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Out & About in Cleveland

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Social Justice Teach-In and Civic Engagement Conference

On Saturday morning, February 7th, we attended the Social Justice Teach-In and Civic Engagement Conference put on by the Interreligious Task Force on Central America (IRTF) and CWRU's Center for Civic Engagement and Learning which was held at the Tinkham Veale University Center Ballroom at CWRU. There were at least 300 attendees there and they all had the option of choosing two workshops from a list of 24 that included "Numbers and Nonprofits: The Ethics and Attitudes Behind Budgeting a Nonprofit", "Recent History of Homelessness in Cleveland", "Art and Social Change", and "What's Next: Continuing Your Activism after Graduation."

We were interested in one titled "The Human Cost of Border Militarization" that was put on by Ms. Paula Miller who we knew through her work with the IRTF in Cleveland for years. Around two years ago, Ms. Miller moved to Tucson, AZ where she became heavily involved with a group called "No More Deaths" which is a humanitarian organization based in Southern Arizona that began in 2004 as a coalition of faith and community groups that came together to stop the deaths of migrants in the desert and to advocate for faith-based principles of immigration reform.

Ms. Miller talked about the things that "No More Deaths" does so we took careful notes and copied the following description from its website:

Desert aid

Since 2004, No More Deaths has maintained a humanitarian presence in the 262-square-mile corridor where over half of known migrant deaths in recent years have occurred. This militarized region, deemed the “Tucson Sector” and treated as a war zone by the Department of Homeland Security, disproportionately plays host to the mass migration without papers of people from the Americas. Among the things that they do is to put food and water on the migrant trails in the desert

Keep Tucson Together

This all-volunteer project has been working side by side with community members who are in immigration removal proceedings to assist in getting their cases closed.

Abuse documentation

In 2006, while working to provide humanitarian aid to people recently deported to Nogales, Sonora, No More Deaths volunteers began to document stories of abuse, neglect and mistreatment endured by detainees in short-term Border Patrol custody. Since then, trained volunteers in the border cities of Nogales, Agua Prieta and Naco have continued to interview deportees, identifying those who have suffered abuse at the hands of Border Patrol and other law enforcement officials and documenting their stories.

Post-deportation aid

Since 2006, No More Deaths has provided humanitarian aid to individuals deported from the US to cities along the Arizona–Sonora border. No More Deaths does not own or run a migrant aid station in Mexico, but instead works with multiple humanitarian, faith-based, and governmental organizations in northern Sonora that run such facilities, complementing local resources with our own.

Property recovery

This project, another outgrowth of the Nogales project, dates to 2008—the year Operation Streamline was rolled out in Tucson Sector. The project addresses an important humanitarian impact of the Department of Homeland Security’s mass-prosecution and mass-deportation initiatives: mass dispossession. We are helping incarcerated individuals recover their personal belongings from the agency that arrested them, normally Border Patrol/Customs and Border Protection.

We asked Ms. Miller if she was afraid of being arrested for the work that she does and she told us that those working with "No More Deaths" are protected by international humanitarian aid guidelines.

She presented slides and talked about the dangers of crossing the desert. According to Humane Borders, there have been 2269 recorded deaths of people attempting to cross it due to cold, heat, and dehydration. In fact, it is often so hot that a person would need a gallon of water an hour in order to make it but people keep trying largely to find work and to be reunited with family but it takes a person seven days to make the 65 mile journey from the Border to Tucson alone.

Ms. Miller also talked about the various border operations that the United States conducted in the 1990's including "Hold the Line", "Operation Gatekeeper", and "Operation Safeguard". She particularly talked about "Operation Streamline" that began in 2005 by the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security and is described by "No More Deaths" as having the "intention of establishing 'zero tolerance' immigration enforcement zones along the U.S./Mexican border. Under Operation Streamline, unauthorized migrants face criminal prosecution and potential prison sentences in addition to formal deportation and removal from the United States." She talked about how the apprehended migrants have to go en masse before a magistrate (in groups of perhaps seventy) and then sentenced to months, if not longer, in a detention center.

Ms. Miller contended (and we agree) that immigration reform is both vital and necessary. There were about over 20 people in the session that we attended and Ms. Miller asked us all (en masse) if we thought that the current immigration system was broken and our reply was a resounding "yes".

We applaud the efforts of Ms. Miller and those as dedicating to working for social justice as she is.

