Category Archives: action alert

Funds Needed Immediately: Help Save Lakota Sioux Sacred Land!

The Pe’ Sla area of the Black Hills in South Dakota is sacred to the Lakota people, the indigenous inhabitants of that land. As a result of colonization, a non-Native family now privately owns this area and is planning on auctioning it off to the highest bidder. The Lakota people need this land to perform sacred ceremonies, but it is expected that the state of South Dakota will buy it to build a highway and develop industrially. To save their land from this irreparable “development,” the Lakota people are going through the only legal means at their disposal and attempting to buy back what is rightfully theirs — or at least as much as is possible. The full text from their Indiegogo page:

Pe’ Sla is an area in the Black Hills of South Dakota (just west of Rapid City) that is considered by the Lakota people to be the Center and heart of everything that is. It is part of our creation story. It is a sacred place. We perform certain ceremonies at Pe’ Sla which sustain the Lakota way of life and keep the universe in harmony. This area is currently owned by the Reynolds family. They plan to auction off almost 2,000 acres on August 25, 2012 to the highest bidder. It is likely that the state of South Dakota will put a road directly through Pe’ Sla and open up this sacred place for development. The seven bands of the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota Oyate (people) aka Oceti Sakowin (Great Sioux Nation) have a collective effort to buy as much of Pe’Sla as we can at this auction (although we also believe that the land cannot be owned and that our sacred places were illegally taken by the United States). Yet we are trying to work within the current U.S. laws to regain custody of our sacred sites and prevent future road and industrial development. Our sacred ways must be protected and passed on to our future generations so that our children may live. This area of the Paha Sapa (Black Hills) is also home to many plants and animals who should also be protected. In fact, many consider that the area should possibly be a historical site, which would also assist in protecting it from future development as well. As Lakota people, our ancestors prayed here, at Pe’ Sla, at certain times of year, when the stars aligned. We cannot go elsewhere to pray. We were meant to pray here. This is what they do not understand. Please help the Lakota people. “Let us put our minds together and see what life we can make for our children.” Chief Sitting Bull, 1877 We have a group of young professional Native people that are dedicated to the promotion of education, health, leadership, and sovereignty among our indigenous Nations. Our goal is to assist in any way possible the purchase of Pe’ Sla by a collective effort of the seven bands of the Oceti Sakowin (Great Sioux Nation) – the Lakota/Dakota/Nakota people. All proceeds from this campaign will go towards that effort. This area would be open to tribal nations for ceremonial purposes. The plants, animals, water, and air in the area would be respected and honored. Please see http://www.lastrealindians.com/category/chase-i… for more information. We thank you for your hope in the future.

We are hoping to buy as much of the land that is being put up for auction as possible. The total amount of land is 1,942.66 acres which is in 5 tracts (300 – 440 acres each).  It is difficult to say how much this land would be sold for as developers may increase the true western “value”.

The Rosebud Sioux Tribe has designated $50,000 for the purpose of purchasing Pe’ Sla land.  By contributing to the effort of all the Sioux Tribes, we aim to purchase at least some of the tracts, if not all.  Many of the Sioux Tribes continue to exist in poverty and do not have a thriving casino-based economy as the media may have portrayed.  Yet we continue to fight for what is sacred, because it matters!

A more general background as to why land and the spiritual ceremonies performed on it are so important to Native peoples can be found in Andrea Smith’s Conquest: Sexual Violence and American Indian Genocide (bold emphasis mine; italics are the author’s):

