Campesinos en Peligros: Saying No to the Status Quo at Ruby Ridge

Howdy! So I recently submitted another article to the AmeriCorps newsletter, which was promptly rejected. As always, no hard feelings to my supervisors. I think I’m just incapable of not being partial and/or in some form too political for the AmeriPeeps in charge. For those of you who are interested, take a gander!

Campesinos en Peligros

Farmers in Danger: Saying No to the Status Quo at Ruby Ridge

On February 13, Whitman College hosted an event titled “Labor in the Food Chain.” Four former employees of the Ruby Ridge Dairy, located just outside of Pasco, recalled their experiences as agricultural workers. All four of the presenters were promptly fired after making efforts to unionize their Ruby Ridge co-workers. Each man illustrated the obvious need for a unified (and unionized) voice at the dairy by painting a grim image of the intolerable working conditions they experienced. The presenters emphasized that many of the Ruby Ridge employees simply were not aware of their rights as workers and that their managers often exploited this ignorance.

The dairy operators often worked the employees for long periods without breaks to eat or drink (as long as 17 hours), forced them to use broken machinery, and insulted them with racial slurs. One man, Miguel, noted that his boss once told him that if he was thirsty, he should drink from the cows’ hoses, noting, “If it doesn’t kill them, it won’t kill you.” Another worker commented that when he reported the condition of the hazardous equipment to the Washington Department of Labor and Industries (an entity devoted to workplace safety and worker compensation), he was brushed off and the damages were never repaired. The men were continually intimidated by one gun-toting dairy boss who threatened anyone who damaged equipment or injured livestock. The employees expressed their bewilderment to this particular approach, as they were often encouraged to milk cows clearly suffering from mastitis (infection of the udders). One employee named Jorge commented, “Some cows would just die as they were being milked.”

After the employees managed to get the majority (twenty six) of their co-workers to sign union representation cards, they were immediately terminated. In addition, Ruby Ridge management warned nearby dairies not to hire any of the fired individuals. When one of the workers applied for unemployment benefits, he was shocked to learn that he had been rejected, because Ruby Ridge falsely reported that he had “quit.”

cesar chavezThe Ruby Ridge Dairy workers finally found a helping hand in the United Farm Workers of America (UFW), founded by the famed Cesar Chavez. Chavez’s early efforts helped secure many of the most fundamental protections farmers in the United States enjoy today. The UFW amplified the workers’ voices, spreading their stories on college campuses across the state and rallying supporters for their push to unionize. This growing momentum eventually led to a demonstration of nearly two hundred Teamsters, unions, and students at the Darigold headquarters in Seattle. The Ruby Ridge Dairy operates as a supplier to the Darigold Cooperative, so the shunned workers hoped that appealing to the higher-ups might catch the attention of their former employer. However, the rally evoked little reaction, other than the immediate installation of security guards in the protest areas. The UFW leader who conducted most of the Whitman presentation noted that none of Darigold’s nearly 500 dairies are unionized.

darigold protestInstead of exerting pressure on Ruby Ridge to consider the demands to unionize, the Darigold staff locked their doors. On these doors, they posted a letter noting that agricultural workers do not fall under the protection of the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA). Subsequently, their calls to unionize and discuss collective bargaining were effectively pushed off of the table. In response to this corporate rejection, the UFW and supporters of the Ruby Ridge movement appealed directly to Darigold’s consumers. The organizers were able to collect over 20,000 signatures in support of their efforts. They returned to Seattle to deliver proof of the cause’s growing force. This time, the protesters were answered with a fleet of departing cars, mostly “Mercedes, BMWs, and Land Rovers.”

In attempts to further silence the former employees, Ruby Ridge filed a SLAAP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) suit against them and the UFW organizers. However, multiple named employees were not actually accused of anything and were awarded $10,000 each (though the company has failed to pay since the ruling). The UFW representative in attendance, Jorge Valenzuela, stressed the significance of emerging unions, even for non-unionized workers. “With the existence of some unions, conditions will improve for everyone, because the other companies must compete. It benefits everyone.”

I also came across a video on the UFW website, which includes testimony from three of the men who spoke at Whitman. Just a heads up, the video is in Spanish (and a bit muffled).

If you are interested in signing the UFW sponsored petition and appeal to Darigold to show your support for the Ruby Ridge employees to unionize, go to http://action.ufw.org/page/s/darigoldpetition.

