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Women against NATO

One feature of anti-NATO activities planned here is the presence of several women leaders who have notable records of directly confronting war-makers, of “speaking truth to power,” sometimes at significant personal risk.

In addition to their own stories, they offer valuable perspectives on the crucial issue of women’s rights in Afghanistan.  That’s also the subject of a Shadow Summit for Afghan Women’s Rights being held by Amnesty International at the Swissotel, 325 E. Wacker, on Sunday, May 20, the opening day of the NATO summit – where, Amnesty notes, Afghan women won’t be represented, though their interests will be seriously impacted.

Kathy Kelly, Malalai Joya, and Medea Benjamin are each speaking at the People’s Summit, Saturday and Sunday, May 12 and 13, at 500 W. Cermak (schedule here) and at the No to NATO rally Sunday, May 20 at noon in Grant Park.

Kathy Kelly

Born and raised on Chicago’s Southwest Side, Kathy Kelly became an anti-war activist through the Uptown Catholic Worker House in the late 1970s.  She’s been arrested in peace actions over 60 times and been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize three times, once by Nobel laureate Mairead Maguire.  She co-founded Voices in the Wilderness in 1995, which sent medical supplies to Iraq in defiance of the U.S. embargo.

With VITW and its successor, Voices for Creative Nonviolence, founded in 2005, Kelly has travelled countless times to war zones; she was in Baghdad for the U.S. invasion in 2003, Lebanon during the 2006 invasion, and Gaza during the Israeli attack in 2008; she and her colleagues have visited Iraq and Afghanistan extensively.

“We try to live in poor neighborhoods, alongside people who can’t escape the war zones, and listen to ordinary people whose voices are never heard,” she said.  She frequently reports on the experiences and views of the people she lives among.  She talks about the 250 Afghan children dying of starvation every day, while the U.S. spends $2 billion a week on the war.

“She’s an inspirational leader,” said Rev. Bob Bossie, who co-founded VITW and is now retired. “She’s radically committed to nonviolence.”  VCVN “is known across the country as an organization that’s not sitting on its heels, that’s taking risks in a nonviolent way to say we won’t be compliant, we will speak out again and again and stand with the people who are being oppressed,” he said.

The group “challenges us all to see what we more can do – what next step can I take,” he said.  “We can’t all go to war zones, but we can all do more.”

The announcement that the U.S. is withdrawing from Afghanistan is “very misleading,” Kellly said.  “It’s simply not true.  The Joint Special Operations forces, the most intimidating and fearsome warriors on the planet, will remain till 2024 and beyond.

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Int’l Women’s Day: spotlight on low wages, sexual harassment

Two events will highlight the concerns of women workers on International Women’s Day:  a rally at the Chicago Board of Trade highlighting low wages for women janitors paid by the highly profitable and tax-favored CME Group; and a hearing in Joliet focused on retaliation against women warehouse workers complaining of sexual harassment, including a case where a complainant was herself arrested.

Janitors represented by SEIU Local 1 will rally at the Board of Trade on Thursday, March 8 at 3:30 p.m. and march from there to the Willis Tower. Contract negotiations are starting for 13,000 area janitors, including 4,000 at downtown office buildings, whose contract expires April 8.

With annual pay ranging from $24,000 to $31,000, area janitors are classified “very low income” under HUD’s standards, and earn $20,000 or more below the Economic Policy Institute’s estimate of the cost of living for a family of four, according to Nell McNamara of Local 1.

The union is casting the issue as one of income inequality, noting soaring salaries and bonuses for CEOs while Chicago has the third highest poverty rate and the highest racial income disparity of any major U.S. city.

Janitors are calling on wealthy corporations “to do their part,” said McNamara.  “When hard-working people have good jobs with benefits, we’ll begin to restore balance to our economy and vitality to our neighborhoods.”

In December the state passed an income tax break worth $85 million a year to CME after the corporation threatened to leave town.  In 2009, Willis Tower benefited when United Airlines got a $31 million TIF subsidy to move its corporate headquarters into the building.

