One Billion Rising

shutterstock_105528395Today, on the planet, a billion women – one of every three women on the planet – will be raped or beaten in her lifetime. That’s ONE BILLION mothers, daughters, sisters, partners, and friends violated. V-Day REFUSES to stand by as more than a billion women experience violence.

On February 14th, 2013, we are inviting one billion women and those who love them to walk out, DANCE, RISE UP, AND DEMAND an end to this violence. One Billion Rising is a promise that we will rise up with women and men worldwide to say, “Enough! The violence ends now.”

Come join us in Minneapolis, or find an event near you, to rise up and let the world know that violence against women – against anyone – will not be tolerated!

Posted in Women's Rights | Tagged , | 1 Comment


Tunisia back in the spotlight

Originally posted on World:

Tunisians complain that their country never got the full credit it deserved for starting the Arab Spring: the young revolutionaries who stormed Kasbah Square two years ago had barely removed their longtime dictator from office — an astonishing achievement at the time — before their thunder was stolen by copycats in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. As the fruits of the Spring have been soured by ugly, often violent political conflict, Egypt has monopolized the world’s attention. Tunisia’s own postrevolutionary complications have gotten little notice.

That’s about to change. The assassination of a prominent opposition leader on Wednesday morning has brought protesters back to Kasbah Square, along with the world’s TV cameras. How the mostly secular-minded protesters behave over the next few days — and how the Islamist-dominated government reacts — will determine whether the tiny nation on the Mediterranean descends into chaos or shows the rest of the Arab…

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The Revolution Will be Tweeted


“People have a view that technology will make us free. No, people will make us free” – Michael Posner, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State

As Tunisia, birthplace of the Arab Spring, finds itself again in full-blown political tumult, I find myself recalling words I’ve written and re-written several times over the last year. Technology’s role in the revolutions taking place across the Middle East has been a compelling subject for me since the Arab Spring first became news. The correlation between freedom and the tools we use to secure it has only grown more fascinating, dangerous and confusing with each subsequent episode of protest and violent conflict that has peppered the area since. As the world waits to see how the people of the Middle East respond to the latest conflict, I share these words in the hope that we never forget the true origins of the revolution:

An economic slump gripped the region, food prices were rising drastically and liberal reformers were locked in battle against radical politicians. The working class was out of work and the people were increasingly disgusted with the oppressive monarchies that ruled their nations. Then a major technological change swept the nation, lending the people the ability to connect, organize and ultimately revolt. Major unrest ensued and monarchies across the region were toppled. People celebrated in the streets, convinced that this time would be different, this time their voices were heard and change would be close behind.

It wasn’t different though. The revolution was successful in the short-term, but it had been poorly coordinated, with little thought given to long-term command and stability. Fighting amid the revolutionaries ensued, fracturing the power they had recently established. In some areas, the old regimes were reconstituted; other nations saw the rise of militant groups less suited to govern than their predecessors. Though the circumstances were strikingly similar, this was no Arab Spring and the setting was not the Middle East. It was Europe in 1848, a revolution dubbed “the springtime of the people”.

The European people had organized in support of a common cause, perpetuated by common afflictions and augmented by inflexible autocrats. What was this modernizing development that had united the people and tipped off the revolution? It was the newspaper. Did the ease with which it facilitated communication ensure that the revolution would achieve its goal? It did not. It only proved that granting a voice to the people does not guarantee change.

An unsettling trend has dominated media coverage of the unrest in the Arab world. It is the insinuation that the revolution would not have been possible without blogs, tweets, Facebook and Google. If it were not for the internet, the Arab youth would be incapable of organization, powerless in the face of controlling despots and wholly unsuccessful in their quest for democracy. The people behind the revolution are labeled the “internet generation” or the “Google generation”. Their success is being defined not by their ambition or values, but by how well they navigate a Twitter account.

Technology has become an art, worshipped and revered by all. As brilliant minds come up with new ways to engage electronically every day, we must be careful to give credit where credit is due. Veneration of the tool places ancillary importance on the weapon, at the expense of the people brandishing it. It is the people who hold convictions and morals. It is the people who are worthy of the credit or blame, the people who can be exalted or stand trial. The internet does not have a conscious and cannot be held accountable for the actions it facilitates. It cannot be manipulated or punished – regulating access to it in an attempt to manipulate an outcome is as effective as eliminating guns to eradicate evil. With or without weapons, evil will exist. With or without the internet, revolutions will take place. Their success rides not on the weapons used, but on the minds of the people brandishing them.