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Analyzing Abuse: Understanding Perpetrators of Domestic Violence

On November 28, I attended a training at the Walla Walla Police Department with Lundy Bancroft. As an experienced caseworker, author, and traveling lecturer, Bancroft discusses the tendencies of domestic violence perpetrators and offers advice to victims. In our training, he was focused primarily on the common behavior and motivations of abusers. For years, Bancroft worked with Emerge, a domestic violence counseling and prevention program in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Lundy noted that his practice accepted both court-mandated and voluntary clients, though he preferred the court-ordered clients, as they could not threaten to leave the program. He emphasized that voluntary clients generally attended meetings not because they believed their actions were wrong, but rather in last-ditch efforts to save their relationships. He also mentioned diverted clients, or those who enter counseling between the time of arrest and trial. These individuals often pointed to their treatment as proof of their commitment to change, but rarely returned after their trial.

Bancroft gradually learned to challenge his pre-conceived notions of domestic violence perpetrators. Originally, he perceived offenders as tortured individuals willing to acknowledge their poor behavior and take steps to change. After working for years with abusers, Bancroft found that they were “smug, self-satisfied, un-apologetic, and remarkably committed to staying the same.” He stressed the importance of forming a rounded understanding of the situation, as offenders often frame their abuse in a justified way. To ensure that he had a fully understood the circumstances, he always contacted the abused party. Lundy noted that the victims generally reported five to ten times more abuse than the perpetrators.

Bancroft discussed the high prevalence of abusers who become “model clients,” or those who try to manipulate their counselors into believing that they have changed. He explained that tt is this ability to charm others that allows the perpetrators of domestic violence to keep their victims close. Often, the actual incidence of physical abuse is very isolated and abusers are not perceived by others as hostile or intimidating. Instead, these individuals are frequently described as “very likeable.” Illustrating this point, Bancroft jokingly stated, “I’ve never met at offender I didn’t like.”

Bancroft noted that he originally thought that domestic violence was a manifestation of an abuser’s emotional pain. He thought that this pain stemmed from the inability of perpetrators to express their feelings. However, he quickly found the opposite true. His clients generally expressed their emotions freely, often viewing their emotional needs as vastly important. This frequently meant that the abuser was extremely out of touch with the needs of their victims and children.

Mr. Bancroft emphasized that the majority of physically battered women face much more emotional abuse than actual bodily harm. He noted that the violence was “the tip of the iceberg,” continuing that the psychological abuse is often what renders the victims incapable of leaving their significant others. He also stressed the need for domestic violence case workers and police officers (many of whom were in attendance) to remain patient with the victims of abuse. He noted that appearing critical and frustrated with these victims may push them into further withdrawal.

Bancroft discussed “coercive control,” or the notion that victims who stand up to their abusers will face punishment. This understanding often causes victims to be hyper compliant with their abusers, to ensure their own safety. Bancroft noted the prevalence of such control as one of the reasons that investigators must collect a comprehensive history from victims, who may be severely traumatized from long term abuse. This trauma can lead to victims to defend their abusers to police, refusing to report physical harm.

Bancroft emphasized that the perpetrators of domestic violence are generally very focused on socially isolating their victims. The abusers know that the less contact their partner has with others, the more likely he will be able to “define her reality.” Lundy highlighted the common “divide and conquer mentality,” which underlies offenders’ efforts to pit victims against their friends and family members. Basically, many abusers are obsessed with distancing their partners from any perceived sources of support. Due to this kind of manipulation, victims may be perceived as delusional or detached to law enforcement. He noted that traditional measures of credibility are not always applicable to victims of abuse, as they have been severely traumatized. He commented that for this reason, battered individuals rarely make good witnesses. Lundy suggested that police rehearse the testimony with victims to ensure they are able to express themselves adequately in court.

During his lecture, Bancroft also stressed that abusers’ claims that they “lost themselves” or blacked out are often untrue. He usually asks perpetrators why they did not kill their victims. He noted that responses are generally along the lines of “That would be wrong” or “I would never do that.” Such statements are indications that abusers do have control over their violence, demonstrated by their ability to stop the abuse at a certain point. He continued, noting that the common practice of justifying their actions also indicates that abusers were not only aware of what they were doing, but are actually willing to defend their behavior. Many perpetrators distort the meaning of self-defense and aggression, often labeling victims as the original aggressors. Based on this view, the abusers are able to construe their abuse that follows as self-defense.

Over time, Lundy has found that abusers often justify their violence as a response to extreme provocation by their victims. Perpetrators perceive their abuse as instrumental, goal-oriented action.  Abusers label “bad guys” as those who don’t have “good enough reasons” to rationalize their abuse. Bancroft noted that the real challenge is convincing offenders that they have no right to abuse their victims in the first place. He continued, stating that the best way to do this is to send them to jail, which he believes has the largest impact on reducing recidivism. Lundy suggests sentencing perpetrators to jail time after their first offense, which he asserts would greatly lower the likelihood that they would consider additional violence.

