Monday, September 28, 2009


Local Queer Musician Releases New CD October 10


Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Music was all Jeff Davis ever wanted to do with his life. He discovered his family’s piano at age five, and he’s been playing ever since. He began composing as a sophomore in high school and is about to release his 10th CD of original material. Many of his songs are inspired directly by his present or former partners, his friends and acquaintances and his extensive travels, many of them made possible by a semi-regular gig as a pianist on Holland America’s cruise ships.

Davis describes his music as “New Age” and “easy listening,” though he also admits there’s a strain of sadness to it. He says he never wants to become a “lounge pianist,” grinding out standard songs for audiences that aren’t listening to him, yet he’s worked as a background player for San Diego Queer community events as diverse as the San Diego Democratic Club’s Freedom Awards last August and the San Diego Leather Pride All Clubs’ Night (where our cover photo of him was taken) last March. He’s been an accompanist for the San Diego Men’s Chorus before its recent merger with the San Diego Gay Men’s Chorus. He’s also a Leatherman — a lifestyle he stumbled into by meeting the right person to bring it out in him — and a slave in his relationship with his current partner.

On Saturday, October 10, at the University Christian Church, 3900 Cleveland Avenue in Hillcrest, Davis will be introducing his latest CD, Six in the City. (Actually, it contains nine pieces, but three of them are designated as “bonus tracks.”) The event will start at 7 p.m. and is in part a fundraiser for the Heifer Project (, which provides quick relief funds to help people live through natural disasters. The event will also feature a silent auction of donated artwork.

Tickets are $10 at the door (no advance sales), and the CD can be purchased at the event for an additional $10 or ordered through You can buy some of his earlier CD’s at that site or through (where there are several Jeff Davises listed; he’s the one who’s “recommended if you like Dave Grusin, David Benoit, David Such”).

Zenger’s: Tell me a little about yourself, your background and how you got into music.

Jeff Davis: I started playing when I was five. My mom came out of the bedroom and said, “Who left the radio on?” And it was me playing “Born Free.” Music has just always been a part of my life. I started composing and arranging back when I was a sophomore in high school, and I’ve been doing it ever since.

I was fortunate enough to play in Carnegie Hall. I did that in 1982, and the next year I toured Europe with a group called America’s Youth in Concert. We played in London, Paris, Rome, Venice. That was 26 years ago!

I feel very fortunate that I get to do what I love, because there aren’t a lot of people that can say that. Even with the trials and tribulations of being self-employed, trying to find gigs, trying to find outlets for your CD’s, it’s not easy. Most of my friends tell me they like their jobs, but they don’t love them. A couple of them say, “Oh, I wish I could be doing something else.” For me, the support I have with my partner, Mister Bond, is total. “What do you want to do? O.K., how are we going to work that? How does that look?” So it’s been a fun ride so far.

All of the songs I compose are in the New Age genre. My specialty is easy listening, or as they used to call it, “elevator music.” I have played for two church bands, UCC’s New Traditions Bands as well as a church choir/band in Salem, Oregon, where I got out of high school.

Zenger’s: How’d you end up in San Diego?

Davis: I moved to Portland when I graduated from high school, and was there for 17 years with a 2 1/2-year stint in San Antonio as a travel agent and American Airlines reservation agent. I got tired of San Antonio just because of the heat, moved back to Oregon, and the months of rain just got me down. A friend suggested moving to San Diego, and my partner at the time and I did. My first CD was for my ex-partner.

Zenger’s: Was that when you were still together?

Davis: Yes, it was all for him.. We had been together 7/24, 365 for about a year and a half, and then his parents took him on a trip. I sat down at the piano and I hit “record” on my recorder, and out came this music. I named the song “David,” and the CD is called A Little Night Music: Originals + 1. At the time in my mind it was going to be if you’ve lost someone to AIDS. There was a song called “Duets,” and it’s played with two notes in the right hand. It goes all over, and then it ends on one solitary note, meaning the death of your partner.

There’s another song on David’s CD called “Rage and Acceptance.” That’s about when someone first finds out that they’re HIV-positive. The song works through your different emotions. And at the end, it’s O.K., it’s not a death sentence, I can do da-da-da-da-da. I have since decided to give that CD to University Christian Church’s Health and Shalom Project, because now it’s not just AIDS. It’s cancer, it’s leukemia, it’s whatever is the next one to come. And in my mind is this — the first one would be the red ribbon, and it’s suspended in clouds, and from that ribbon is all the other ribbons that are coming down.

After that first CD, different things would catch my eye or move me, and I’d turn them into music. With this one, Six in the City, I was sitting at rehearsal with the Gay Men’s Chorus of San Diego, and we got done doing a piece by David Conti called “Invocation and Dance.” As soon as we finished it that night, I scribbled, “You need to write something more slow, more classically oriented.” So I went home the next day and “Hope and Peace” came.

“In Service To” is for my partner, Mister Bond. It came as soon as I started doing the top notes. It was all about what a relationship is: trust, honor, respect and love. It just flowed. I did this when I got a job with Holland America as a cocktail pianist for six months. I was missing Mister Bond, and for his birthday I composed this song for him.

While I was on the ship, I met the “friends of Dorothy,” the Gays and Lesbians who come on cruises. I was the unofficial host, and I met two really super guys. We spent all of the cruise together, unless I was working, and one of them, Ken, never let anyone else get close to him. He just kept people at bay — except for me. We were sitting one night at the very top of the ship, and he just put his head in my lap. The next day, the music moved me, so to say, and “Sweet Caresses” came out.

Along the same lines, another friend of Dorothy whose name is Mark and I had another one of those chance meetings. We spent eight or nine days together and spent one night on his veranda. It was probably 70° outside, and the moon was right there. It felt like you could touch it. We sat there for six, seven hours just talking, and out of that came “Moonlight Veranda.”

Zenger’s: So are all the pieces on the new CD inspired by specific individuals that you’ve encountered and have some sort of affectionate tie with?

Davis: Yes. A dear friend, Priscilla, was just a feisty old broad who wouldn’t let anything get past her. She had a little cottage off of Robinson, and when she passed away I was able to house-sit in hr house while her daughter decided what to do with it. One day I went to the church and sat down at the piano, and out came a song for Priscilla. Her song is called “Eulogy,” and I also put it to video with pictures from her kids and from her friends. She was just a wonderful lady.

I’ve also done two with a guy named Mark Madero. He sings with In aChord [an all-male jazz vocal group in San Diego formed as an offshoot of the San Diego Men’s Chorus], and he’s probably my best friend. We did two CD’s, Songs That Remind Me of You and I don’t remember the other one. One song he really wanted to do was “Cinema Paradiso.” He gave me the sheet music for it, and I hated that song. He knew I was having a problem with it, and he came in one day to where I was rehearsing, put Henry Mancini’s daughter’s CD on and said, “Here, listen to this.”

I was at the piano, and I was listening to it behind me, and in about a minute I was playing it. By the time it was done I said, “O.K.” Mark said, “I hate you. You just take this and you do what I want it to be.” I’ve been his accompanist, for, God, a good eight or nine years.

Zenger’s: Would you say that your style has changed over the years, and if so, how?

Davis: My mom always said, “Son, your music is beautiful, but it’s always so sad. Why don’t you write something happy?” I said, “Well, Mom, you don’t go to a writer like Wes Craven and tell him to write a love story. This is my specialty.” And I think over the years it’s improved, just like anything, with time. From — I had someone tell me once, “We put your CD on because it’s really good for an even keel, because there’s usually the same tempo, and the dynamics are usually good.” I have a couple of friends who are teachers, and when their class gets rambunctious they’ll put on my H2O CD, which is all water themes and New Age.

I had a friend of mine who said I needed to do a CD of easy listening music, and where I used to record my music, the guy who ran the studio didn’t like me much as far as that goes, because I would come in and lay down my tracks on first takes. So it was — within an hour, I was usually in and out with my master CD.

Zenger’s: So he wasn’t making much money off of you.

Davis: No. Darned little.

Zenger’s: In these days, who needs a studio anyway?

Davis: You do if you want it to have a certain sound. Six in the City is the first CD I’ve recorded live on a real piano. It’s on a Yamaha concert grand. The rest of them were all done on [electronic] keyboards. But for this one, I wanted it on a real piano, because some of these chords, when you hit them. they have to ring, and you don’t get that on a keyboard, no matter how good it is.

Zenger’s: So this is essentially Jeff Davis’s acoustic album.

Davis: Yes.

Zenger’s: How did you get involved in the Leather community?

Davis: Out of an ad on Adam for Adam. Mister Bond had a profile. I clicked on it. He came over to the house, and we sat and talked. I liked in his profile that he talked about energy and that that’s the basis of where things start. We did some stuff that I hadn’t previously done before, and I was turned on by it. When we were done, I told him. I said, “I’ve never been with someone like you. I like what we’ve just done,” and from there it started daily, either daily talks on the phone or actually seeing each other every day.

He gave me a journal to start writing my thoughts, and had me read S/M 101, which was a very insightful book. Again, the basis of it was trust, honor, respect and love. At the time we were — I was becoming a slave, and he was my Master. It’s still that way currently, but now it’s just part of my everyday life. It’s just like breathing. People joke that I took to S/M like a duck to water. The stuff that I’ve learned, you would give that respect to anybody. It was three years ago, July 27, that I met Mister Bond.

Zenger’s: I think that’s one of the things that attracted me to your story: S/M Leather slave and New Age musician. These are not two things one expects to find in the same person — although I think if you were a dominant, that would be an even weirder clash!

