Landmines, Beauty Pageants, and Jimmy Carter

An article I wrote that was published on Causecast and Intent today.

Imagine: a beauty pageant where the contestants are missing limbs and scars run across their bodies. Imagine that this beauty pageant judges the contestants on their mental strength and courage. Now imagine that the world at large begins to question established concepts of "physical perfection."

This is the goal of the Miss Landmine beauty pageant in Angola, Africa. 18 contestants, one representing each of Angola's provinces, compete to challenge inferiority and guilt complexes that hinder personal empowerment after being handicapped from landmine explosions.

Angola's civil war ended six years ago, but as many as eight million landmines remain buried in the soil. According to the United Nations Mine Action Center, landmines claim at least 300 victims a year in Angola alone.

While the Miss Landmine project seems like a pretty empowering and unique idea, not everyone thinks quite so highly of this competition. Feminists worldwide think Miss Landmine is merely an exploitation of victims. Representatives from the competition answer that concern by assuring that they are attempting to create empowerment by "Replacing the passive term 'Victim' with the active term 'Survivor.'"

An official statement from the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) states that a total of 5,751 casualties from mines and explosive remnants of war were recorded in 68 states and other areas in 2006. This included 1,367 people killed and 4,296 injured. 34% of these causalities were children. These numbers are atrocious, and reflect a deep-seated unwillingness by governments to give up their hold on these weapons. In 1976, Jimmy Carter said, "We can't have it both ways. We can't be both the world's leading champion of peace and the world's leading supplier of arms." To learn more about the politics behind landmines, visit the ICBL website.

In college, I had the chance to work with Jody Williams, a Nobel Peace Prize winner for her work with the ICBL in banning landmines. She's a feisty woman of 58 who rarely uses "that prize she won" in describing herself or the work she has done. While her bold style may turn some people off (she famously called Bill Clinton a "weenie" while discussing his reluctance to sign off on the Ottawa treaty), her hatred for the injustice of innocent civilians being injured or killed by landmines is obvious.

"Emotion without action is irrelevant," says Jody. Policy needs to be changed and aid needs to be given. So what can you do to help? Sign the People's Treaty to Ban Cluster Bombs here. It is a legally binding international treaty that forbids the use, production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster bombs. The Convention will be signed in Oslo on December 3 of this year. Support Adopt-a-Minefield with a donation, by starting a campaign at your school, or by hosting a dinner party.

Nowhere on the Miss Landmine website, nor anywhere in related press articles could I find a summary of what prizes the winning contestant walked away with. There's no $10,000 scholarship, shopping spree, or free room and board in Trump Towers for a year, as American beauty pageant winners receive. It seems to me that the big prize that comes with the crown is the fierce sense of pride in being a disabled and empowered woman.


An AMAZING video that Causecast produced.

Harvey Milk was the first openly-gay person to be elected to public office in the US in 1977. His most recognized speech, "You Cannot Live On Hope Alone," was given in 1978, shortly before he was assassinated.

(Blogger is formatting the video quite oddly. Click here to watch it correctly on Causecast.)




The “Fast For Our Future” campaign will begin in Los Angeles on October 15th, 2008, three weeks before the November 4th presidential election. Over 100 people will fast in order to mobilize our community to vote for immigrant rights.

Fasters will give up all food and juice liquids. When engaging in a hunger strike, we will commit to only drink water.

The Fast will be based at an encampment at La Placita Olvera, the historic heart of Los Angeles. The encampment will be a visual representation of the size and growth of the hunger strike. Fasters will sleep in tents and live at the encampment for the duration of the Fast.

The Fast will continue until at least 1,000,000 people have signed the Pledge to vote and take action for immigrant rights.

Who's in?? I plan on fasting the day before the election: November 3. And I'm going to Dia de los Muertos at Olvera Street on Nov. 2!! Join me!


Blog Action Day 08

“Hope has two beautiful daughters- their names are Anger and Courage. Anger at the way things are and Courage to see that they do not remain the way they are.” –St. Augustine

A couple years ago, I was working at St. Joseph’s Homeless Service Center in Venice, CA. What started as a semester-long “Community-Based Learning” course that Loyola Marymount University required I take turned into something that would forever change the way I look at poverty and homelessness.