I was especially interested by Mr. Bancroft’s discussion of friendly parent provisions in state laws. These provisions essentially encourage child custody with the parent who appears most devoted to maintaining a relationship between both parents and the child. This presents obvious issues in cases involving domestic violence, as the victim is often very opposed to having the children remain in contact with parents who abuse. This situation often leads to the victim being portrayed as the less “friendly parent.” Bancroft noted that while the laws were well-intentioned, their execution often creates precarious situations for the victims of domestic violence.

 

Bancroft cited statistics that found that, when surveyors controlled for class, there was not a significant difference in the occurrence of domestic violence between racial groups. He noted that the research indicates that lower-income couples are more likely to experience incidents of physical domestic violence. He continued, noting that higher-income individuals have “more ways to terrorize” their victims due to access to more extensive resources. He stressed that wealthy abusers are much more concerned than low-income perpetrators with their public image. For this reason, high-income abusers are generally more devoted to hiding their abuse and less likely to get caught. When asked by an audience member if certain cultures were more tolerant of domestic violence, Bancroft responded, “Yes, like yours.” He refuted the idea that certain minority groups are more accepting of abuse, instead emphasizing that American culture in general is hugely centered on violence perpetrated against women. To illustrate this point, he played the music video for the 2007 hit “Love the Way You Lie” by Rihanna and Eminem. While this did seem a bit silly at first, he definitely made his point.

Overall, I think Lundy Bancroft’s training was useful and definitely relevant to my (and Tim’s) job. Some of our clients are victims of domestic violence and I think it is important that we are sensitive to their needs. This lecture definitely helped me understand how to approach the subject in a more sensitive way and I hope to incorporate some of Lundy’s principles into my work.

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A Few Days of Immigration Law

Tom Roach, Roach Law, LLP (Pasco, Washington) 

Two weeks ago, I shadowed two local immigration attorneys. First, I drove to Pasco and shadowed Tom Roach, who has been in the field for nearly thirty years. Tom attended the University of Seattle for his undergraduate studies, earned a Master’s Degree in International Politics from Columbia University, and later graduated from the University of San Francisco Law School. After law school, Tom worked as a legislative staffer for Senator Mike Gravel of Alaska from 1977 to 1980. Tom commented that during his time in Washington, he worked closely with the Committee on Fisheries and Ocean Affairs. On a related note, Tom worked for ten summers on fishing boats in Alaska. Fun fact, eh?

Tom is the third of nine children, many of whom also went on to practice law in Washington. I actually met Tom’s brother Dan first, as he is one of the attorneys practicing with the BMAC Pro Bono Program (my placement with AmeriCorps). I also had the opportunity to meet Tom’s son Eamonn, who has acted as a Rule 9 intern (allowing limited practice for law school students) in the Roach Law Office.

Tom’s firm has nine bilingual paralegals, many of whom deal primarily with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) clients. Tom noted that since DACA was signed, his firm has taken over 250 related cases. I also had a chance to briefly shadow Alva Guizar, who often assists Tom with immigration cases that involve criminal charges. He explained that the immigration consequences of criminal convictions vary and often require special attention from attorneys.  Tom noted that behind tax law, immigration law is seen by many attorneys as the most challenging field to practice. For nearly twenty years, he was the only full time immigration lawyer in eastern Washington. Tom noted that while he has worked with clients from 120 countries, about 70% of his clients have origins in Mexico.

Wendy Hernandez, Hernandez Immigration Law, LLC (Walla Walla, WA) 

After shadowing Tom for a day in Pasco, I headed back to Walla Walla to observe Wendy Hernandez. Wendy graduated from Gonzaga University Law School in 2003 (like many of the attorneys we work with in Walla Walla). Like Tom, she is also a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA). Wendy gained extensive experience in immigration in law school, while working as an intern representing immigrant children with Columbia Legal Services. After graduating, Wendy continued to expand her knowledge, creating an immigration clinic for World Relief Spokane. Later, Wendy developed a similar clinic in Walla Walla, where she has remained. Wendy actually started practicing law a little later than most and was formerly a registered nurse and mental health counselor.

Deferred Action for Childhood Removals (DACA)

Tom walked me through the process for individuals applying for work visas under the recently passed Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), signed by President Obama on June 15, 2012. The memo was designed to allow undocumented individuals who arrived in the United States as children and have since pursued education or military service to receive employment authorization. Tom noted that while around 400,000 immigrants have applied for DACA status, nearly 1.2 million could’ve applied. Both attorneys noted that while DACA does allow approved applicants to live legally in the United States, it does not necessarily ensure eventual green card or citizenship status (though many of their clients do plan to apply for more extended visas in the future).  The Employment Authorization Document (EAD) portion of DACA grants applicants a two year work permit if approved and may be renewed.