Davis: Yes, and what’s weird lately is that I’ve been fantasizing about being a switch. As I was telling Mister Bond the other night, I feel more comfortable around dominants or tops than I do with fellow slaves or subs. That’s not to say that I’m any better than they are. It’s just where I feel most comfortable. The guy that does the scene music for the Club X [San Diego’s combined male-female, Gay-straight Leather-S/M organization] parties has used a couple of my CD’s in the cooling-down period at the end of the parties. And at one time, they were on [Club X organizer] Caryl’s Web site as scene music, too. I’ve had people tell me that they listen to my music — the original stuff — they listen to when they are making love.

Zenger’s: I can see a very vanilla couple listening to your music while they were making love. I have a hard time imagining an S/M couple putting on your CD.

Davis: But everybody loves to make love. Regardless of whether you’re in the S/M community or your particular fetish is chocolate pudding, even the strictest dom could enjoy something soft during the making-love part. Now for the rest of the relationship, I could see that my music wouldn’t fly too well, but when they’re having a candlelight, romantic time in front of the fireplace, or as we say in the community, “vanilla” sex, I could see my music being appropriate.

For me, music has always been about emotion. Sometimes I get teary-eyed when the AT&T commercial comes on at Christmas. Or especially with the chorus, when we did a song called “When I Hear Music,” and the chord structure — I think we were in eight- or nine-part, and there was this phenomenal piano accompaniment under it by Glenn Ward, who I think is one of the finest pianists I’ve had the pleasure to sing with. He’s just phenomenal, and he edited my sheet music. Because along with this CD, for the first time, I will be releasing the sheet music of the six songs as well. And Glenn edited it for me.

Zenger’s: What do you think is in your future?

Davis: That’s a million-dollar question, isn’t it? Since my targeted audience is people who enjoy easy listening music, I would really like to play for more retirement homes. Not necessarily nursing homes, because by the time they get to nursing homes, a lot of times, the residents don’t know themselves, let alone any music. But I’m also recording my third Christmas album, which will be out in mid-November. I’m going to make it my own, so it’s going to be two works. The first work is all going to be holiday music that has minor keys, and then the second work will be major keys. So it will start out rather somber, and it will end on a joyful note.

High School Redefines Cheeseburgers as “Health Food”

Students Protest Mission Bay’s Same-Old “New Direction” Food Service


Copyright © 2009 by Leo E. Laurence • All rights reserved

PHOTO: Liban Dini. Taken by Leo E. Laurence

With great fanfare, the San Diego Unified School District revealed the so-called “healthy” meals being offered at its schools during an event at Mission Bay High School (MBHS), produced largely for the media.

“The ‘SanDi Coast Café’ is a new direction in food service for high school students (in the district),” a press release from the district’s Food Services Department says.

The official release referred to little kiosks that offered fatty pizzas, and lots of beef in hamburg-ers and burritos. Six were set up the for media to see at MBHS.

“These six carts all meet USDA guidelines for healthy food for high school students,” said Kimberly Wright, RD, MPH, the district’s Menu Systems Development Dietitian during an in-terview.

Behind her was a cart promoting “American Cheeseburgers.”

“Do those cheeseburgers meet USDA guidelines?” I questioned her.

“This is good food for students in grades 7-12, with 825 calories per day,” she answered.

But that didn’t answer the question of whether or not these cheeseburgers meet USDA guide-lines for high school students.

“Well, on the average of all six food carts, this food meets the USDA guidelines,” she said, changing the basic substance of her original statement. It was only an “average.”

Because some salads were being offered on another cart, the average of all six food carts met the USDA guidelines, she explained. She admitted that a cheeseburger was not healthy.

Student Athlete’s Response

Later I noticed a student biting into one of those “healthy” cheeseburgers. Patrick Bell, 17, a MBHS senior, is active in both football and baseball. He also seemed a little overweight.

After learning that our stomach cannot fully digest animal fat (beef), and that the fat in his hamburger will eventually add more unwanted pounds, he suddenly stopped eating, with another senior, Liban Dini, 17, standing nearby watching.

“So, what should I do with this hamburger? Throw it away?” he asked.

“That would be smart,” I answered.

To my great surprise, Bell threw the remaining half of his cheeseburger into a nearby trash can. As an athlete, it was the right thing to do, and bold.

But it got a girl standing nearby really mad.

“Why did you throw it away, rather than giving it to me?” she complained. Rather than con-gratulate him on having just made a touch decision, she was bitching.

Minutes later, athlete Bell was seen diving into a recommended “teriyaki chicken with vege-tables” dish from another food cart.

When a healthy diet was explained to the MBHS athlete, including the damaging effects of eat-ing red meat, Bell made the right, albeit difficult, choice.

Among the available choices are Southwestern Chicken Wrap, Chicken Caesar Salad and Penne Pasta Alfredo.

For others, however, the fatty pizza and hamburgers remained popular in the district’s “new direction in food service.”
State Republicans Acting like Nazis


Copyright © 2009 by Leo E. Laurence • All rights reserved

As a lifelong Republican, I see the state party organization using the tactics of the Nazis. And, we know what happened to the Nazis.

The official party organization in Sacramento has become an organization of rude anger. It loves to hate.

It loves anger!

Give some radical Republicans something to get angry about, to complaint about, and they are thrilled.

But it wasn’t always this way.

In 1967, Ronald Reagan, as governor of California, signed into law the most liberal abortion bill in the country to that point. Also, at the end of his career Barry Goldwater had endorsed including Gays in the Civil Rights Act (which he’d voted against in the first place) and lifting the ban on Gays in the military.


When I was State House Reporter for the very Republican WIBC Radio News in Indianapolis (owned by the nephew of the publisher of the Indianapolis Star, a stalwart of Republicanism in Indiana); I saw the very active Indiana Republican Party organization as one favoring smaller government and business interests. It was also decidedly media-friendly.

Abortion was not a big issue to the party. While the religious Right was strong, the party had more important issues (like launching a new state sales tax).

Indiana had a smart Democratic governor and a young Republican banker as lieutenant gov-ernor.

And they often worked together.

Both parties were proud, but the dogmatic partisanship we see today from City Hall to Congress didn’t exist.

“Republicans” (purposefully put in limiting quotes) today love to get angry — about abortion, a new City Hall, Gay rights, or something.

The state Republican Party organization has lost the love of the red-white-and-blue, except when they can wrap their obese bodies in it to appear patriotic.

Characteristically, they are still loyal to business interests and the rich.

They are still loyal to the racists.

They are still loyal to Amerikkkans.


Really good public relations people provide the news media with facts, hard facts, but no B.S. about their important issues. However, the PR staff of the official state Republican Party head-quarters in Sacramento is regularly cranking out smelly garbage in the guise of “press releases.”

For example, while fully knowing the statement to be false, the Sacramento office issued a long press release calling Obama’s health plan “socialized medicine,” blasting it out in an e-mail to the mainstream media statewide.

When you forced to lie openly to promote your positions, then you’re in serious trouble.

It appears that the state Republican organization — and the national Republican party, which is issuing similar propaganda — is thinking much like the Nazis in Germany: repeat a lie over and over and people will begin to believe it.

It’s good marketing. Drug companies do it every day.

Some say it’s only a radical fringe of the party. Yes, it is the irrational, angry element in the party that is capturing the media’s attention.

But, the tens of thousands who marched in Washington, D.C. on September 12, opposing health reform and the rest of Obama’s agenda, were not the “fringe elements.” They were organized by the radical Republicans, but those masses were ordinary people.

It strangely showed how effective some of the methods used by the Nazis (repeating a lie until it becomes truth) are unfortunately working for the Republican Party.

However, we all know what happened to the Nazis.

Compass’s Virginia Woolf: Good Production of Classic Black Comedy


Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Nobody ever went to see Edward Albee’s dark, corrosive comedy-drama Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? expecting to be uplifted or to come away with a new respect for the beauty of the human spirit. It was an overnight success when it premiered on Broadway in 1962 — when it takes place — but the reputation of the play was sealed when Richard Watts, Jr. of the New York Post called it “the most shattering drama I have seen since O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night.” Revisiting an acknowledged masterpiece that shocked audiences two generations ago is a risky move for Compass Theatre — sometimes such a revival merely leaves audience members shaking their heads and wondering, “They found that ‘shattering’ in 1962?” Fortunately for Compass, though, Virginia Woolf still packs a punch — and their production delivers it expertly.

For those who’ve never seen it, either on stage or film, and don’t know what it’s about — including the young woman at the September 26 preview who, when her dad told her it had been a movie with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, asked, “Who are they?” — Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? takes place in the early morning of September 10, 1962 in a small cottage on the grounds of an unnamed college in New Carthage, a village in an equally unnamed New England state. Martha (Glynn Bedington), the daughter of the college’s president, and her husband, history professor George (Compass Theatre founder and executive director Dale Morris), have just returned home from a big party called by the president to welcome everybody to the new school year. Though it’s already past midnight and everyone involved has already tanked up on alcoholic potables, Martha has invited a newly hired biology professor, Nick (Tyler Joshua Herdklotz), and Nick’s wife Honey (Kelly Iverson), for a sort-of after-party.

As the four do even more heavy-duty drinking, they launch into a series of abusive psychological games summed up in the titles Albee gave to each of the play’s three acts: “Fun and Games,” “Walpurgisnacht” and “The Exorcism.” Most of the interactions between the characters revolve around sex, but much of the play also deals with the lies with which people surround themselves and the ways they use alcohol, sex and psychological abuse to keep from facing up to the truths about themselves. Part of the play’s enduring power comes from its weaknesses — particularly Albee’s scathing hatred of women. While other 20th Century Gay playwrights created compelling female characters — Noël Coward by having his straight women behave like Gay men and Tennessee Williams by idealizing them as fragile icons — Albee made his women either monstrous bitches like Martha or useless flotsam like Honey.