On my very first day, I ended up getting thrown right into case management. St. Joseph’s describes case management as a service for “Homeless individuals who are ready to make long-term change.” Plans were developed jointly by the individual and the case manager to assess each person's strengths and needs. We laid out plans for long-term stability and increased the clients’ self-sufficiency by working to get them permanent housing, job training, employment and ongoing treatment.

Imagine my astonishment that they were throwing a junior in college into the position! I had no experience in case management. I didn’t know the various services available to the clients. But by the end of my first day at St. Jo’s, I had helped a young mother and her children find a safe place to sleep, got them set up with appointments at a Free Health Clinic nearby and ensured that the children were enrolled in school. It was a pretty amazing yet heartbreaking to my beginning at Homeless Services Center.

I didn’t have a clue as to the logistics of case management: what forms our clients needed to fill out or how to get them bus tokens to get to the Cold Weather Shelter in Culver City. What I could do was sit down and give them my undivided attention. From listening to stories of a young couple living out of their car with their newborn baby daughter, to the “Will work for Marijuana” flag-waving man trying to visit his son in Florida, I met some pretty amazing people. People I believed had the desire to get out of the situations they were in and rehabilitate themselves.

Fast-forward a few years. To this day, I still recognize faces when I walk along the Venice Beach strand… and that makes me really mad. I know it’s not due to a failure of programming at St. Joseph’s —their programs are amazing and when taken seriously, the clients can make a serious difference in their lives. It meant the people I spent hours with each week guiding and counseling on how to turn their lives around and get them off the streets didn’t hear a word I said.

For a while, I began to see little hope in homelessness. I genuinely saw more hope in the genocides of Africa than I did in LA’s homeless situation. Simply put, I was jaded. I had worked tirelessly for months on end to eradicate poverty on LA’s Westside … and I wasn’t seeing much progress. I began to roll my eyes as I walked past the homeless, knowing full-well what options and services were open to them, free of cost. They weren’t taking these amazing opportunities! And I was angry with them.

Just recently, something clicked in my mind. Maybe it’s not about curing “the problem.” St. Joseph’s might not be an organization dedicating to ending the plague of poverty. Maybe it’s more about restoring human dignity. Hm.

After all, the biggest draw to St. Joseph’s was the jointly-run Bread and Roses CafĂ©, where clients could make reservations to have a delicious (and free!) meal cooked by a professional chef, and be waited on like anyone else would be in a nice restaurant. Maybe our clients came in for opportunities to launder their clothes, to make phone calls and use the Internet, or to just converse normally with someone who wasn’t afraid of them.

So, dear friends, I’m left with this thought from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: "All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood."

I hope today that we see the importance of treating each other with “a spirit of brotherhood” and attempt to “fix” not necessarily poverty at large, but the lack of human dignity given to our brothers.

Click here to find out more about St. Joseph’s Homeless Services Center.


No more donuts for me.

Yesterday I was standing next to some skinny bitch Manhattan Beach mom. Her son looked at me, then looked at her and said, "Mommy, that girl is way bigger than you."



Blog Action Day 2008: Poverty

Blog Action Day 2008 Poverty from Blog Action Day on Vimeo.


"Was not Jesus an extremist for love: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist: "Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God." And John Bunyan: "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience." And Abraham Lincoln: "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." And Thomas Jefferson: "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . ." So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?" Martin Luther King, Jr.


My adventure in the Sierra Nevadas.


Ojos Locos (his real name)

Comfy cozy puppy.

OH MY GOD. Ok, this is the suspension bridge I had to cross over to get to the cabin. When we arrived, it was pitch black and pouring rain. I had Ojos on a leash and he pulled me across that bridge and I thought I was going to fall to my death. It was awful. That bridge swayed and gave me such intense vertigo. I hate that bridge.

The super-creepy loft where my bed was. I was convinced it was haunted, so I slept on the living room floor.

Felix! A little friend that surprised me outside an antique shop.

Hot mountain bikers. Everywhere.

Haha, The Wooden Trout.

Naturally, aunt and uncle take me to wander through a creepy cemetary.


The town bar.

It was beautiful the last day...but I still ran down this trail, convinced I was going to get eaten by a bear.