Arrested for complaining

In Joliet, in response to an increasing number of complaints of sexual harassment by women workers at warehouses in the area, Warehouse Workers for Justice is holding a hearing on Thursday at 7 p.m. at Mt. Carmel Church, 205 E. Jackson.

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Nuns target sex trafficking at Super Bowl

Women from eleven religious orders are working with hotels in the Indianapolis area to curb sexual trafficking associated with the Super Bowl this weekend.

Incidents of sexual trafficking tend to spike around major sporting events, said Grace Skalski of the Congregation of the Sisters of St. Joseph in LaGrange, which participated in the Super Bowl 2012 Anti-Trafficking Initiative.

The nuns called over 200 hotels asking if employees had been trained to recognize, document and report incidents of human trafficking.  They ended up providing training to employees of several hotels and supplying nearly a hundred hotels with brochures, information about the hospitality industry’s code of conduct on child sexual exploitation, and contact information for victim hotlines and safe houses.

Religious orders in the Coalition for Corporate Responsibility for Indiana and Michigan buy stock in hotel chains in order to establish dialogues on the issue of human trafficking in the hospitality industry.

“These are activities that happen in the dark,” said Sister Ann Oestreich, co-chair of CCRIM. “What we are attempting to do is to shine a light on sex trafficking and reduce opportunities for it to happen.”

“Human trafficking is a tragic violation of human rights that devastates its victims, strips away their dignity and security, and tears at the fabric of our global society,” said Sister Pat Bergen of LaGrange Park.  “It is a form of imprisonment and oppression which demands a compassionate response to the cries of victims who long for a future with hope.”

Forty years of women’s history

Jan Schakowsky and Heather Booth will join local leaders for a panel discussion celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Chicago Area Women’s History Council at 2 p.m. on Sunday, October 16, at the Prairie Production studio, 1314 W. Randolph.

Also participating are Maria Pesquiera, executive director of Mujeres Latinas; Jackie Grimshaw of the Center for Neighborhood Technology; Tracy Baim of the Windy City Media Group; and historian Rima Lunin Schultz, co-editor of  CAWHC’s biographical dictionary, “Women Building Chicago 1790-1990.”

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An acquital – but not justice – for Tiawanda Moore

Tiawanda Moore’s acquittal Wednesday raises a range of issues:  about the constitutionality of Illinois’ eavesdropping law; about the role of the State’s Attorney and the Chicago Police Department’s internal affairs division in protecting abusive officers; and about media treatment of female victims of sexual crimes, and especially of young African American women.

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Two fighters

Photo by Nancy Bechtol

For the first time since I can remember, Chris Drew won’t be at Community Media Workshop’s annual conference today and tomorrow.  [Update: Chris Drew comes through]

Normally he’d volunteer for a shift at the registration table and spend the rest of the time sitting in a corner, silk-screening and handing out art patches, and talking to anyone who’s interested about free speech and arts policy in Chicago.

This year he’s fighting a felony charge of illegal eavesdropping – he audiotaped his own arrest back in December 2009 as he challenged the city’s peddlar’s ordinance – and in April he announced that he’s fighting lung cancer.  I reached him by phone Tuesday but couldn’t talk much, since he was headed into a chemotherapy session at Cook County Hospital.

Details of his case are here (also see Newstips’ First Amendment two-fer).

An ACLU lawsuit challenging the eavesdropping law under which Drew is charged was dismissed earlier this year; that ruling is being appealed.  “We are concerned about people’s ability to monitor police activity in public,” Ed Yohnka said.  A Chicago Tribune editorial called the law “indefensible.”

Chris’s gentle appearance and manner can be deceiving:  he’s a fighter. “I have a ’60s bent to me,” he explained to Chicago News Coop in January. “I won’t back down. I won’t be intimidated.”