At the same time, Albee was too good a playwright to make Martha only a bitch. The key to making Virginia Woolf work is not only to capture the basic situation — Martha’s (and her father’s) social position, her open infidelities and her sharp, booze-honed tongue have totally emasculated George, who’s a barely competent wimp as both human and professor — but to communicate the pathos behind it. Done right, as it is here, Virginia Woolf’s rare periods of repose — the passing interludes in which the characters let down their defenses and talk instead of screaming — are its most memorable parts.

Albee’s agenda encompasses a good deal more than a portrait of a psychologically abusive marriage. He balances his plot so that both women have issues around pregnancy and reproduction; the “hysterical pregnancy” with which Honey tricked Nick into marrying her in the first place has a grim echo in the truth behind George and Martha’s unseen son. And he adds an odd fillip in a fantasy George lurches into when he finds out Nick is a biologist and not a math professor (as Martha told him earlier — though she’s right, in a way, since any scientist must have a good understanding of high-level math), George instantly leaps to the conclusion that “you people are rearranging my genes, so that everyone will be like everyone else” — and so pregnancy, a problem for both women in the piece, will no longer be necessary. This speech “reads” quite a bit differently now, in the age of in vitro fertilization, surrogate motherhood, stem-cell research, the Human Genome Project and the promise of “designer babies,” than it no doubt did in 1962. Indeed, it seems so prescient I wondered if Albee had added it in a later revision of his play — but no, it’s in the original script.

Anyone coming to Virginia Woolf “live” after only having seen it in the film version — especially if, like me, you’ve only seen the film on TV, cable or home video — will be startled at how it comes over with an audience. What’s especially surprising is how funny it is; though the laugh lines have the sting of a scorpion’s tail, they’re there and they provoke a kind of I-can’t-believe-I’m-finding-this-amusing-but-I-am reaction and an accompanying nervous laughter. Also, Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton played Martha and George with a kind of stylized, almost operatic intensity that Bedington and Morris don’t try to match — which, paradoxically, makes the characters far more believable as real people in Compass’s production.

Flaunting her sexuality in a skin-tight pantsuit she dons midway through the first act and keeps on for the rest, Bedington’s Martha is a riveting mixture of personal and sexual frustration that expresses itself in alcoholism and bitchery. Under the effective direction of Shana Wride, Bedington knows just how far to stick her claws out in each scene. Morris gives us a befuddled reading of George — he’s in over his head and, unlike Richard Burton’s version of George, he’s all too aware of it — that makes us feel sorry for him even when he’s provoked enough to take on Martha and beat her, or at least fight her to a draw, at her own game.

The two other actors are more problematic — though that’s at least partly Albee’s fault for underwriting the characters. Had he given Nick and Honey more steel, more weapons to fight back when George and Martha draw them in to their brutal games, Virginia Woolf would be an even better play than it is. Instead, they’re simply catalysts for the ultimate “exorcism” between George and Martha — and that makes them a challenge for the actors playing them. Though Herdklotz is listed in the program as a building contractor who “has been performing in the San Diego area for years,” he’s awfully young-looking on stage — more like 18 than the character’s stated age of 28 — and therefore he comes across as even more callow and naïve than Albee probably intended. Iverson is a striking actress with a strong resemblance to the young Audrey Hepburn, but she’s not well showcased in a role that basically requires her to get sick, throw up and have a nervous breakdown. (Another playwright might have made us admire the one character who can’t hold their liquor; not Albee.)

Director Wride keeps up the play’s energy level, has the characters in almost constant motion — thereby making them seem like lab rats trapped in the one room in which it all takes place — and evokes first-rate performances from her leads. Set designer and constructor Adam Lindsay frames the action in a simple but realistic space (Bruce Baer and Kevin Berry helped him build it). Lisa Burgess is credited with costume design but seems to have had a hand in the props as well — including an awesome console record player of the period she found by accident in a storage facility where it was about to be thrown away. (The sound of the records being played seems actually to come from this machine, scratches, distortion and all, rather than the theatre’s overall P.A. from which period jazz, particularly Miles Davis and John Coltrane, emerges between the acts.)

Besides the usual credits, the program features a separate list of “contributors” including choreographer Javier Velasco (obviously called in to do the famous seduction dance Martha does with Nick towards the end of act two), Joe Kocurek for “Latin” (he must have been Dale Morris’s diction coach for the scenes in which George reads aloud in Latin), Angelica Ynfante for “prop gun” (the toy that shoots out a cloth sign that reads “Bang!”) and others, including Bedington and her husband Paul, for some of the decorations. The main credits include Matt Warburton for sound design (though this isn’t a particularly challenging show in that department), Mitchell Simkovski for lighting design (most notable in the brightening of the light on the window, house right, as day breaks during the final act), Jamie Lloyd as assistant director, George Bailey as stage manager (he’s also a performer, especially in musicals, and let’s hope Compass gives him a chance to play onstage), and Keith Miller as co-producer with Wride and Compass.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? isn’t exactly the play that leaps to mind when one thinks of community theatre — though Compass has made something of a specialty of David Mamet, an author whose coarse language and intense emotions wouldn’t have been allowed on stage had not Albee blazed the trail (their next production, opening November 5, is Mamet’s Boston Marriage), and the skills they’ve cultivated in their excursions into Mametland also serve them well here. Be warned, though, that Virginia Woolf is a long play — long enough that they’re starting it at 7:30, a half-hour earlier than usual, and it still doesn’t let out until quarter to 11. Back in 1962, apparently, a “full-length play” meant just that — not an 80-minute one-act!

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? plays through Saturday, October 24 at Compass Theatre, 3704 Sixth Avenue in Hillcrest. Performances Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. Tickets are available by phone at (619) 688-9210 or online at

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Queer Democrats Can’t Agree on Marriage Strategy

Club’s Debate Mirrors Struggle in the Broader California Community


Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

PHOTOS: Top, L to R: Marc Solomon, Luis Lopez, Zakiya Khabir, Fernando Lopez, Sara Beth Brooks, Arisha Hatch

Bottom: David Jones

The predominantly Queer San Diego Democratic Club proved as bitterly divided as the rest of the state’s Queer community over when to take the marriage equality issue back to the ballot when it discussed the matter at its regular meeting September 24. The meeting stretched out longer than 2 1/2 hours and featured a two-part program, a discussion with various resource people from the rival groups involved — statewide organizations Equality California and the Courage Campaign, as well as local grass-roots efforts — followed by an open forum for club members and guests moderated by a professional mediator. Though the club hadn’t planned to take any action, two motions were made — and soundly defeated — as the debate wound down.

The controversy was set up when California voters approved Proposition 8 by a five percentage-point margin last November and thereby stopped the state from performing or recognizing same-sex marriages. A California Supreme Court ruling in May 2009 upheld the proposition but also ruled it that could not apply retroactively; the estimated 18,000 same-sex couples who tied the knot legally in the 4 1/2 months between June and November 2008 were still officially married. The defeats at the polls and in court sparked a statewide debate over whether to mount an initiative campaign to repeal Proposition 8 at the polls in 2010 or 2012 — and the two major statewide organizations not only came out on opposite sides of that question but started mounting separate campaigns. Equality California opted to wait until 2012, largely because the felt the money to do a statewide campaign was not likely to be forthcoming at the height of the recession, while the Courage Campaign not only opted for 2010 but started a drive and essentially dared the rest of the state’s Queer activists to join them.

The emotional urgency with which the Courage Campaign and its local grass-roots supporters view the issue was very much on display at the September 24 meeting. The group’s Southern California manager, Arisha Hatch, kicked off the program and compared the nay-sayers on 2010 to people in the African-American community who questioned the bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama that launched the modern civil rights movement in 1955 and those in 2007 who said Barack Obama could never be elected president because the U.S. wasn’t ready for an African-American in the White House.

“There is no easy answer,” said Hatch. “Nobody knows when the best time will be. We have wasted three months debating instead of organizing. Our members voted overwhelmingly for 2010. We’ve asked for money to do research because it’s going to require the most researched, micro-targeted, data-driven campaign in history. The research, the focus groups and the information can give us what we need to move forward.”

Sara Beth Brooks of the San Diego Equality Campaign reported on a meeting held September 21 at the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center in San Diego at which she was elected one of the three representatives from San Diego to the 2010 campaign effort. “We’ve been meeting for five months, talking and reading 1,800 e-mails every week,” she said. “The Courage Campaign, Marriage Equality USA and Equality California all took polls of their members, and every group voted for 2010. We have already submitted the ballot language for an initiative.”

Presenting the decision to go in 2010 as a fait accompli and essentially daring the more skeptical people in the community to join or get out of the way, Brooks boasted that they had already approved an organizing plan for San Diego and are ready to act. “We need three things,” she said. “We need you to sign up and volunteer, go to our Web site and sign up for the newsletter, and most of all, we need you to donate to pay for the Web site, buttons and stickers. Everyone on this campaign is a volunteer. We have built a regional structure. We need to gather a large number of signatures in a specific period of time. We have 150 days to collect 1.2 million signatures. That works out to 12,000 people getting 100 signatures each. I think we can find these people and do an all-volunteer signature gathering. I hope you will make your donation today.”

