Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Men As Domestic Violence Victims

The experience I gained this summer working at Pace Women's Justice Center's Family Court Legal Program is invaluable and extremely rewarding. The Family Court legal program is designed to help victims of domestic violence obtain same day orders of protection through ex parte proceedings. As interns we performed client interviews, drafted family offense, custody and child support petitions and represented clients during the initial proceeding under the supervision of a staff attorney. Through this experience, I learned that a lot of myths about domestic violence are untrue, one of them being that men are not victims.

I will admit, I was suspicious when I talked to my first male client however, as the summer went by and more men came in, I realized that men are as affected by domestic violence as women. One of my male clients was a depressed father of a 3 year old girl who was doing all he could to save his marriage and provide a safe and healthy home for his child. His wife was physically, psychologically and emotionally abusive. He was the most broken and defeated client I had all summer. That day I realized that we did not have a lot of male clients not because they don't exist but because due to societal stigma, male victims do not report abuse from fear that they failed to conform to the social macho stereotype, I also learned that male victims usually lack support from friends and family and most of them deny their victim status.

I shared my sentiments with a few friends and one of them told me "it is never okay for a man to hit a women but it is okay for a woman to hit a man". After noting that  domestic abuse could be psychological, emotional, sexual and financial.  My first question was WHY? Why should we overlook a women hitting a man but persecute a man for hitting a woman? It should never be okay for an individual to hit another. Women hit men in self defense however, there are women out there who get away with physically abusing their male partners on claims of self defense. Men are hardly recognized as victims of domestic violence because they are considered strong but, physical injuries are not the only effects of domestic abuse. They too, feel extremely shamed, frightened, guilty, and experience loss of self worth and confidence. 

The most important thing I've learned from Pace is that, anyone could be a victim of domestic violence. Victims span across every sex, race, social status or sexual orientation. As a society we can do our part by getting rid of our narrow perceptions. It takes a lot of courage and strength for victims to admit that they need help and when that happens we need to help them figure out positive ways to move on with their lives. Men might be most common abusers but we should never downplay the seriousness of the abuse experienced by male victims.  

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Fighting Impunity in Nepal

Stella Gilliland
July 25, 2014

Advocacy Forum
Kathmandu, Nepal

             Pooja welcomes me each morning with a quiet greeting, hands pressed in a prayer position. She hands me my morning milk chai. Mornings in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital city, are raucous occasions of barking, construction, and street hawkers advertising their wares.  The mountains ringing the valley are sometimes visible at sunrise, before the haze descends.  Later, just as the afternoon heat is becoming unbearable, the monsoon rains come.
            Pooja is Advocacy Forum’s “didi” (literally: sister), or caretaker.  She cooks Nepali staples for lunch, dhal bhat or maybe mo: mos, the office staff crowded around the plastic table in her small kitchen.  The still afternoons, punctuated with cups of sweet black tea, seem worlds away from the violent conflict that marred the country less than a decade ago and continues to define the Nepali justice system.           

            The decade-long conflict between Maoist insurgents and the Nepali government ended with a ceasefire agreement in 2006.  An estimated 13,000 Nepalis were killed, many of them civilians, women, and children.  The country has struggled to heal and rebuild, hindered by corruption, a bickering and fractious civil society, and entrenched impunity for even the grossest human rights violators.   Despite recent strides in infrastructure and education, Nepal remains one of the poorest, most corrupt, and least developed nations in the world.
            The legal system, especially, continues to feel the growing pains inherent in a post-conflict democracy.  Various committees struggle to replace the 2007 interim Constitution.  The much-anticipated Truth and Reconciliation Commission was finally passed in April, only to be met with domestic criticism and much pooh-poohing by the international community. Cases languish in dilapidated court halls, often postponed dozens of times, over multiple years, or else are dropped after petitioners succumb to bribery and threats.  Judges, in their distinct black caps, write their opinions by hand and verdicts are delivered on traditional Nepali parchment. 

            My work here with Advocacy Forum has centered around litigation for victims of extrajudicial killings and torture.  Advocacy Forum is a national NGO that advocated strongly for victims and their families during and after the conflict.  However, many extrajudicial killing cases stalled after local authorities refused or simply ignored court orders to begin investigations.  Despite continuous pressure from the government and military (frequent threats, onerous compliance laws), Advocacy Forum continues to represent victims and seek new strategies to end impunity for human rights violators and to compensate victims.
            Conducting research in a developing country is an exercise in patience.  Court visits consist of long hours spent waiting, only to hear that the case has been postponed yet again.  Power cuts occur daily, sometimes for up to 14 hours a day.  Generators fall victim to the ubiquitous gas shortages. 

