The Bank Was Coming

Phyllis Walsh, courtesy of the Walsh family

The last time neighbors saw her alive, 65-year-old Phyllis Walsh was walking her dog, Arnie, as she did nearly every day. But Walsh’s life was in turmoil. Her husband, a factory worker named Jerry, died in 2009, and Walsh had struggled to pay the mortgage on the small white bungalow in South Seattle that she was now solely responsible for.

“When he passed, it was very hard on Phyllis,” says Joell Rhyner, who lives across the street. “But she was active, trying to go out and do things.”

Walsh, who was retired, had been trying to refinance her mortgage so she could keep the home. Still, Walsh had not been able to stave off US Bank, which, according to King County property records, was trying to collect more than $15,000 in past-due payments and had sold her home at auction.

On the evening of Tuesday, July 30, Rhyner saw a police car in front of Walsh’s home. Walsh had fired a single pistol shot into her head, killing herself, in the front yard. A note pinned to her shirt mentioned the “foreclosure vultures” were coming.

Read the rest at The Stranger »


See also: No Charges for Protesters – In Sudden Reversal, City Drops Charges Against Anti-Foreclosure Activists

More updates on Sakuma Brothers Farms:
The Department of Labor Is Investigating Sakuma Brothers Farms | Slog
Sakuma Brothers Farms Hit With Class Action Lawsuit Over Wages, Breaks | Slog

The Stranger, contd.

After traveling back to Haiti in August to produce this film, I began an apprenticeship at The Stranger last month.

Today my news feature on striking berry pickers in Burlington, Washington is out, plus the short video at right: Sakuma Brothers Berry Boycott – Workers at a Farm Outside Seattle Demand Better Conditions and Wages

Update: Sakuma Brothers Farms Responds to My Reporting in The Stranger | Slog

A few other highlights from Slog, including past reporting on the farmworker strike:

Reporting for The Stranger in Seattle

Partway through my internship at Seattle’s only newspaper, here’s a sample of what I’ve written so far:

I’m having a shit ton of fun. I’ve made editor Paul Constant’s Best of Slog round-up the past three weeks in a row.

Only downside is someone stole my camera. Kind readers donated $280 to help me purchase a new one. If you’d like to chip in, here’s a PayPal link! ;-)

Q&A with Hamda Yusuf for the Seattle Globalist

Talking with Hamda at UW

Meet Hamda Yusuf: She’s 19, she’s a local slam poetry champion, and she wants to be the US ambassador to Somalia.

At the Youth Speaks! Poetry Grand Slam last month, most of the poems performed on stage were punctuated by supportive hoots and shouts of, “Youth speaks!” from the packed crowd, culminating in rowdy choruses of applause. But only a few poets earned multiple sets of straight 10s from the judges.

One of them was Hamda Yusuf.

Incredibly, only ten years ago she didn’t speak English. Her family had just migrated from Somalia.

Today she’s a 19-year-old UW freshman pursuing a degree in international studies. But she already has a wealth of global experience under her belt, having lived on three continents.

After advancing through the preliminaries, Yusuf took the opportunity at the Grand Slam final to evoke ancient Somali traditions and stoke the crowd’s indignation at Islamophobia. What set her apart, though, was the earnest humor and moments of mundane Americaness mixed into her poetry—all delivered with a sublime confidence.

Read the rest on the Seattle Globalist »

Haiti Moves to Tighten Laws on Sexual Violence

Published the day before International Women’s Day last week by Inter-Press Service:

Women protest insecurity and living conditions at a tent camp in central Port-au-Prince, January 2011.

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Mar 7 2013 (IPS) – Haiti is poised to enact major reforms to its penal code to make it easier for victims of rape to prosecute their attackers.

The amendments to the penal code would precisely define sexual assault in accordance with international law, legalise certain types of post-rape abortions, and criminalise marital rape.

The changes also mandate state-funded legal aid to victims who cannot pay for counsel. Discrimination on the basis of “sexual orientation” would be banned in limited circumstances, in a first for Haitian law.

“I think it’s an exciting time,” Rashida Manjoo, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, said in February at a conference on the reforms. “It’s a small start with the penal code, but it’s a good start.”

Lawyers and activists at the conference pored over a three-page draft of the reforms. They’re optimistic that Haiti’s parliament will approve them within the year. Haiti’s prime minister and the ministry of justice have indicated they support the amendments. Continue Reading…

Audio: Haitians describe harsh lives, failures of resettlement

Here’s a feature story that ran in yesterday’s Free Speech Radio News newscast:

President Martelly and officials commemorate the third anniversary of the quake on January 12, 2013.

President Martelly and officials commemorate the third anniversary of the quake on January 12, 2013.

Script:

Saturday marked the third anniversary of Haiti’s earthquake. UN Special Envoy to Haiti Bill Clinton flew in for a brief, somber ceremony held with Haiti’s President, Michel Martelly, at a mass grave outside the capital city. FSRN’s Ansel Herz brings us the voices of Haitians who lost their homes in the quake, who still languish in makeshift tent camps.

AMBIENT SOUND TENT CAMPS

Walking through the Carradeux camp in Port-au-Prince, it’s easy to get lost. 10,000 families live here. At the entrance, there are neat rows of transitional shelters – wooden one-room shacks. Continue Reading…

The Uses of Paul Farmer: The Doctor and the Haitian Machine

Published by CounterPunch:

Photo credit: Reuters

Photo credit: Reuters

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.
– Martin Luther King Jr.