Fernando Lopez of Marriage Equality USA, who got involved in the issue when he was barred from seeing his husband in the hospital, said that his was an educational group rather than a political one and therefore had stayed out of the 2010 versus 2012 debate. “We will continue to work on this effort no matter how long it takes,” he pledged. After Proposition 8 passed, many people took off in December and got back in January, doing street canvassing in areas in which we lost Proposition 8 and identified supporters. We held ‘get-engaged’ town-hall meetings to find out what the community members wanted to see.”

According to Fernando Lopez, one reason his group didn’t take a position on whether to go back to the ballot in 2010 or 2012 is “our members are quite divided” on the issue. “In January, we began the ‘Meeting of the Minds Coalition,’ which brought together a lot of the organizations working for marriage equality who were not collaborating. Later we added door-to-door canvassing with a persuasion model from Los Angeles, targeting communities that voted 45 to 55 percent yes on 8, and then we moved the work to communities that voted 55 to 70 percent yes. It takes a lot of work, but people are persuadable. We have phone banks for volunteer recruitment and fundraising, we have street canvassing and on Sundays we do door-to-door work. We’re starting satellite street canvassing in North County in three weeks.”

Zakiya Khabir of San Diego Alliance for Marriage Equality (SAME) announced that she’s one of 12 people elected to the board of the statewide organization Restore Equality 2010, the group that will coordinate next year’s campaign. “Our organization is about 25 days old, and in our short history we’ve set up a Web site and a bank account. We’ve organized regional town-hall meetings in seven of the 10 regions and are electing representatives statewide. It’s historic that this is the first statewide grass-roots organization for LGBT [Queer] rights. This will lay the groundwork for future struggles, because there are issues beyond marriage.”

Like the other speakers involved in the 2010 campaign, Khabir criticized the No on 8 campaign in 2008 for “putting aside” volunteers “who had ideas to reach out to the communities of color and rural areas. We all understand that it’s a mistake that should never happen again.” Correcting the impression Brooks had given in her remarks that the actual text of the ballot measure for 2010 was a done deal, Khabir added, “One version of the ballot language has been submitted. Our research will play a role in determining what we actually promote in November. There are donation forms and sign-in sheets here tonight. We have to build more coalitions with unions and the women’s equality movement.”

The two speakers supporting waiting until 2012 were Luis Lopez from the Los Angeles-based HONOR PAC, which he said was the first political action committee anywhere in the U.S. specifically representing Queer Latinos; and Marc Solomon, marriage equality organizer for Equality California (EQCA). “There’s a lot of work that needs to be done” to repeal Proposition 8, said Luis Lopez, “and we need the time to do it right. We have come to the decision that 2012 is the better year. A few months ago we realized there was silence in this community. We went to LGBT communities of color and researched issues in a document called Prepared to Prevail. We also identifies a lot of non-Gay allies that shared the same positions.”

Quoting the famous aphorism that everyone is entitled to their own opinions but not to their own facts, Luis Lopez pointed out that despite the massive community activism since Proposition 8 passed, the poll numbers haven’t changed. If it were voted on today, the polls say, it would pass by the same margin by which it actually did almost a year ago. He also referred to the difficulty of raising money in the middle of a recession — especially when many of the big donors to No on 8 say that their portfolios have lost half their value in the crash of the housing and finance sectors of the economy — and said “we haven’t done the work we need to do in the communities” to have a reasonable chance to persuade voters to support marriage equality.

Solomon recalled his work as a field organizer on this issue in Massachusetts starting in 2001, when “people — including people in our own community — thought we were crazy” for promoting marriage equality as an issue. When the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled in 2003 that the state’s constitution forbade marriage discrimination against same-sex couples, “we looked the Roman Catholic Church and [then-Governor] Mitt Romney in the eye” to protect the court victory. “We organized every step of the way and moved public opinion from 47 to 60 percent in support of marriage equality” — though he didn’t mention they were helped immeasurably by the Massachusetts constitution, which unlike California’s does not allow the people to put a measure on the ballot to amend it without support from the state’s legislature.

“I came to California after Proposition 8 passed in 2008 and intended to work for 2010,” Solomon said. “Then I talked to people of color and family groups. I’m here to endorse a three-year campaign. I think we have one shot in the next three years. You can’t do this every two years. We haven’t had any change in the polls, despite all the protests and the activism. We have to reach out to voters in other ways.” Like Luis Lopez, Solomon cited the unwillingness — and, in some cases, the inability — of many big donors to No on 8 to contribute again on the scale that would be required to raise another $40 million war chest.

“Everything we know about moving on this issue is that it has to be cultural, not political,” Solomon said. “For the first time in our history, we get to choose when to go to the ballot instead of our opponents. Let’s do the work in the communities of color and across the state, and let’s win this once and for all.”

Between the two official portions of the meeting, club president Larry Baza called on Carlos Marquez, representing the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center, for an explanation of the Center’s position. After mentioning that the Center’s main priority at the moment is raising money from private sources to make up for the severe cuts in state AIDS funding— which so far has been successful — Marquez said, “Our board of directors had a long and hearty debate, and really decided this is not about timeliness. We really want to see the work being done and some benchmarks met, but we do not have the volunteer capacity to change folks’ minds by 2010. We haven’t endorsed 2012 either.”

Asked how they planned to raise $40 million for the statewide campaign whenever the issue goes to the ballot — $40 million was the figure each side spent in the Proposition 8 campaign — Solomon and Luis Lopez stressed the difficulty of fundraising in the middle of a recession. Luis Lopez said he’s hopeful the economy will have recovered by 2012 and therefore it will be easier then than in 2010. Khabir scornfully replied, “Banking on an economic recovery is a strategy that won’t work.” She said that a 2010 campaign would be cheaper because TV time would cost less, and argued that the division within the community is costing us a chance to nail down cheap TV ads we could be buying now.

“Unity brings clarity to donors,” Fernando Lopez said. Brooks argued that the ability of the Courage Campaign to raise $135,000 quickly just to do research spoke to the financial viability of a 2010 campaign and the willingness of grass-roots people to give to it. Hatch said her experience as a volunteer organizer for Obama’s Presidential campaign convinced her, too, that if you build it, the money will come.

Because of the night’s tight schedule, the only other question an audience member got to ask the panelists was about whether Barack Obama’s presence on the top of the ticket helped or hurt the campaign. “Pollsters analyzed the turnout models, and found a Presidential election is always better for us because it brings out more of the youth vote,” Solomon said. Luis Lopez agreed that, since polling data has consistently shown that the younger you are the more likely you are to support marriage equality, and said that waiting until 2012 will not only move the age mix of the electorate more in our favor but give us more time to organize college students and young Latinos.

The grass-roots people on the panel were far more skeptical about the polling data. Fernando Lopez pointed out that despite the reports that African-American and Latino voters were actually more likely to vote for Proposition 8 than whites, later surveys revealed that the chief factor determining their votes was religion, not race. Brooks pointed out that in 1949, when California became the first state in the U.S. to strike down its law against interracial marriage, polls at the time revealed that 90 percent of Californians were against the decision. Hatch said the decision whether to go in 2010 or 2012 “shouldn’t be made on the basis of one poll in May,” and nobody knows whether they’ll be as big a youth turnout to support Obama’s re-election in 2012 as there was to elect him in the first place in 2008.

The club members’ debate followed similar lines to the panel discussion. Supporters of a 2010 campaign saw the issue in emotional terms — “I can’t wait,” said former San Diego County Democratic Party chair Maureen Steiner — and also wondered how the people advocating waiting until 2012 will keep the energy going to educate voters over three years without the deadline of a 2010 campaign to push people into activism. Other 2010 supporters referenced the Obama campaign as an example of how energy and determination accomplished something many political experts said was impossible.

Sean Bohack, who was elected to the steering committee along with Brooks at the September 21 meeting at the Center, listed “three reasons I’m working on 2010. First, we already have hundreds of people working on a statewide campaign. Second, four months ago a poll that asked about marriage equality showed we gained six points when we reiterated that religious groups’ rights would be protected. The last thing is that in 2010 we will have either Gavin Newsom or Jerry Brown, both strong supporters of marriage equality, at the top of the statewide ticket. In 2012 we will have to deal with Obama and the messages he’s put out that he does not support marriage equality.”

Speaking on his own behalf and not representing the Center, Carlos Marquez came out for 2012. “There are severe implications if we lose in 2010,” he said. “When our community loses at the polls, more people in schools get victimized by Queer-bashers. Energy will be depleted if we lose in 2010, and we won’t be able to get our rights back for a long time.” Former club president Doug Case agreed with Marquez that a 2010 defeat will eliminate the chance for a 2012 victory, saying the electorate will be tired of the issue and contributions for a third campaign (a fourth one, if you count the initial defeat when Proposition 22 passed in March 2000) will be virtually impossible.

“Regardless of when we go, we can’t go into it afraid of losing,” said Hatch when the panelists were given an opportunity to respond to the club debate. “I don’t think the world ends if we lose in 2010. Obama didn’t win the California primary in 2008 but he left an infrastructure that carried the state in the general election. The world keeps spinning, and we will continue to fight no matter what. It’s been difficult to get volunteers. It’s a difficult environment to organize in. The question for people is can you create the necessary sense of urgency if there isn’t a campaign in 2010.”

Solomon reminded people that there’s actually going to be an election on this in 2009 — not in California but in Maine, where the state legislature passed a marriage equality law and the Right has a referendum on the ballot in November to repeal it. “They are very short of funds,” he warned, calling on club members not only to donate but, if they can, to go to Maine and volunteer on the ground.

