Writing in The Guardian: The Syria peace talks would have a better chance with one key addition: women

Writing in The Guardian…

syria_talks

As the Syrian regime, backed by Russian airstrikes, ramped up the siege on Aleppo early this week, UN-led peace talks between the Syrian government and opposition leaders ground to a halt in Geneva on Wednesday.

While the US secretary of state, John Kerry, has described the meetings as the best chance to “chart a course out of hell”, the peace process unraveling surprised few– least of all, the women of Syria who have been largely excluded from each andevery stage of peace negotiations.

The parties that are welcomed at the negotiating table, meanwhile, represent – or bankroll – the very same forces enacting savage blockades which sparked dire humanitarian conditions in Syria, cut off paths to food or medical aid and brutalized women in besieged cities and towns.

After nearly six years of conflict and three cycles of men posturing for peace across Vienna, Paris and Geneva, a disastrous pattern emerges: women are the first affected by war and the last included at crafting peace. This betrays logic – and reveals a profound failure to learn lessons from past conflicts, from theBalkans to Rwanda to Afghanistan, from Colombia to Liberia to Northern Ireland: when women are included in the peace process, it’s more successful.

There is a dissonance to what the Syrian peace talks, known as the Vienna process, have prioritized: the talks are celebrated for their inclusion of all the foreign countries that have backed armed groups and fueled the conflict. Yet inclusion of women whose lives are endangered and derailed by the war remainsan afterthought. While UNSCR 2254 – the security council resolution which set the framework for the talks – calls for the full participation of Syrian women in the newest roadmap for peace, the mechanisms to achieve this remain undeveloped.

The latest attempt to remedy this by the UN’s special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, came Monday with the announcement of a Syrian Women’s Advisory Board, a designation that directs women’s contributions to the UN-facilitated talks through the scope of civil society. It’s a channel endorsed by UN Women’s executive director but potentially isolated from direct stakeholder negotiations on political transition timelines or ceasefire arrangements with military factions.

With the most recent breakdown in peace talks and Bashar al-Assad’s strengthened position – thanks to Russian support – prospects for a negotiated solution seem bleak in the near term. But without a Plan B, it’s time to explore all tools and options, including a radically inclusive approach to the next round of talks, which the UN expects to resume on 25 February.

UN officials estimate there are more than 486,000 people living under siege in Syria, and nearly 4.6 million refugees struggling in neighboring countries. InLondon this week, donors are pledging new support for what is now the greatest humanitarian crisis of our generation. While ramping up humanitarian relief – including more gender sensitive programs that meet the needs of women and girls and are designed by and for them – is critical, we all know that humanitarian crises ultimately require political solutions.

To design a peace process where both men and women’s lives are valued equally, we must stop siloing the contributions of Syrian women and learn from those engaged on the ground. From the women who worked to negotiate a ceasefire inZabadani to female journalists and human rights activists mobilizing their communities, we can draw on countless examples of leadership.

According to the UN, this should be happening already. UN security council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security was drafted 16 years ago. It and subsequent resolutions called for full inclusion of women in conflict resolution and peacekeeping, as well as relief and recovery efforts that would address the needs of women and girls. The Women, Peace and Security agenda is based on the simple premise that peace is more likely to prevail and hold if women are fully involved in building it.

By the UN’s own metrics, we have not succeeded in moving from rhetorical commitment to transformative practice on the ground.

Syria offers a vivid reminder of how we are falling short of our commitment. Gender-sensitive humanitarian response and peacebuilding will only result from deliberate planning and dedicated personnel holding us all to account. We cannot just hope for the best and expect anything more than haphazard results.

Women activists in Aleppo, while not at the stakeholder table in Geneva, are not waiting for an invitation to advance peace and security at home: they volunteer at field hospitals under bombardments, continue to run schools and advocate for the rights of girls. “Perhaps this is a silver lining,” Maimona, a Syrian activist told the PRI’s The World. “When we started the Syrian revolution, it was also a revolution for women. And when the war is over, women’s accomplishments will remain.”

Will respect for Syrian women’s humanity have room at the table when the peace process restarts yet again next month?

Writing in The Guardian: Foreign policy requires nuance, not just talking points. Hillary Clinton delivered

Writing in The Guardian here…

debate

Before Saturday night’s Democratic debates, it would have hardly seemed possible to hold a tone-deaf moment of silence – but John Dickerson of CBS News achieved it. The anchor introduced what should have been a space for quiet contemplation of those killed and injured in Friday’s terrorist attacks by stating “freedom was savagely attacked in the heart of Paris” but then made no mention of the near-simultaneous, brutal attacks by Isis in Beirut.