There are a number of qualifications that applicants must meet to be considered for DACA status. Individuals must have arrived in the United States before the age of 16 and must have been under 31 when the memo was signed by President Obama. Further, applicants must prove that they have lived in the United States continuously since June 15, 2007 (bank or school records are often used as proof). This portion seemed to present a barrier to a number of Tom and Wendy’s clients, since many have traveled out of the United States during this period. Immigrants must prove that they entered the United States without inspection prior to the June 15, 2012 or that their lawful residence expired at that point.

Applicants must also provide proof that they were present in the United States on the day that the memo was signed, as well as on the date of their DACA request. Additionally, immigrants must meet certain educational criteria. Applicants must prove that they are currently enrolled in school, have a high school degree or GED equivalent, or have been honorably discharged from the military. Tom noted that he has had clients who have been “other than honorably discharged,” which can hinder the DACA (and citizenship) process, since applicants must prove “good moral character.” Finally, individuals must prove that they have not been convicted of a felony, a “significant misdemeanor” (including burglary, domestic violence, sexual abuse, unlawful firearm possession, DUI, or drug distribution or trafficking), more than three “nonsignificant misdemeanors,” and that they do not pose a threat to national security. I was surprised by the size of the applications, which were relatively small. Perhaps I’m just accustomed to the volumes of documents that we send our clients to court with…

One potential barrier to DACA applicants is gang involvement. Subsequently, the presence of gang-affiliated tattoos presents an obvious problem. Tom allowed me to read a memo sent from the United States Consulate General in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The author noted that the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) had noticed refusal or significant delay for applicants with “suspected gang affiliation based solely on the applicant’s tattoo(s).” The memo continued, stating that even “innocent tattoos” are often referred to the visa office, potentially hindering the DACA process for months or even years.  However, the author does stress that “the mere existence of a tattoo” is not adequate grounds for denial and that interviewers are expected to “consider the totality of an applicants’ circumstances.” Tom noted that he remains concerned about the potential rejection of multiple DACA clients who have seemingly innocent tattoos.

While DACA status does allow for temporary lawful residence, it does not affect an individual’s overall immigration status and is not meant to act as a path to citizenship or lawful permanent residence. Additionally, deferred action status does not ensure that approved applicants will be forgiven for earlier unlawful residence in the United States. Both attorneys  emphasized the very delicate nature of the DACA applications. When illegal immigrants apply, they risk being deported. If USCIS or ICE agents don’t grant DACA status, the applicant may be immediately placed into removal proceedings. Furthermore, deferred action status may actually be revoked in the future. For this reason, attorneys must be especially prudent with DACA applicants. Wendy noted that she is very careful not to include too much documentation in her clients’ DACA applications. Applicants often include falsified Social Security records, which can ultimately hurt them in the future if they pursue permanent resident or citizenship status.

H1B Visas

Many of Tom’s cases involve clients seeking H1B visas, which allow immigrants to work temporarily in the United States. If the immigrants are fired or quit, they must apply for another visa ensuring legal status, find a new job, or leave the country. Applicants for this kind of visa must have a “specialized” college degree, because H1B is considered a professional work visa.

I.C.E. Audits 

Tom let me sit in on a meeting with a client whose business was audited by I.C.E. (U.S. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, a branch of the Department of Homeland Security). When immigration agents investigate businesses, they ask owners for their I-9 forms for all employees. In cases of undocumented workers, the Social Security numbers of workers are often deemed invalid. The client had been notified that multiple employees on her payroll presented false numbers. The I.C.E. letter stressed that if she continued to employ these individuals without providing valid documentation of their legal status, she could be fined between $375 and $3,200 (for the first offense) by Homeland Security Investigations. The letter stated that subsequent offenses would be punished more heavily, if the employer engaged in a pattern of hiring “undocumented aliens.”

The Hague Convention

Tom also discussed a number of his cases that have dealt with the Hague Convention, which binds signatories to particular standards of practice in international law. Tom noted that if both countries in a legal dispute are parties to the convention, certain procedures must be followed. These requirements complicated a number of adoption cases in Tom’s firm, particularly the portion regarding inter-country adoption which states, “Proper effort has been given to the child’s adoption in its country of origin.” He explained that this required him to prove that no one in the country of origin would adopt the child. Additionally, two authorities from government entities in the country the child is being adopted from must provide written authorization for the adoption, which is not always an easy  process.