Native spiritualities are land based — they are tied to the landbase from which they originate. When Native peoples fight for cultural/spiritual preservation, they are ultimately fighting for the landbase which grounds their spirituality and culture. For this reason, Native religions are generally not proselytizing. They are typically seen by Native peoples as relevant only to the particular landbase from which they originate; they are not necessarily applicable to peoples coming from different landbases. In addition, as many scholars have noted, Native religions are practice centered rather than belief centered. That is, Christianity is defined by belief in a certain set of doctrinal principles about Jesus, the Bible, etc. Evangelical Christianity holds that one is “saved” when one professes belief in Jesus Christ as one’s Lord and Savior. But what is of primary important in Native religions is not being able to articulate belief in a certain set of doctrines, but being able to take part in the spiritual practice of one’s community. In fact, it may be more important that a ceremony be done correctly than it is for everyone in that ceremony to know exactly why everything must be done in a certain way. As Vine Deloria (Dakota) notes, from a Native context, religion is “a way of life” rather than “a matter of proper exposition of doctrines.” Even if Christians do not have access to church, they continue to be Christians as long as they believe in Jesus. Native spiritualities, by contrast, may die if the people do not practice the ceremonies, even if the people continue to believe in their power.

Native communities argue that Native peoples cannot be alienated from their land without committing cultural genocide. This argument underpins many sacred sites cases, although usually to no avail, before the courts. Most of the court rulings on sacred sites do not recognize this difference between belief-centered and practice-centered traditions or the significance of land-based spiritualities. For instance, in Fools Crow v. Gullet (1983), the Supreme Court ruled against the Lakota who were trying to halt the development of additional tourist facilities in the Black Hills. The Court ruled that this tourism was not an infringement on Indian religious freedom because, although it would hinder the ability of the Lakota to practice their beliefs, it did not force them to relinquish their beliefs. For the Lakota, however, stopping the practice of traditional beliefs destroys the belief systems themselves. Consequently, for the Lakota and Native nations in general, cultural genocide is the result when Native landbases are not protected.

There are only 3 days left to raise funds. Donations as low as $1 are being accepted. Please give as generously as you can and spread this information as widely as possible.

Fund for Troy Davis’ Family

Troy Davis (seated) surrounded by family members

On September 21, 2011, Troy Davis was killed by the state of Georgia for the murder of a white police officer, despite incredible doubts about his guilt and many years of strong efforts to save his life. Hopefully you’re familiar with his story; I was writing about it years ago, and many others never stopped. To call his execution a travesty of justice doesn’t quite cover it.

Davis’ family has suffered a terrible string of tragedies. Shortly before Troy’s execution, his mother Virginia died, having long been brokenhearted about what was done to her son. Less than two months after Troy was killed — following a cruel delay in which his family briefly thought Troy was getting another stay of execution — his sister Martina Correia died from cancer.

The Davis family still has outstanding funeral and medical bills for Martina that they must pay.

Jen Marlowe, a journalist who knows the family and has written extensively about Troy Davis’ case for years, has started a fund to help them pay their bills, setting a goal at $8,000. Unfortunately, fundraising efforts plateaued around the $6,000 mark, and I’ve watched over the past couple of weeks as the goal has struggled to be met. The deadline has already been extended, but even with two weeks remaining, at the current rate of fundraising the total will surely wind up short.

Troy Davis’ case mobilized countless racial justice and anti-death penalty activists, and the day after his execution thousands of people donated to organizations working to end the death penalty. Undoubtedly, that’s how both Troy and Martina would have wanted it, being valiant fighters not just for Troy’s life, but to end the death penalty as a whole. (Correia was a dedicated board member at the Center to End the Death Penalty.) But surely, they would have also wanted to see their own family provided for and free of the incredible stress of unpayable debt.

The Davis family has been through unfathomable pain and injustice; and for their long, hard, courageous fight, they deserve all of our support and gratitude. Though we cannot grant them justice, the least we can do, if we have the resources, is help minimize their hardships in this small yet important way.

Please give if you are able; even the smallest amounts will help. And just as importantly, help spread the word through your networks to help meet the goal.

Send a Holiday Message to an Incarcerated Survivor of Prison Rape

Currently incarcerated persons are probably already the most isolated individuals in the United States. Those who are not only incarcerated but also the victims of sexual violence while imprisoned face little support, few mental health and recovery services, the ongoing threat of violence, and even retaliation should they speak of the abuse. With their support networks ripped from them, their right to safety revoked, and their abusers (who are most frequently prison officials) having control over every aspect of their lives, they are among the most vulnerable sexual assault survivors.

