The Widdershins

Posts Tagged ‘slavery


Eudocia Tomas Pulido (“Lola”), ages 18 and 82

Hello Widdershins,

This will be a short post today! In part because I would like you to take some time and instead of reading my nonsense, read a feature story in The Atlantic instead.

In March I wrote a post here discussing human trafficking.  When we talk about slavery too many of us think of by-gone eras. But slavery exists today and not just in far-off lands. It exists right here in the United States, perhaps involving our next-door neighbors. Nearly 21,000,000 human beings today are victims of human trafficking.

One of the stories I recounted in my post, told by Sister Joan Dawber, who runs a safe-house for victims of human trafficking in NYC, involved a young woman from Africa who came to NYC by family with the promise of going to school. Instead the family enslaved her for 5 years. She escaped eventually with the help of a suspicious neighbor. But how many do not escape?

In the harrowing and heart-breaking story published in The Atlantic, called My Family’s Slave by Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Alex Tizon, Tizon describes his family’s slave – gifted to his mother by his grandfather. The woman they called Lola served the family for 56 years, right here in the United States. She cooked and cleaned for the family, she raised the children. She was not kept in physical shackles. And yet – she remained their slave. Tizon’s shocking realization as he got older than his parents kept the woman who raised him and his siblings as a slave is heart-breaking. Lola’s story is not unique and it needs to be told. (In a sad addendum, Tizon died suddenly on March 23, 2017 at the age of 57.)

Mom would come home and upbraid Lola for not cleaning the house well enough or for forgetting to bring in the mail. “Didn’t I tell you I want the letters here when I come home?” she would say in Tagalog, her voice venomous. “It’s not hard naman! An idiot could remember.” Then my father would arrive and take his turn. When Dad raised his voice, everyone in the house shrank. Sometimes my parents would team up until Lola broke down crying, almost as though that was their goal.

It confused me: My parents were good to my siblings and me, and we loved them. But they’d be affectionate to us kids one moment and vile to Lola the next. I was 11 or 12 when I began to see Lola’s situation clearly. By then Arthur, eight years my senior, had been seething for a long time. He was the one who introduced the word slave into my understanding of what Lola was. Before he said it I’d thought of her as just an unfortunate member of the household. I hated when my parents yelled at her, but it hadn’t occurred to me that they—and the whole arrangement—could be immoral.

“Do you know anybody treated the way she’s treated?,” Arthur said. “Who lives the way she lives?” He summed up Lola’s reality: Wasn’t paid. Toiled every day. Was tongue-lashed for sitting too long or falling asleep too early. Was struck for talking back. Wore hand-me-downs. Ate scraps and leftovers by herself in the kitchen. Rarely left the house. Had no friends or hobbies outside the family. Had no private quarters. (Her designated place to sleep in each house we lived in was always whatever was left—a couch or storage area or corner in my sisters’ bedroom. She often slept among piles of laundry.)


This is an open thread.



Over the weekend I edited a short fundraising video for organizations that help victims of human trafficking. These are all religious institutions and the women interviewed were all nuns. One from NYC, one from London, and one from Mombasa, Kenya.

Human trafficking is the 2nd largest crime industry in the world, only behind drug trafficking. It generates hundreds of billions of dollars in profit – at the expense of human lives. And it is also the fastest growing “industry” in the world today. In 2012 it was estimated that as many as 20.9 million people around the world were victims of human trafficking. Imagine what those numbers are in 2017. Human trafficking includes sexual exploitation (including sexual slavery), forced labor, organ harvesting. The International Labour Organization (a United Nations agency) last compiled their statistics in 2012. Some excerpts:

90% are forced to labor for private economies or corporations

22% are in forced sexual exploitation

55% are women and girls & 45% are men and boys

26% are under the age of 18

Sister Jane Kimathi, from Mombasa, speaks of victims as young as 4 years old, forced into prostitution. Many, she says, come to their safe houses unable to speak because of the trauma. Some stay with the Sisters for as long as two years, as they try to rehabilitate them and find new homes. While their order is Catholic, they welcome all victims and their prayer room is nondenominational. She mentioned that Mombasa is a popular tourist destination. But the “tourist destination” designation is people who come there specifically searching for young children to abuse. Because of the many conflicts in Africa, the number of refugees spikes the numbers of slaves. They are people looking for ways to support their families. Nobody is looking for glamour or prestige in the sex trade, Sister Kimathi says. “It’s poverty and desperation.” Some of the children were sold by their parents into slavery. Some are orphans and some are runaways who were promised happiness by relatives, who then exploited them.