He’s been fighting for free speech in Chicago for years; he’s refused to back down in the face of an outrageous prosecution.  He’s been contacting legislators about fixing the eavesdropping law.  (And maybe a new arts-friendly mayor will take a new look at the peddlars’ ordinance?)

Meanwhile his art patch project is going nationwide, with exhibits scheduled in Seattle and San Francisco.  But under the financial strain, he sent out an e-mail recently saying the Uptown Multi-Cultural Art Center is in danger of closing.  Chris founded the center in 1987; it teaches silk-screening and holds an annual Art of the T-Shirt festival.  Donations are welcome.

Free speech for artists has been the fight of Chris’s life.  It’s expanded dramatically: now he’s defending free speech rights for all of us.  And there’s a new front.  In the midst of all this, he’s fighting for his life.  We’re pulling for you, Chris.

Meanwhile, State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez should drop all charges against Chris Drew.  And the City Council and General Assembly should fix these laws.

Tiawanda Moore is another fighter.  There’s no telling how many young women are sexually harassed by police. Most, understandably, are too scared to complain about it.  Moore wasn’t.

When she went to police headquarters last August to file a complaint and Internal Affairs officers tried to dissuade her, she started recording them on her cell phone.  When they noticed, they arrested her under the same eavesdropping law that Drew is charged with violating.

Moore had a court date scheduled for today, with her attorney, Robert W. Johnson, continuing to press for a trial date.  The state’s attorney has won a series of continuances.

As CNC reported, Johnson argues that the Internal Affairs officers were violating the law, and the eavesdropping statute exempts people who have a reasonable suspicion that a crime is being committed.

The prosecution of Moore is “just appalling,” said Melissa Spatz of the Chicago Task Force on Violence Against Girls and Young Women, which is supporting Moore.  “It’s certain to have a chilling effect on women who are harassed by police.”

It would be cynical to wonder if that was the point.

The task force has collected over 2200 signatures on an on-line petition calling on Alvarez to dismiss the charges against Moore.

Meanwhile, Spatz said there is no indication that any investigation is underway into the complaint Moore filed last summer, when she returned to police headquarters with her lawyer.

Equal pay for women

If a man started a new job today, by the end of the year he’d make as much on average as a woman who’d been on the job since January 1.

That’s why April 12 is dubbed Equal Pay Day, and a coalition of women’s groups is marking it with a rally downtown calling for an end to employment discrimination.

On average, controlling for education and experience, women still earn only 77 cents for every dollar a man earns.  Over a lifetime, that can add up.

“The Labor Department reports the pay gap for the average, full-time working woman means she gets $150 less in her weekly paycheck,” according to AFL-CIO NOW.  “If she works all year, that’s $8,000 less at the end of the year and about $380,000 over a lifetime.”

One thing that could help is a bill in Springfield – backed by groups including Women Employed, one of the sponsors of today’s rally — that would raise the state’s minimum wage by steps until it reaches the buying power it had in 1968.

The AFL-CIO cites a report by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research that shows that women account for two-thirds of workers in the ten occupations with the lowest earnings; men account for two-thirds of those in the top ten occupations.

On top of that, within the top and bottom ten occupations, women are paid less than men.

Domestic violence victims being deported

Victims of domestic violence are being detained and deported when they contact local law enforcement to report abuses, according to a new report released here by the Latino Union of Chicago.

It’s happening under the so-called “Secure Communities” program, which coordinates local police agencies with Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  ICE claims the program targets individuals convicted of violent crimes, but critics have charged that many others are caught up in it.  According to the report from Latino Union and the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, women are being fingerprinted and detained when they go to police to report crimes.

“Secure Communities is a direct attack on immigrant women, families, and victims of domestic violence,” said Gladys Zarate, a founder of Weaving Dreams, a domestic workers collective.

“As we honor contributions of the women’s movement on International Women’s Day, we demand that Illinois take immediate steps to protect women and families by opting out of this voluntary program,” she said.



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