The inability for even the moderator to recognize Middle East citizens as fellow victims of Isis, worthy of our silent remembrances, helped set up an us-vs-them frame that continued throughout the discussion of foreign policy.

But it wasn’t just that the discussion of foreign policy was too limited in its empathy: both Martin O’Malley and Bernie Sanders demonstrated an inability to discuss foreign policy with a level of nuance or complexity above a Wikipedia summary. And then they deflected their lack of foreign policy leadership by attacking Hillary Clinton’s experience and voting record while calling for fresh approaches without ever articulating what those fresh approaches would be.

It should come as no surprise Clinton’s voice on foreign policy issues was strong: her last post in public office dealt directly with the implications of violent extremism and terrorism in United State’s foreign policy. What was surprising was monumental failure of either O’Malley or Sanders to present any new vision for America’s leadership in the world even as they were attempting to explain to voters what they would do differently than the former secretary of state.

For instance, when questions were asked about Islamic extremism, Isis and America’s leadership in the region it became clear Hillary Clinton was the only candidate who expressed a functional understanding of Middle East politics, and she was the only candidate who differentiated between violent extremists, Islamists and radical jihadists (yes, those are three different classifications).

Clinton, too, was the only candidate who did not obfuscate when Dickerson asked “Was Isis underestimated?”

And, while both O’Malley and Clinton directly addressed Isis and violent extremism in their opening remarks, Sanders only briefly expressed condolences for the attacks in Paris before pivoting back to the talking point he clings to like a political flotation device: the domestic economy.

Saturday should particularly have been an opportunity for O’Malley to frame his experience in state government to provide context for his vision of his own global leadership. Instead, he gave a meandering, contradictory statements about the role of America in confronting “evil” – a framing device left over from the George W Bush administration.

But also our role in the world, yes, is also to confront evil when it rises. We took out the save haven in Afghanistan but now there is undoubtedly a larger safe haven.

Framing the defeat of Isis as a matter of borders or “safe havens” implies a lack of understanding of the complexity of battling the networked extremism that Isis demonstrated with their coordinated attacks in Paris and Beirut.

More alarmingly, O’Malley’s reference to destroying the safe haven of which Osama bin Laden took advantage in Afghanistan suggests that he knows little of the current threat that Isis poses in Afghanistan: Isis-backed fighters are making inroads in Afghan provinces and are in power battles with Taliban forces.

But the biggest foreign policy disappointment of the debates were the candidates’ suggestions for handling the Syrian refugee crisis. Both Clinton and O’Malley asserted their support for the United States accepting up to 65,000 Syrian refugees – but we currently have only admitted 1,854 and no reference was made to fast-tracking refugees applications or providing additional social services upon their arrival. Instead, the candidates all agreed that the refugees applying for asylum here from Syria should face even more scrutiny than they do now, which would necessarily increase wait times and hardships.

Sanders response to the issue of Syrian refugees particularly felt as if he is completely oblivious to the 6.5 million displaced Syrians, more than 3 million of whom have been granted asylum or refuge in Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq – or, as he nonsensically harped “… those Muslim countries [that] are going to have to lead the effort. They are not doing it now.”

Clinton’s quick response to Sanders’ inaccurate assertions reflected the tone and knowledge of a leader who understands the world: “I think that is very unfair to a few you mentioned, most particularly Jordan, which has put a lot on the line for the United States, has also taken in hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria, and has been, therefore, subjected to threats and attacks by extremists themselves.”

Clinton is often criticized for being more of a technocrat than a natural politician but, if Americans really want to deal with complex problems on an international scale, we need more than simple talking points and simplistic world views from our next president. As Clinton said, we need someone who can “understand the complexity of the world we are facing” – and not try to dumb it down to appeal to our lesser natures. Americans should not settle for something that looks like the exercise of power but is actually the manifestation of fear.

Writing in The Guardian: To end the refugee crisis, we need more than grief. We need to see we’re broken

Writing in The Guardian here

syria pieceWe are increasingly reliant on searing images as our collective wake-up calls to problems we’ve long known existed but about which we’ve done little – and, on the other side of those images, is brokenness and personal grief. The loud calls to action and demands of accountability are music to the ears of everyone who has ever wondered how we can get the world to care.

But why must we wait for grief to make us brave?

Many in America and Europe are now publicly mourning for the Kurdi family, one example of lives senselessly lost amid an extreme tragedy and our moral failing to prevent it. The searing pictures of Aylan Kurdi dead on a beach set off a belated call to action for the humanitarian crises impacting millions displaced by wars across the Middle East and the Horn of Africa, long after the first people died trying to reach Europe’s shores.