It’s a story the Sister from New York, Joan Dawber, picks up on. Sister Joan runs safe houses in Queens. She described one woman’s story: She came to New York to be a student, sponsored byp1562069350-3 an extended family. When she arrived, the family forced her to become their slave. She never attended school. She was forced to take care of the family, including raising their young children. She was forced to eat off the floor. Not just having her plate on the floor, she didn’t have a plate. Whatever food she was allowed to eat was put on the floor. If she was hungry and snuck any food out of the fridge, she was punished. She was her family’s slave in Queens, NY for five years. Her salvation came in the form of a neighbor who suspected something odd based on the young woman’s behavior in public. She tried to speak to her repeatedly, ask her how she is, only to have the young woman run away. Eventually the neighbor gave the woman a cell phone with pre-programmed numbers for the police and safe shelters. The young woman finally found courage to escape, using the cell phone to call for help. She has since finished school and lives in New York.

Sister Dawber points out that human trafficking exists in every state of the USA. It is not an issue that only happens out there somewhere. It exists all around us. It could be the waitress in a restaurant, or a manicurist at the nail salon. They could be of any age and any race. It can be almost impossible to know that this person ringing up our groceries is indentured to someone.

Sister Lynda Dearlove runs a safe house in London. Their organization primarily helps prostitutes. The interesting thing is that their mission isn’t strictly to “rescue” the women from prostitution. It is to offer them a safe home and counseling when in need. Many only come to sister-lynda-dearlovespend the night, take a shower and eat. Some then return to the streets. The Sisters there never force anyone to stay. Many women have been coming to them for years for a night or two of peace. The Sisters hope that by offering women a shelter and offering them counseling they can help them enable themselves. Sister Dearlove passionately says that the can not force anyone to do anything. The best they can do is show the women that there is hope and they need to find it for themselves. Maybe not today, but possibly tomorrow. “They are valued and they are loved, and if anything happens to them we want them to know that we will miss them.” She says that people blame women for becoming prostitutes and that it is one of the biggest challenges we as a society face: The need to understand that if any of these women choose prostitution it is only because they are fleeing abuse, or drugs, or so many other possible traumas. Many are trying to support families and stay alive. They must never be judged or condemned, she says. They must be offered hope.

Note: Sister Dearlove was appointed a member of the Order of the British Empire in 2010.

This is an open thread. What’s on your mind fellow Widdershins?

Good afternoon Widdershins.

Whatever it is, she's the only one who sees it...

Whatever it is, she’s the only one who sees it…

This past week I recalled Michele Bachmann making a big deal out of being a “constitutional conservative” during the 2012 Presidential campaign. At the time the term “constitutional conservative” didn’t really mean much to me because, well, it was Michele Bachmann.

I was reminded of mis-Michele by another paragon of conservative thought — former Senator and Heritage Foundation President, Jim DeMinted. He, like Bachmann, used the term “constitutional conservative” in the context of the miraculous eradication of slavery not through any efforts of government or a war costing 750,000 lives, but some “beyond the mortal coil mysticism” of the Founders.

My interest was piqued. Come to find out, “constitutional conservative” is like the Carol Burnett earlobe tug — it’s a signal. It‘s code for, “While I don’t like to say too many crazy things out loud, you can bet I’m thinking them.”

Constitutional conservatism seems to have sprung up in 2009 from the fertile mind of a Hoover Institute Fellow and first published in the Wall Street Journal. While the theory doesn’t come right out and denounce democracy, it is clear there is little sympathy for those “other types of people” who are endangering the liberty of those purchasing vast quantities of SPF creams.

Values and Viagra both start with "V"...

Values and Viagra both start with “V”…

Those “other” people are defined as anyone who might have extra melanin, fail to own property, fail to be rich, fail to enjoy a panoply of tax write-offs, fail to adhere to a biblical definition of marriage, fail to forego contraception, fail to believe in corporate personhood, and fail to believe in full-fledged fundamental Protestantism. If that list is a bit overwhelming for you, it can be succinctly abbreviated: Liberals — the scariest people on the planet.

For those using the secret decoder term “constitutional conservative” it seems to be a mélange of conflation with a heaping helping of disassembly. Constitutional conservatives think of America as a sort of ruined paradise — an Eden divinely bestowed upon chosen Americans by a group of demigods who took the earthly form of Founding Fathers.

This is why Bachmann could say, with a straight face, that the Founders “worked tirelessly until slavery was no more in the United States,” blind to the fact that George Washington held slaves and Thomas Jefferson was an innovator in the world of slave torment and slave labor.

People who espouse this constitutional interpretation have to add a heaping portion of the Declaration of Independence to any analysis in order to insert thoughts such as “natural rights” since the Constitution doesn’t contain any such provisions.


Those espousing constitutional conservatism also have no answer for the original divinity of the Founders when it comes to women being second-class non-voting citizens, driving Native Americans from their land, or enslaving African-Americans as a matter of course through protectionism that was a boon to slave-owners. Their greatest obstacle is trying to explain why a divinely inspired document like the Constitution would have provisions for changing it through amendment. Best I recall there was no amendment process in the Ten Commandments.

These are some of the more granular inconsistencies — so let’s swing for the fences. The very North Star Founders who these constitutional conservatives point to were adamantly, diametrically opposed to the ideas they are credited with championing. An ironic situation akin to electing Einstein president of the Flat Earth Society.

