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Thousands of social justice leaders in communities all over the world passed away this year. In our annual Fallen Heroes episode, we share words of inspiration from, and about, some grassroots activists that may not have been very well known outside their particular communities.
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The Making Contact Team
The Making Contact Team
SHOW OPEN STARTS WITH MUSIC
Nawal El Saadawi BYTE:
“We are living in one world dominated by the same system. The capitalism, patriarchal, racist system, against women and against the poor. And we are living in this world, so we have to revolt together, and change the system together, And without working together, we will never succeed.”
NARRATION:That’s author and activist Nawal El Saadawi (na-WAH ALL sah-DAH-wee), considered by many to be the godmother of feminism in Egypt. She’s one of thousands of social justice leaders in communities all over the world who passed away this year.
I’m Andrew Stelzer, and this is Making Contact. As we mourn the recent loss of bell hooks, Greg Tate, and so many others, we wanted to share words of inspiration from, and about some grassroots activists that may not have been very well known outside their particular communities.
So we’re closing out the year, as we usually do, with the Fallen Heroes of 2021.
We begin with Western Shoshone rancher, Carrie Dann.
“This earth is our mother; it’s not for sale, and it can’t be taken by any country…That right as given to use by the creator and we’re not going to give it to anybody else. We let people, people other than ourselves use that land. “
My name is Mary Gibson. I’m Western Shoshone and I am also the niece of Carrie Dann. She was a ranching woman. She and her sister Mary were ranching in central Nevada for over 50 years. They took over the ranching business from their father. The land that Nevada now claims or the United States now claims as public land, Carrie Has believed, it is Western Shoshone land. This peace and friendship treaty made with the United States, never ceded any land in any way. So it has been a fight for Carrie, since a young age,
“I find it quite apalling that a country like United States is legitimizing the theft of the Western Shoshone land. I look at that as spiritual genocide against the Western Shoshone people.”
In the early seventies, the Dann sisters decided that they were not going to be paying the bureau of land management’s required gate grazing fees, because they didn’t feel like it was their responsibility. They were ranching, they were grazing their cattle on their own land andThe BLM rounded up their cattle their livestock and horses as punishment. Their fines accrued up to millions.”
“I saw the military force of the United States in September when they came out to gather our cattle. Too bad not all you people cant see what happened to us out there. But they did take away our livelyhood. And it was sad, It still is sad. We have surveillance on us every day by the Bureau of lLand management..Surveillance this very day probably they’re out there now, or was out there this morning. … There’s threats of all kinds against us…But i’ll tell you one there. I’m not paying the United States grazing fees because this is still Western Shoshone land!”
Carrie happened to live right in the valley where environmental degradation is happening on a very high scale level with gold mining… and Carrie and her sister Mary… were heavily involved in the environmental aspects of our territory,…Carrie was also involved with some of the protests at the Nevada test site, which happens to be on Western Shoshone ancestral lands as well.
“They’re pumping this virgin water up, so that we as human beings can enjoy wearing gold. Ladies and gentleman you are killing the earth. The earth is dying because of the way people act, You as consumers, they as producers of gold. And we as indigenous people, we are yelling ‘stop that you’re killing our mother,’ Whos going to hear us? ‘Stop that you’re killing the earth, You’re killing the mother of all life, for gods sakes cant you wake up and listen to what we’re saying to you?”
NARRATION: Sex workers rights activist Margo St James…
MARGO ST JAMES SEGMENT:
Margo St James:
“Men have not had to address the issue of Prostitution because women have not been together enough to stand and make that demand. But I think that we’re doing it today.” (applause)
“My name is Johanna Breyer and I’m the founding executive director of St. James Infirmary, which was also started by Margo St. James. It’s the first occupational health and safety clinic in the United States for sex workers. It’s all peer based it’s run for and by sex workers. And Margo was our director emeritus and helped to get this clinic started back in 1999. She was one of my mentors in terms of doing the sex worker organizing efforts in the San Francisco Bay Area.”
Margo St James:
“The word whore is still used to keep other women in line, all women. But the punishment of the prostitute is the example set by the system; that if you don’t act right, bow down to men I suppose, you’ll get whats comin to you. And a lot of hookers are murdered in this country. I think its because it’s a criminalized system here, where the victimization is institutionalized and the prostitute becomes a legitimate victim for murder, rape, robbery any kind of abuse verbal abuse and physical abuse.”
“She was very clever in terms of making money and did not start out as a sex worker…but because she was arrested under the assumption of sex work…she kind of took that and ran with it, and that led to the formation of COYOTE. COYOTE stands for call off your old tired ethics. …this was really around breaking down those barriers, breaking down those stigmas, classifying sex work as work, rather than coming from the realm of prostitution, and it being something that was stigmatizing.
Margo St James:
I quit hooking and in my late twenties, when I realized that the men who I was accommodating and called my friends— my clients— were when they stepped outside my door, by their silence, my enemies. And I decided I could no longer accommodate hypocrites.”
“In the early days of coyote, Margo threw the hookers balls. And those were in San Francisco, and these were huge Galas and local politicians would come. She had started the US whores conference; she was sitting down in meetings with Gloria Steinem and Jane Fonda. So, you know, this was the time where a lot of the feminist ideologies were coming out and Margo felt like sex workers should be included in that dialogue.”
Margo St James:
Of course the basic line to feminism is control of your own body and the ability to set your terms and control your destiny. And I think those three rights are lesbian rights, the right to have no man. Abortion rights, the right to have no children, or a limited number of children. And a prostitute’s rights, the right to do neither of the four above mentioned, but charge for the activity and profit from it.
Margo was able to sit down with legislators, with working class people. Sit down with researchers, with academia and she didn’t make this very complicated. It was all about the rights of sex workers. She wanted civil rights. She wanted pay equity. She didn’t want people being arrested. She wanted public health services. All of this was a continual message throughout her life, in everything that she did.
NARRATION: Rohingya civilian leader, Mohib Ullah.
MOHIB ULLAH SEGMENT:
“Our top focus at this hour, a top Rohingya community leader, Mohib Ullah belonging to a refugee camp in Bangladesh’s Cox’s bazaar has been shot dead. Mohib Ullah was 48. He emerged as the main civilian leader of the persecuted Muslim minority community. Nearly 700 thousand Rohingyas took refuge in camps in Bangladesh after a military crackdown by the Myanmar army on their villages in Rakine province in August 2017.
“My name in Mohammed Nowkin. I am living in Cox’s Bazaar Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh. Mohib Ullah was one of the leaders of our community of 1.1 million Rohingya refugee in Bangaldesh and also the remaining Rohingya in Myanmar aslo.”
“Imagine you have no identity, no ethnicity, no country, nobody wants you. How would you feel? This is how we feel today as Rohingya.”
“He started to collect to document of the atrocity against Myanmar, which he did how many people were killed by Myanmar government, how many women were raped, how many houses were burned down. First he collect this, and then he used his voice to the international community, whoever visiting the camp…His life was threatened many times and he lived in fear that he would be killed.”
Over 120 thousand Rohinghya are still living in concentration camps in Mynamar Others outside live in fear of violence.In 2017 the Mynamar government drive out 800 thousand Rohinghya to Bangladesh. They bomb our houses, took our land They gang raped women and girls, and they killed thousands of us.”
“In 2018 he organized a campaign. And then in 2019 he also make a big demonstration it was like 1.1 million in one place. He called the media, and he used the speech, just three points: He want to go home to Myanmar with equal rights, and he want justice.”
“For decades we faced systematic genocide in Myanmar. They took our citizenship, our land. They destroyed our mosques, house, shops. No travel, No higher eduction. No heath care. No jobs. They call us illegal immigrants, Bengali, muslim terrorists. We are not any of this. We are citizens of Myanmar, we are Rohinghya. We are not stateless. Stop calling us that. We have a state. It is Myanmar. So we want to go home to Myanmar with our rights, our citizenships and international security on the ground.”
BREAK TRT: 15
NARRATION: You’re listening to Making Contact. To stay up to date with our shows and get more information about the people profiled in this episode, visit us at radioproject.org. Now back to more of the Fallen Heroes of 2021, beginning with a leader of the Hawaiian sovereignty movement, Doctor Haunani Kay Trask.
HAUNANI KAY TRASK SEGMENT
CLIP FROM CALL IN TV SHOW:
“HOST: We have another caller. Whats your question please?
CALLER: My question concerns, you know, you blame it on the white man who are coming over to take your land. I don’t understand when the Japanese are coming over and they’re buying it? And thats ok? I don’t see what this is about with the Haoles coming over. You come over to our country and buy up all of our land too. You know it works both ways. I don’t see how you an have these rallies and everything against the white man. This is America you know.
HKT: Can I just say something to this caller. This is not America. This is Polynesia. Our country was stolen, that’s one of your problems, you’re ignorant. Woefully ignorant. I do. I am very active against Japanese ownership of our land. I have testified repeatedly at various commissions and at the legislature in opposition to any foreigner owning Hawaiian land. But you, caller, need to learn about Hawaiian history and about where you are….you think you are in America, you are not in America, you are in a colony, that is in Polynesia, that was forcibly taken. The bad bad United States of America took Puerto Rico, took Alaska, it stole Indian land, it took Hawaii, it took Guam, it took Micronesia, it took Palau. And you had better learn that history, because you are the recipient of an imperialist tradition.”