U Visas

Tom also discussed U Visas, which allow victims of crimes to acquire legal status in the United States for up to four years. After three years of physical presence in the United States, U Visa recipients may apply for a green card. After holding a green card for five years, the immigrants may then apply for full citizenship. For many of Tom and Wendy’s clients, U Visas are granted to victims of domestic violence. This nonimmigrant visa also allows approved individuals to work legally in the United States and Employment Authorization Documents (EAD) are included in the U Visa petition (similar to the DACA paperwork). The application must also demonstrate that the victim is or was willing to assist law enforcement in solving or learning more about a crime or related investigation. Wendy actually noted that U Visas are only granted to victims of verbal domestic violence (or in cases of “extreme cruelty”) if they are married. So unmarried victims of verbal domestic violence (who are also unlawful immigrants) cannot be granted  U Visas, but similar married individuals can. Additionally, this visa can extend to protect other family members, called “derivatives” of the applicants.

Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)

Wendy explained that many of her clients who are victims of domestic violence are also protected by the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), originally passed by Congress in 1995. The legislation contains provisions which allow abused illegal immigrants to apply for temporary visas. However, in April of 2012, the Senate removed the provision of the bill that the House re-passed, which offers the protection of DV immigrant victims. It is unclear if this portion of the bill will remain in force. Wendy commented that many of her clients are undocumented immigrants whose husbands are lawful permanent residents or citizens. Their husbands often threaten the women with deportation if they report the abuse. VAWA offers protection to women in these kinds of situations.

Hardship Waivers: A bit of a catch-22? 

Wendy discussed an immigration predicament faced by many of her clients. For undocumented immigrants to apply for a green card, they must first leave the United States. Under the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1996, any individual who entered the U.S. without being inspected upon arrival (crossed the border illegally) is automatically subject to a three or ten year ban from reentry. The three year ban applies if the illegal immigrant has lived in the country for less than one year. At the one year residency mark, the ten year ban applies. One way to get around this barrier is to apply for a hardship waiver (or more formally, an I-601 Application for Waiver of Grounds of Inadmissibility).

This document asks immigrants to prove that their removal from the country would impose serious hardship on their spouse or children. Wendy explained that many of her clients cite the departing parent in question as the primary income earner, noting that the person’s departure would impose a financial burden on the family. Even applying for the waiver also sometimes requires immigrants to leave the country, creating a precarious situation for reentry. While there was some protection for the spouses and children of lawful permanent residents (LPR) under the Legal Immigration Family Equity Act of 2000 (the V Visa), that protection only extended to those who applied for their visas on or before December 21, 2000. So current LPR immigrants do not have any similar protection. However, domestic violence victims can be granted an immediate waiver under VAWA (as discussed in the previous section).

Wendy noted that this process is an ongoing issue for her Mexican clients.  If they go to Mexico and the ban is triggered, the immigrants must complete their application process from Mexico. Due to the serious risk of attempting to reenter the United States, many immigrants simply avoid applying for green card status to ensure they can remain with their families.  Obama proposed a rule earlier this year which would allow illegal immigrants to avoid deportation and complete their paperwork in the United States. However, this change is hugely controversial and has not yet been enacted. Wendy noted this as one of the most necessary aspects of immigration reform. Also, because hardship waivers only cover the spouse and children of the immigrant in question, parents and other extended family are not protected. Wendy commented that for her clients, this often results in deportation of extended family, primarily parents of the applicants.

Interesting Inquiries…

Tom allowed me to scan over some of the applications for various immigration documents. There are some pretty interesting items included on the I-485 Application for Permanent Residence. Here are a few of the questions, if you’re curious:

  • Did you act in association with Nazi Germany between March 23, 1933 and May 8, 1945? 
  • Have you ever been affiliated with any Communist or other totalitarian party?
  • Have you ever engaged in genocide?
  • Do you plan to practice polygamy in the United States?

Asylum Cases

Towards the end of my visit, Wendy briefly discussed her asylum cases. She explained that to apply for asylum, applicants must prove that they have been or will be subject to persecution based on their race, religion, or political affiliation in their home country. The asylum seeker must also prove that they face danger from government institutions in that country. She emphasized that asylum cases require an immense amount of research, as attorneys must become familiar with the political climate and human rights conditions in a given country. Asylum applicants must attend a “credible fear interview,” where the reality of the threat they claim is gauged. If approved, the immigrant receives a work visa valid for one year. At the end of that year, the person may apply for a green card. I won’t go into too much detail, but the asylum cases Wendy discussed with me were fascinating. She has represented child slaves, persecuted Christians, former practicers of voodoo, and domestic violence victims of female circumcision. Wendy noted that these cases are also very delicate, as the applicants will immediately be placed in deportation proceedings if their asylum is denied. For this reason, she is very careful with the asylum cases she accepts.

Many thanks to both Tom and Wendy for allowing me to visit and observe!