            Despite the frustrations, my experience here has been transformative.  To live in Nepal is to confront daily the scars and challenges of a post-conflict society.  People speak openly of their wartime experiences, of torture and loss but also optimism and national pride.
            I will return to the U.S. with a deeper understanding of how cultural and historic idiosyncrasies can shape a legal system, how international attention can drive domestic litigation, and the importance of a functioning civil society.  When I return to Nepal, as I surely will, I will be excited to see progress towards the pluralist democracy envisioned by the Nepali people.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Russian Courts as Civil Society-Repellent

The Bolotnaya Case, initially against twenty-seven participants in protests on May 6, 2012, the day before the third inauguration of President Vladimir Putin, is the most important legal development in recent Russian history.  Transforming utterly insane allegations against political activists into legal and historical fact, Russian courts are continuing their long-established role as blunt weapons in the Kremlin assault on society. 

The first criminal conviction for participation in the Bolotnaya protests came in November 2012, and the show (pun intended) has been going ever since.  Investigators have openly and repeatedly called the prejudice rich, evidence light case “political” while speaking on the record anonymously to Russian newspapers.

Prosecutors have now successfully made the case that using two prominent leftists as proxies, a Georgian politician dishing out American money was the architect of the May 2012 anti-Putin protests that brought tens of thousands to the streets of Moscow.  The Moscow City Court, in a ridiculous sentencing hearing, all but came out and said that the same is true for the entire White Ribbon protest movement that saw hundreds of thousands demonstrate in Moscow and elsewhere over the course of several months.
Before anything else, remember that the 20,000-strong, May 2012 protest in question – officially called the March of Millions – was actually sanctioned by the local government, which is not always true for demonstrations here. It is true that the March – despite being smaller in size relative to other demonstrations around the same time – turned violent.  However, it is generally acknowledged, except by the Russian leadership, that the violence on Bolotnaya was a result of police aggression and provocation. 

Now, the courts are fixating on the March in a bid to rewrite the history of the entire 2011-2012 White Ribbon movement as a series of free-for-all riots orchestrated with foreign funding.  The Bolotnaya revisionism is aided by the Kremlin media apparatus, which for the vast majority of Russians is – not being hyperbolic here – the source of all civil political information.

In February, the Moscow City Court convicted eight Bolotnaya defendants on charges that they participated in riots and used force against “representatives of authority.”  Seven of the defendants were sent to penal colonies, while the sole woman defendant was sentenced to a travel restriction. That ruling in turn sparked protests in central Moscow, where police detained more than 600 people.  And despite subsequent amnesties for some defendants, the European Court of Human Rights is still accepting complaints related to detentions on Bolotnaya-based charges.  

This March, the Moscow City Court committed defendant Mikhail Kosenko, no joke, to compulsory psychiatric treatment in relation to his participation in the March of Millions. Though the court declined a request from Kosenko’s lawyers for an additional psychiatric evaluation, in June it granted him permission to continue his “treatment” at an outpatient clinic.

Most importantly, two opposition leaders were convicted on July 25 on obviously fabricated criminal charges stemming from the March. Lawyer Sergey Udaltsov heads Left Front, which is basically Russia's sole organized non-neo-Nazi political coalition. Left Front member Leonid Razvozzhaev, a union organizer by trade, has also been active as an advisor to opposition MP Ilya Ponomarev – the man with a voting record including, for example, the sole ‘nay’ on the annexation of Crimea.

Udaltsov is known for a rousing public oratory characterized by an ability to lay plain the belligerent cynicism of the Putin government. He is a brave, articulate guy who, therefore, makes the Kremlin deeply uncomfortable.

At a February 2012 demonstration that some estimates put at 120,000 people, Udaltsov, whose great-grandfather was a Bolshevik and actually kind of a big deal in the early Soviet Union, drew cheers from the crowd as he ripped up a portrait of Putin.  At another rally, he got a similar response when he set a portrait of Putin on fire.   