My name is Healani Sonoda-Pale and I am with Ka Lahui Hawaii, a native initiative for self-determination. Dr. Haunani Kay Trask was a Kānaka Maoli aka native Hawaiian professor whose writings and speeches helped to raise the consciousness of her people.”
Haunani Kay Trask:
“How do we lift the veil from the eyes of our people, and show them that they will always, always, fill up the prisons and the unemployment lines. Always occupy the lowest educational and economic levels. Always get squeezed out of their lands and get put into rat trap apartments…unless they resist. Unless they fight back. Unless they organize. In other words, unless they become political.”
“In the early eighties, the University of Hawaii was a very white place…they weren’t used to Hawaiians speaking up and writing our own history and doing our own research. So then she moved over to the Hawaiian studies department. When she took over that department…there was maybe 20 students or majors. By the time she left, she had built a building for Hawaiian studies. We had our own building. And because of her we were able to reclaim Hawaiian knowledge and write our own histories, and tell our own stories, and actually challenge all the lies that have been told for decades about our people.”
Haunani Kay Trask:
I am telling you what white racism is like on that campus. There are 13 tenured Hawaiians on that campus They are trying to remove one of the only tenured Hawaiians on that campus. There are 660 tenured white people.”
“In this age of social media she’s become relevant again, even more so, I mean, everybody knows who she is and it’s like that speech 1993, January 17th on the palace grounds, I am not American. I’m not American. I’m not American.”
Haunani Kay Trask:
“We are not American. We are not American. We are not American. We are not American. say it in your hearts, say it when you sleep. We are not American, we will die as Hawaiians, we will never be Americans. (applause)
Now that was a shocker. Some Hawaiians were very angry and it took this long, for Hawaiians to go, yeah, we are not American. She said things that needed to be said that at first people just were like, shook up out about, you know. Like I’m not American, like, oh, but my grandfather fought in the war or whatever, you know, and they get all upset about it.”
Haunani Kay Trask:
“The Americans, my people, are our enemies, and you must understand that. They are our enemies. They took our land. They imprisoned our queen. They banned our language. They forcibly made us a colony of the United States. America always says they are democratic. Lies! That is a lie. They have never been democratic with native people. They have never been democratic with Indians, They have never been democratic with Hawaiians (Applause)
“Because of her, we have so many Kānaka Maoli Native Hawaiian PhDs. Her students have actually started schools, not just one, but a whole slew of them. They’ve created programs, and it’s all, the analysis and the way she taught her students…we’ve kind of soaked that in and carried it on.”
NARRATION: Chicana feminist and organizer, Betita Martinez.
BETITA MARTINEZ SEGMENT
“Theres a whole long history of resistance of Mexicanas, women. And of Chicanas, against wars, against injustice, going back to Christopher Columbus, and going back to Cortez. There’ve been native women fighting there in the 1500’s and we have a tradition people don’t even know about.”
My name is Clarissa Rojas. I am a Chicana professor at UC Davis, University of California Davis. Betita Martinez was a committed activist, a writer, and was foundational to Chicano journalism. She edited and wrote for the leading movement newspaper El Grito de Norte.She was foundational to the civil rights movement where she also worked with the student Nonviolent Committee SNCC and to the Chicano movement, Chicana feminisms, and women of color, and third-world feminisms, where she began challenging patriarchal dominance in culture, politics, and hertory very early on.”
“There’s two SNCCers, SNCC people from my background in my organization. We were the only 2 ‘Chicanas’, was the name we called myself. It began to be a movement, even. Chicanas. Well, we had to go about explaining Chicanas to all these people who only knew black and while.”
“Betita actually ended up during her time in the Chicano movement, learning that she needed to contest the very political leadership styles that had developed. The way of doing movement work in the Chicano movement were what she called Chingon politics, as she wrote about. Tough guy politics in other words, an affliction she said that hardly was limited to La Raza, but kind of defined the concepts and the styles of leadership through patriarchy, through a culture and politics of domination, which she wanted to move away from….So she challenged sexism in the Chicano movement.”
“I remember in the 60’s in the movimento when I was in Nuevo Mexico. And it was a struggle then. OK, at that time, ok the Chicanas, what could they do? They could make the coffee. Verdad. They could type the minutes from the meetings, verdad. They could type the guys speeches, yes. They could sleep with the guys, they better…but doing security? No. Planning strategy of the protest? No. Being the main speakers at a protest? No. This was not allowed, it didn’t happen. Neither did it happen for gay and lesbian people either.”
“Betita’s legacy shaped our present reality at the nexus of race, class, and gender. She was really focused on Alliance building and on getting us to work together. I actually had the wonderful opportunity of working with her in a book I co-edited, the color of violence insight anthology, where she wrote a chapter that focused on building solidarities among women of color. And she said, ‘let us create a stubborn, imaginative, quote, honest, powerful insurgency. Let us counter the many forces that divide and conquer with instead of strategy of uniting and rebelling.”
