Marcia G. Yerman

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Abortion: Stories Women Tell

Abortion: Stories Women Tell

Droz Tragos follows the intimate accounts of women as they grapple with the impact of their pregnancies and how the crisis impacts the trajectory of their lives. The insights revealed are quite different from the political pronouncements of elected officials.

April 18, 2017 | No comment | Read More »

Abortion: Stories Women Tell

Abortion: Stories Women Tell

Droz Tragos follows the intimate accounts of women as they grapple with the impact of their pregnancies and how the crisis impacts the trajectory of their lives. The insights revealed are quite different from the political pronouncements of elected officials.

April 18, 2017 | No comment | Read More »

Post-Election: New Women in Congress Inspire Hope

Post-Election: New Women in Congress Inspire Hope

On Election Day, I cast my vote full of hope.

On Wednesday morning, I went to bed at 3 a.m. — after watching eight hours of election returns. When I woke up, I had a severe case of dread. Not an existential dread. Rather, a version that I could feel in every fiber of my body.

I have been writing about the environment for six years.

As I looked over all the articles I have produced,

November 17, 2016 | No comment | Read More »

mark! Lopez Fights for East Los Angeles, Wins Goldman Environmental Prize

mark! Lopez Fights for East Los Angeles, Wins Goldman Environmental Prize

East Los Angeles is a frontline zone that is oversaturated with industrial sites, heavily trafficked freeways, and emissions emanating from port related cargo transports. School, homes, playgrounds and parks are in immediate proximity to these sources of air pollution.

April 26, 2017 | No comment | Read More »

Spotlight

mark! Lopez Fights for East Los Angeles, Wins Goldman Environmental Prize

Photo: Courtesy of Goldman Environmental Prize

Environmental justice advocates may be feeling discouraged as they watch the Trump administration dissemble regulations piece by piece.

However, each year, the Goldman Environmental Prize winners remind us that activism can start with one person.

The 2017 awardee from North America is mark! Lopez, a 32-year-old community organizer from East Los Angeles.

Lopez, who received a degree in Environmental Studies from UC Santa Cruz and a Master’s from Cal State Northridge, came to his calling early. Raised in a family where his parents and grandparents were advocates in defense of their neighborhood, he attended rallies and marches alongside them.

East Los Angeles is described by Lopez as a “hardworking, family-driven community.” It is also a frontline zone that is oversaturated with industrial sites, heavily trafficked freeways, and emissions emanating from port related cargo transports. School, homes, playgrounds and parks are in immediate proximity to these sources of air pollution.

To make matters worse, in 2000, Exide Technologies took possession of a battery recycling plant in Vernon. The smelter, eight decades old, was made operative — skipping needed repairs and improvements. They functioned with temporary permits and collected numerous violations.

The equivalent of forty truckloads of lead-acid car batteries per day was processed. Fumes included arsenic. The lead dust was pervasive; 7 million pounds were released into the air. Samples revealed lead to be at a “hazardous level.”

Children from the area were tested. Their blood had one hundred times above the health limit amount. Lead and children are a deadly combination. It is a neurotoxin that causes brain damage — as well as behavioral and learning issues.

When Lopez returned home after college, his grandmother informed him that the Exide facility was still running.

In response, Lopez initiated an outreach campaign to educate his neighbors about the lead contamination. He joined the East Yard Communities for Environmental Justice (EYCEJ), where he is now the Executive Director. He urged residents to take advantage of free lead testing.

Two hundred homes were analyzed. Only three didn’t show findings for lead. It became clear that a wider assessment was needed.

At the state’s capital, Sacramento, Lopez testified on government panels. He underscored the need for broader soil examination.  He pointed out he disparity in reaction time between the Exide scenario in East Los Angeles and the gas leak in Porter Ranch — an affluent community.

In April 2016, Gov. Jerry Brown approved $176 million to expand lead testing of 10,000 homes impacted by the Exide pollution, and a cleanup of the 2,500 homes found to have the highest hazardous levels of lead.

Lopez was made co-chair of the advisory committee in charge of overseeing the efforts.

However, as Hilda Solis, Los Angeles County Supervisor pointed out, “The actual cost to do a full and proper cleanup would cost $300 million.” She added, “This is our Flint, Michigan.”