The constitutional conservatives’ beliefs around dismantling and reducing the federal government resemble an America governed by the Articles of Confederation. Under the Articles, national government was extraordinarily weak — it could not tax, mint coins, or pay collective debts. The result was an economic disaster and several states were near revolt. The failure of the Articles led to a constitutional convention culminating in a strong central government.

Those favoring the predominance of states and who saw a strong government as a prelude to tyranny were vehemently opposed to the Founders‘ call for a Constitution. So there you have it — the hyperbolic rhetoric of the Tea Partiers is based upon an unadulterated reverence for Founding Fathers who fought against the very philosophy the Tea Party is espousing with constitutional conservatism.

Rewriting history...

Rewriting history…

As with so many things where the Tea Party is concerned, it is based upon a common misperception where the perception then becomes reality. A trick also utilized by Stalin, Mao, Idi Amin, Camar Rouge, and the Taliban — just to name a few.

Even the event supposedly igniting the Tea Party, the Rick Santelli rant five weeks after the President’s inauguration — was fully and totally based on something that did not happen. Santelli had his knickers in a bunch over a supposed mortgage bailout that no one had talked about, no official had ever proposed, and quite simply, to this day has never happened, but it was a perceived fear that became a Tea Party reality.

So if the inception of the Tea Party was predicated on something that never happened and they have a governing philosophy of constitutional conservatism that stands for the opposite of what they believe, it’s easy to see how they can rewrite history that never was.

This is an open thread.

Morning Widdershins. I hope your dreams last evening were not of yesterday, but were of tomorrow.

MLK looking back...Dreaming has been on my mind of late with the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. It is also the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation — something too often overlooked.

The way the human brain works, we remember and process in tiny snippets of about 3 seconds. The way we remember Martin Luther King’s speech from that day is the line, “I have a dream.” There’s more to the story.

With the three networks covering the March on Washington, it was the first national exposure of MLK. His entourage of advisors wanted his introduction to be spectacular, but measured. Like anything created by committee, they penned an unimaginative, stem-winder of a speech so dry it was essentially technocratic tender.

MLK was the last of sixteen speakers on that humid, oppressively sweltering August day in Washington.

Ms. Mahalia Jackson was in the VIP section that day — close to the speaker’s dais. She had met MLK at a Baptist Convention and occasionally traveled with him using her enormous talents to help him inspire crowds.

As she listened to his uninspiring prepared remarks, she shouted, “Martin, tell us about the dream!” MLK continued, but Ms.Mahalia Jackson Jackson again insisted, “Tell us about the dream!”

It was at that point Martin Luther King launched into his extemporaneous poetry of “I have a dream.” And thus history was made, lives were changed, and things were never again quite the same.

My point in recounting this story is pretty simple. Without the bravery and emotional intelligence of Mahalia Jackson, Martin Luther King would have been just another speaker that day. His oratorical skills were olympian, but without the prodding of Ms. Jackson’s unabashed audacity, we would not have recalled the poetry of “being judged not by the color of their skin, but the content of their character.”

While there are multitudes of wanna-bes to deliver the quintessential political oratory today, there are too few who exhibit the audacity and emotional intelligence of Ms. Jackson. She knew what could move the emotions of a heart and the logic of a head to dance in perfect synchronicity. She knew the essential purity of selfless source credibility. She knew the needs of thirsty souls.

When I look at those who reveled last week in Fifty-seven Thousand little children cut from Head Start or those who boast about cutting 12 million poor from food stamps or those who accept with a shrug the stagnation of the middle class, I don’t hear the piercing intelligence and righteousness of Mahalia Jackson.

What I hear are Alan Simpson and Erskine Bowles being paid $40,000 a pop for speeches aggrandizing failed austerity or Jim Demint being paid $1.0 million plus a year for contrived divisive research or Dick Armey basking in the lavishness of an $8.0 million payoff for his hand of hatefulness in the birth of FreedomWorks.

Mahalia Jackson (2)We don’t have those with the heart or the tenacity of a Mahalia Jackson to speak to our heads and our hearts. Wall Street and the One-percenters have made us deaf and unfeeling to the inescapable truth that the greatest indicator of success or failure of a child born today is the zip code of his mother. We have no one who dares tell us science should not frighten us, but give us wings. We have no one who tells us a job is more than a paycheck, but a barometer of one’s self-esteem.

When I hear the “Randian austerians” drone on about bootstrap stories, I am left emotionally and logically saddened. Those of impure hearts and biased motivations are using the one-in-a-million success story to justify foreclosing opportunity to the millions left behind. We can’t forget that the anecdotal is merely incidental. We must remember reality is too often finality for those who are beyond the graces of fate.

In that moment, Mahalia Jackson had the courage to allow her emotional intelligence to speak that day fifty years ago. Think of the world in which we could live if we had that moment of courage each day.

This is an open thread.

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Kellyanne Conway’s new job

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That moment when *your* pussy gets grabbed

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