A Few Links to Check Out

Northwest Immigrant Rights Project:  http://www.nwirp.org/

NWIRP is devoted to representing and protecting low-income immigrants by providing legal services.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA):  http://www.aila.org/

This site is devoted to assisting immigration attorneys and providing current information on changes in immigration law.

Roach Law Offices, LLP: http://www.roachlaw.com/tom.html

Hernandez Immigration Law, LLC: http://hernandezimmigrationlaw.com/index.php

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Tis the Season (for Carols, Care Packages, and Citizenship Exams)

Last month, I joined Friends of Children of Walla Walla, a local non-profit devoted to pairing children with adult mentors. The vision of Friends is very similar to that of Big Brothers, Big Sisters and promotes “creating positive change in the lives of families in the Walla Walla Valley.” I was paired with my friend Emily (I’m not allowed to use her real name) in late October. Friends requires that volunteers meet with their matches for at least one hour each week. During my initial meeting with Emily, I spoke with her mother and the program’s director, Jovanna.

So far, our “friendship” has gone really well and I’ve enjoyed spending time with Emily. I am one of the few BMAC AmeriCorps members who does not work directly with kids, so it’s refreshing to get a break from all the seriousness (and adulty-ness) that is the pro bono office. Emily loves horses, but has never ridden one, so I am hoping to find a way for her to ride locally. Last weekend, we built a gingerbread house together (which was admittedly far superior to the one I built with the roomies). I also had a chance to watch her rehearsal for the “Feast of Carols” event held at Whitman.

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Emily has an active imagination and I will admit that sometimes, the truth of her tales isn’t entirely evident. During our last visit, she told me all about her boyfriend of two years. She noted that she was the one who initiated the relationship (as a second grader), which I must admit is fairly impressive. Gotta love an assertive little lady, right? ;) Yesterday, we watched the Nutcracker together and it was Emily’s first viewing. She pranced all around the parking lot afterwards, so I think it’s safe to say it was a success. The performance was featured by the Walla Walla Symphony and the Eugene Ballet Company. Many thanks to Friends for giving us free tickets!

In other news, this time of year is chock full of volunteer opportunities. A few weeks ago, Kiley and I rang bells for the Salvation Army at a local Safeway.

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I’ve also started volunteering with the BMAC Adult Literacy Program. I was paired with Rosa, who is hoping to improve her English conversation skills and to become fluent enough to pass the citizenship exam. We meet twice each week, on Mondays and Wednesdays after work. We definitely still have our challenges in communicating, but we can usually find a way to get our points across.  I’ve started reviewing the 100 exam questions with her and I printed off flash cards with the questions and answers in Spanish. I have been really impressed with her lately, as she has been studying and memorizing the cards at home. I realize that the volume of material is definitely intimidating, so I appreciate each little bit of progress that she makes.

I was originally under the impression that Rosa could take the question portion of the exam in Spanish, but it turns out that she can’t, since she doesn’t meet certain qualifications. She must answer six of the selected ten questions correctly from the original one hundred. Applicants must also complete an interview in English, a challenge which will definitely take a while to tackle. It’s nice to take a short break before we finish up our sessions to get to know each other better. During our last session, I learned that Rosa has seventeen grandchildren (hay muuuchos nietos!), many of whom she cares for while her children are working. I also learned that she often visits Mexico to see her extended family that did not come with her to the United States. At first I found myself constantly repeating, “Habla mas despacio!” (speak more slowly), but I think she has finally learned to slow it down a bit (probably after observing my cocked head, blank stare look a number of times). When I have free time between clients, I often sit in with the program director during her Spanish intakes. I do think it has helped to improve my Spanish and has made me much more comfortable with my Spanish speaking clients.

As far as life goes in general, all is well. I have had a full caseload of clients and I spent many of my mornings last week working on an emergency order (known as an ex-parte restraining order). I hadn’t worked on one in a while (over a month) and actually made a few mistakes, which (to my horror) meant my client had to run back to our office for one last consult before filing her papers.  Such is life! Overall, I am confident with how my job is going and I really enjoy working with my clients.

I also got my hair cut for the first time in over two years! My last haircut was the summer following my sophomore year. I don’t think I’ve had bangs since I was oh, I don’t know, seven? Annnyway, it’s always nice to have a bit of change! :)

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I had a chance to spend some quality time with my roommates last weekend as well, which was lovely. We built a homemade gingerbread house, which ended up resembling more of a shack. We also watched Love Actually and drank High Balls (seriously though, they’re delicious), courtesy of Leslie. I just LOVE this time of the year!

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Also, I’d like to express my sincerest thanks to Ms. Rebecca Schmaeling, who sent me this lovely care package, complete with pumpkin bars, earrings, and a book filled with Spanish profanity. What more does a girl need in life? Love you, Lav!