I reached out to Lopez to ask him about his work.

What are your thoughts on where the future of Environmental Justice stands in the Trump administration?

“Regardless of who the president is, it is important to remember that movement starts at the grassroots. We began by knocking on doors and informing our community about Exide, and encouraging people to take action and fight for all of our health. If we start by working with our neighbors, soon enough we’ll organize our block. If we can organize our block, we can organize the blocks around us, and our communities. If we can organize our communities, we can connect with other organized communities and elevate the struggle. That is true no matter who is in office. We do not need to lose hope because change begins on the ground and becomes a movement when people come together.”

 What has been determined about the monies that will be awarded for cleanup?

“Since the lead contamination could very easily go beyond the 1.7-mile radius originally tested, we keep pushing for more testing until we can find the edge of contamination. For that we need additional funds. The Lead-Acid Battery Recycling Act of 2016 is expected to produce $30-32 million annually via a battery fee. A portion of that will go to cleanup Exide contamination, as well as “ghost smelters” (Closed sites with no responsible party across the state of California.) Estimates of total cleanup for Exide are in the hundreds of millions of dollars, so securing funding will continue to be a priority for us moving forward.”

What advice can you share with other parents concerned about their children and the outlook for environment?

“There is no safe level of lead for children, and I fear for my daughters’ safety as any parent would. This fight is for my children, but also the entire area. When confronted with issues, we have to be the ones to stand up and advocate for ourselves and our neighbors. I grew up with a sense of community. I was taught that I needed to do well in school, not to ‘make it out,’ but so that I could contribute to my community.

I’m raising my daughters with the same ethics and worldviews that have been passed down for generations in my family and community. Most importantly, the struggles we start today are struggles our babies don’t have to start tomorrow.”

For those who question the validity of individual and group action…
Exide closed its Vernon plant in March of 2015, after a federal investigation into its operation.

 

Tell your Senators: Protect our health from air and climate pollution.

This article originally appeared on the website Moms Clean Air Force.

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Apr 26, 2017 | No comment | Read More »

Abortion: Stories Women Tell

“Abortion: Stories Women Tell,” directed by Tracy Droz Tragos, looks at one of America’s most contentious debates through the prism of personal stories.

The documentary is set in Missouri, where Droz Tragos hails from. The state has one of the toughest abortion laws on the books. Currently, there is only one operative clinic. A seventy-two-hour waiting period was enacted in 2014, with no exception for rape or incest.

Missouri women seeking an abortion travel to the Hope Clinic for Women in Granite City, Illinois. It’s located fifteen minutes away from the downtown area of St. Louis.

Droz Tragos follows the intimate accounts of women as they grapple with the impact of their pregnancies and how the crisis impacts the trajectory of their lives. The insights revealed are quite different from the political pronouncements of elected officials.

A parallel narrative tracks “pro-life” advocates who want to abolish abortion. They are deeply influenced by religious beliefs. They plant themselves at the Hope Clinic to confront patients with graphic photographs, statues of the Virgin Mary, and invective laced with praise for the Lord.

It’s an exhausting and disturbing look at two sets of belief systems that are miles apart.

A husband and wife discuss learning that their developing twelve-week-old has a skull that has not formed and is missing limbs. The genetic defects mean that there will not be survival beyond birth. They self-identify as Christians, who had the support of their pastor in their difficult decision to terminate.

Not all the stories end with an abortion. Te’Aundra, who had dreams of improving her life through higher education, keeps her baby. She had been working two jobs and had been offered a basketball scholarship. Te’Aundra was willing to give up the baby for adoption, but the father was not in agreement with that decision (which could create problems for the adoptive parents down the line). However, he had no interest in helping to raise the child.

Women relate that they are overwhelmed by the basic need to survive. They suffer from a lack of finances, domestic violence, prior drug addiction, or the desire to become an adult before having a baby. Frequently, they are alone and without emotional support. The youngest girls would be kicked out of their homes if they shared the predicament with their families. For women who already have children and can barely keep their heads above water — another child would sink them.

Those who believe that life begins at conception view their anti-abortion beliefs as a calling — usually directly from God. Conversations reflect values that maintain abortion is murder and results in eternal damnation. Kathy, who learned from her father that she was almost aborted, reveals that she has always felt “a kinship with the baby in the womb.”