Human rights group estimate more than 12,000 children have died in the Syrian civil war and millions have been displaced. It has been more than three years since human rights groups confirmed the Syrian government’s use of cluster bombs in an attack which killed children. But it was the image of one dead child on what his parents had hoped would be the shores to offer them safety that reminded even migration-averse politicians and their constituents of a forgotten war and the longstanding refugee crisis they’d all but quietly ignored.

For Abdullah Kurdi, life will never be the same. “I don’t want anything else from this world,” he told reporters. “Everything I was dreaming of is gone. I want to bury my children and sit beside them until I die.”

Those closest to the center of tragedies like these are never again the same; when their losses become ours, when we finally find ourselves feeling empathy for a few iconic, tragic figures instead of apathy toward a broken system or intractable problem, we want to not be the same. Even as our former apathy implicates us in the tragedy, we hope that our grief will allow us to be a part of the solution.

But our broken world is messy, solutions are complicated and we have to build the resolve to demand responses beyond empathy and sustain people’s focus on hard solutions to drive meaningful, lasting change. Usually, however, the calls to action fade to numbness until we are shocked by the next tragedy. To truly break this cycle, our desire to push for the world we want must outlive news cycles; it must outlive our empathy for individual moments of pain.

Those at the center of private tragedy turned public call-to-conscience never forget. Years after Virginia state Senator Creigh Deeds survived an attack by his son, who suffered from mental illness and later died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, Deeds is working to reshape our broken mental healthcare system but has told supporters, “I’m not complete.” Andy Parker, the father of slain television journalist Alison Parker, recently wrote in the Washington Post he will dedicate his life’s work to ending gun violence. “We have to ask ourselves: What do we need to do to stop this insanity?”

Suddenly it seems as if the entire world is asking in chorus, What do we need to do to stop this insanity? But the answers are hardly as simply as the questions.

We must drastically reform how governments and institutions treat those brave enough to flee from from war and conflict – whether Syria, Yemen, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Tunisia, Somalia or anywhere else. To continue tounder-fund, undermine and ignore humanitarian fallout from our military actions and foreign policy failings is moral malpractice. To do so because ofxenophobia and Islamophobia is an even greater sin. The stakes have always been clear, but this time grief broke open the truth for all to finally see: this is what UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres calls, “The biggest refugee population from a single conflict in a generation.”

Public grief can be an opportunity for growth, to both become the type of people we want to be and to demand the policy changes we know that everyone deserves. But ultimately, public grief is just emotional voyeurism when we fail to care beyond being sad for the victims of the tragedies that our governments helped create and which we continually ignored. I believe in my heart this time will be different. I believe Aylan Kurdi broke us open in a way , and that we will never feel whole again. There is no need to wait for more pain to understand there is hope for all of us still living to help one another get free.

But we won’t know until we see who shows up for the work that will carry us through other side of the grief.

Writing in The Guardian– On Bernie Sanders: structural racism needs to end for economic justice to succeed

My writing in The Guardian here… 

sayhername

On Bernie Sanders: structural racism needs to end for economic justice to succeed

It is time for the progressive movement to reckon with structural racism: its role in enabling it and its moral responsibility to actively dismantle it. It’s not a request: it’s a requirement for all presidential candidates that seek progressive votes, and for a political movement that seeks any hope for relevance in a diverse America.

It’s long past time for Democratic candidates to stop taking black voters for granted, as was made clear this weekend at Netroots Nation, the largest annual gathering of progressive activists in America. At the Presidential Town Hall on Saturday morning, two Democratic Presidential candidates – former Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders – publicly floundered when faced with activists from #BlackLivesMatter.

Sanders’ and O’Malley’s public interviews with journalist, documentarian and activist Jose Antonio Vargas was essentially taken over by racial justice activists who drastically changed the conversation of what was designed to be a typical, stale campaign appearance by shouting “Black lives matter!” in unison from the audience. Then Tia Oso of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration took to the stage to demand that the candidates answer one question: “As leader of this country will you advance an agenda that will dismantle structural racism in this country?”

Governor O’Malley’s tone-deaf response – “Black lives matter, white lives matter, all lives matter” – earned him boos from the crowd; he left the stage shortly after and later clarified his remarks with the news site This Week in Blackness. Bernie Sanders, with the presidential gravitas of a toddler, first attempted to shout his usual stump speech over the protestors, and then scolded them for interrupting him and held what one could only describe as a mini public tantrum.

Netroots Nation is no stranger to public protest: demonstrators have interrupted politicians from House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to former President Bill Clinton. And shutting things down is business as usual in progressive politics writ large: progressive activists regularly heckle political leaders and organize demonstrations to protest going to war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, government surveillance, climate change, Keystone pipeline, reproductive rights, marriage equality and many other issues.

