuing that work as long as it is necessary. Please join us in this vital effort.

On our 60th Anniversary, we continue to serve as a resource for progressive activism in the South Bay.We seek to contribute toward building a just and sustainable society in which the gross and obscene concentration of corporate power and personal wealth is overcome by the achievement of basic economic rights for all.

Social justice, not inequality
Peace, not war
Plant justice, grow peace
Create an inclusive community
Innovate for positive change
Uncategorized

Protest Trump’s Escalation in Syria

This blog was written by Nikki, an Office Team Intern with the San Jose Peace & Justice Center. The opinions expressed in this post are hers. The photos were taken at the protest by Nikki.

On April 7th, I attended a nationally coordinated protest locally hosted by Rise Up for Justice (#RU4J) and the Friday Night Peace Vigil. We protested Trump’s escalation in Syria to demand an end to the U.S. war against Syria. This escalation was an immediate action after the chemical attack that killed 89 people on April 4, 2017. Syria blamed terrorist groups for the attack, and Russian President Putin, implied that the forces that have been trying to frame the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad carried out the attack. The attack in Syria prompted the United States to launch its first military strike on the Syrian regime. President Trump ordered the launch of 59 missiles at the airbase that was home to the warplanes that allegedly carried out the chemical attacks.

It has been unclear who was responsible for the chemical attack in Syria. It has been difficult for me to choose where I stand with this issue. It breaks my heart every time I read or see what is happening in Syria. I cannot imagine what they are going through each day and night, never knowing where the next bomb will hit, people have been living in constant stress and fear. I think in some parts of the world, in some situations, it is justified for the U.S. to interfere if human rights laws are being broken and innocent people are being killed. If nobody takes an action and help these innocent people, then who will? However, I also understand that the U.S. shouldn’t be policing the world. I think there should be a line that the U.S. should not cross.

I am unsure whether or not I support this strike. I am happy that the government finally took an action against the Syrian regime. However, I do not support Trump’s sudden response to strike against a regime without actual proof that the chemical attack was done by the Syrian regime. Also, bombing a Syrian air based to send a message to the Assad regime is just not enough. Less than a day after the U.S. strike, new airstrikes targeted the same town. It has been unclear who was responsible for the second attack. At least one woman was killed and three others were injured.

While attending the protest, I saw many people holding signs and standing in front of the MLK library. Although I was unsure about how I felt about this strike, I also felt it was not the right action to take. I knew that the strike would cause people to either be for it, against it, or like me, be unsure. Being at the protest, it made me feel great. I loved the energy and seeing how many people were there to protest against the strike while holding signs and just peacefully protesting. Many people honked their horns as they drove passed us.

 

Interns

A Day Without a Woman

This was written by Kevin, a spring 2017 intern at San Jose Peace and Justice Center after attending the Day without a Woman’s Rally at San Jose City Hall on March 8, 2017. The opinions in this post are his.

On March 8, 2017, A Day Without a Women Rally was held in front of San Jose City Hall. A large amount of men and women were in attendance in support of the cause. Many of supporters wore red and held signs to symbolize the “revolutionary love and sacrifice” in regards to the history of the labor movement. Thus, men and women wore red to show their solidarity to the event. The coordinators of the event encouraged the message of “Keeping the Momentum Going!” Therefore, the emphasis of voicing out one’s opinion was emboldened in order for politicians to know our stand on specific policies and actions.

Before attending this event, I never took part in any activist work. However, once I arrived at San Jose City Hall, I felt a sense of unity and support for one another. I never knew what activist work was and how it worked, but after attending this event I realized that being heard and standing up for what you strongly believe in is what really matters. This event was very important because it focused on many areas that are very concerning in today’s society. In fact, our newly elected President, Donald Trump, has voiced his negative opinions about women, immigrants and other controversial matters. Many of his remarks were degrading, outrageous, and unnecessary. Thus, this rally encourages us to stand together and use our voices to be heard.

I learned that reforms and changes in society do not happen quickly. Also, there are many issues that are not addressed and are often set aside by politicians and other higher authorities. However, everyone has a voice and should (and can) express their concerns and opinions because “We the People” have that as a right. Moreover, I’ve also learned that it’s those little changes that motivate us to move forward and keep pushing for what we believe is right.

Interns

Introductions – 2017 Office Team Interns

By Michele Mashburn, Coordinator

I am honored to have my first set of interns this semester (Spring 2017). After a bumpy start, they are all working hard on different projects for the Center. They are all hard workers and talented in many ways. This semester is going by too fast but I know they all have a bright future ahead of them.

From social media research to a movie night to an upcoming Open House, they are helping the Center with many projects and tasks. The movie night is on April 13th from 7 to 9 pm: Rosewater. Look soon for information about the Open House on May 4th.