Compare to Aleksey Navalny, the kind of bizarro-world Russian Paul Ryan, who, despite consistent harassment with similarly insane charges, was allowed to participate – and take 27% of the vote – in Moscow’s 2013 mayoral elections.  Navalny, who has spoken at neo-Nazi rallies and leads an anti-corruption project, is bent on making Russia transparent for international capital, posing basically no threat to the ruling class here except in his ability to name and shame people personally.  Udaltsov, not so much – at least as the Kremlin sees it.

In that connection, it’s important to consider Left Front’s constituency.  When I first entered the courtroom for the Udaltsov-Razvozzhaev sentencing hearing, it seemed odd that there were only two or three Left Front members, as far as I could see, in the crowd.  However, I soon realized that I had been blinded by my own self-serving and shallow understanding of Left Front as a group of young, active – let's face it – men.  In reality, there were two dozen elderly women wearing Left Front pins in the crowd, and this demographic actually constitutes a large chunk of the group’s following.  That is one major takeaway from the Kremlin decision to attack Left Front: while the group’s ability to do real, lasting political damage to the machine is probably negligible, the sheer possibility is enough.

Prosecutors and the Moscow City Court held Razvozzhaev and Udaltsov – who Amnesty International considers a prisoner of conscience – personally to account for the caricatured version of Bolotnaya that the rest of Russia already viewed with a heavy helping of skepticism, if not scorn.

Harassed with random and silly administrative and criminal charges since 2010, Udaltsov had been under house arrest since February 2013.  Both men began their latest in a long series of hunger strikes in response to the four-and-a-half-year prison sentences levied against them.  

Charges against the pair were filed following the airing of a heavy-handedly propagandistic “documentary” entitled Anatomy of a Protest 2 on NTV – which is, wait for it, owned by the state energy conglomerate Gazprom. (If you want to split hairs, the Kremlin owns exactly 50% of Gazprom. Those who believe the rest is not owned by Putin allies from Saint Petersburg are deeply confused.) The film alleges that Udaltsov and Razvozzhaev were conspiring to organize a coup using funds from abroad, and purports to show them meeting with the head of Georgia's Parliamentary Defense and Security Committee, Givi Targamadze.  Targamadze is said – to be fair, acknowledged even outside Russia – to have had a hand in the so-called color revolutions in formerly Soviet countries in the aughts.  

Razvozzhaev was kidnapped in Kiev by Russian special forces and brought to Russia to face trial.  He testified that following his abduction, FSB spooks held him at an undisclosed location for two days; denied him food, water, and bathroom access; and tortured him in addition to threatening to kill his children unless he signed a confession. That confession was admitted as evidence, alongside video from Anatomy of a Protest 2. The defense emphasized, to negligible effect, the dubious audio and video quality of the documentary footage and the reports that Razvozzhaev was kidnapped and tortured. 

Human Rights Watch, the United Nations, and the European Union have all called on Russia and Ukraine to investigate Razvozzhaev’s abduction, but they shouldn’t hold their breath.  

NTV claims the footage in question was given randomly to one of its employees “on the street by a stranger of Georgian nationality,” so, like, take that however you see fit.  The “documentary” is on YouTube – don’t watch it, it’s really, really, infuriatingly stupid.  It features multiple uses of the same grainy video with different audio dubbing, for example. 

The goal in targeting Udaltsov and Razvozzhaev for prosecution is two-fold: delegitimize the largest, most significant civil movement (to be clear: the White Ribbon movement, not Left Front) in modern Russian history while simultaneously getting rid of an apparently threatening political group.  The delegitimation campaign doesn’t take much explanation: prosecutors and the court fixated on the idea that Udaltsov and Razvozzhaev always received their funding in United States dollars. The dog-whistle intent here is obvious: the anti-Putin protesters of the 2011-2012 movement showed up only because they were paid off by henchmen of the United States government – and therefore are henchmen of the United States government.  Broadcast this version of history ad nauseam on state television, and the rest of Russia – which universally reviles Moscow’s bourgeoisie anyway – begins to see what is really at stake with Bolotnaya.

Prosecutors had sought eight years for both, in addition to a 150,000-ruble fine for Razvozzhaev.

Naively expecting a two-hour sentencing reading, I showed up to the early afternoon proceedings at the Moscow City Court without having eaten breakfast.  Also present in the courtroom: about two dozen officers from five different municipal and federal law enforcement and military agencies, including the Spetsnaz, Russia’s uniformly strikingly handsome special forces.   