One of the strongest interactions in the film takes place at a college student center. On the way there, Reagan, a leader in the Students for Life of America movement, speaks directly to the camera. She explains that she is a different breed of activist than the “stigma of pro-lifers as old, crazy religious nuts.” Yet, when she sets up her booth there are handouts asserting that “Abortion=Breast Cancer” and signs saying, “3700 babies aborted daily.”

A young woman, close in age to Reagan, confronts her. She recognizes Reagan as an on-site demonstrator who prays at the Planned Parenthood facility where she is an escort.

It’s tense.

“Why protest this organization when it’s just one thing [abortion] that it does?” She talks about the women seeking affordable gynecological services. She presses Reagan on who will adopt all the children that don’t fit the idealized version of an adoptee. Who will be there for the baby that has physical or mental difficulties, or is from the inner cities? As Reagan packs up her materials, she appears shaken by the pragmatic questions of her challenger.

It is clear that the combination of religion and shame is toxic. 70 percent of adults in Missouri have an absolute belief in God. Belief in Hell among adults is 66 percent. Given these stats, it’s not surprising that a young woman who gave up her child for adoption says, “If you have an abortion, you cannot go to heaven.”

There is an overt disconnect between the quiet pain of those seeking an abortion and the proselytizing (or harassment, depending on your point of view) of those Christian Missourians who want to “make abortion unthinkable.” Shots of the landscape with billboards condemning abortion are pervasive. Rallying cries include, “All in Christ, for Pro-Life.” Supporters are revved up with the rhetorical question, “What are you willing to live for or give your life for?”

Amie, a single mother who is 30, works seventy hours a week to support her two children. When she arrives at Hope Clinic after a 200-mile drive, a parking lot regular greets her with, “You don’t have to kill your baby.”

Courtesy of HBO

“Why should I be ashamed?” she asks with a mixture of anger and frustration. “It’s not fair to have to deal with shit like that.” Trying to make ends meet on the tips she earns as a waitress and bartender, her concern is for the children she is raising. Falling within the six to nine-week time frame, she opts to use the abortion pill which will loosen the fetus from the uterine wall.

Staff physician, Dr. Erin, talks of the difference between when she worked at Planned Parenthood in Chicago and her experience in St. Louis. In her new neighborhood, protestors showed up at her house. She speaks matter-of-factly about what the future may hold.

One in three women get an abortion. One in three women get a C-section. A C-section is accessible.

It’s going to become very, very dangerous for women. People are going to die. It’s getting harder and harder, and I don’t see a path for it getting easier any time soon.”

According to an older man who seems to be at the Hope Clinic on a daily basis, “God is going to destroy America if we don’t repent very quickly.”

A nurse goes outside to take a break. She watches a father and his daughter. He is singing a well-known spiritual with his own lyrics: “He’s got the unborn babies, in his hands.” They switch to another hymn, “Yes, Jesus loves me.” She comments, “I guess they think we don’t believe in God or anything like that. That kind of bothers me when they do that. They think we don’t care about God. But we’re no different than anybody else.”

There are plenty of tears shed on both sides.

The female guard at the clinic, Chi Chi, has the final word. Throughout the film she has commented on the action, punctuating it with her insights.

“It’s your choice. I let them know, it’s their choice. Everything is your decision. God loves everybody.”

 

 

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Apr 18, 2017 | No comment | Read More »

Chinese Dissident Wei JingSheng Featured at International Human Rights Art Festival in NYC

On the weekend of March 3, The International Human Rights Art Festival was held in New York City. Presented by The Institute of Prophetic Activist Art, it was co-sponsored and housed at Dixon Place.

Tom Block, who wears a number of hats including activist, writer, and artist, was the producer of the event. His goal was to bring together various art forms in the service of activism.

I reached out to him, to learn more about the objectives of the event.

What is the mission of the International Human Rights Art Festival?

“The International Human Rights Art Festival was conceived to offer a salving balm to our raw and injured society, using art as the impetus.  As Lao Tzu said: ‘Nothing is as soft and yielding as water, but for dissolving the inflexible, nothing is more powerful.’  We looked for art that would use its gentle power to dissolve the inflexible hatred, divisions and anger that is currently so prevalent in our land.”