So let’s meet the interns:

A is for Andy…

Andy

Hello there, my name is Andy and I am one of the Spring 2017 “Office Team” Interns at the San Jose Peace and Justice Center! I am currently a senior in my final semester at San Jose State University, majoring in Justice Studies with a minor in Human Rights. Additionally, I am the Vice President of Alpha Phi Sigma Iota Chapter, the National Criminal Justice Honor Society and a member of Forensic Science Students Club. Outside of school, I have coached high school wrestling for 7 years, and have 11 years of experience in the sport as well. My hobbies include hanging out with friends, adventuring new places and cuisine, and watching movies & TV shows on both Netflix and Hulu. Some of my academic interests include the Media, Management within the Criminal Justice System, and Juvenile Delinquency.

G is for GM…

IMG_0928

Hello, my name is GM. I am a student at San Jose State University majoring in Justice  Studies. This Spring semester, I am an intern at San Jose Peace and Justice Center (in BOTH the “Office Team” and the “Immigration Relief Project”). I am a member of the Alpha Phi Sigma National Criminal Justice Honor Society. I will be graduating this year. My interests include anything outdoor related including: Football, Basketball, and the occasional hike. I also love to spend time at the gym and reading. Although I haven’t read a book in a while, I want to start reading again because books are a great way to gain knowledge while being entertained.

My free time is usually spent outside or watching movies and TV shows. I also love spending time with my family in our backyard having barbecues on the weekends. Oh, and let’s not forget that I enjoy watching professional sports: My favorite teams are the Golden State Warriors and the Los Angeles Chargers.

K is for Kevin…

Hello, My name is Kevin and I am currently a student at San Jose State IMG_2791University with a major in Justice Studies. This Spring semester, I am one of the “Office Team” interns at San Jose Peace and Justice Center. Also, I am an active member of the Alpha Phi Sigma National Criminal Justice Honor Society. When I am not in school, I spend most of my time with family, friends, and playing sports. Therefore, I am a basketball enthusiast who is a huge fan of the Los Angeles Lakers. I also love being in the outdoors and trying new things. I am originally from America’s Finest City, San Diego, which means that I love Mexican food, beaches, and sunny weather. One thing that not a lot of people know about me is that I’m a very shy person at first, but once you get to know me, I am actually very outgoing and love to make people laugh.

N is for Nikki…

image2Hello. My name is Nikki and I am an “Office Team” Intern with San Jose Peace & Justice Center this Spring 2017. I am a senior at San Jose State University and will be getting my Bachelors of Science in Justice Studies this year. I am an Iranian-American and as an immigrant I am very interested in human rights and immigration issues.

In my free time, I like to spend time with my loved ones (family, friends, and my dog), read books, hike, go to the beach, watch movies, listen to music, watch soccer, and explore the area.

Uncategorized

Immigration Training Cements Intern’s Interest – by GM

This blog was written by GM, a spring 2017 intern at San Jose Peace and Justice Center after attending Immigration in the era of Trump training.

Before becoming a student at San Jose State University, I didn’t know what I wanted to major in. Over the course of my academic career I was a Marketing major, then I changed it to Administration of Justice, then to History and finally to a Justice Studies major.

My indecisiveness was due me desire to do something special and be effective in helping and changing lives. Choosing Justice Studies as my major was the best choice for me because I got to learn about the many aspects of how laws and policies can have a huge impact in creating injustices for many citizens, specifically minorities.

My major created the opportunity for me to find this internship that relates with what I want to accomplish. Michelle Cordova, the coordinator for the Immigration Relief Project at the Peace and Justice Center, initiated the training process for immigrants’ rights. As I attended the first day of the training as an intern, I saw many individuals willing to sacrifice their time and energy to help those in need. These volunteers were especially eager to help given current social and political crisis that plagues many immigrants. Ms. Cordova told us that don’t worry about making mistakes because we will learn from it and that she wants willing people that learn from those mistakes.

The first day of the training explained the different roles the volunteers will have. There are six roles that she listed which are: Office & Administration; Consulates; Public Relations; Event Organizers; Design & Communications; and Coordination Team. The training also consisted of the background of the current issues around immigration in the Trump era. She gave us examples like that the majority of immigrants are falsely perceived to be Mexican, however; she showed that many people come from South America. What was really troubling to hear is that the immigrants deported from South America are sent to Mexico even though Mexico isn’t their country of origin to begin with. She showed that there is clear discrimination of immigrants and people fail to realize that immigrants offer many contributions to the American Economy.

Ms. Cordova’s first training session was really informative with the issues regarding the current political climate. She also went over issues with the dangers of border crossing and Homeland Security Priority Enforcement Programs. The issues that she covered cemented the reasons why the volunteers were there in the first place. The issues she presented created a need for urgent action and the volunteers showed their humanity in answering that call to action.