As part of our celebration of the 20th anniversary of the launch of the reforestation project in Gros Morne, Haiti in partnership with the Jean Marie Vincent Formation Center, we are sharing reflections from people who have been a part of the program over the years. This week we are sharing a reflection from Amy Jobin who volunteered with the Religious of Jesus and Mary’s (RJM) Quest program in 1999 as the reforestation project was getting started.
I remember going to Tèt Mòn for the first time shortly after I arrived in Gros-Morne back in August of 1999 for a year of volunteering with Quest. I remember Sr. Pat first telling me about Tèt Mòn and how the RJMs and the Montfortain priests had made the [transfer] of the land possible [from the Diocese of Gonaives] so that it could be reforested. I don’t recall exactly how many acres or hectares Sr. Pat told me had been purchased but it sounded like a lot – and that a lot of trees would need to be planted to cover this much ground.
I also remember the first time we went out to see Tèt Mòn, the name we called this mountain that was going to be reforested. It wasn’t much to look at, like many of the mountains in Haiti; it was brown, dry, eroded looking….. but whole sections had tiny new trees planted on it that ranged from about six inches to a foot or foot and a half tall. When places like this become too deforested, rain stops falling, creating conditions that make places like Gros-Morne even more prone to drought which can lead to a host of other challenges in places where water and especially potable water for drinking is already on short supply. To combat the water problem, big blue plastic barrels had been placed all over Tèt Mòn that were periodically filled with water from [the river] and when we would go out to see the forest in the evenings, we would check the small trees, giving a sip of water to as many trees as we could before it became too dark. At the time, this struck me as a “nice project” that needed to be done so that there might be some tree cover on the mountain again and maybe more rain in that area. I had no idea when Sr. Pat introduced me to Tèt Mòn in the early beginnings of this project what it would one day come to be.
Fast forward to May, 2015. It has been over a decade since I have visited Haiti and when I arrive in Gros Morne, Sr. Pat says to me, “I want you to come and see Tèt Mòn while you’re here.” I had a much greater appreciation for trees and reforestation by this time in my life and I remember being excited to go and see this forest that had been in the re-making for over 15 years now. When I got there, I couldn’t believe what I saw. The once nearly barren land with small trees on it now had to be entered through a special path that was made so that anyone visiting could walk through the forest! I remember our first few steps inside, it had changed so much that we were no longer standing on a piece of land that was being reforested, but we were inside the coverage of an actual forest. The trees were anywhere from five to fifteen feet tall at least. And wonder of wonders, there were birds, insects – in particular, caterpillars weaving pupas and several different colored moths or butterflies, one a beautiful color of delicate yellow, everywhere we turned. Not only had the trees grown, but this now forest had an eco-system all its own, supporting a host of plants and animals not to mention the humans who were benefiting from its carbon-absorbing properties, not to mention its beauty.
I am still struck each time I remember and re-imagine my experience of the forest with Sr. Pat 15 years after it had been planted, struck by about how much it changed and transformed and came back to life, how even the animals and insects knew it was time to come back. Is it a miracle, well, yes, in its own way, but it is also a testimony to a well planned reforestation project and care for our earth, who needs us to be awake to her condition so much at this time in our history.
During one of my early visits to Tèt Mòn, I was with Sr. Pat and one of our good Haitian friends, Jean (pronounced John) Desnor. Jean was instrumental in helping plan and coordinate this project, knowing which trees needed to be planted, how much water they would need, the growing cycles of certain trees, and many more agricultural complexities that needed to be carefully thought out as this project began. I hardly remember taking the photo, but I still have one of Jean and Sr. Pat up on Tèt Mòn back in the very early days and Jean has his hand on his heart and Sr. Pat is looking reflectively at the land. I didn’t understand what this project meant to either of them when it began, but the photo says it all; they knew it was possible for a forest to be re-grown here someday. Sr. Dorothy Stang, SNDdeN, who was martyred in the Amazon in 2005 for her work empowering indigenous peoples to fight for land rights and for protecting the land itself, said “The death of forest is the end of our life.” She knew as she watched acre upon of acre of clear cutting in the Amazon that “the trees are the lungs of our planet” and that if we keep cutting them down without replacing and reforesting, we would be (and still are) on a fast path to self-destruction. Let us remember her words and let us continue to plant, support and celebrate forests like Tèt Mòn that remind us of the regenerative powers of our Mother Earth and that it’s our right and our responsibility to assist her. Thank you, Sr. Pat, Sr. Jackie, Jean, Pè Chacha, the Grepen farmers and agricultural workers and so many others who helped bring Tèt Mòn to life again, helping Mother Earth sustain, one tree at a time.