In light of this, sending a 250 character message of support and greeting during the holiday season may seem a truly underwhelming gesture. It is precisely these same conditions, however, that makes such a small act able to speak volumes. Incarcerated persons are cultural pariahs, socially treated as subhuman, and/or told that they deserve sexual violence as a condition of their detention. A few kind and compassionate words, under those circumstances, could mean the world.

Rafael, a recipient of a holiday card through Just Detention’s 2010 campaign and victim of multiple assaults by state corrections officers, stated:

Here I was in my cell sitting on my bed on Christmas Eve, sad but hanging in there. My thoughts were on my mom who passed on in 2004, and thinking ‘man, this is my 24th Christmas behind bars.’ Then at about 4 pm the officer gave me some mail from JDI. I was surprised because I don’t get much mail. Being incarcerated for so long, friends and family have forgotten me or passed on. When I read the holiday cards my heart skipped a beat and I started to cry. Yes, this 46-year old hard-core convict was crying. The kind words of encouragement, blessing, and letting me know that I’m not forgotten from total strangers from far away shattered my emotions. Please let them all know that I love them all and will cherish their words in my heart. And yes, I will walk with my head up high and will share my story with no shame and will help others that find themselves in similar situations.

Another (anonymous) survivor said:

I have been down since 1998 and have not had a card or letter sent to me, nor a visit. To receive those cards has totally left me speechless. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

While Just Detention International works to eradicate sexual violence in prisons — and other activists do work to more fundamentally dismantle the racist (classist, transphobic, homophobic, misogynistic, ableist …) prison industrial complex — please take a few short moments today to send a message to a person who has experienced sexual violence while incarcerated. Your message will be transcribed by hand into a card by a JDI volunteer and delivered to a currently incarcerated person who has experienced sexual violence while detained.

If you’re having trouble knowing what to say, JDI has provided me with some examples of actual messages written by others:

“I wish you hope, healing, and support. Please know there are people fighting for you, even if you have never seen us. Know there is love.”

“May you take comfort in knowing that countless people in the free world care deeply about you and will not stop fighting for justice.”

“From one survivor to another, I send you hope for peace of mind and heart. On both sides of the bars, we give one another strength to go on.”

“Dear Friend, I guess this time of year may feel particularly hard. Please let me take a minute to say that I recognize that your humanity and your safety are worth fighting for regardless of your detention. I wish you hope and joy every day. Be well.”

It is imperative that work to support those currently suffering under oppressive conditions be done simultaneously with work to dismantle the oppressive systems that create those conditions. Ultimately, your words may mean a lot more than you know. Please send a card today and help spread the word.

Final Public Comment Period for New Standards to Address Prisoner Rape Ends Soon

Last year, I wrote quite a bit about prisoner rape and the failure of the Department of Justice to implement new standards to address the epidemic in a timely fashion. I previously urged you to submit public comments to the Justice Department regarding the implementation of new guidelines. Almost a year has passed, and still the Justice Department is moving ahead on the issue at a snail’s pace, as people in detention are being raped every day with little to no recourse, and with their rapists (most likely to be prison guards) frequently controlling every aspect of their lives.

Now, we are entering the very end of the final comment period, which closes on April 4, 2011. After this comment period ends, the Department of Justice will finalize its new standards regarding prison rape, and prisons will all have one year to comply or risk losing federal funding.

This final comment period is extraordinarily important, because the new standards are not even remotely shaping up to be the sweeping set of changes that are required. A press release I received via email from Just Detention International reads in part (emphasis mine):

“Key parts of the Justice Department’s standards are unconscionably weak,” said Lovisa Stannow, Just Detention International’s Executive Director. “The next few days are the last chance for advocates, survivors, forward-thinking corrections officials, and concerned citizens to demand that something meaningful be done about the disgraceful epidemic of prisoner rape.”