How did you choose the participants?

“The artists were chosen for the quality of their artwork, their heart and soul, their passion and sincerity, and their honest assessment of the issues they were dealing with. In all cases, they were driven by the ‘I should’ instead of the ‘you should.’ We were very careful to keep a positive and gentle atmosphere, even more so in light of the tremendous divisiveness in our society at this time.”

The Festival covers topics ranging from the death penalty to the environment to disability identity. What is the connective thread?

“All of the work is sincere, beautiful and often very raw. It takes art to its highest level: At that knife’s edge between pain and beauty. Here, resides truth. Here can be found the answer to the anger and divisions in our society.”

With the Trump administration on the cusp of disenfranchising the human rights of many groups in our country, how does this event speak to that concern.

“By softening hatred, opening conversation, expanding ideas of ‘us’ as opposed to ‘them,’ and using soft power to heal wounds rather than exacerbate them.”

Are you concerned about the fate of the arts and creative expression during this administration?

“Many dictatorships have tried to kill artists and control creative output, putting it in service to the state. All have failed. I have no doubt that Donald Trump will fail, as well. Art will still be here when he goes.”

A top highlight of the festival was the presence of Chinese dissident Wei JingSheng, who served as an Honorary Co-Sponsor for the event. He is a renowned human rights activist, a key  player in the movement for democracy in China. In 1978, Wei Jingsheng wrote the essay, Fifth Modernization. He posted it in Beijing on what became called the “Democracy Wall. As a result, Wei JingSheng was arrested and found guilty of “counter-revolution propaganda and agitation.” He remained in jail from 1979–1993. Upon release, Wei Jingsheng resumed being proactive. Speaking to foreign journalists led to his reincarceration the following year (1994), which lasted until 1997. After eighteen years in various prisons, Wei JingSheng was exiled due to “medical parole.” He came to America in November of 1997.

The testament to his time in prison, The Courage to Stand Alone: Letters from Prison and Other Writings, was released in 1997.

Mr. Wei gave this speech at the opening festivities of the event:

“What is the relationship between art and human rights?  As if it were two completely different areas, but it is not so. In countries where human rights are not guaranteed such as in China, where all the spiritual activities are controlled by autocratic government, human rights and art definitely have a very close relationship. In Beijing in 1978, my friends and I launched a Democratic Wall movement. The reason the democratic wall caused a stir in the Chinese society then, was because I and many of my friends published political essays to oppose the one-party dictatorship of the Chinese Communist Party.

Interestingly, meanwhile this political movement also gave birth to an artists’ movement. A large number of painters who were repressed in the past and had no place to publish their works, exhibited them on the wall of democracy. They soon formed a new school of painting, called the Star Exhibition. There appeared a large number of famous artists, such as painters Ai Weiwei, Huang Rui, Qu LeiLei, Ma DeSheng; sculptor Wang Keping, and so on. Thus was created a new look of Chinese art since then.

In the many publications on the Democratic Wall, there were two famous literary journals.  One was by the famous poet Bei Dao (North Island) who hosted the “Today,” and another called the “Fertile Soil” which gathered a large number of famous writers. They were the pioneers of the new literature of the 1980’s in China, which broke the monotonous style of propaganda by the Communist Party. It created a flourishing situation of various styles, like hundreds of different flowers blooming at the same time. It produced a large number of famous poets and writers, such as Huang Xiang, Shi Zhi, Mang Ke, Gu Cheng, Lao Gui, and so on, as well as a lot of novelists who wrote anonymously. They were all participants of the Democratic Wall movement.

Why is the movement of literature and art needed to be combined with the political movement that rebel against an autocratic system? This is because we are all rebels of the Communist system that suppresses human rights. The protection of human rights, freedom of speech, publication, assembly and association are the common need of all. It is like people are indispensable to the air and water — everyone is indispensable to the air and water.

Chinese people and Chinese artists are still under the oppression of the Communist autocracy. It is the responsibility of all of us to appeal and strive for their human rights.

Human rights are the common ideals of all of us, and the necessities of those who are still struggling under oppression. Let us fight for the legitimate rights of all the people.”

 

Photo: Elisa Gutiérrez

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Mar 20, 2017 | No comment | Read More »

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Feb 23, 2017 | No comment | Read More »

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