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I think I’ll finish up with my favorite (quite appropriate and undeniably sappy) quote from Love Actually:

“General opinion’s starting to make out that we live in a world of hatred and greed, but I don’t see that. It seems to me that love is everywhere. Often it’s not particularly dignified or newsworthy, but it’s always there – fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, boyfriends, girlfriends, old friends. When the planes hit the Twin Towers, as far as I know none of the phone calls from the people on board were messages of hate or revenge – they were all messages of love. If you look for it, I’ve got a sneaky feeling you’ll find that love actually is all around.”

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Sweet November: Giving Thanks and Celebrating 23

Finally, I am caught up in my blogging and can start talking about some more recent events. This month, the AmeriCorps team completed Red Cross Shelter Training, which prepared us for potential deployment to the East Coast to help out with clean-up and support for the victims of Hurricane Sandy. While it did seem a bit strange to me that AmeriCorps members on the opposite side of the country would be deployed to provide assistance, the BMAC team is large and well-trained. However, nobody has been deployed to date, so it seems a bit unlikely at this point.

Our second team day of the month fell on my birthday, November 21. It was so nice to spend the day with all of my fellow members. We had a little get together at our house last Saturday, complete with spiced apple cider, a gingerbread Christmas tree-shaped cake, and plenty of complimentary birthday booze. Special thanks to Ms. Ashley Bush, for the two bottles of Waterbrook Wine (the Malbec and Merlot)- it was delicious!

On Wednesday morning (my birthday), I woke up to a wonderfully decorated house and the BEST birthday present ever- a giant stuffed elephant! I named him Tapatio, after my new favorite hot sauce (we call him Tio for short). He’s about half as tall as I am and makes quite the body pillow! :)

When I got home from our team day and AmeriCorps Thanksgiving celebration, I was surprised with flowers and cake, sent from my Mom. It was so sweet and made my (already awesome) day! Thanks, Mom! Love ya! :)

On Thursday, the AmeriCorps members who didn’t leave Walla Walla celebrated Thanksgiving together. We all brought our own dishes, so there was no shortage of food. I made cranberry sauce and macaroni and cheese.

This was actually my first Thanksgiving away from home, but it was spent in the best of company! :)

On Friday, Kiley and I headed to Dayton to check out their seasonal celebrations, which included a parade, plenty of holiday crafts, and possibly the strangest nativity scene I have witnessed. It was complete with a camel (which apparently lives in Waitsburg), a very plastic baby Jesus, and the Holy Ghost addressing the crowd from the top of a dumpster. The parade was relatively short, but just enough to get us in the most Christmas-y of spirits! Here is a picture of the Columbia County Courthouse, all lit up for the holidays!

The last year has definitely been one of transition, first to South Africa, then from my beloved wild and wonderful West Virginia to Walla Walla. So far, I thoroughly enjoy my new home. My first semi-real world experience has been incredible and I love my job (er, service). Sure, I’m a little poor (and still terrible at managing my money), but I’m summing it up as a character building experience. Cheers to another year, hopefully filled with as much  adventure as the last!

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Our Autumn Adventures: A Burlesque, Bunny-Filled Wonderland

For Kiley’s birthday weekend, we headed to the Power House Theater to see “Through The Looking Glass: The Burlesque Alice In Wonderland.” It was my first burlesque show and it certainly did not disappoint. We bought more expensive seats, so the view was great (seriously though, it was awesome). Prior to the show, we headed to a local Halloween barn party, which was fun and gave us a chance to show off our costumes. I was a bit lazy (and cheap), so I just bought a pair of bunny ears. Alas, I was happy with the result and found it appropriate for the burlesque show.

The members of the Falafel Brothel decorated the house for Ms. Kiley’s birthday as well, and we made baked goods in ceremonial celebration of this lovely lady’s birth. Here she is blowing out her candles!

Here are a few of the AmeriCorps kids who made it to the barn party!

It’s not a party without dancing, right?

Aubrey’s tattooed lady look was one of my favorites.

In other news, Walla Walla is beautiful in the fall. While the changing leaves didn’t quite compare to the glory that is autumn on the East Coast, it is still a lovely place at this time of the year. The weather has been good for the most part as well, pretty crisp and cool lately (aka perfect by my standards). Here is a picture of the trees in front of our house around Halloween!

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Beating Bigotry and Meeting the Candidates (My Failed Newsletter Contributions)

As a member of the AmeriCorps Newsletter Committee, I wrote a few articles for the last edition. Unfortunately, they were deemed “too political” by the higher-ups (no hard feelings, guys)  so a few of the other members recommended that I post them on my blog for anyone who might be interested.