Two hours in, the U.S. Embassy’s Political Section staffer in the crowd gets the general idea that the allegations are utterly ludicrous, and calls it a day.  Three hours in, the entire courtroom audience bursts into collective laughter (the first time of several) as the reading of the allegations continues.  Five hours in, one of the judges halts the proceedings so that police can physically remove a sexagenarian woman with a cane who is no longer able to stand; it’s a rule in Russian courts that the entire room must stand as a verdict is read.

After eight hours, I start to hallucinate out of a combination of hunger and impotent rage – I think I hear one of the judges say “Berezovsky,” but how can that even be possible – and decide it’s time to leave.  An hour and a half later, a Left Front contact texts me: “we left, no sign of a decision.”  Later in the night, the Political Section staffer emails me that both defendants got four and a half years.  I order another beer. 

Overall, the judges read blatantly bogus allegations for eleven hours while forcing everyone in the room to stay on their feet.  There’s a lot to unpack here.

The whole process speaks to the Russian leadership’s increasing paranoia and drive to destroy any opposition political group whose message could empower civil society.  As the Kremlin’s crazy narrative snowballs, the political elite here is increasingly finding itself in a place where there is no choice except to overreact to even the sheer possibility of political disruption.   

In this case, the punch line is the sentence.  While the charges were officially the organization of riots across the country, the allegations were actually based on the idea – now legal fact in Russia – that Udaltsov and Razvozzhaev sought and obtained substantial funding from the representative of a foreign state as part of a years-long conspiracy to overthrow the federal government. 

Let that sink in for a minute: two self-evidently dangerous men with powerful international connections, seemingly well on their way to revolution – sentenced to … four and a half years, minus time served?  Belligerent cynicism indeed.

The court stated that the punishment fit the crime, with no further explanation; who knows if there was even anyone left in the courtroom at that point.  That actually leads to another central objective of the Kremlin’s overkill campaign: the demoralization of everyone and anyone who appears even remotely prepared to put up a real fight.   

On a macro level, the goals are clear enough.  First, the transparently political prosecution of a charismatic leftist leader puts other potential opposition activists on notice.  Second, the court sends the message, in this case via pretend transcripts of text message and Skype conversations, that the Kremlin Thug Patrol has ears and eyes everywhere.  Judges described in great detail the cars Udaltsov drove around in with foreign political elites (generally, a black Audi A6), his meetings with “nationalists and anarchists,” and the dollar sums he received – always in United States dollars – from this Georgian politician (ranging from $42 to $90,000).  Overkill is actually the only appropriate word in the entire English language for the allegations’ level of detail.

On a micro level, reading clearly fabricated allegations for eleven hours, while making the whole room stand for the duration, hits in two places.  Subjecting Udaltsov and Razvozzhaev’s supporters to mind-numbing boredom and physical discomfort for an entire day, simply so that they can hear what they knew was coming anyway, is a great way to beat them down.  Meanwhile, the fact that only the most zealous supporters remained in the court as the crucial moment drew near must have taken its emotional toll on Udaltsov and Razvozzhaev, no matter how strong they appeared in court.  And, last but not least, let’s not forget that these two actually have to spend a couple years sitting in prison.

After a long day in court, Left Front activist Ilya Budraitskis put it best in a post on Facebook: the crazier and crazier targeted use of the legal system here is presented as a “price of everlasting Russian stability.”  But with the Kremlin returning its gaze inward, the stability Russians came to enjoy under early Putinism is being replaced by a tenuous stability for the man and his circle, with society’s return on investment going down faster and faster with every activist silenced.

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Importance of Avoiding Stigmatizing Language

When I began my work with the Feerick Center for Social Justice, for the Unaccompanied Immigrant Children Project, the phenomenon of children arriving into the United States to reunite with their families was simply an increasing trend that evaded direct media attention. However, two weeks into my internship, a wave of news relating to the Unaccompanied Immigrant Children project started to come in as a rising amount of children coming to the United States unaccompanied increased significantly. Over time, the most recent unaccompanied immigrant children migration began to take on a name in the media – it was being called “the surge” and there was a news article, op-ed piece, and short interview about it from media outlets daily. With that began a battle to represent reality, with the truth somewhat hidden within a sea of water puns in which I find myself participating. Characterization in some way creates the character itself, somewhat similar but significantly different from the real thing. Words formed the core of the reality that was being portrayed. As an advocate and student, I feel compelled to caution readers and remind myself about the power of words.