– Amy Jobin, campus minister, Quest volunteer 1999
New York Times Magazine published a profile of Ruth Wilson Gilmore yesterday. Gilmore is long-time activist in the prison abolition movement, working for years to educate and organize folk to challenge new prison construction, while also working toward the kind of society where violence is not endemic. Gilmore was instrumental in the launching of the Prison Moratorium Project in California, and later helped to found Critical Resistance.
The article is also full of insights about the need to be more careful in how we frame issues surrounding incarceration.
Gilmore has come to understand that there are certain narratives people cling to that are not only false but that allow for policy positions aimed at minor or misdirected — rather than fundamental and meaningful — reforms. Gilmore takes apart these narratives: that a significant number of people are in prison for nonviolent drug convictions; that prison is a modified continuation of slavery, and, by extension, that most everyone in prison is black; and, as she explained in Chicago, that corporate profit motive is the primary engine of incarceration.
In speaking of equating imprisonment with slavery, Gilmore asks, “Why do we need that misconception to see the horror of it [incarceration]?”
The scale of the problem of mass incarceration is enormous. Most people by now know that we have the largest population of incarcerated people on the planet – standing at over 2 million. The number of people who have a record of arrest or conviction in the United States is 70 million. Gilmore says,
The key point here, about half of the work force, is to think not only about the enormity of the problem, but the enormity of the possibilities! That so many people could benefit from being organized into solid formations, could make certain kinds of demands, on the people who pay their wages, on the communities where they live. On the schools their children go to. This is part of what abolitionist thinking should lead us to.
Read the full article here. It is worth spending some time with.
The impact of bail on incarceration numbers is enormous. There are 465,000 people in local jails who have yet to be convicted of a crime, many simply because they cannot afford bail.
The United States and the Philippines are the only countries in the world that have commercial bail industries, and the companies involved in this industry are very committed to keeping pre-trial release conditioned on the payment of bail. The ACLU provides an overview of the bail industry as part of their work to end the practice:
The commercial bail industry profits off people faced with the impossible choice between sitting in jail or entering coercive contracts with bond agents. Furthermore, the industry fortifies structural racism. People of Color—particularly Women of Color—suffer the worst financial harms. And these companies exact further harms by serving as a roadblock to positive change: employing lobbying groups like the American Bail Coalition to spread fear-mongering misinformation, attempt to stymie reform, and to preserve their fiscal bottom line. Only the United States and the Philippines allow a commercial bail industry to exist.
The exploitation insurance companies perpetuate depends on our abusive money bail system. And our punitive, dysfunctional bail system is the key driver of our mass incarceration crisis. The truth is we don’t need profit motives to ensure a fair and safe pretrial justice system. In fact, actual “fugitive” status is incredibly rare, and the majority of people present no threat of violence if released pretrial.
Read the full report here
Yesterday Trump vetoed a resolution to end U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s war on the people of Yemen. The resolution had bipartisan support in both the House and Senate and passed both by significant margins – but not enough to override the veto (unless Members decide that defending the constitutional obligations and power of congress are more important than short-term partisan interests). So, yeah, the veto will likely stand.
While Trump’s move has been widely denounced, as it should be, it is worth pointing out the hypocrisy of Trump’s war on immigration, which has, in recent weeks, included mocking people seeking asylum. To mock asylum-seekers and refugees, while spending billions to fuel the worst humanitarian crisis on the planet at the moment, is morally reprehensible. The war in Yemen has displaced 3 million people, 10% of the population, while half the population faces starvation. (Imagine over 30 million U.S. Americans displaced by violence, and another 160 million facing starvation). It is hard to imagine that level of destruction, and if we ever get to that point, thanks to Trump, no country on the planet will be willing to help.
That said, the war in Yemen and the U.S. government support for Saudi Arabia, has been a moral disgrace for a long-time. Trump, once again, is taking bad, long-standing policy, and making it worse.
To only make the above point more clear, the Trump’s Attorney General, William Barr, has issued new rules overturning a precedent that allowed asylum seekers to seek bond hearings while waiting the adjudication of their cases. Barr is seeking to change that rule, effectively denying bond hearings to people who cross the border outside of regular ports of entry. The impact will be horrendous for tens of thousands of people, who will now face indefinite detention.
With the immigration court backlog at an all-time high – there are close to 900,000 pending cases – asylum-seekers are waiting over 1,000 days on average for their cases to be processed, meaning Barr’s decision could lead to the indefinite detention of thousands of people.
Immigration enforcement is currently holding a record number of people, more than 50,000, in detention as part of the Trump administration’s broad crackdown on migrants. Barr’s decision is likely to significantly add to that number as the Department of Homeland Security [DHS] prepares to erect new tent detention facilities close to the border.
From the National Immigration Project of the National Lawyers Guild press release:
“In a victory for due process and a blow to Trump’s racially-biased, anti-immigrant policies, yesterday, federal district judge William F. Kuntz II issued a preliminary injunction blocking the Trump administration’s decision to end Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Haiti.”
Ten items to highlight from the ruling: