human rights advocate

Truth: Charlie Clements

 

Charlie Clements

War Resister, Writer, Peace and Human Rights Advocate

(1945-  )

Activists in the U.S. are like the “tank man” in Tiananmen Square in China. We have always had to jump in front of the ship of state to keep it on a self-correcting course. Whether the issue was slavery, labor rights, women’s suffrage, civil rights, Vietnam, Central America, or Iraq, it is the determined protests of those who will settle for nothing less than justice or peace that have altered the course of history.

The moral arc of the universe doesn’t bend toward justice by gravity.


Biography

During the civil war in El Salvador, Charlie Clements worked as a physician in rural villages that were bombed, rocketed, or strafed daily by their own government. One day a peasant asked, “Why don’t you carry a weapon like the other doctors?” Charlie explained that after Vietnam he had become a Quaker and something about the Quaker belief in non-violence. The peasant shook his head in disdain saying, "You gringos are always concerned about violence done with machetes or machine guns. I used to work on the hacienda,” and pointed in the distance. “I fed the dogs there bowls of meat and milk even when my own children were hungry. If the dogs were ill, I took them to a veterinarian, but my children died without ever seeing a doctor. You will never understand violence or non-violence until you understand the violence to the spirit from watching helplessly as your children suffer."

Charlie wasn’t always committed to non-violence. He was a Distinguished Graduate of the Air Force Academy and after training as a pilot, he volunteered for Vietnam. After nine months as a pilot in SE Asia, he concluded the war was immoral and refused to fly further missions. He was placed in a psychiatric ward and discharged with a 10% mental disability.

Charlie soon realized that same piece of paper also implied he was 90% intact and that was sufficient for acceptance to medical school. Treating patients was a great social awakening as he began to understand that exploitation, poverty, or injustice were often the underlying reasons why people were sick or injured.

In 1980 while working in a clinic for undocumented farm workers, Charlie heard stories from Salvadoran refugees about death squads killing teachers, physicians, and priests. When the U.S. began sending helicopters and military advisors there, he feared another Vietnam was unfolding. He volunteered his skills as a physician in an area controlled by the FMLN-guerrillas. Upon returning from El Salvador, Charlie testified in Congress and crisscrossed the country speaking about the brutality of U.S. foreign policy in the region. He led Congressional delegations to the region and raised millions of dollars for humanitarian assistance. Witness to War (Bantam, 1984) is the account of his journey of conscience from Vietnam to El Salvador, which was also the subject of an Academy Award (1985) winning documentary of the same title.

When the civil war ended in 1992 Charlie was a special guest the signing of the Peace Accords in Mexico City and seventeen years later he was a guest at the inauguration of Mauricio Funes, the first FMLN candidate to win the presidency. .

In 1997 as President of Physicians for Human Rights Charlie represented that organization at the treaty signing and a week later at the Nobel prize ceremony for the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) Following an emergency human rights mission to Iraq in early 2003, he was so angered by the lies and deception of the U.S. government that he returned to full time human rights work as the president and CEO of the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee (
www.uusc.org). He is now the director of the Carr Institute for Human rights at the JFK School  at Harvard University.  He lives in Brookline, MA with his wife, son, and daughter.

When asked what sustains him, Charlie offers a quote from the Talmud: “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Love mercy now. Walk humbly now. Do justly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

 

Truth: Medea Benjamin

Medea Benjamin 

Human Rights Advocate, Anti-War Activist, Author

(1952 –)

It is our responsibility as global citizens to learn to communicate with those we are taught to see as enemies. For it is only when we understand each other, love each other, and think of every man and woman as our brother and sister that we will finally be on our way to ending war.

 

Additional Quotes by Medea Benjamin

  • Changing the structure and rules of the global economy will require a mass movement based on messages of compassion, justice, and equality, as well as collaborative and democratic processes ... If we stay positive, inclusive, and democratic, we have a truly historic opportunity to build a global movement for social justice.
  •  When most Americans hear of human rights abuses, they likely think of atrocities in some far-off country in a forgotten corner of the globe. . . . [But] abuses against individuals' basic rights also occur regularly here in the United States, and our money-saturated political system hardly deserves the title 'democracy.
  • We who oppose war, and who now represent the majority of Americans, must force our representatives to represent us.

 

Biography

Medea Benjamin was born Susan Benjamin but in college changed her name to that of the Greek mythological woman. She has a Master’s Degree in both Public Health and Economics, and has spent over twenty years advocating for human rights all over the world. Benjamin spent ten years in Latin America and Africa as an economist and nutritionist for such organizations as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization, and lived for five years in Cuba. She is the author of eight books, including Bridging the Global Gap: A Handbook to Linking Citizens of the First and Third Worlds (1989), and Greening of the Revolution: Cuba’s Experiment with Organic Agriculture (1995).

Benjamin and her husband Kevin Danaher co-founded Global Exchange, an organization dedicated to promoting “fair trade” practices, where environmental concerns and fair wages for the production of goods take precedence over corporate profits. She has fought against sweatshops, particularly in the garment and shoe industries, and with Global Exchange persuaded corporate giant Nike to investigate and monitor its overseas factories to ensure safe working environments and living wages. Global Exchange was also a prominent, key factor in organizing the protests against the World Trade Organization in Seattle in December 1999.

It was after the attacks on September 11, 2001, however, that Medea Benjamin’s activism took on a different tone and color – pink. She co-founded CODEPINK: Women for Peace in 2002. It’s a “women-run, women-led peace organization”, whose activities range from personal meetings with members of Congress to dressing in pink surgical scrubs handing out “prescriptions for peace.” Their approach is inventive, often playful, and always in pink, but their goal for peace is serious. Their acts of civil disobedience can be confrontational and often involve members being arrested, but this merely strengthens their resolve. Code Pink’s Members include prominent figures such as Ann Wright and Diane Wilson, but also “regular” women from all over the country, participating in at least 250 chapters. In 2006, Benjamin and Code Pink brought six Iraqi women (Sunni, Shiite, and Kurd) to the US for International Women’s Day to travel and lobby to end the war. She is co-editor of Code Pink’s 2006 book, Stop the Next War Now: Effective Responses to Violence and Terrorism. It’s a collection of essays from people such as Barbara Ehrenreich, Alice Walker, Helen Thomas, and Arianna Huffington.

Medea Benjamin has involved herself in the peace and justice process in a myriad of ways besides Global Exchange and Code Pink. In 2000, she ran for US Senate (for California) on the Green Party ticket. She helped to bring groups together to form the coalition United for Peace and Justice. She’s traveled to Iraq several times and assisted in establishing an occupation and watch center in Baghdad. In 2005, Benjamin was nominated to receive the Nobel Peace Prize as part of the project, “1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize 2005”, a collective nomination representing women who work for peace and human rights everywhere.

 

 
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