Any keen observer could probably tell you that humans have limitations. We cannot be everywhere at once and cannot see everything at once. We have multiple senses but we tend to neglect them save for the one or two that our brains favor. In light of these physical limitations, we have built artificial tools to try and extend our grasp over reality. Words are probably one of the oldest of the artificial tools that continues to be so prominent. Their functionality comes from an assumed but unfounded understanding between people that when a word or utterance is used to convey an idea, then the use of the same word or utterance should convey the same or similar idea when used at some other time. Of course, it should not take anyone a semester’s worth of Contract Law to realize that the assumed understanding of which I speak is far from the reality (but maybe it does! And it took decades for contract law and formalists to even slightly admit that such bright-line rules as the “four corners” rule may be somewhat unhelpful). Words are not necessarily just benign mediums for communication and the conveyance of ideas. They can be more like cannonballs fired from one populace to another in an effort to beat down a certain type of reality into a targeted populace and wipe out other points of view in the process.

Furthermore, any student of social science could probably tell you that the most frequent losers of any cultural shift and war on words are the weakest groups. In a battle where Republicans and Democrats, Conservatives and Liberals, or Pro- and Anti- Interests Groups are drawing lines, it is quite likely that the group who has to suffer through the imposition of such pseudo-realities and descriptions is the migrants themselves. Their stories are filtered through interviews, their lives documented and narrated through snippets and the lenses of other people, their motivations are described by people who have more control over the expression of their own motivations. Yet again, I am reminded of the centrality of participation in a framework that respects humans as having universal, unassailable, and inalienable rights owed to them regardless of their age, nationality, or migration status.

Yet, as dangerous as the use of words have the potential to be, their functionality endures because we have not yet found an equally creative solution to the problem of communication. Without words and language, and some form of standardization of them, then this blog post would make even less sense to you and to me. I wuold be iroinaclly craeting pcitogarphs deiovd of maineng foryuor veiiwng dsiplaeusre.

Language and words are so central to the work that the Feerick Center does. My current assignment is to write a legal framework memo. As I plowed through dozens of cases in New York regarding Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, I became “familiar” with the stories of several children from China, India, Honduras, Ecuador, and Guatemala, simply because I could imagine that a set of images on my screen could represent certain ideas weaved into a story about someone else’s life. The dissemination of stories through written media is also important in human rights advocacy. In the Bringing Human Rights Home Network conference, the group discussed submitting shadow reports to the United Nations. Shadow reports are reports submitted by civil society instead of government on behalf of the country. They are often submitted in the context of reviews for human rights treaties to which a particular country is a signatory – the United States is party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the International Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination, and the Convention against Torture. Because the reviewers do not get to experience firsthand the experiences of people from a particular country, the data in the shadow reports and the testimony of affected people themselves becomes the basis from which they understand that part of the world. Additionally, advocates in the United States use these same reports and the review process to be able to affect better human rights policy in the context of the review. In the practice of advocacy, the written word often becomes the world view by which decisions are made, because it is otherwise impossible to experience firsthand.

In the context of human rights advocacy, labels could serve to dehumanize a particular group, and make it less sensible that they should have universal and inalienable rights. The terms “illegal” or “illegal alien” are dehumanizing. Generally, talk of aliens is about imaginary beings from the sky, yet we preserve such terminology for humans like us simply because of their birth or origin outside of our arbitrarily defined borders. The word “illegal” attempts to connote the same notion of inhumanity. A human being cannot be illegal. We can commit acts outside the provision of the law, which may be illegal. Even if we did, we are guaranteed rights to protect us from abusive process. The term illegal seems superfluous upon inspection, and unhelpful as a description of reality. Thus, advocates often use the words “undocumented” or “irregular” immigrants to be more accurate.