PORT-AU-PRINCE – Dr. Paul Farmer stood alone in a corner of Hotel Karibe conference room, watching the spectacle.

Reporters buzzed around Bill Clinton, jostling with one another and yelling out questions. The former president was the newly-minted United Nations Special Envoy to Haiti.

It was September 2009, just a few months before the earthquake.

Farmer had been appointed as the Deputy Envoy. But it seemed perverse that the reporters would ignore him.

“Dokte Paul,” as his patients here call him, has been a true friend to Haiti.

A Harvard-educated doctor and public health expert, Farmer co-founded Partners In Health. As a tiny clinic in rural Haiti has grown into a medical complex and now a hospital, he’s innovated and delivered top-class healthcare to the poorest Haitians for three decades.

His accomplishments are profiled in Tracy Kidder’s book Mountains Beyond Mountains, which is taught in classrooms across the country. I was reading it at the time.

As a recent college graduate and a newcomer to Haiti, I wasn’t going to miss this chance to interview a personal hero of mine. So I ran over.

We talked about Haiti’s challenges. He folded his arms and leaned in, peering through round wire-rimmed glasses. His answers were thoughtful. Farmer had always been a sharp critic of the international community’s treatment of Haiti.

Eventually I asked him a blunt question: “Do you think the administration here was under pressure from international forces to fight the increase in the minimum wage?”

I’d seen graffiti calling for bump in wages in Port-au-Prince earlier that day. In the preceding months, as the government stalled on enacting the wage hike from $3 to a mere $5 per day, protests had engulfed the downtown area.

Farmer stammered a little bit, said he didn’t know, and subtly changed the subject.

One reader left an ominous comment on the interview. “No disrespect to Dr. Farmer, as I believe he is sincere,” he wrote, “but he is now a part of the ‘machine’ that essentially drives Haiti.” Continue Reading…

Three Years Later: Three Answers to Haiti’s Predicament

Photo credit: Dieu Nalio Chery/Associated Press

I wrote a guest post for the Center for Economic and Policy Research’s excellent Haiti Relief and Reconstruction Watch:

1.  How would you describe the situation in Haiti today?

“Peyi a vin kraze.” As Haiti enters a new year, I’ve heard this phrase several times from different Haitians over the past week. It’s usually said with a resigned, slight shake of the head.

In English, this means “The country has completely crashed.”

Last week, the U.S. Coast Guard repatriated 168 people fleeing Haiti by boat. At least 360,000 people displaced by the earthquake live in appalling conditions in tent camps throughout the capital city, three years after the earthquake. The cholera epidemic killed 27 more people in the first week of January, bringing the total number of casualties to nearly 8,000.

So the situation is dire. And while I don’t want to add to Haiti’s bad press, this really should not be understated. It’s hard to take the government’s ubiquitous new slogan, “Haiti is Open for Business,” seriously.

At the same time, it’s important to point out that in the minds of outsiders, Haiti often comes packaged with a set of spurious assumptions.

Haiti is simultaneously romanticized and demeaned as so unique, poor and chaotic that it becomes a category unto itself. It’s the land of zombies and vodou (usually this word is spelled pejoratively as voodoo). Haitians are amazingly “resilient” – code for inhuman, able to go on suffering indignities that others could not.

In fact, Haiti is more like the United States than one might think. The country is afflicted with vast wealth inequality and an influential power elite. Many young people can’t find jobs. The healthcare system is a mess. Farmers are struggling to maintain their livelihoods amidst environmental destruction. Continue Reading…

“If I don’t have a different type of worker in 12 years, I have failed. Haiti has failed.”

P1090836
It’s about time I publish this interview I conducted last year with Georges Sassine, President of The Association of Industries of Haiti and Executive Director of CTMO-HOPE. Under the US law of the same name, the HOPE commission is charged with maintaining labor standards in Haitian factories that receive tariff-exemptions and trade privileges for garments they export United States.

I found his blunt honesty to be refreshing. Sassine lays out his entire argument, projecting 12 years into the future, for how garment manufacturing can alleviate Haiti’s poverty in the long run. He’s a man on a mission.

He also responds to charges made last year by union activists that bosses were firing workers for organizing in Port-au-Prince’s textile factories. I quoted in him my report for Inter-Press News on the controversy. The Better Work Haiti labor monitoring program later backed up the allegations and the workers were ultimately reinstated.

I introduced myself as a journalist trying to learn more about the alleged worker firings, as we sat down at a table at the Hotel Montana:

Georges Sassine: The incidents were not about organizing anything.  The incidents were: One of them was a guy who wanted to make something, and the other was someone distributing leaflets and they asked him to stop doing it and he started to yell. Continue Reading…

2012: The rise of the Globalist

globalist

I’ve had the privilege of being involved in the launch of the Seattle Globalist, a “hyperglobal” blog that covers everything international-related in Seattle (and there is a lot to cover). I designed the website and contributed some 17 blog entries about the city’s connections to the wider world – everything from the Libyan revolution to Tibetan civil disobedience, and more.

The Common Language Project, the journalism nonprofit that publishes the Globalist, put out this infographic reviewing the Globalist’s successful year. They encourage you to donate here.

2012: Highlights