Though the club’s newsletter had only advertised a discussion, not a vote, two club members made proposals for action. Kelli King asked that the club form a committee to study the issue and report back to the next meeting with a recommendation for action. That was opposed by many of the club’s board members — usually it’s the board, not an ad hoc committee, that makes recommendations for club action — and also by member Brian Polejes, who said, “My sense of the room is most of the members want to go in one direction.”

After King’s motion was voted down 30 to 12, with one abstention, Polejes made a motion to suspend the club’s bylaws to allow the meeting to hold a vote one way or the other. (Usually club members must be told that an issue will be voted on at a meeting at least one month in advance, generally through the club’s newsletter.) Polejes acknowledged that his motion would need a two-thirds vote to pass, but it didn’t get even a majority; it was defeated, 32 to 16.

The club’s long debate on marriage equality and the proper timing for an effort to repeal Proposition 8 took away from the appearance of Dave Jones, state Assemblymember from Sacramento and 2010 candidate for insurance commissioner. Jones discussed his past as a Legal Aid Society lawyer and a Sacramento City Councilmember, his record of support for Queer issues — including co-authoring the bill to have California honor the birthday of the late Queer activist and politician Harvey Milk — his support of single-payer health care and his pledge to use the insurance commissioner’s office to curb abuses by health insurance companies.

The marriage equality issue also forced the club to delay for the second month in a row a decision on a controversial initiative being pushed by the Service Employees’ International Union (SEIU) to impose term limits on the San Diego County Board of Supervisors. SEIU representatives, some of whom are also club members, brought this up in September hoping that the club would endorse it quickly while they’re still gathering signatures to get it on the ballot. But members balked in September, partly out of concern that the initiative might “hobble” progressive Democrats if they win election to the board, and partly for many members out of their long-standing opposition to term limits in general. At the suggestion of SEIU, former club president Jeri Dilno moved for a postponement of the issue until next January, when the county supervisors’ elections will be discussed and endorsements made.
Marriage Equality Follies


Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

The San Diego Democratic Club blew a golden opportunity to stop the childish bickering within California’s Queer community over whether to put a marriage equality initiative on the state ballot in 2010 or 2012. After discussing the issue for over two hours at its September 24 meeting, it had several options. It could have done nothing. It could have appointed a committee to come up with a recommendation for action at next month’s meeting. It could have taken a position one way or the other. It rejected the two proposals for action and thereby cost itself the chance to use its prestige and reputation statewide to bring an end to the divisive, ego-driven conflict between the two major statewide groups for Queer equality, Equality California (EQCA) and the Courage Campaign, over what date to aim for to seek the repeal of Proposition 8.

I went into the meeting with a very strong opinion that 2010 is way too early. Indeed, during the club’s debate I said the desire to put a repeal of Proposition 8 on the 2010 ballot showed “naïveté verging on insanity.” What I hadn’t realized is that the Courage Campaign and the organization it’s created to push the 2010 initiative has modeled its strategy on the Israeli governments that have pushed settlements in the occupied West Bank and Gaza to eliminate any possibility of a contiguous, economically viable Palestinian state. Like the Israelis, the Courage Campaign has sought to create “facts on the ground” by building an elaborate organization to push for an early vote — thereby challenging EQCA and others who wanted to wait with a fait accompli and forcing them to support a 2010 campaign or bail on the issue altogether.

The curious fact about my reaction to the meeting was that I found myself disagreeing with many of the people in the community I most profoundly respect — people like Lisa Kove, Sara Beth Brooks and Wendy Sue Biegeleisen — who were pushing the 2010 campaign, and allying myself with some strange bedfellows. I have little respect for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center — at least in part because they don’t allow Zenger’s to be distributed on their premises — or for its political director, Carlos Marquez, who as a representative of the Service Employees’ International Union (SEIU) had the unenviable task of promoting SEIU’s bizarre opposition to last May’s state ballot initiatives that would have headed off some of the more draconian social-service cuts in the California state budget.

But both as the Center’s representative and in his own voice, Marquez said some of the most sensible things spoken at the September 24 meeting. He said that the Center’s board had refused to endorse a repeal campaign in either 2010 or 2012, and had instead called on the political organizations to come together and decide on a set of organizational “benchmarks” — levels of support in public opinion polls; outreach to communities of color, rural communities and other sources of support for Proposition 8; fundraising capability and other hard, pragmatic indications of possible success — the community could use to decide whether the proper time for a repeal initiative is 2010, 2012 or even later. On his own behalf, Marquez warned that the consequences of taking it to the ballot too early and losing go far beyond the rights of Queer couples — including more children and teenagers being Queer-bashed in schools because every time we lose a ballot measure, it sends a message to their homophobic fellow students that beating up Queers is O.K.

Another voice of reason in the midst of the madness was that of Fernando Lopez, who both as an individual and with the group Marriage Equality USA is actually doing the organizing that needs to be done to turn the issue around and give us a fighting chance to win our equality at the ballot box. Rather than fuel the divisions within the community, they’ve tried to hold “Meeting of the Minds Coalition” meetings to bring the various marriage equality groups together. They’ve also done a wide range of outreaches — door-to-door, on the streets, by phone — to have the one-on-one conversations that alone will move minds on this issue. And they’ve had enough success with this strategy that they’ve moved from doing it in areas where the vote on Proposition 8 was relatively evenly split (45 to 55 percent in favor) to places where the anti-marriage measure was strongly supported (55 to 70 percent).

I thought it would have been wrong for the club to take a position either for 2010 or 2012 on September 24, and I voted accordingly. Though the club member who made the motion for an immediate endorsement said he thought “most of the members here want to go in one direction,” that wasn’t my sense of the room at all. There seemed to be club members with passionate views on both sides, as well as others plagued by uncertainty and doubt. One prominent club member said he didn’t feel as passionate about the issue as others because there’s no one in his life he cares enough about to want to marry — a more common perspective in the Queer community, especially among Gay and Bisexual men, than we often care to admit.

I walked into the meeting room convinced that a 2010 campaign would be a disastrous mistake, and I still feel that way. First, I don’t think we’ve done our homework; we haven’t done enough outreach to identify possibly persuadable opponents and bring them to our side. The work of Marriage Equality USA and the other people doing outreach are wonderful, but it’s going to take more than a year’s time to finish it. Second, we already had the best imaginable electorate we could have had for this issue — in 2008, with young voters flocking to the polls enlivened by the freshness and “hope” message of Barack Obama’s Presidential candidacy — and we blew it. Both 2010 and 2012 are going to be far more hostile electoral environments than 2008 — especially with a resurgent Republican party and Right-wing movement eager to return Congress to the GOP and stop Obama’s so-called “socialist takeover” of the U.S.

Do we really want to give the Republicans and the radical Right yet another powerful issue that will motivate them to come out to the polls en masse? Do we really want to drain away money and volunteer time that will be needed to keep the Democrats in control of Congress and elect a Democratic governor in California? Do we want to keep organizing around marriage equality when, as important as it is to us, there are far more significant issues to the progressive community as a whole — like real health care reform (instead of the horrible corporate-welfare bill the Democrats in Congress are likely to churn out), maintaining and increasing funding to help victims of the recession, restoring a productive economy (including a U.S. manufacturing base and family-farm agriculture), winning workers the right to organize unions by majority sign-up, protecting women’s rights (including, but not limited to, reproductive choice), and stopping America’s imperialist wars?

But, as deadly as I think a 2010 campaign to repeal Proposition 8 would be, what’s taking shape now — an internecine conflict with one part of the Queer political establishment in California pushing for 2010 and another pushing for 2012, and neither willing to compromise or to budge — is even worse. Unless either the Courage Campaign persuades Equality California to come on board for 2010 or Equality California persuades the Courage Campaign to back off and unite for 2012, the likely outcome is a half-assed campaign in 2010 that will lose, followed by a half-assed campaign in 2012 that will also lose.

What’s worse, if the Courage Campaign actually gets the repeal initiative on the ballot in 2010 and it loses by a greater margin than the five-point spread that passed Proposition 8, it might embolden the Right to try an even more draconian initiative against us in 2012 — the one they abandoned in 2008 because their polling said it wouldn’t fly. That would not only have banned same-sex marriage but would have repealed California’s landmark domestic partnership law, prevented cities and counties from any legal recognition or benefits for same-sex couples, and for good measure reversed California’s pioneering law allowing post-operative Transsexuals to marry in their reassigned gender.

It is utterly imperative that the entire Queer community in California get on the same page on this issue. My preference would be that the statewide groups follow the good advice of San Diego’s Center and set a series of goals for organizing, educating, building support and raising money that would have to be met before contemplating any return to the ballot. Barring that, I’d prefer 2012 over 2010. But I’d rather see a united effort for 2010 than continued division and ego clashes over the timing for a marriage equality initiative.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Radical Proposal: Open the U.S.-Mexico Border

If Capital Can Cross Without Limits, Labor Should Too, Activists Say


Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

PHOTOS, top to bottom: Enrique Morones, David Schmidt, Lori Saldaña

“A lot of folks think we’re out here to get a free ride for people and get leniency for lawbreakers,” immigrant rights activist David Schmidt told his audience at Activist San Diego September 21. “We usually talk about what we’re against: the raids, the border wall, deportation and detention. Often we don’t talk about why we’re against them. We’re pretty much saying ‘Leave the laws alone, just don’t enforce them.’” Against the overheated rhetoric of the Right, which frequently portrays immigrants from Mexico and other Latin American countries as an invading army that must be kept at bay with a triple border wall, high-tech sensors and a heavily armed Border Patrol, Schmidt and his better-known co-speaker, Enrique Morones, raised the question of whether there should be any laws at all restricting the free flow of people across the border. The question they asked is that if the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) allowed capital to flow freely across the border, why should workers be trapped in their countries of origin and punished when they try to follow the flow of money and jobs?

