Monday, July 29, 2013

Hellen Cook: A Woman for All Times

In homage to all the gray haired women who stand now and have for decades in so many cities in the world, the gray haired women who are supposed to be invisible but whose love of life and what it could be in a world without war or extreme nationalism, pushes them out into the streets, out of the decorum of aging into an activism for the ages.

Hellen on the streets
With her WILPF banner, Marg in the background

A wonderful photo taken by a passing photographer, 2009

I received the unwanted, unexpected word last night. Our Women in Black comrade Hellen Cook had died. So quietly she left us, and the Us is huge. I will write more when night falls here.

Di, Geraldine and Hellen

For many years now, a group of us have stood vigil once a month outside the old post office here in the heart of Melbourne, like so many other groups of women around the world involved in the Women in Black movement against militarism, against war and occupations. Our names are Sue, Marg, Esme, Joan, Geraldine, Sandra, Alex, Hellen and others who know where to find us the first Saturday of every month.This is old news, gray haired women standing in the streets for almost over a 100 years one way or the other, trying to catch the eye of passer-bys, handing out leaflets, talking, talking, taking abuse and still talking.

A special comradeship is born in these groups, over cups of tea, here, making banners, preparing leaflets, filling each other in on other actions for peace, for dialogues of all kinds against social exclusions, long talks about what should national security really mean--work, health, care for children, respect for human life and the environment and the end to nationalistic bullying. We are a mixed lot, Christian, Jewish, Atheist, Radical Feminist, lesbian and straight, from several different countries . From time to time Muslim women join us, speak with us in the street and say they did not know such a voice existed, Lebanese families take our leaflets and stop to talk about hope as do some of the long time Jewish residents of Melbourne.
Hellen speaking with Alex

And always Hellen, travelling from Frankston on the train, slight, smiling indefatigable Hellen carrying her latest WILPF document (Women's International League for Peace and Freedom) along with her banner. No matter what happened on the streets, Hellen was calm and gentle, not in a Pollyanna way, but in the way of someone who has seen much of life and struggle and has her eyes on a different vision. If life had not shifted so for me in 2001, I would never have met Hellen or indeed, any of these women, would not have entered into their history of resistance going back for some, Marg, for instance, to the 1980s or Alex who was part of the original Women in Black stand in Haifa. And Hellen. Little by little she told me about her life, about her Chinese grandfather who came to Victoria to work in the mines of the gold rush in the early  20th century, about her husband who died on the edge of a volcano he had made his life's work to study, about her children and their children and about her garden. When I returned from my third cancer surgery to the group, she had  homeopathic help for me,  but the most healing of all was simply Hellen herself, playful with difference, quiet in the face of my New York bombast, her steadiness of purpose without self righteousness, her optimism built on deep despair of what the world was doing to itself. I think, simply put, Hellen was a good person, a goodness that she gave freely of. Once after a good vigil, I took Hellen into my lesbian arms and we danced a little in the streets.  We are all still taking in her loss. Not Hellen, please, not Hellen. We need her so.

Esme, Alex, Geraldine, Marg, Hellen, Joan, Savan, Karen

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

In Honor of Eric Ohena Lembembe; In Honor of David Kato; In Honor of Noxolo Nogwaza

David Kato. Noxolo Nogwaza. Eric Ohen Lembembe. They fall, lesbians and gay men who meet in rooms and on the streets to speak with each other, to give hope to each other, to organize, they fall, but not from our collective memory which spans continents, ordained divisions. Your bodies must be in our ken, we must respect your histories, but our queerness will be another history of comrades. In honor of Eric Ohena Lembembe and his fallen comrades, lesbians and gay men, who stood in the street and sat in rooms, turning their backs on preached hatreds, and lost their lives as they looked towards another future.

In honor of David Kato from Uganda and Noxolo Nogwaza from South Africa, who fell to hatred but who stand tall in our struggle for human dignity. With deep respect for all those who now mourn the loss of their friends.


A prominent gay rights activist in Cameroon was tortured and killed just weeks after issuing a public warning about the threat posed by "anti-gay thugs," the Human Rights Watch said.

Friends discovered the body of Eric Ohen Lembembe at his home in the captial, Yaounde, on Monday evening after he was unreachable for two days, the rights group said in a statement Tuesday.

One friend said Lembembe's neck and feet looked broken and he had been burned with an iron.
Lembembe was among the most prominent activists in one of Africa's most hostile countries for sexual minorities.

First as a journalist and later as executive director of CAMAIDS, a Yaounde-based human rights organization, he documented violence, blackmail and arrests targeting members of Cameroon's gay community. He was also a regular contributor to the Erasing 76 Crimes blog, which focuses on countries where homosexuality is illegal, and he wrote several chapters of a released in February on the global gay rights movement, From Wrongs to Gay Rights.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Race and Real Estate: America's Deadly Partnership

Over Australian radio came an American woman's voice, muffled by the distance between us, but the words grew in menace, their certainty of power over- reaching the 23000 miles of ocean they had to travel: "he had every right to shoot, we hired him to protect our property and that was what he was doing." Race and real estate, gated housing estates and stand your ground home protection laws, conservative money pouring into think tanks that come up with laws that ensure America's apartheid will have deadly force behind it. For all the years of my American life, I have seen what happens when protective capitalism claims its exclusiveness, what bodies fall at the gate, at the wall. The jungle out there, white paradise in here. A teen-age boy in a hoody, his face bare, runs into a hired mercenary who himself would not be allowed to live behind the walls he is so fervently protecting, with a gun in his pocket that burns against his thigh, this time I will get you, thug, he says, this time I will carry out the ethnic cleansing I was hired for and maybe, I will be one of them and not one of you. Six white women, like an American tragic chorus, perform their ordained racial script and other mothers grasp their sons and warn and warn and rage and rage. Obama is trapped in his political skin, a King Lear who can only scream his anger, his sorrow on a solitary plain blasted by national winds.

Too much, too much, too many, too many--the dismantling of the Voting Rights protection laws is a national version of the gated community that condones the killing of Trayvon Martin. Property rights and white race rights, property rights and wealthy protection concerns--big cities do it by pricing living spaces in the millions and billions.

Who might you have become, Trayvon, the lawyer who along with others dismantles once and for all the legal privileges of the corporate class, the father of daughters and sons who took the sun full on their face and laughed into life, the lover of many or of one, the poet who still dreams of rivers as deep as our souls. American crumbles a little more, its history shot through with betrayals of its own stated principles, from the death of Allende, the CIA support for the apartheid regime and its arrest of Mandela, once a young boy himself who was not allowed into his own streets. Build your prisons higher and higher for those who manage to survive their teens but it is yourself that is imprisoned--violence stalks your dreams, national and internationally, between citizens and between countries. Race and real estate, conservative dreams of who is really human--but we still dream of rivers as deep as our souls, rivers of refusal.