My first article was about Rob Smith, who spoke at Whitman about two months ago.

Beating Bigotry: A Soldier’s Battle Against DADT

On September 20, United States Army veteran and current LGBTQ advocate Rob Smith spoke at Whitman College. During his five years of service, Smith deployed to Iraq and Kuwait. Due to his opposition to the Army’s enforcement of practices consistent with Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT), Smith left the military. The controversial policy, passed in 1993 during the President Clinton’s first term, forbade members of the military from openly expressing themselves as homosexuals.  After leaving the Army, Smith campaigned for the repeal of DADT.  During his lecture, he spoke to the audience about his efforts to ensure the overturn of the legislation, which was eventually reversed in September of 2011.

As an LGBTQ activist, Rob Smith has illuminated the unfair treatment of gay and lesbian personnel, many of whom were dishonorably discharged under the enforcement of DADT. He offered the audience a very visceral depiction of his struggles as a homosexual man in the military, including his consideration of suicide. Expanding on his own dilemma, Smith drew attention to the staggering numbers of LGBTQ youth who have resorted to suicide and homelessness in recent years. Smith also commented his intersecting minority identities in the military, as both a gay and African American soldier. He stressed, “Gay people of color are seriously underrepresented in the military.”

On November 15, 2010, Smith was arrested for protesting DADT in front of the White House with a group of former service men and women. Earlier in 2010, he caught widespread attention with his article titled “Military Leader Memo: Your Gay Soldiers Are No Longer Worthless,” which was featured in The Huffington Post. In the article, he heavily criticized the military personnel who continued to support DADT. He wrote, “The blood shed was the same as every other soldier’s, the tears cried were the same, the bullets that I dodged were the same, the life that I risked is the same. I’m not worthless or perverted or sick, and neither is any gay person in this world, veteran or not. I was a gay soldier.” 

In his speech at Whitman, Smith emphasized, “The military is a microcosm of American society,” noting that it is bound to be diverse in all regards, including sexual orientation. Smith also asserted his dissatisfaction with the nature of political rhetoric surrounding the marriage equality debate, commenting that homophobic language often shuts down productive dialogue. He stressed the immense importance of marriage equality legislation, stating, “The LGBT fight is the civil rights fight of our time.” When questioned by audience members about the issues not addressed by such legislation, he responded that marriage equality is merely the first step in a very long process and has a “top down effect,” paving the way for broader freedoms. Smith also condemned remaining intolerant policies, including the military’s refusal to enlist transgender individuals.

Smith closed his speech declaring, “I refused to be silent about the fact that I am a gay man who once wore an Army uniform because it makes some people uncomfortable.” He continued, “There is no power in invisibility. There is no power in being voiceless. There is no power in being silenced.”

Here is article number two, about our meet and greet event with Maureen Walsh.

Meeting the Candidates

On October 5, my roommates and I hosted an event at our house to give AmeriCorps members a chance to meet local candidates before the upcoming election. The attendees included Representative Maureen Walsh, Mayor Jim Barrow, members of the Walla Walla Democrats, and Kevin Patterson, a local marriage equality advocate. During our initial training, each AmeriCorps member had the opportunity to see Representative Walsh’s speech (and viral video) in support of marriage equality from the floor of the Washington House of Representatives.

Mayor Barrow spoke first, discussing the major issues facing the city of Walla Walla. These concerns included scarce public participation in city council meetings, parking problems, potholes, and the notorious illegally painted Inland Octopus Toy Store. He noted that striking a balance between following the rules and addressing each issue in a responsible manner is a continually evolving (and ever challenging) process.

After Mayor Barrow, the Director of the Walla Walla Democrats (and perpetually cowboy hat clad) Steve Schmidt spoke. Schmidt identified opportunities in the community for canvassing and connecting with voters. Next, Kevin Patterson addressed to the group. I actually met Kevin by chance, while he was distributing Referendum 74 support signs on Main Street a few weeks ago. I was thrilled by Kevin’s willingness to join our gathering and highlight the importance of voting on the referendum. Referendum 74 will settle the same-sex marriage dispute in Washington, which continued after Preserve Marriage Washington collected enough signatures to call for a referendum in the general election.

As he spoke, Kevin displayed his Canadian marriage certificate for the audience, noting that he hopes to eventually boast a similar certificate, complete with stars and stripes.

Representative Walsh was the final speaker and also focused primarily on the importance of passing Referendum 74 in the November election. She discussed the fall-out she experienced with many of her constituents after she voiced her support for marriage equality, noting that she did not regret her decision to openly support same-sex marriage in the legislature. She has been a consistent and vocal advocate for the marriage equality movement in Washington and despite being at odds with her Republican Party, she has chosen to remain steadfast in her support.

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