In 2003, Congress unanimously passed the Prison Rape Elimination Act (PREA). PREA created the bipartisan National Prison Rape Elimination Commission, which spent years studying the problem before delivering its recommendations to Attorney General Eric Holder for ratification. In his proposed version of the standards, however, Holder has dramatically watered down the consensus recommendations by the commission.

Holder has removed limits on cross-gender pat searches and viewing of inmates using the toilet or shower, despite having documented that most staff abuse of inmates is cross-gender, and that it often begins during pat searches. Contrary to the clear intent of PREA, the Department has also decided that the standards should not apply to immigration facilities — even though immigration detainees are among the most vulnerable to abuse. Holder has even proposed that corrections agencies be allowed to police their own compliance with the standards by using an internal employee to conduct audits, rejecting the commission’s recommendation (and standard practice in the Western world) that oversight be conducted by independent monitors.

“The stated reason for weakening the commission’s recommendations was cost,” said Stannow.  “But the Justice Department’s own data, together with its preliminary cost-benefit analysis of the standards, make abundantly clear that much stronger standards would be warranted even from a purely financial perspective. This suggests that the Attorney General’s true reasons for weakening the standards are primarily political.

These changes are dramatic, they are unconscionable, and they are unworkable. And they cannot be allowed to go forward without a fight. Restricting cross-gender supervision is one of the most obvious ways to effectively prevent a large number of assaults that are being committed every single day. And attempting to address the issue of sexual violence in detention without addressing immigration facilities is blatantly discriminatory and hateful, not to mention hugely ineffective. That there could possibly even be political reasons to not take the most effective steps to prevent prisoners from being raped is sickening and infuriating.

But the prison lobby is strong, and so is the anti-immigration lobby, which frankly believes that undocumented persons don’t deserve safety or protection of any kind. That’s why getting as many comments in before the deadline on Monday is extremely important.

Just Detention International has all the information you need to submit your public comment. JDI provides a letter template for you, but please take the time to write your own. Submitting public comments is not like contacting your representative — it is quality that counts over quantity. The Department of Justice needs to hear about why standards to address prisoner rape need to be strict, why they need to include immigration facilities, and why restrictions on cross-gender supervision are an integral part of any serious effort to prevent as many assaults as possible immediately. Read more in-depth talking points from Just Detention International and get your comments in by Monday, April 4.

Afghanistan Women’s Shelters Threatened With Closure

The Afghan government has drafted new rules which would severely harm women who are the victims of domestic violence and greatly impede their ability to leave their abusers. Local women’s shelters run by Afghan women would be turned over to the control of the government and subjected to new misogynistic rules. Women for Afghan Women writes:

The government of Afghanistan has recently introduced a bill that wrests control of women’s shelters in Afghanistan from the local Afghan women’s NGOs that have founded and run them, and transfers that control to the Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MoWA).  This bill could become the law of the land ANY DAY NOW.

If this bill becomes law:

Women and girls seeking shelter will be required to plead their case before an eight-member Government panel, including conservative members of the Supreme Court and Ministry of Justice.  This panel will determine whether a woman needs to be in a shelter or should be sent to jail or returned to her home (and her abuser).

Women will have to undergo “forensic” exams (virginity tests) to determine whether they have had sex and therefore committed adultery. The tests are medically invalid.

Once admitted to a shelter, women will be forbidden to leave. Their shelter will become their prison. If any family member comes to claim her, even her abuser, she will be handed over to that person, in most cases to be subjected to the harshest retribution for shaming the family.

You can find more information through both the NY Times and the Ms. Magazine Blog.

I can’t add much more than what has already been said, but this is a horrifying assault on women’s rights, and it would result in making countless victims far less safe than they already are. It needs to be stopped, and women need to remain in control of their own organizations and their own lives.

Women for Afghan Women has a petition to save the women’s shelters. Please take a moment to click through and sign.