Both Morones and Schmidt came to the immigration debate for personal reasons. Morones was born in San Diego to a family from Tijuana — he remembers freely crossing the border in both directions when he was a child and such things were still possible — and started his pro-immigrant activism in 1986, when he and others discovered undocumented immigrants living in a canyon in Carlsbad and started the group Border Angels to bring food and water to them. Schmidt’s involvement with the issue began when he was in college, spending his summers in Mexico with the Mixtec Indians in southern Baja California. He found that they had migrated within Mexico from their homeland in the southern state of Oaxaca, where for generations they had made a living as coffee growers under the protection of Mexican agriculture laws, to pick tomatoes in Baja once Mexico repealed its protections for farmers as a condition of joining NAFTA.

Morones said the key year that turned the immigration issue around — in both positive and negative ways — was 1994. That was the year four things happened: NAFTA took effect, destroying Mexico’s agricultural economy almost overnight and forcing millions of Mexicans off the land and across the border to survive. The U.S. government responded by starting construction of the border fence and launching “Operation Gatekeeper” and similar projects in the major border cities, thereby forcing migrants to make their crossings in the desert under harsh and sometimes life-threatening conditions. California voters passed Proposition 187, a sweeping measure aimed at keeping immigrants and their U.S.-born children out of state schools and social welfare programs, and then-Governor Pete Wilson used 187 to get himself re-elected. The positive item on the slate, Morones said, was the rise of the Zapatista movement in Chiapas, which specifically picked January 1, 1994 — the day NAFTA became effective — as the day they would inaugurate their struggle.

“Before the wall and Gatekeeper, instead of one person per month dying while crossing the border, it is now up to two people a day,” Morones said. “Two people will die today just trying to put food on their tables. I guarantee you that not one person in this room full of activists could name just 10 of the 10,000 people who have died since Gatekeeper went into effect in 1994. You all probably know the name of Diego, the whale that was lost in the bay a couple of months ago. You will all know the name of the baby panda when it gets named, but how about the people who are dying every day, crossing the border because they want to have a better life? Marc Antonio Villaseñor, a five-year-old boy, died with 18 men in the back of a semi-truck in Victoria, Texas. Victoria Sanchez was right in the 94 here, in a car with a bunch of people, because they’ve crossed the border. The Border Patrol is chasing them at a high speed, which they’re not supposed to do, and all of a sudden the car flips over and Victoria Sanchez, 17 years old, is killed instantly, and two other women die. The Border Patrol says, “Oh, no, we weren’t chasing them.’”

Because of the vastly increased death toll along the border, Morones explained, Border Angels shifted its focus from going to the canyons — though they still do that — to the desert. They began leaving stashes of water, food and blankets on the common crossing routes for migrants who might need them. Meanwhile, anti-immigrant activism heated up on the Right, especially in the wake of the 9/11 attacks in 2001 (which were the work of immigrants who entered the country legally on student visas and overstayed them). Between the armed “Minutemen” patrols on the border, the incendiary rhetoric of local talk-radio hosts like Roger Hedgecock and Rick Roberts as well as nationwide ones like Bill O’Reilly and Lou Dobbs; and the virtual takeover of the Republican Party by immigration opponents who pushed H.R. 4437, a draconian anti-immigrant bill, through the House of Representatives in late 2005, Morones and his cohorts felt they had to take their activism to a more public level.

“We formed a group to do nonviolent confrontations against the Minutemen in 2005,” Morones said. “In San Diego we did direct action and peaceful resistance. We’ve got a lot of the Minutemen arrested, but they remain dangerous groups.” Inspired by the murder of a Latino in Pennsylvania in early 2006 because he was out with his white girlfriend, Morones organized the first Marcha Migrante, a nationwide caravan aimed at stopping H.R. 4437, ending construction of the border fence and cutting the number of deaths along the border. Between the Marcha Migrante in February, the local marches in San Diego in April (“we had the biggest marches in the history of this city,” Morones recalled) and the nationwide mobilization on May 1, 2006, the immigrant rights movement established itself as a force to be reckoned with in national politics.

Morones has organized three Marchas Migrantes since. The one in 2007 was primarily a lobbying trip to tell the horror stories of border deaths to Congressmembers and their staffs in Washington, Dc. “In Marcha Migrante III in 2008 we told people it was important to be registered to vote and to have a voice,” Morones said. “We told people who weren’t citizens that they too could help by going door-to-door or hanging out yard signs. Marcha Migrante IV was from San Diego to Washington, D.C. and was aimed at telling President Obama, ‘We marched, we voted. Now it’s time to demand that you keep your promises.’” Though Morones is disappointed that undocumented people are not included in the health insurance reforms currently being debated in Congress, he’s hopeful that immigration reform will soon pass and the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. will achieve some form of legal status.

The biggest obstacles in the way of a decent immigration policy in the U.S., Morones said, are the myths: “’Undocumented people don’t pay taxes.’ They do. ‘Undocumented people are criminals.’ They’re ten times less likely to be criminals than U.S. citizens or documented residents. Racism isn’t just limited to whites. I debate Ben Stein, president of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), every month.” [Incidentally, though immigration opponents like to present themselves as only opposing “illegal” immigration, FAIR’s Web site,, makes it clear that they want significant reductions in the amount of legal immigration to the U.S. as well.] Morones charged that FAIR is funding the Minutemen, and in turn is receiving money from the Pioneer Fund, “which believes in eugenics and creating a superior race.”

Morones said that even when he speaks to church groups and audiences he thinks will be liberal, he frequently gets the response, “But they’re breaking the law.” His response is that the immigration laws themselves are unjust. “Once slavery was the law in the U.S.,” he said. “Once it was the law in this country that women couldn’t vote. The other thing we hear is, ‘Why don’t they get in line’ [to emigrate legally]? I confronted John McCain on this and said, ‘Most people who immigrate are poor, and there is no ‘line.’ There is no way they can come here legally.” He also said that since Obama’s election he’s been to Washington, D.C. six times, trying to persuade the administration and Congress that they need to enact immigration reform in the next six months or they’ll lose the opportunity for at least another two years. “Some Democratic Congressmembers were elected in difficult districts, and even they are afraid of the myths,” he said.

In some ways, Schmidt staked out an even more radical position than Morones. He came flat-out and said the border between the U.S. and Mexico should be totally open — a position Morones didn’t take in his remarks at the same meeting. Defending Obama as at least marginally “less bad” on these issues than Bush — “I’m no political expert, but we can probably expect some form of legalization of the people already here, some family reunification and some additional visas” — Schmidt reviewed both the history of immigration law since the last big federal bill in 1986 and its relationship with NAFTA and the so-called “free trade” issue.

“Under the 1986 law, three million people got their papers, but there was a tradeoff: heavier enforcement of immigration policies on the border,” Schmidt explained. “That started the current machinery with the Berlin Wall on the border. It was presented as ‘amnesty,’ forgiving people but leaving the laws in place and getting stricter about enforcing them. Now immigrant rights activists have proposed stopping the raids, the border wall, deportations and detention centers. But even if Obama said he’d give us all those things, would that be ‘reform’? They have reduced the number of raids and focused on employers rather than workers, but even if they did everything we demanded, there’d still be an unjust law in place that doesn’t jibe with the reality of the world and the global economy. It is still practically impossible to immigrate here legally if you’re poor and from Latin America.”

The contradiction both Schmidt and Morones see is between a global trade regime that allows free movement of capital and commerce anywhere in the world — while workers are forbidden to move from one country to another to take advantage of global economic realities. Morones said that when they signed NAFTA, the U.S., Canada and Mexico essentially became a single economy — except on immigration policy, where they’re still behaving like three separate nations with three separate economies. “In the current economy,” Schmidt said, “capital and money don’t have borders, corporations don’t have borders, but people do. When we talk about ‘reform,’ are we really talking about charity?”

Schmidt said he had his “first brush with global economics” in 2001, when he went to Ensenada to spend the summer with the Mixtec Indians. He joined them picking tomatoes in the fields for about a week, “and I looked at the crates we dumped the tomatoes into, and they were labeled in English. There was an American company name on them and a California address. If I’m a multinational corporation, I have three choices. I can pay Americans a decent wage; pay a lower wage to undocumented workers in the U.S.; or pay still less by growing in a country with lower wages and almost no labor laws.” One additional “benefit” for the company was that they could spray their fields with pesticides and other chemicals banned in the U.S. — thereby, Schmidt said, giving birth defects to the children of women so desperately poor they have to keep working while they’re pregnant.

“A few years later, in 2006,” Schmidt said, “I traveled to Oaxaca [the Mixtecs’ homeland] and went out to the Mixtec village that produced coffee. It was a ghost town; there were only old men, a few women and children. The young men and women had all left the village to go to northern Mexico to work in the tomato fields. I heard from migrants within Mexico that they were being discriminated against for speaking a different language [many indigenous people in isolated parts of Mexico speak their native languages and have never learned Spanish] and having indigenous features. Everybody left the village because a few huge mega-corporations control the world’s coffee supply, and since 1979 the lassiez-faire corporate globalization model has led to up-and-down fluctuations in the price growers get for their coffee, which makes it impossible for them to stay in business — while the prices U.S. consumers pay for coffee has stayed about the same.”

