Saturday, March 13, 2010

Nine people in the KC area working for Palestinian rights

For many 2009 was a watershed – everyone knows friends or acquaintances who lost jobs -- as the economy slipped further, evidenced by the drastic increase in those seeking services, like food assistance at US food banks. The US continued or expanded war in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and in Palestine via Israel. Yet many people in the Kansas City area found ways to resist these wars or work for social justice here and abroad. Several of these people inspired me in new ways that peace and justice activists have done in the past, but with a refreshing, confident, and bold move to learn, share, and agitate.

In recognition of the determined example they provide, I would like to share with you nine people that inspired me in 2009. Each one demonstrates important characteristics of social justice actors, namely, each focused on their cause with a dedication to broad social justice, some with direct experience or relations with those experiencing injustice, all important characteristics of grassroots leadership.

One of the most impressive groups included three individuals -- Marei Spaola, Jodi Voice, and Melissa Franklin – who formed 7thGIV, a grassroots student collective from Haskell Indian Nations University. This group was founded on traditional Native principles, comparing occupation and colonization of Palestinian land with the same practices in the U.S. against Native people. Their work led to their participation in the first ever Indigenous Youth Delegation to Palestine last year.

Photo from Feb. 15 UMKC event: (from left) Mohamed El-Housiny,
Omar Bayazid, Marei Spaola, Melissa Franklin, Jodi Voice, and Sara Jawhari
Jodi Voice has an Associates of Social Work and is pursuing a Bachelor’s in Indigenous American Indian Studies at Haskell. Her father is a graduate of Haskell. She seeks to “speak for the voiceless and stand up for others that face oppression.” Jodi belongs to the Tsalagi (Cherokee) Nation of Oklahoma, the Mvskoke (Creek) nation of Oklahoma, and the Oglala Lakota Nation of South Dakota.

Marei Spaola, a member of the Oglala Lakota Tribe of South Dakota, traveled to the Southwest and South Dakota in the summer 2009 to work on a documentary film. Marei spoke about the indigenous youth delegation at a Palestinian fundraiser event on July 2. He is a Haskell student and reporter with Haskell News.

Melissa Franklin was president of the American Indian Studies club at Haskell, works at the Jim Thorpe Recreation Center on campus, and served as a mentor with an Upward Bound summer program at Haskell. Melissa gave a report of her background and the delegation at a May 31, 2009 fundraiser dinner. Melissa is Comanche, Wichita, and Sac & Fox of Oklahoma.

Melissa Franklin (left) with Laura
Closson at fundraising event in 2009.
Laura Closson, a Kansas City resident, traveled with a women's delegation to Gaza in March 2009 before completing her undergraduate study at Redlands University (California). The delegation, which included author Alice Walker, contributed to the relief of Palestinian women living in Gaza. She now lives and works in Nablus in the West Bank, teaching English language at An-Najah National University.

Mohammed Atwa
Mohammed Atwa is a Kansas City resident with Palestinian family members in Gaza. His story was featured on a radio program on KKFI-FM 90.1 in January. Mr. Atwa’s mother lives in Gaza, while his brother is a journalist for Ramattan, the only news organization reporting live on events in the Gaza Strip during last year’s attacks on Gaza. Apart from his day job, Mohammed follows a different path as a Palestinian-American working with an Israel environmental group, bridging the divide between Arabs and Israelis in the Mideast.

Emiliano Huet-Vaughn - graduate of Shawnee Mission North High School and graduate student at University of California-Berkeley. He worked on a successful divestment-from-Israel campaign while studying at the London School of Economics, participated in direct action with the Palestine Solidarity Project/International Solidarity Movement in the West Bank last Summer, and is active with ongoing divestment efforts at Berkeley. Most recently Emiliano took time to raise funds for travel to Egypt as part of the Gaza Freedom March in December 2009.

Janet Baker – I have known this woman for several years now and have always admired her patient persistence in getting things done for local events and activities while working for Palestinian rights. Janet exemplifies a simple yet essential trait – her inner spirit clearly drives her to share her whole life. She works to uplift those in need, yet recognizes the importance of joining a struggle against oppression. Janet worked for a time with Heart of America Indian Center, serves as an ambassador for visiting foreign students, traveled to the Mideast, works with Citizens for Justice in the Middle East, as well as working for peace and the environment at Village Presbyterian Church.

Mohamed El-Housiny participated in a July 2009 medical aid convoy to Gaza, then again on a second medical aid convoy in December. He rekindled his memory of growing up at a very early age in Gaza during a talk in November. Few individuals working for Palestinian rights in KC have challenged people so vividly to wake up to the reality of the devastation in Gaza. No one has represented the courage and resilience of Palestinians’ struggle for liberation quite the same as Mohamed.

Tom Klammer tirelessly produces “Tell Somebody,” a weekly public affairs radio program on KKFI. He researches, interviews, hosts, and engineers the program. I’m constantly amazed at the time Tom dedicates to this program, but each time I listen to the program I hear uncommon voices from guests telling crucial stories about conditions in Kansas City and throughout the US. He produced five programs in 2009 focusing on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, several programs on Iraq, Afghanistan, KC nuke plant politics, homelessness, food/agriculture politics, labor history, and on and on. No one else in Kansas City is covering some of these topics at the depth that he is. Tom amplifies the voice of the movement for real social change in Kansas City.

These individuals have worked through a variety of grassroots, educational, and community organizations in Kansas City to raise awareness about the plight of Palestinians. Despite the apparent lack of progress towards Palestinian self-determination, many people in KC are more informed and better equipped to support resistance against the Israeli occupation by hearing the stories told by these nine individuals. I am proud to know that there are so many people in Kansas City dedicated to working for Palestinian rights.