On Saturday night, our first event was a fundraiser for WomenSafe, Inc. whose mission is to provide emergency shelter and support services to survivors of domestic violence throughout Northeast Ohio. The shelter, itself, is located in Chardon but the event, which was their 14th Annual Casino Night, was held at the Patrician Party Center in Eastlake, Ohio.

We got to meet several people who are involved with the shelter including Ms. Tina Salminen, President of the Board of Directors; Ms. Shayna Jackson, Executive Director; Ms. Emily Heckman, Special Events and Donor Relations; Ms. Erin Puhalsky, Community Education and Volunteer Coordinator; and Ms. Andrea Gutka, Operations Director. Ms. Jackson told us that WomenSafe, Inc. has been in existence for 35 years and is capable of providing shelter to 32 people a night. About 300 people had RSVP'd for the event and they were hoping to raise $60,000.00.

Ms. Heckman reviewed the services that WomenSafe provided including emergency shelter, counseling, art therapy, court advocacy, hospital advocacy, outreach services, and aftercare/re-establishment. She told us that since September, 2014 they have been especially busy possibly due to the NFL scandal which brought the domestic violence issue into focus. Ms. Heckman advised us to watch "Domestic Violence" a documentary that aired on HBO which WomenSafe sponsored at the Chagrin Falls documentary festival.

We spent a few minutes talking to Ms. Puhalsky who introduced us to her sister, Ms. Jennifer Washell, who used to be a victim's advocate in Lake County. Ms. Puhalsky holds a degree in Family Life Education and, among other projects, talks to high school students about abusive relationships and works with salons to try to pinpoint human trafficking victims. She told us that she had a real passion for doing this work although she wished that it were not necessary.

Almost needless to say, our friend Judge Colleen Falkowski of Lake County Domestic Relations Court was there. We also spent some time visiting with Ms. Kristi A. Miller, Outreach Coordinator with the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center who covers the territories of Lake, Geauga, and Ashtabula Counties.

We especially liked meeting Mr. Christopher C. Axelrod who has known Ms. Margaret W. Wong for 25 years and they are good friends. He also knows our Mr. Gordon Landefeld and was his youth leader at the Fairmount Presbyterian Church years ago. Mr. Axelrod was acting as emcee this evening, so he told us that he holds a record for having the largest jacket collection in the world and planned to change his jacket six times throughout the course of the evening!

We had to leave just after dinner, though, so we could make it over to Windows on the River to attend the North Coast Men's Chorus 6th Annual Mardi Gras which we always love to attend. It was interesting that we just drove in from Lake County because the two organizations that were celebrated were the Fine Arts Association Youth Summer Camp Program and Family Karate/Sidekick Foundation were both located in Lake County.

We knew Tom and Libby Hill of Family Karate through our activities with the Painesville/Mentor Chambers of Commerce. In fact, we even attended a coffee contacts that was held at Family Karate in Mentor. The reason that they were deservedly honored is because "over 50 psychological studies show that quality martial arts training improves the ability to focus, to concentrate, self-discipline, self-confidence, self-esteem, and the ability to manage stress."

We also met several people from the Fine Arts Association including Ms. Linda Wise, Executive Director; Ms. Wanda K. Wareham, Director of Communications and Marketing; and Ms. Susie Bauer, Development Director. The mission of this organization is "to enhance lives through arts education, therapies, performance, community partnerships and advocacy." For over 40 years the association has offered summer camps for young people.

Let us make note that we never would have been able to find all of these people and congratulate them if it hadn't been for the help of Ms. Robin S. Baum, a writer who shared a table with us. Ms. Baum personally knew all of those honored and right where they were sitting. She has also met Ms. Margaret W. Wong through her connections with the Asian business community in Cleveland. It was a pleasure sitting with Ms. Baum and her husband, Steve.

We also talked to our friends Rick and Tracy Montgomery of Goddess Construction who we see all of the time at the Painesville and Mentor Chamber of Commerce meetings. We remember that they both came to our holiday party because they had heard us talk about Ms. Margaret W. Wong so much that they wanted to meet her. We also encountered Mayor Georgine Welo of South Euclid who won one of the raffle prizes.

Along the way we had an interesting discussion with a gentleman who shared our point of view regarding immigration reform. This person said that Congress is controlled by just a few people who oppose it but if the membership were allowed to vote their conscience it would probably pass.

Out & Aboutimwong