Schmidt’s main demand of his audience was that they stop taking advantage of indigenous Mexicans and the world’s other working poor people by giving up the cheap consumer products their underpaid labor makes possible. “You and I have so many consumer options because folks like this are being exploited,” he said. “If we look at all the policies that push people to migrate, it’s directly connected to the lifestyle we lead. We’re the ones getting a free ride. We need to change the things we consume: to buy sweatshop-free clothing and fair-trade coffee. If you do that, you could be giving someone a chance to survive in their homeland. I went to Mexico with a church group, and these kids asked, ‘What can I do to help them?’ I said, ‘Before you do anything else, stop being part of the problem.’ A lot of those kids came back and plugged right back into the lifestyles that are causing part of the problem. If we talk about immediate goals without changing the economic structure, we’ll be part of the problem.”

After showing some film clips of the 2006 Oaxacan riots — where, like the Iranians this year, people rose up when a corrupt governor was re-elected based on fraud, only the U.S. media ignored them and the Oaxacan government used U.S.-made trucks and other equipment to suppress them — Schmidt called on his audience to “change the way we talk about immigration rights and connect them with trade policies that cause immigration. When we’re in reaction mode, we’re not putting forth our own policies. We need to say the law is fundamentally broken and unjust. We want the stuff they make, but we don’t want them. We need to talk about economic refugees driven out of their countries by economic policies we support. We need to talk about changing the economic conditions so people don’t have to migrate — so they can have a decent life in their homelands.”

Ironically, Activist San Diego had originally called this meeting to discuss the situation at Friendship Park, also known as Border Field State Park — but as things turned out this was only touched on at the meeting. Friendship Park was inaugurated in 1971 by that well-known radical, Patricia Ryan Nixon, who attended the dedication ceremony. The idea was to create a place where U.S. and Mexican citizens could come together, socialize and picnic, and where families with members in both countries could reunite for a day. In 1994 a fence was put in place down the middle of the park, so people could no longer socialize bi-nationally — though they could put their fingers through the holes in the fence and touch each other. In 2008 even that became impossible; as part of the border fence project, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security put another fence down the middle of the park, effectively closing it and turning a part of U.S. territory into a no-man’s-land in which ordinary U.S. citizens could not go without risking arrest.

Though the law authorizing the border fence — pushed through by former San Diego-area Congressmember Duncan Hunter (who in the 2008 election was replaced by his son) — allows the federal government to set aside any state or local law that might stand in its way, Morones is confident that “Friendship Park will be reopened.” The park has been strongly supported by progressive elected officials like Congressmember Bob Filner and state Assemblymember Lori Saldaña. Saldaña was at the September 21 meeting and spoke briefly about the park, saying that it was California state property and “we need, for lack of a better word, reparations from the federal government for the money we California taxpayers put into it.”

Morones said he and members of his organization met a month and a half ago with Mike Foster, who assured him that Friendship Park will be reopened. “The question is how,” he said. “I will meet with him again in two days and will tell him about the Border Patrol agent who beat up a migrant on Sunday [September 20] at noon. I will talk about the deportees in Tijuana being lined up against the fence in full public view” — a violation, Morones said, of the 1848 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo that transferred California from Mexico to the U.S. in the first place. That treaty called on the U.S. to respect the rights of Mexicans in their former territory and to grant equal status to English and Spanish as official languages — but, as Schmidt grimly mentioned, the U.S. has a history of breaking its treaty obligations whenever it wants to.

In addition to expressing her support for Friendship Park, Assemblymember Saldaña also talked about her own lobbing efforts to get the federal government to take immigration more seriously. “Every chance I get to talk to people from the administration,” she said, “I tell them that if they don’t solve the immigration crisis, they won’t be able to do anything else. What do we do to solve the high rate of Latinos who drop out of school? Make their parents documented. What do we do about health care? Solve immigration first, because if you don’t they’ll keep beating you up about it. People need reminders, postcards, visits, marches. We have a whole group of people who are living in the shadows, like the people in Escondido who are afraid to report crimes because they fear deportation.”

Saldaña gave a what-is-this-world-coming-to reaction when she talked about a forum for the candidates for San Diego county sheriff sponsored by one of the “teabag” protest groups. “The big questions were what are they going to do about ‘illegal’ immigration, and when can we be allowed to carry concealed weapons,” she said. “Right now we have no clear path to citizenship for people who want to come here and be part of our country. Until we have one, these people will continue to live in the shadows and be exploited.” Asked how grass-roots activists can give support to progressive elected officials, Saldaña said, “Send that message; please work on specific issues. Too often we hear the opposition saying, ‘Don’t do this. No new taxes.’ We need to make sure we fund health care and education. We need our schools and health care to work.”

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

“Future Without War” Author Hails Women Nobel Winners

Judith Hand Pays Tribute to Women Honorees’ Courage, Commitment


Copyright © 2009 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

Of the 789 people who have won the Nobel Prize since its inception in 1901, only 35 have been women. That’s 2.25 percent, a far cry from the 51-plus percent of the total human population that is female. But biologist, author and peace activist Judith L. Hand has found a lot to admire in the courage, commitment and dedication of these women, many of whom — particularly the women who’ve won the Nobel Peace Prize — have literally put their lives on the line for peace, freedom and positive social change. She talked about many of these remarkable women at a presentation at the San Diego Public Library downtown on September 20 sponsored by the Humanist Fellowship of San Diego.

Dr. Hand began as a cultural anthropology major at UCLA. She switched to biology in her graduate work, and eventually won a doctorate for studies that included animal behavior and primatology. After a research fellowship through the Smithsonian Institution, in which she studied primate behavior at the National Zoo, she returned to UCLA as a research associate and lecturer. Her studies convinced her that men and women approach problem-solving differently, and that the key to a world without war lies in bringing women into power as equals with men and having them use their more cooperative style of conflict resolution to settle international differences before they reach the battlefield.

Rather than trying to describe all 35 women Nobel winners, Dr. Hand said she picked the ones “that meant the most to me personally and achieved great things in an era in which women’s contributions were not valued.” She briefly described the origins of the Nobel Prize. Alfred Nobel, “a scientist and pacifist” from Sweden in the late 19th century, is ironically “best known for the invention of nitroglycerine and dynamite,” Dr. Hand explained. When he died, he left a one-page will stipulating that his fortune be used to endow prizes for human achievement in physics, chemistry, medicine or physiology, and literature. At the suggestion of his female secretary, Nobel also included a prize for peace.

“The very first woman to win a Nobel Prize was Marie Curie, who won a shared Nobel for physics in 1903 with her husband Pierre and Henri Becquerel for their discovery of radioactivity, and then won the prize on her own for chemistry in 1911,” Dr. Hand said. “She’s the only woman who has won two.” An audience member pointed out that she’s also the only person of either gender who has won two Nobels in the sciences. The only other double Nobel laureate was biochemist Linus Pauling, but just one of his was for science; the other was for peace. What’s more, in 1935 the Nobel for chemistry went to Marie Curie’s daughter, Irène Joliot-Curie, who had continued her mother’s researches after Marie’s death. They remain the only two women from the same family who have won Nobels.

Dr. Hand remembered first encountering the story of Marie Curie in the 1943 film made about her, Madame Curie, directed by Mervyn LeRoy with Greer Garson as Marie and Walter Pidgeon as her husband. Well before Dr. Hand had decided on a scientific career herself, she saw this movie and “what stuck with me was the hard work they had to do to discover anything. Her research probably also killed her, because she died of aplastic anemia caused by radiation sickness. It’s rare for a scientist hero to pay for her discoveries with her life.” Irène Joliot-Curie and her husband and collaborator, Fréderic Joliot-Curie (who took her last name to honor his mother-in-law’s achievements) , also died of radiation-related causes.

After Marie Curie, the next woman to win a Nobel — and the first of the 12 who’ve won the Peace Prize — was Bertha Felicitas von Suttner. She, Dr. Hand explained, was an author who wrote a book called Lay Down Your Arms “in which her heroine suffers the horrors of war.” She also was one of the few Nobel laureates who knew Alfred Nobel personally; she had worked for him briefly as a secretary and it was she who suggested adding a peace prize to the scientific and literary awards he had originally endowed.

Dr. Hand’s presentation then leaped ahead to the pioneering American geneticist Barbara McClintock, whose pioneering work turned the field of genetics upside down. She was the discoverer of so-called “jumping genes,” genes which transmit from one organism to another, which proved to be a key way bacteria evolve resistance to antibiotics. McClintock was also a personal role model for Dr. Hand, since “she was much in the news during my doctoral fellowship.” Dr. Hand came to know McClintock’s work largely from the biography by Evelyn Fox-Keller, A Feeling for the Organism, published in 1983 — the same year McClintock won the Nobel — which “depicted McClintock as approaching the subject differently from male geneticists. Fox-Keller said men try to dominate the subject, while McClintock ‘let the genes talk to her.’ She let the data speak for themselves, and did not try to bend the data to fit a preconceived theory.”

McClintock’s observation that male and female scientists had different approaches to research made Dr. Hand more confident of her own observations about gender differences in other forms of animal and human behavior. “My work dealt with gender differences between male and female gulls in coupled relationships,” she explained. “I found that they settled their differences through egalitarian behavior, and that fact had been missed by males who had researched the same question in the same species.” Both McClintock’s example and her own convinced Dr. Hand that women approach problems in a more collaborative, less competitive fashion than men — which in turn gave a rational basis to her hope that involving more women in political and social positions of power will help build a future without war.

