On July 22, 2006, approximately 150 people in South Los Angeles gathered at a public meeting to welcome two Haitian grassroots women activists on their first visit to LA. The event featured Ginette Apollon, a community and union organizer who works with women and youth in urban and rural Haiti, and Rea Dol, who is with a coalition of grassroots women’s organizations in Haiti and also Director of a school in Port-au-Prince.
The meeting at the Golden State Mutual Building drew people from many different sectors and communities, including: Haitians and supporters of the grassroots in Haiti; others from the Black community; people from the Latin@ community; students; anti-war activists; and academics.
Rea Dol reported that, when René Préval was recently elected as Haiti’s President with the support of the grassroots who are supporters of President Aristide (now living in South Africa following the US-backed coup against him), the Electoral Council threw away ballots from poor communities: “But the people took to the streets, we went to the places where the ballots were dumped. So they had to declare Préval the winner!” Even so, Haiti remains under UN occupation. “When the UN forces come into grassroots neighborhoods,” said Dol, “they kill people, they rape women. We have no choice but to resist. Those responsible for the coup have no vision for Haiti’s advancement. In two years since the coup nothing has been built – they have only destroyed.”
Ginette Apollon asked for a moment of silence in memory of local community activist, Black Panther Michael Zinzun. Zinzun, who passed away on July 9, was a long-time supporter of the grassroots in Haiti.
Apollon explained that although Préval won the election, he does not control the apparatus of government – that is controlled by the U.S., Canada and France. The demands of the grassroots, she said, are for the return of President Aristide, for the liberation of all political prisoners, thousands of whom are kept in jail without charges, and for justice for the thousands who since the coup have been fired from their jobs.
Labor leaders, she said, have been arrested and jailed, while at the same time resources are being lavished on Non-Governmental Organizations and US backed so-called labor organizations that in fact have been responsible for hundreds of workers losing their jobs. Most of the people working in Haiti’s factories are women. Because they are closest to their children, because they want their children to be able to eat and to go to school, they are the most vulnerable to abuse, feeling that they have to keep their mouths shut and take on more. “If you speak of unions in Haiti, you are automatically fired,” she said. “Some are proposing mass mobilizations in front of the Haitian Parliament to demand to know why people cannot organize unions in Haiti.”
“Our movement is very flexible. If a certain strategy is not producing results, we are quick to change, because we are determined to win. Never would we betray the trust and the legacy of our ancestors who brought us out of slavery.”
She emphasized that the political focus of grassroots women activists in Haiti is rooted in their work as mothers and carers: “We are engaged in political struggle because we have to defend the life that we give.”
Both speakers said that Haiti has become a cash cow for the occupying countries. “They are getting money for the occupation, and every time the occupation is to end, they find a way to create turmoil,” said Apollon. “But it is time for people to determine their own future, without being forced to live in abject poverty. And we are seeing solidarity in countries in Latin America –I am proud to be from the Caribbean, where we have three great brothers: Aristide, Hugo Chavez, and Castro!”
Margaret Prescod, of Women of Color in the Global Women’s Strike and host of “Sojourner Truth” on KPFK, chaired the meeting. Haiti, she said, was born in the successful revolt against the French by those they had enslaved, becoming the first Black republic, and led the way for emancipation of those enslaved throughout the Americas. But France forced Haiti to pay reparations for the loss of “their’” slaves and for the cost of the war, payments that continued until after WWII, and the US led a 60-year economic boycott. In 2004, Haiti’s President Aristide was forced from office in a coup orchestrated by the US, with the backing of Canada and France. “But the coup plotters, supporters and occupiers have not been able to implement the plans they had in mind,” said Prescod, “because of the resistance of the Haitian grassroots, people like the people on this stage today. They and the people of Haiti have stopped the US, Canada and France in their tracks.”
After the speakers answered questions, local activists gave brief reports: La Otra Campańa on bringing together movements in Latin America and the Caribbean, events in Atenco, Mexico, and the South Central Farm; the Global Women’s Strike/LA on US refusniks Ehren Watada and Suzanne Swift and on international resistance to US-backed Israeli attacks on Lebanon and Palestine; the Committee in Solidarity with Haiti in Los Angeles on activities to support a small university in Haiti; the Black August Planning Committee on the fight to free political prisoners in the US; ANSWER on a successful demonstration against police brutality and racism, and on the August 12 action against U.S.-Israeli war crimes; and Jeb Sprague, who runs the web site FreeHaiti.net, on funding of Non Governmental Organizations and labor organizations in Haiti by the US State Department, the CIA, and the AFL-CIO.
The speakers were presented with two banners: “No UN/US Rape of Haiti” from the GWS/LA and “'Fuera la Bota Norteńa - El Pueblo de Haiti Vencera” from community-based organizations based in Los Teques, Venezuela. After expenses, all funds raised at the event went to grassroots women’s organizations in Haiti.
The event was coordinated by the Global Women’s Strike/LA and sponsored by Danny Glover, Eastside Café, the Vanguard Foundation and Hari Dillion, its President. Co-sponsors were: ANSWER-LA, Committee in Solidarity with Haiti, Haiti Information Project, Kevin Pina, Pan African Activist Coalition, and the UCLA Labor Center. There were many endorsers. KPFK Radio 90.7 FM was the media sponsor.
The Global Women’s Strike brings together actions and initiatives in over 70 countries under the banner “Invest in Caring Not Killing” (www.globalwomenstrike.net), demanding that military budgets be returned to the community, starting with women, the primary carers everywhere. Contact: 323-292-7405; firstname.lastname@example.org
Rea is with a coalition of grassroots women’s organizations in Haiti and also Director of a school in Port-au-Prince.
Ginette is a community and union organizer who works with women and youth in urban and rural Haiti
It included Haitians and supporters of the grassroots in Haiti; others from the Black community; people from the Latin@ community; students; anti-war activists; and academics.
Ruth Todasco,GWS/LA, presents an album of photos taken in Haiti by Margaret Prescod, of Women of Color in the Global Women’s Strike and host of “Sojourner Truth” on KPFK, who chaired the meeting.