Monday, January 18, 2010

MLK



Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man of eloquence, of courage, a man who did not tolerate injustice. He said "freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed."


Today we celebrate this man. Today Conspiracy of Hope stands with him to sound again the cry for justice. But today we must admit that the oppressed often have no voice. That we as free people must demand freedom on their behalf. We must demand that the exploitation of children stops. That the bonded labor of families ends. That any one held captive must be freed immediately. All free people everywhere must join together to cry out for justice and for abolition, and to fight for them, or we may find that one day, and it may be soon, the shackles and the ropes may tighten around our own ankles, our own wrists, and around our own necks.

M.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Homeless Kids and Human Trafficking

Here are some disturbing facts about human trafficking in America:


One out of three kids under 18 who end up on the streets will be lured or forced into prostitution within 48 hours, according to national estimates.


Girls as young as 12 and boys as young as 11 are coerced into prostitution daily.


About 300,000 American youths are currently at risk to be trafficked yearly for sexual exploitation, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.


These numbers mean that America has become one of the frontlines in the fight against human trafficking. Many people are aware of the evil of human trafficking but assume that the majority of it occurs in India or Thailand and not here in the US.


I spent a week on the streets in New Orleans the summer I turned 20. I slept in a dilapidated building with my friend Shon and a dozen or so kids from a squatter tribe called Born Against. They were the first people we met when we got to the city and they invited us back to their squat with all the genteel hospitality you’d expect from the old south. But this was no antebellum mansion with it's large veranda and tea sipping sisters fanning themselves on the back porch gossiping sweetly in their slow southern drawls. It was an old Victorian that was falling in on itself. The front porch looked like it was being held on by the ivy that covered most of the peeled-paint siding. The toilet was a hole in the floor in a back room and the only entrance was a set of rotting steps at the back door that were covered in condom packets in various states of decay dumped there by the bucketful by the health department to keep the squatters from reproducing . We slept on the bare wood floor with the rats and giant roaches. The front room was Wolf and Cassandra’s. Wolf was the tribe’s leader, Cassandra his 16 year old runaway girlfriend. That week we met kids as young as 14 living on the street. Some running from abuse, others the authorities, but many I found, had left home with a romantic notion and a doe-eyed sense of adventure.


I fell in love with those kids. Walked them to sign up for pre-natal and talked them down off bad trips. I ate out of the same trash cans they did, spent the nights listening to their stories sitting in Jackson Square or on the river walk. One night I taught them the lyrics to Amazing Grace and we all sang them to the tune of “House of the Rising Sun”. I left part of my heart there in New Orleans and think about the Born Against tribe all the time. I hope they made it where they were going, I hope they found what they were looking for, and I hope they somehow manage to escape the evil people who exploit kids like them.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

National Human Trafficking Awareness Day

Today is National Human Trafficking Awareness day. And I wanted to write something important today, about a day so important. A banner to make a charge under. But all I keep thinking about is Lindsay Lohan.


That this cause has reached this level of awareness should give me a renewed sense of optimism and resolve but I find myself with somewhat mixed emotions. As more and more public figures become spokespersons for any cause there runs the risk of both overexposure, with its subsequent emotional fatigue among the public, and the perpetual association of those spokespersons with that a cause.


We can all agree celebrity sells. And, as in the case recently with Tiger Wood’s and his serial philandering, celebrity can also cost sponsors 12 billion dollars in lost revenue and leave a bad taste in shareholder and consumer mouths for months or perhaps even years to come. I’m not picking on Mr. Woods here. He is the greatest golfer of all time. I am merely making a point. That sometimes, image is everything.


There have been a number of high profile musicians and actors that have joined the fight against human trafficking in recent months. Ashley Judd, Lucy Liu and Lisa Ling will be on Larry King Live tonight talking about human trafficking. I know enough of these women to know that they are all talented, articulate individuals and I feel fairly certain that they will afford this issue the decorum and sincere passion it deserves. That being said, Lindsey Lohan is being featured in a forthcoming documentary by the BBC on human trafficking Called Lindsay Lohan in India. She is a popular actress who has a decent box office pull but is she the best voice for this cause? The critics are already ravaging this for it's 'colonialism' and 'whites know best' underpinnings, let alone what they are saying about Lohan herself. Does this cause really need this type of press?


I’m not disparaging Ms. Lohan, nor do I doubt her sincerity. In fact I applaud her willingness to get involved. I just find it does not add much gravity or credibility to cries of outrage when they are voiced through a Hollywood neophyte. Lohan’s personal life has been tabloid fodder for years. Her addiction, her felony drug possession charges, and her very public romances have somewhat soiled her image and given her, in spite of what might be to the contrary, a fairly portentous “cultural footprint”. She may be the sweetest, most genuine young lady on the planet but she hasn’t, at least publicly, displayed much dignity and restraint. There is no understating the critical urgency of stopping human trafficking. Nor has there ever been a better time to fight it then right now. But let us please cry out with voices clear as a bell. Great spokeman have galvanized many a nation around a cause. And bad ones…Here is part of the video.



Again, many thanks to Ms. Lohan and the other high profile voices that are standing up and speaking out against human trafficking. And maybe I am missing the point. Maybe the BBC sees this as an opportunity to engage a younger demographic about these issues. Maybe. But after National Human Trafficking day is gone, what are you gonna do the rest of the year? When the honest truth is your money can do a lot more than your mouth. When poverty is the single biggest engine of the human trafficking epidemic.



M.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Dachau

I have been thinking a lot about the Nazi extermination camps, especially Auschwitz and Dachau. About how the whole world slept while evil devoured the innocent. And I cannot help but be unnerved by the similarities with today’s sex trade. How the world is once again asleep and evil is once again gorging itself on the flesh of the defenseless.

When allied forces finally made it to the concentration camp at Dachau on the 29th of April, 1945, they found 42,000 prisoners there. Most of them half-crazed with abuse and many infected with Typhus. Dachau was the first of the Nazi extermination camps, and although much smaller than the infamous Auschwitz, it was the prototype for the other camps, and certainly one of the most feared. Located just 10 miles Northwest of Munich near the town of Ohrdruf, Dachau was ever close to populations, who like the rest of the world, had turned blind eyes and deaf ears to the atrocities that went on there for 12 long years. When it came time to clean up the camp, adult citizens of Ohrdruf along with Nazi sympathizers and Hitler youth were made to view the perverse horrors, the mounds of bodies, and then to clean the ovens and the camp grounds.

This is a stream of conscious, poem/journal entry that I wrote to try and sort out my feelings on the Nazi death camps. It does not profess to, nor could it ever, do any justice to the tragedies of those dark years. And as much as I would like to think that those days are past, that men like Hitler would not have free reign in today’s “enlightened” world….I am not so sure. I think we still sleep. That we are still complicit. And I think the victims of Human trafficking might agree.


I am going to Auschwitz my dear
Maybe it is time that you should too
But let us make a promise to each other
Not to go as the eager-eyed students of history
Dispassionate, discerning facts from fiction
Formulating our own opinions
Unbiased and impartial, filling notebooks
With impressions and platitudes
And putting things in 'context'
Apologies to the past, promises to the future
Solemn and sacred and spiral bound
Feeding a camera the food of memory
Crumb by crumb satisfying the appetites
Of our consciences

And let us not go as souvenir hounds on holiday
Making emotional connections with maps and scale models
Pointing out this brick oven, that gas chamber
Laughing at each other's butchered pronunciations
Of the German words "Vernichtungslager",
"Sonderbehandlung" and "Arbeit macht frei"
Getting our picture taken where the blood of the butchered
Ran red as the wine that we had drunk our fill of
The night before at our hotel where we slept two to a room
And not two thousand

No.
Let us go with bare hands like the villagers at Dachau
Let us be the ones who must scrape the skin
From the bricks and the blood from the stone
Let us breath the ash of hair, the dust of blackened bone
Let us carry the weightless corpses of the children
From where they were piled lice ridden and rat gnawed
Let us be the ones to dig them graves in the fields
Where we grow our food, where we build our churches
But first let us stare into their hollow sockets
Let us see our children, let us see ourselves
That we are the birds of the air
That stole their eyes

And because this place is now clean
Because the blood is gone and the screams replaced
With a soothing voice tape looped and patronizing
Because there is no stench of rotting flesh or burning bone
Because now there is only the colognes of strangers
With dark rich espresso on their breath
Because we were all complicit
Because we all covered our ears
Because we were silent
Because we might feel a little better having made this pilgrimage
Because atrocity is just a word in a book we can close-
Genocide a stage direction in the script of the nightly news
Because the memory of a thing can become that thing
Because we can forget-
I will not go to Auschwitz
Maybe you shouldn't either


Over 6,000,000 Jews and their friends, were enslaved, tortured, and died during the evil Nazi reign. Today, close to 30 million people, half of which are children, are suffering the same fate. Crammed into unconscionable living quarters and fed rancid rations, these prisoners are made to perform twisted rituals for their wicked taskmasters, who are drunk on power and money. Please let us find a way to keep history from repeating itself yet again. Let’s stop Human trafficking in our life time. Let us wake.

M.

Canary in a Coalmine

Perhaps you’ve heard the phrase 'canary in a coal mine'. It’s a miner’s term. Canaries were once regularly used in coal mining as an early warning system. When toxic gases such as carbon monoxide and methane would build up in the mine, it would kill the bird before affecting the miners. And subsequently, because canaries tend to sing much of the time, they provided an audible cue as well as the visual. Hence, the phrase 'canary in a coal mine' is frequently used to refer to a person or thing which serves as an early warning of a coming crisis.

That phrase has always haunted the halls of my mind. It moves about in the shadows, a specter that never speaks, passes effortlessly through the walls of memory and leaves me always with a sense of foreboding. That is until this morning; Until it spoke, ghostlike and grim….

Children.

Children are the canary in the coal mine. They are the weak who are ever suffering exploitation by the powerful. In a very real sense, children predict the future. It is because they are the future. And when any society devalues their children they destroy themselves. When a child is free, free to be a child, that child laughs and plays and sings. But when a child is enslaved, that singing stops. All over the world evil men and women traffick children into the very real mines of brothels, brick kilns, and battlefields. Send them there to do what they won’t put themselves in harm’s way to do. And all over the world, every 2 minutes, a million times a year, frozen by fear in the throat of one more child, a song stops.

The crisis has come.

Please help Conspiracy of Hope end the enslavement and sexual exploitation of children in our lifetime.