The most recent Nobel laureate in the sciences — or anything else — is Françoise Barre-Sinoussi, who was Luc Montagnier’s research associate at the Institut Pasteur in Paris in 1983 when they discovered evidence of the existence of a virus in patients with AIDS. They called it Lymphodenopathy-Associated Virus (LAV), but it is now generally known as Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and widely regarded as the sole cause of AIDS, even though Montagnier himself has generally insisted it needs some other infection as a co-factor to cause disease. Dr. Hand praised the award to Barre-Sinoussi as an acknowledgment that women deserve recognition for research work rather than having the men they work for hog the credit. John Crewdson’s book Science Fictions, an account of the discovery of HIV, says that Barre-Sinoussi did all the actual laboratory work even though Montagnier took the original credit — and no doubt, as a former research associate herself, Dr. Hand had a personal investment in seeing Montagnier’s hard-working staffer get top-level credit for her work.

Dr. Hand then mentioned four of the 11 women who’ve won the Nobel prize in literature — but admitted that of the four she discussed, Pearl S. Buck, Nadine Gordimer, Toni Morrison and Doris Lessing, she’d only read Buck and Morrison. An American novelist who lived in China for years and specialized in writing books set there, Buck was cited for “her rich and explicit descriptions” of Chinese life. “I read Buck’s The Good Earth and Peony, and they were wonderful insights into a foreign culture,” Dr. Hand said. “I was inspired by The Good Earth to pick cultural anthropology as a major. Later, as an aspiring novelist, I read Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon, and it inspired me to more brilliant creativity.” Dr. Hand particularly praised these writers for creating “a body of work under their own names,” rather than using male pseudonyms as earlier women writers had done.

“The Peace Prize is the most common category for women to win in,” Dr. Hand claimed. (It is, but only barely; there have been 12 women Peace Prize winners, 11 winners in literature, eight in medicine or physiology, three in chemistry and two in physics. These totals count Marie Curie twice.) “I think it’s the most common place for women to distinguish themselves,” she added. The first woman Peace Prize winner she discussed is a problematical one for feminists generally because she was a Roman Catholic nun, born Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu in Skopje, Macedonia in 1910 but known worldwide as Mother Teresa.

Mother Teresa’s career began in 1931, when her order, the Ireland-based Sisters of Loreto, assigned her to work in India and teach at St. Mary’s Catholic high school in Calcutta. In 1948, appalled by the poverty, suffering and ill health she saw in the city, she asked for permission to leave the school and work with the poor. In 1950 she received permission from the Pope to found her own order, the Missionaries of Charity, which now has branches in 50 Indian cities and 30 other countries. “In 1952,” Dr. Hand recounted, “she opened a hospice for Indian poor people, and in 1957 she started working with lepers. By her own light, she did her best to follow the teachings of Jesus, but there’s some controversy about her because, as one person said, ‘She was more interested in converting poor people than helping them.’”

According to Dr. Hand, in an otherwise laudatory biography, A Revolution of Love, author David Scott wrote that “Mother Teresa was more interested in helping poor people than overcoming poverty.” Dr. Hand also cited articles in two respected journals, the British Medical Journal and Lancet, criticizing the standard of care in Mother Teresa’s hospitals, including allegations that she and her staff reused hypodermic syringes, gave patients cold baths when they shouldn’t have, and offered care “that did not reflect sound diagnoses.” She also mentioned that Mother Teresa was so totally committed to Catholic dogma that she opposed not only abortion but also birth control as well. “I believe that her Catholic background and her belief that suffering was ‘good’ affected her work,” said Dr. Hand, who also pointed out that writings published only after Mother Teresa’s death showed that she “had grave doubts about the existence of God.”

Dr. Hand then discussed the members of the Nobel Women’s Initiative (, who include all the still-living women Nobel Peace Price recipients. She talked about hearing many of them speak live at peace events in San Diego and elsewhere, and being inspired by them. She mentioned Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan, who shared the prize in 1976 for their efforts to bring peace to Northern Ireland. Williams got involved when she witnessed police in Belfast shoot at a car in which Irish Republican Army (IRA) fighter Danny Lennon was attempting to escape. The police gunshots killed Lennon — and also three children who were mowed down by his car when it went out of control after he was shot.

Williams responded by organizing a series of marches to say to both sides in the deadly feud between Catholics and Protestants that was ravaging Northern Ireland that enough was enough; too many innocent people were dying as a result of a dispute that would better be settled by negotiations than guns. Corrigan got involved because she was the aunt of the three children Williams saw killed. “Betty was a baptized Catholic, but her father and her husband were Protestants,” Dr. Hand recalled. “She and Mairead organized a peace march that was disrupted by the IRA. The next week, they returned to the streets and led another march that drew 35,000 people.”

One of the inspirations that Dr. Hand draws from Williams and Corrigan is that conflicts that are seemingly intractable because they’re based in centuries-old religious and historical disputes can be solved if the people involved can be brought together to settle their differences peacefully. That’s why she’s hopeful that a similar approach can bring peace to the Middle East. In fact, both Williams and Corrigan are still involved in peace work far beyond the borders of Northern Ireland. Corrigan was recently arrested by Israeli authorities for trying to smuggle food into occupied and besieged Gaza, Williams’ current passion, Dr. Hand explained, is World Centers for Compassion, an organization designed to help children who through no fault of their own have been born into conflicts in which their parents have been killed.

Another one of these inspirational leaders — and one who has been prevented from traveling as part of the punishment for her work — is Burmese politician and democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi. The daughter of a respected leader of Burma’s anti-colonial struggle, Suu Kyi ran for the Burmese presidency in 1989 and received 82 percent of the vote. But she never took office because the Burmese military overthrew the government in a coup, changed the country’s name to Myanmar and have ruled it dictatorially ever since. Dr. Hand is particularly impressed by Suu Kyi’s dedication to nonviolence, to the point where she once led a march up to a line of soldiers whom she knew had orders to kill her … and was able by the sheer force of her presence to get them not to.

“She has been kept under house arrest for 20 years, and was recently ‘retried’ and sentenced to another five years,’ Dr. Hand said. “In 1999 her husband died of cancer in London, and the Burmese authorities refused his request to be allowed to see her one last time before he died.” Asked why she didn’t go to see him, Dr. Hand said, “The Burmese government would want her to leave and rejoin her family, but she knows if she does she will never be allowed to come back” — so in addition to the repression, the house arrest and the death threats, she has had to face the indignity of having her children grow up in London without her.

The next woman Nobel Peace Prize laureate on Dr. Hand’s list was Guatemalan activist Rigoberta Menchú. A Mayan Indian growing up in the Guatemalan countryside, Menchú “was part of the CUC labor movement, and her brother, father and mother were all killed” for their involvement with the same group, Dr. Hand explained. “She taught herself Spanish and other languages, organized peasants and joined the radical January 31 party. In 1982 she won the prize for organizing Indians. I heard her at the same conference where I heard Betty Williams, and she said she’s had to hire bodyguards and flee the country.” She published a well-received memoir, I, Rigoberta Menchú, though the veracity of the book has been criticized because she allegedly included horror stories she’d heard about from other indigenous Guatemalans and attributed them to herself.

Another woman Nobel Peace laureate Dr. Hand particularly admires is Jody Williams, who won in 1997 for a campaign to ban the use of anti-personnel land mines. “I heard her at a peace meeting, and there was a lot of gentle talk about transforming the world through love,” Dr. Hand recalled. “She shocked the crowd when she said, ‘I don’t work for love. I work out of anger.’ She was trained as a teacher and took up a position with the International Coalition to Abolish Landmines. Jody’s specialty is ‘massively distributed collaboration,’ finding ways to work together in a common cause.” Her proudest achievement came in 1997, when the International Ottawa Treaty banning landmines was signed — even though the world’s biggest military powers, the U.S., Russia and China, all refused to join.

Yet another woman who’s faced persecution at home for her Nobel-winning efforts for peace is Iranian activist Shirin Ebadi, who won in 2003 “because of her fierce and dangerous support as a lawyer in defending women and children in Iran,” Dr. Hand said. “She’s an Islamic woman trying to surf all the turmoil in Iran and speaking out about the general political future. She’s a staunch internationalist who says, ‘Iran is not Iraq. We are a proud, ancient culture. We will resist any attempt to influence our affairs, and fight an invasion to the death.’” Like Menchú, she has had to hire bodyguards to protect her. According to Dr. Hand, she’s the first Muslim woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, “and she personally resists her friends’ appeals to dress more fashionably. She is trying to embrace and describe the situation in Iran from within.” Her most recent activist move was to approach the United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights and ask to have the recent Iranian presidential election nullified on grounds of fraud.

The most recent woman winner of the Nobel Peace Prize is Kenyan activist Wangari Maathai, who grew up in the 1950’s and was educated in Catholic schools — “which helped her escape the Mau Maus,” Dr. Hand said. In 1960 she was one of 300 Kenyan students chosen to be allowed to study in the U.S.; another one, Dr. Hand noted, was Barack Obama’s father. “This woman has had a very exciting life, including a nasty divorce,” Dr. Hand said. “She’s had lots of run-ins with the government and has been arrested many times. The Kenyan president called her ‘a threat to order and stability in society.’ She associated herself with the Green Belt movement, and the director of the Norwegian Forestry Service contacted her and offered to work with her.” The project they started involved planting trees on denuded forest land in Kenya. Within four years they had spread the Green Belt movement throughout Africa — and when Obama visited Kenya this year he met with Matthai and planted a tree with her.

“We have 35 Nobel women and 754 Nobel men,” Dr. Hand said, “because women’s voices were and still are silenced in hundreds of thousands of ways, large and small. There are many powerful women in the world, from former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright to former U.N. Human Rights Commissioner and Irish president Mary Robinson, from Queen Rani of Jordan to CNN broadcaster Christiane Amanpour, who are able to express their brilliance, their creativity and their viewpoints. But in many developing countries, women’s voices are still being silenced.”