Thanks to Claire for the link

Help Kelley Williams-Bolar, Mother Jailed For Sending Children to “Wrong” School

Kelley Williams-Bolar, a black woman wearing her hair pulled up and a black suit with a blue shirt, stands in court and closes her eyes as the verdict in her case is read. A lawyer and bailiff can both be seen in the background.Yesterday, I wrote about the horrific case of Kelley Williams-Bolar (pictured left), a woman who has been jailed for ten days and slapped with a felony record — which will prevent her from obtaining her teacher’s license — for sending her children to a school district other than the one they lived in.

My analysis of this unconscionable set of events can be found in the previous post. Today, I just want to draw your attention to a way that you can help Williams-Bolar appeal her case. Via Change.org, Williams-Bolar is working with the National Action Network, and is in need of funds to help her pay the legal fees she will incur in appealing the judge’s verdict.

You can send donations to the National Action Network Akron Chapter, c/o Kelley Williams-Bolar, P.O. Box 4152, Akron, Ohio, 44321. Checks can be made payable to Williams-Bolar.

Please give if you can and help spread this information far and wide.

Tuesday March in Pittsburgh in Response to the Death of Amy Lynn Gillespie

Image of a black woman wearing a hospital gown while sitting in a jail cell. She looks at the camera through the jail bars, which are in the foreground. Text on the flier reads: "Pregnancy is a crime punishable by death in the Alleghany County Jail. Speak out at our March and Public Action Tuesday, November 23, 2010, 12pm-1pm; Convene at Fifth Avenue & Grant Street near the Alleghany County Courthouse; We will march to the Alleghany County Jail." Credits at the bottom of the flier read: "FOCUS on Women Campaign; New Voices Pittsburgh: Women of Color for Reproductive Justice; 412.389.3081, FOCUS@newvoicespittsburgh.org; www.newvoicespittsburgh.org

Last week, a post I wrote about the death of Amy Lynn Gillespie generated a lot of attention. Ms. Gillespie, who was being detained Allegheny County Jail for violating the conditions of her work release by becoming pregnant, died after being denied timely medical care for her treatable condition. As I argued in the post, it is appalling and unacceptable both that she was in detention for this reason to begin with and that she was denied her right to health care access.

Since then, I’ve received word of responsive action by New Voices Pittsburgh: Women of Color for Reproductive Justice. They will be conducting a march tomorrow, Tuesday November 23 at 12pm, the flier for which appears above. In a press release I received via email, New Voices says:

The recently filed lawsuit against the Allegheny County Jail must draw our attention to the grave Reproductive Justice issues and fatal Human Rights violations affecting incarcerated women. The allegations about the conditions in Allegheny County Jail raised in this lawsuit are of serious concern to New Voices Pittsburgh and our allies. The death of Amy Lynn Gillespie was seemingly preventable with basic medical care and reproductive healthcare. The death of any pregnant woman from preventable causes is reproductive injustice and is especially egregious in the custody of the Allegheny County Jail. We challenge the coercive and intrusive practice of conditioning work release on not getting pregnant. We must expose the criminalization of women and pregnancy as a threat to Human Rights that risks women’s health and women’s lives.

The FOCUS on Women Campaign is a community organizing initiative led by New Voices Pittsburgh to address the Reproductive Justice and Human Rights issues of incarcerated women in the Allegheny County Jail. Our campaign began in January 2010 and our strategy for public policy change led to the passage of Pennsylvania Senate Bill 1074, the “Healthy Birth for Incarcerated Women Act” in July through the efforts of our allied organizations. Our campaign produced the Policymaker Leadership Institute with the Urban Initiative for Reproductive Health to “Protect the Rights of Incarcerated Women to Reproductive Health Care” in October. Our work to educate, activate and mobilize our community continues with the following:

  • March/Public Action: Tuesday, November 23, 12noon-1pm, Convene: Fifth and Grant Street, Allegheny County Courthouse; March to Allegheny County Jail
  • Public Forum: Tuesday, November 30, 2010, 6-8pm, Location: TBD

If you’re in the Pittsburgh area, please consider attending and/or getting involved with other organizational efforts by New Voices. For updated information on the upcoming public forum on November 30, stay tuned to the New Voices Facebook page.