“The enemy, it isn’t white people. It isn’t even just men. It’s a whole systema which exploits people…and it’s a systema that is the capitalist system that’s supposed to be triumphant, verdad. And globalizing, verdad. But what I think it really is, is a system that exploits people like everyone in this room.”
“She helped raise up generations of youngsters fumbling in our freshly laid organizing tracks. I raise up Un Brindes, para Una vida bien vivida, una lucha bien luchada, u muchos jovenes ben guiados. you were, and will always be a fountain of inspiration. And I hope to do justice by your legacy. Y seguir con el trabajo de complir con una vida justa para todes. Que viva betita! Abajo can la guerra! Ariba con la paz y justicia. Que viva betita! Que viva betita! Que viva!”
NARRATION: Pan-African scholar and historian, Runoko Rashidi.
RUNOKO RASHIDI SEGMENT:
“We have to, no matter how long it takes, give our people a sense of pride in African heritage. Nowadays I have no shame associated with Africa at all. But when I was a youngster, 14, 15 years old, before I knew better, if you called me an African, those were fighting terms. Now as I said earlier, if you say I’m not an African, we got a fight on our hands. Because I’ve come full circle.”
“My name is Anthony Browder. I am the director of the IKG cultural resource center. Runoko Rashidi is important because he did a level of research that very few people in the world have ever done. Runoko traveled to over 134 countries. And with this trusty camera was able to document paintings, sculptures, and other references that detailed the presence of African people as scholars, as leaders, as people of note, in some of the most obscure places in Europe, Asia, the south Pacific and throughout the Americas….because of the work of Runoko Rashidi, the world has to acknowledge the role that African people have played in help shaping the world, as it exists today.”
“These heads are important because the Olmec civilization that they come from were the first civilization of the Americas. I’m not saying that Olmec civilization was an African civilization. I’m saying that Africans were a part, an important part of the Olmec world. And you can see more of these images. For example here’s one with braids in the back, and you can compare that with this one right here. But these things are not taught in school. And so many African children grow with a sense of inferiority, because they never hear these things about themselves, all they hear about is slavery. They hear about the jungle. And European students grow up with superiority, simply because they are given a one-sided view of history that does not correspond to reality.”
“Runoko was responsible for producing no less than a dozen publications and hundreds of lectures that have been recorded in various cities throughout the world.”
“Let’s just show you images of Africa and African people in various parts of the world; we’ll call this part unexpected faces in unexpected places. Africa is the mother continent that’s where humanity began, but soon the rest of the world was peopled.”
“He not only found obscure documents in libraries and museums around the world, but he also collected the greatest archives, photographic archives of images of African people from all walks of life for thousands and thousands of years.”
“This the black man in China 500 years ago collecting taxes…These are images of the people called the moors scattered throughout Europe. In Slovenia your knight in shining armor, a man named Saint Maurice, a black knight.”
“He was a self-taught historian, and he was independent of any academic institution. So he therefore had the capacity to say what he wanted to say without fear of reprisals from the administration; without fear of not getting tenure. Runoko was part of a cadre of scholars who took full advantage of the information that is available to us in order to write and document a new story of African people’s contribution to history and culture, and then to spread that message all over the world.”
“I believe that there will come a time; me as a historian I know I feel this way. When I am going to come face to face with Chancellor Williams, and John Henry Clark and Kwame Nkrumah and Marcus Garvey. You can call it in the bye and bye, in the next life, whatever. And they’re going to look at me and say “Runoko Rashidi . What did you do to advance the cause of African people? And I will say “I did this.” And they will say, I have no doubt, “Welcome my brother, Well done.” And that gives me some kind of comfort and solace because I feel like I’m doing what I’ve been called upon to do.”
You’ve been listening to the Fallen Heroes of 2021, on Making Contact. If you’ve enjoyed this episode, please write a review for us on Apple podcasts, and share it with your friends and family via facebook…on instagram, we’re making contact radio project, and on twitter we’re making underscore contact. To learn more about us and access other episodes for free visit radioproject.org.
The Making Contact team includes Jessica Partnow, Anita Johnson, Monica Lopez, Salima Hamirani, Sabine Blazin and I’ve been your host, Andrew Stelzer …. Thank you for listening to Making Contact.
We leave you with the voice of a black feminist icon that passed away just weeks ago, bell hooks.
bell hooks: TRT: 30
“I’m sure if you go around the world and ask most people: Do you want to live in a world full of peace and the possibility of joy for everyone? Most people would answer in the affirmative. And yet we are living in a world that is totally full of strife and conflict. So that there’s a gap between peoples longing, their yearning, and how we are actually living in the world.”