The residual consequences of social media are not restricted to revolutions either. In mid-November 2012, the Israel Defense Force began live-tweeting its assault on Hamas, effectively declaring war on the group in 140 characters or less. As parties on both sides scrambled to gain public sympathies, their constant spin-heavy feeds lent the conflict a hollow, surreal context. Graphic images and real-time updates were churned through followers’ twitter feeds, interlaced with the latest news on music, movies or celebrity gossip. The speed and agility of social media now allows interested parties to follow a violent conflict as easily as their favorite TV show.

Diplomacy is not immune to the vast reach of social media either. A “Virtual U.S. Embassy Tehran” was introduced by the U.S. State Department in late 2011, bringing Iranians information unavailable to them by their government-controlled media. The “embassy” provides information from world news to facts on U.S. policy and culture. It’s an incredible tool allowing people of diplomatically-isolated countries to engage on a global stage and it was made possible by the internet. We must be careful to not allow the technology behind this achievement to overshadow the purposes for which it was created though. If we continue to let technology take credit for what individuals achieve, we will soon see national leaders tweeting instead of meeting and Wikileaks will have eradicated any modicum of trust that generations of diplomats have spent building. Social media is a supplement to diplomacy, not a replacement.

As the international community increasingly relies on the internet for communication, the time has come for a candid conversation on the role of technology in revolutions, wars and diplomatic engagement. The internet is aiding the organization and empowerment of the oppressed, extending political awareness and perpetuating new ideas. It is also dehumanizing the revolution and all those for whom it was fought.

We can’t lose sight of the faces behind the blogs and the minds mobilizing the Twitter universe. It must not be forgotten that successful, multi-national revolutions were taking place long before the internet age. We have to remember that before there was a way, there was a will. If we don’t, we run the risk of believing that the people’s power can be as easily dismantled as a social networking page.

Posted in Middle East, Revolutions, Technology | 2 Comments

Impunity for Rape: not just a developing country’s problem


December 22nd, 2012: The world watched as thousands of Indians took to the streets to demand justice for a young woman dubbed “Damini”, a victim of a brutal gang-rape that took place six days prior on a bus in New Dehli. The protesters congregated, chanted, raised their voices and rushed police barricades – all characteristic of a standard-issue political protest. Except this protest goes deeper than politics. Policy changes alone will not make a dent in the cultural barriers that allow men to commit such acts with the frequency that results from relative impunity. Justice for Damini, and the more than 24,206 other victims of rape each year in India, will take more than an act of Congress. It will require hitting the re-set button on the misogynistic mindset that has permeated the Indian culture for centuries.

It may seem difficult, as young women in America, for us to wrap our heads around that. After all, we’ve had our equal rights gift-wrapped and hand-delivered to us by our mothers and grandmothers, who demanded equal pay for equal work and burned their bras at Woodstock. Our generation is out-pacing men in education and earnings (in select demographics). Women currently hold a record number of seats in Congress. So it may be easy to forget that we’re far from receiving equal treatment in a critical arena: the U.S. criminal justice system.

22 days before the brutal attack in India, a bill was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry (SAFER) Act. This bill would allow law enforcement to apply for the funds needed to test the 400,000 rape kits that are currently backlogged in the U.S. Yes, that is correct – 400,000 untested rape kits are estimated to be sitting in the backrooms of police departments around the country. According to the FBI and Human Rights Watch, the arrest rate for rape stands at 24% – the same rate as 30 years ago. Compare that to the rate for murder (79%) or the rate for aggravated assault (51%). Yes, rape is a “dirty, ugly, private” crime in which the victim’s body becomes the crime scene. It’s a sensitive matter, making it that much more difficult to prosecute. But if the United States, the self-proclaimed “world police”, can’t figure out a way to improve the prosecution rate for this crime, then how do we expect other nations to do so?