The term “undocumented” is not just a replacement for the word “illegal” but it is an attempt to increase accuracy. The use of the term “undocumented” or “irregular” immigrant is only accurate in a way that highlights the responsibility of our governments to uphold the rights of all people. An irregular migrant could be a person who found farm work in the United States, yet that person could end up completely undefended by the laws as soon as a farm owner decides to fire them. In this example, the person did nothing “alien” or “illegal” at all, yet such labels might allow us to presume without further inquiry. The point is also not to replace one label with another but to make the story as accurate as possible. The terms “undocumented” and “irregular” are equally criticized. The word “undocumented” presumes that only some forms of documentation are valid. Most migrants carry passports and other documents from their country of origin, and may even have driver’s licenses and other equally valid documents in the country of residence, but the veracity of such a situation may be invalidated by the use of a single word. Similarly, though irregularities in residence occur because of uneven migration policies from state sovereigns, this does not make the migrant “irregular.”

Stories of undocumented immigrants assume often that they are a surge of people coming in to take a slice out of the “American pie.” What tends to be obfuscated is that the family unit is central to the life of a person, and that the American system does not have a proper way to reunify families. We accept the support of our immigrants and yet we are currently refusing to recognize their contributions by restricting their status, and consequently their ability to achieve more for themselves. Furthermore, we have restricted their ability to see their children. Our government can justify placing restrictions on access by the happenstance of how a person comes to be part of the United States because the modern nation-state system presumes a model of a person that is somehow more deserving of rights than others – the citizens.

Yet, regardless of our national origin or migration status, we are still humans and children that possess inalienable and universal rights.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

The Challenge of Fostering Human Rights Movements Led by Those Communities Impacted - Thoughts on the participation aspect of the human rights framework

The National Economic and Social Rights Initiative, along with many other Human Rights based initiatives, such as the Unaccompanied Immigrant Children Project (UICP), believe that positive change led by impacted communities is the most effective approach. However intangible the idea may be, it has been an integral component of successful Human Rights organizations and something that an International Human Rights student should at least try to understand. Hence, within the first week of my placement, my mind wandered into what I think is the most important part about living the life of an International Human Rights activist – the participation of the communities most impacted by the Human Rights issue.

Beginning my work at the Feerick Center, I felt as though I were a fisherman (or a bear) thrown at the edge of a healthy stream filled with determined fish making their way to spawn in the Spring. I had to catch the fish right or they would slip outside of my reach. Right after orientation, during which we met and greeted people and learned our way around the quadrilateral path leading to offices, food, drink and printers (very important), I rushed from one meeting to the next, reading hundreds of pages worth of information in an hour, synthesizing such information, and participating in the conversation using what brain power I had left. The days were as lengthy and confusing as the sentence before this one. Yet, I had never felt so excited to be in a place so busy, because I felt that the goals of the Center aligned with those that have always led my heart.

As much as any other blog you will find here, this blog might be about passion and strange new things. It might also contain dubiously appropriate comments that may betray that the author is still (hopefully) developing a sense of introspection and accumulating an understanding about certain things – paternalism, gender issues, racialization, inequality… It will detail experiences and events and convey helpful information along the way, such as this:

The Feerick Center for Social Justice is an organization based in Fordham University School of Law, located in New York City, where the tourists flank either side of Lincoln Center and Columbus Circle. The Feerick Center, started in 2006 by the vision of John Feerick, is host to many wonderful programs and activities. It aims to address problems surrounding urban poverty, educate law students, serve low-income communities, and energize practicing attorneys through a variety of programs. In the first week, I mainly participated in the Center’s CLARO program. CLARO is the Civil Legal Advice and Resource Office, which provides limited legal advice to debtor-defendants on consumer debt cases filed against them. CLARO is an equalizing force in a debt industry that is ready to file case after case, fishing for a default judgment in order to collect on charged off debt that is being circulated in the industry as a type of security. On the whole, the Feerick Center is focused on social justice, and I came to participate in it with my fervent belief that true social justice is primarily achieved by pointing that focus on Human Rights.

I was selected to work with the Unaccompanied Immigrant Children Project. The UICP was born out of a conference hosted by the Feerick Center, which focused on the topic of immigrating children, who are coming to the United States on their own. Since then, the number of immigrant children coming to the United States has multiplied, and with each step of the journey comes different sets of Human Rights Issues – from the factors that compel children to leave (push factors), to their treatment at country borders, and then to settlement. The challenge of participation is exacerbated when the category – children – has historically been given little agency in the United States (and other places). We still like to think of our children, all “under eighteen or twenty-one,” as semi-adults – somewhat not fully capable of whatever adulthood is supposed to mean. The reality for me is that I don’t think anyone really knows what adulthood truly means, but we endow such a word and such a concept, with institutional powers – legal, social, economic, and cultural privileges, whose effects can be empowering or pernicious as you may hopefully find out in later posts.