Yet when #BlackLivesMatters demonstrators demanded that candidates explain what they will do for racial justice, Netroots organizers surreptitiously flashed an apology for Governor O’Malley on the teleprompter for the disruption. Sanders supporters, meanwhile, flooded Twitter to dismiss critiques, criticize demonstrators for interrupting the economic stump speech and to attempt to civil-rights-splain to racial justice organizers about the Senator’s actions during the civil rights movement.

If Netroots is, as Sam Drizell wrote in TIME, “a Shangri-La for progressive idealism”, then why is there such discomfort within the movement when some attempt to demand specifics from politicians on how to dismantle structural racism? Or more alarmingly, why is there such discomfort among candidates seeking public office with discussing America’s racial reality? The civil rights blind spot in the progressive movement cannot be fixed without addressing the truth that there cannot be economic progress for all without racial justice.

In previous races, Sanders has not had to build a diverse coalition of support to win elections; his past campaigns have made little or no reference to issues of deep importance in black communities, such as voting rights protection, housing discrimination and mass incarceration. He speaks almost exclusively among issues which thrill white liberals: campaign finance reform and economic justice.

There is a political cost to creating silos within movements: politicians and citizens end up speaking of the same issues with different languages, with a lack of empathy and connection. Though Sanders’s policy proposals likely align with number of black voters, his ability to address race is limited to the scope of wealth and the economy. But black voters and organizers need to know why they should fight for Bernie Sanders’ vision of our economic future when our humanity is in constant peril.

True political inclusion of black voters in the progressive movement will reveal racial justice and economic progress as inextricably linked, and that there is no need to forsake one for the other (or to solve one first and fix the other later).

But, as #BlackLivesMatter supporters continue to drive change in the political conversation, it becomes more obvious that racial justice is a siloed issue operating within a largely-white progressive movement. The clash between what progressives declare their values to be and the issues on which they’re willing to take action will continue as the progressive movement and candidates alike seek to engage an increasingly diverse rising electorate.

We do not need talking points. We need government to help save our lives, and we need to elect leaders who will champion our humanity.

What will you advance in an agenda that will dismantle structural racism in this country?

The world is watching. And we’re ready to shout to be heard.

Unapologetic

blackfeministandproud
I am actively limiting keyboard time since my right side is raging thanks to RSI, tendonitis and shoulder pain. I plan to resume writing actual entries with words once symptoms subside. In the meantime, enjoy excellent photos that tell stories of their own
🙂

Still.

This 30-day blogging challenge just got pretty interesting now that I worked so much last week my carpal tunnel/stress injury has roared alive. Ow, ow, ow.

Lean In: a ballet in 3 acts…

*The story below happened a few weeks ago. Re-posted from my FB because it is hella evergreen and I am doing this daily writing challenge and I wrote/lived this so it counts…

My sister’s nanny is sick. She is teaching and needs help.
Is desperate.
Calls me.
She asks “Are you #hashtag busy or ACTUALLY busy?!?!”
I’m getting some women in tech award this eve.
Was gonna go to some nerdprom stuff.
Leave tomorrow for Geneva. Have not packed.
So I’m ~kinda~ busy.
¯\_(ツ)_/¯
There is no child care provided at the women in tech awards thing.
(of course there is no child care…)
I vent to my childless/yolo peer group. “UGH #leanin amirite?!”
They’re like “EW KIDS. THAT IS WHAT NANNIES ARE FOR. DUH.”
One recommends I create Instacart but for babysitters…
And goes back, I presume, to Snapchatting their Tinder hookups.
Why am I throwing shade?
WHO WOULDN’T WANT INSTACART FOR TINDER HOOKUPS?!?!
My brain explodes.
Still pretty sure my generation is The Worst…
and the empathy gap for caregivers so, so vast.
a finale/

p.s still need to pack
p.p.s here is a picture of a baby deleting my code while I’m on a conference call

Question Problems

“When you struggle with a problem, that is when you understand it…”

This clip autoplayed while I was working today and half-paying attention. I listened to the last part and thought, “This is excellent advice for people screening job candidates” and sent to a few friends who were hiring.


Then I listened to it again and was reminded of advice I got from my father on the importance of asking the right questions to your problems to make sure you pull the right lessons. Can you ever reverse engineer solutions if you never examined what you got you there? Can you reframe challenges into opportunities if you fail to ask the right questions? It reminded me that problems and challenges can sharpen you and make you wiser but only if you choose. Wisdom is the gold medal awarded when you lean in to learn from your struggles.

“Anyone who has struggled hard with a problem never forgets it.”