400,000 victims without closure in the US and as many perpetrators enjoying unimpeded freedom at their expense. That is 16 times the number of reported victims in India – a nation currently teeming with outrage and taking to the streets to demand reform to their justice system. Where is our outrage? What are our demands? Since women comprise 91% of rape victims in the US, it begs the question: do we live in a nation that considers rape victims less deserving of justice or just women in general? If our mothers, sisters and daughters aren’t considered worthy of protection in the eyes of the law, than who is?

Law enforcement and the justice system are not solely responsible for our protection. While somewhat effective, law alone will not stop the perpetrators of this horrific crime or prevent new ones from occuring. Our country is deeply rooted in a cultural paradigm that places a woman’s right to justice at the bottom of our priority list. It will take more than public protests and new legislation to change that.

I guess we’re not so different from India after all.

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Mexico as the Gold Standard


Thought-provoking article by CNN’s Jason Miks heralding Mexico as the potential gold standard for political and economic endeavors in the U.S. – Leah

Originally posted on Global Public Square:

For more, watch GPS on Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET.

By Global Public Squarestaff

A few weeks ago, the president told a newspaper the solution to partisanship is politics and more politics. That’s how you work toward the building of agreements.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t Barack Obama. It was Mexico’s Enrique Pena Nieto. As Washington has been mired in gridlock this year, consider what’s happening just across the border. One of the first things Pena Nieto did after assuming office just weeks ago was to announce a pact for Mexico, an ambitious set of reforms to raise taxes, increase competition and take on the teachers’ unions.

Now, it is one thing to announce a plan, quite another to get support for it and President Pena Nieto’s pact comes with endorsements from across the spectrum, the conservatives he ousted from office as well as the leftist Democrats.

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Consequences of a Neglected Neighbor

What does it take to get noticed by U.S. policymakers these days? Well, if today’s newspaper headlines are any indication, there are a few key requirements: money (anyone heard of this “fiscal cliff” thing?), war (hello Syria, nice to meet you!) and innocent lives cut short by senseless violence (too many examples to enumerate). These seem to be the key ingredients needed to create a situation dire enough to merit the precious attention of our public, our media and our lawmakers. The recipe, however, is fickle. You can have all these ingredients and still not whip up the attention needed to secure your place on the U.S. agenda, as is the case with our neighbor to the south, Mexico.

Mexico has it all – money, war, and an abundance of senseless violence. According to the World Bank, Mexico’s economy grew at a rate of 3.8 percent in 2011, compared the U.S. anemic growth of 2.1 percent during that same time. Additionally, trade between the NAFTA countries (US, Mexico and Canada) far exceeds trade within the entire eurozone, an area that garners far more media attention. And how about war? Mexico has got that one covered too with a six-year war on drugs fueled by America’s insatiable demand for drugs and abundant supply of weapons. Yet somehow the war in Syria, less than two years old and 6,000 miles away, demands far more attention than the war-torn nation with whom we share a 2,000-mile border. Oh and how about a massive loss of lives? Check. 60,000 deaths since Felipe Calderon’s declaration of war on the drug cartels in late 2006. If you need to qualify the requisite death toll with American lives lost, let’s throw in the 37,000 drug-related deaths reported annually in the U.S. One would think that would be enough to pique our interest.

So why has Mexico slipped the minds of our media and foreign policy elite? It couldn’t be their lack of oil, Mexico is the second-largest exporter of petroleum to the U.S. (Canada is first). It also couldn’t be due to a meager composition of the illegal immigrant population in the United States. Mexicans account for approximately 59% of all the undocumented immigrants in the country. Nor could it be a lack of influence as a constituency. According to Pew Research Center, a record 23.7 million Latinos were elegible to vote in the 2012 U.S. presidential election. So what will it take for us to stop neglecting the most important bilateral relationship in the world?

A six-year war, the largest source of illegal immigration to the U.S. and the primary supplier of drugs to our country. Yet still, Mexico didn’t elicit a single word during the final presidential debate this year. Israel was mentioned 34 times, but Mexico? Not once. Notorious for our reactive policies, I shudder to think of what it will take for this giant country to merit a spot on our radar. The U.S public and our primary interloctur, the media, must demand a proactive spot for Mexico on the 2013 Congressional agenda.

As a reactive-policy nation, what will it take for us to notice Mexico? I hope we never have to find out.

Posted in Latin America | 1 Comment