Challenging how we normally view children and how it can affect the aspect of participation in the Human Rights Framework is also an important topic. However, it is not what this post is about (or maybe it has already been). It is about general physical alienation. During the week, I was not sure about how to stay committed to my goal of applying participatory action when I was always in some random office X. In the heat of the first 80 degree summer day of New York City, I felt confused about attaining this goal. How much does participation figure into my work when the impacted person views me as volunteer number 3, who sits on the hallway down the left, after you make a right and three doors down (this is not where I actually sit, which is more accurately in a building by Columbus Circle, up 9 floors through an elevator, through a bolted door, and then going in and left twice)? How do I, the advocate with a clipboard calling client number 42, do what I can to reach out? How will they lead me when I barely see them? How will I follow? These are the questions I am still trying to figure out.

For such a problem, the Feerick Center is my stream. In the Philippines, when the heat of the summer rose, everything around me seemed to melt. It would get so hot that I would sometimes feel confused within the heat’s coercion. Then, there was this stream. I met with it once, took off my shoes, and rinsed my feet in its shallow current. As my world blazed around me, I found a home at the soles of my feet. The cool water gave me hope. The stream’s current gave me direction. I would take a sip of the water to try out the product of industrious rocks refining its composition. As streams are, the sweetness of the water cupped in your hands is a measure of your thirst (not the actual taste of the water). This week, I was thirsty.

Thus, every day I attended every possible conference call, took on every possible task, asked as many questions as I could, and read a lot of things (fiction, biographies, studies, legal documents). Doing all of it, I pondered how to practice rights-based, participatory action when I barely met with the impacted person. I pondered the question when conference call five was nine flights up and the second door to the right from the locked door. I am probably too immaturely anxious to see the literal manifestation of a concept I have decided to live by. Nevertheless, I pondered the question when I went up another elevator ride, through an office door, through a hallway, past a stack of files, and into a door in a table when the answer struck me – the meeting where I was veritably star struck.

When I was only a few years old, I thought I knew a lot about immigration and traveling to other countries. In the Philippines, anyone who left the country was, as I understood it then, outside of the world (“naa sa gawas”) so by the time I was three I had several mothers – all sisters and relatives of my “mama sa gawas” (my real mother, the one outside) and people I call endearingly with variations of mother as the honorific to their names – Mama, Nanay, etc. However, I still felt a strong sense of attachment to the one that wasn’t there – whose honorific, though similarly “Mama,” was not a variation when I spoke it, but the original. I was able to speak to her in calls, and she occasionally came back to visit, and thus she must have been visible. As much as she existed outside my world, she was still there connected to me. She reached out to me, and I reached out to her – in small interactions, only the few short minutes available to her and to me. Her physical absence did not impede her from knowing the entirety of my life, and allowing me to participate in hers. I resorted to looking up at the stars, believing that such a visible thing is both close enough, though outside the world, to have been her residence. Motherhood and the stars were equivalent in my eyes.

It seems I have gendered the role of stars to conform to my experience. Nevertheless, my mind seemed to have turned a key to unlocking my confused search to find the answer to my alienation. In that meeting was a room full of stars: their daily work was just as buried behind elevator floor 3 and hallway 4. Yet, though they were outside, it was their hearts that reached out to the people they were eager to help. All of them, mothers in my eyes in some capacity – their thoughts doing their best to dwell with the community, and some part of me felt that the community was at least close enough.

It is no wonder my director reminds me of the galaxy. As if containing a billion little stars twinkling in my night sky, she seems to have mastered the conveyance of a dozen emotions in only a few words. In a fifteen minute conversation, you could convey to her a lifetime. It is almost as if she already knew. I guess because she is as the Milky Way – containing all these stars, and within it our Earth, home to all these people.

Participation of the impacted communities is the most important aspect in the Human Rights Framework. It is often easy to be paternalistic and to approach the problem only through our view, and our experience. It is much harder to view the problem as the person, who was affected, would see it – they bring more than a singular issue whenever they give the few minutes we have for conversation. I think that being able to understand the way another person has lived the world is only a part of the participation model, but it is a conceptual step that is important though difficult to make. The UICP has several projects including participatory research that brings this aspect more concretely – to which I am looking forward.