Shireen Abu Akleh

Shireen Abu Akleh. Remember her name. I’m waiting for Reporters Without Borders, the organization that monitors press freedom and abuses worldwide, to catch up with the news of her killing today (May 11, 2022).

Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American journalist with more than 20 years experience reporting on Israel’s military actions in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, was shot and killed today in Jenin. She was clad in her official PRESS helmet and PRESS flak jacket. That wasn’t enough to protect her from a bullet to the head, just below her helmet. Her producer was shot in the back and is now hospitalized.

Shireen Abu Akleh was a professional, and knew the dangers that accompany journalists reporting in “hot spots”, “conflict zones”, and “battlefields.” The Occupied Palestinian Territories qualify as all three because of the incessant military incursions by the IDF. At least 46 Palestinian journalists have been killed since 2000, but I’m not aware of any independent investigation into any of these killings. Israel routinely exonerates itself after it completes an investigation of its soldiers.

Shireen Abu Akleh can’t just be another statistic.

May 11, 2022

President Joe Biden
U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken


I call on each of you to use the authority of your offices to demand an immediate investigation into the killing today of Shireen Abu Akleh, a Palestinian-American journalist. She was shot in the head below the press helmet she was wearing. She was also clearly identified as a journalist with her Press vest. At the time of her murder, she was covering the Israeli military’s actions in Jenin in the occupied Palestinian territory.

Shireen Abu Akleh was a prominent journalist with over 20 years’ experience reporting on Israel’s actions in the occupied Palestinian territories; she certainly understood the dangers involved in her work. She would not have put herself or her team in harm’s way, which raises the grim prospect that she was targeted. Her producer was also targeted and shot in the back today. According to one report, Israel has killed 46 Palestinian journalists since 2000.

Journalists are protected under international humanitarian law against direct attacks, and violations of this rule constitute a grave breach of the Geneva Conventions and Additional Protocol I. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) notes that journalists must be protected, but there is “a failure to implement existing rules and to systematically investigate, prosecute and punish violations.” The United States must demand accountability for Abu Akleh’s killing; and the first step is a neutral, transparent and thorough investigation by an impartial group that commands the respect of the international community.

The second step is to withhold military aid to the State of Israel until the conclusion of the investigation and the findings are made public. The Foreign Assistance Act stipulates that no assistance can be given to a country that regularly violates human rights. The Leahy law (22 U.S.C.A. § 2378d) prohibits the U.S. government from using funds for assistance to units of foreign security forces where there is credible information implicating that unit in the commission of gross violations of human rights. I urge you to invoke both laws and immediately suspend foreign aid to Israel. Such preemptive action would demonstrate to Americans and to the international community that the U.S. acts consistently when there is demonstrable evidence that gross violations of human rights have been perpetrated, whether in Sudan or in Israel.

I would appreciate a direct response from you concerning my request. Thank you.


Lora A. Lucero


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We can, and must, do better for all refugees

The response to any global refugee crisis may be deplorable and heartwarming at the same moment. It also illustrates a fundamental flaw in our human evolutionary journey. Let me explain.

Men, women and children have certainly been fleeing danger and violence since time immemorial. We have an undeniable thirst for life and an aversion to death.

Following WWII, international laws and administrative systems were put in place to help millions of Europeans who had lost or fled their homes. (History of UNHCR and History of UNRWA). For more than 70 years, these agencies and a growing industry of refugee NGOs have stepped in to assist refugees from nearly every corner of the planet, a truly global effort. Likewise, individuals have played a critical role – opening their wallets for refugees (I see this every year when I walk the #Gaza5k), as well as volunteering their time and sharing their love to support refugees during what may be the most difficult time in their lives. (Read my blog post in 2016 about a Greek bookstore owner on Lesvos Island, and my blog post in 2013 about a Syrian I met in Cairo where he was guiding a young Syrian woman to safety after Assad released her in a prisoner exchange.)

FSA fighter rescued a Syrian girl from Assad’s prison and brought her to safety in Cairo. (2013)

For a few days in early March 2022, I witnessed some of that generosity of spirit in Calais, France when I had an opportunity to volunteer in the Refugee Community Kitchen.  Steve (event organizer), Paula (doula), Sam (chef), Janie (activist) started this communal kitchen in 2015 and it’s still going strong with the help of both short- and long-term volunteers.

I helped with food preparation, washing pots and pans, drying even more pots and pans, serving meals at one of the distribution sites, and even sorting and folding jackets. Volunteers were predominantly in their 20s, and laser-focused on their responsibilities. A Frenchman was studying refugee logistics at his university and spending a few months learning on the ground. A young Italian woman had just completed her PhD in biomechanics, and was taking a break before entering the workforce. A mother and daughter pair from the UK were spending time together doing something valuable “to make a difference.” Everyone has stories about what motivates us to reach out to help refugees. (Note: RCK needs more volunteers!)

As heartwarming as the RCK experience was in Calais, the response to the global refugee crisis is deplorable. Refugees are typically living for weeks or months in miserable camps that are dangerous and unsanitary. Border authorities often harass and beat them to dissuade them from their journey. Refugees are typically forced to hire smugglers at great expense, and the trip can be both arduous and deadly.

Calais is only 27 nautical miles across the English Channel from Dover, UK.  Last year, more than 28,000 refugees crossed the Channel in small boats. At least 44 people died or went missing during the attempt, 27 in a single day. And refugees are particularly at risk to be victimized by human traffickers.

We are failing refugees everywhere – you and me – and our governments. Let me count the ways: (1) Funding and prosecuting the war machine in their countries – think Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, Palestine, and everywhere there is conflict. (2) Imposing economic sanctions which weaken or destroy the job market in their countries – think Venezuela, Palestine and everywhere there are diminishing opportunities to work and support their families. (3) Environmental disasters such as flooding, soil erosion and droughts – think of many of the internally displaced persons in Africa. (4) And the looming impacts of a human-induced changing climate will likely force hundreds of millions to leave their homes. (Migration and Climate Change – IPCC).

We can, and must, do better.

(1) Issue humanitarian visas to every refugee, no questions asked. This allows them to travel safely, paying a lot less for a seat on a ferry or plane than they currently pay to a smuggler. Once they arrive in the country where they wish to seek asylum, the application and vetting process can begin.  Thanks to Professor Alexander Betts for first bringing this idea to my attention.

Feb. 2016 – “A million refugees arrived in Europe this year, says Alexander Betts, and “our response, frankly, has been pathetic.” Betts studies forced migration, the impossible choice for families between the camps, urban poverty and dangerous illegal journeys to safety. In this insightful talk, he offers four ways to change the way we treat refugees, so they can make an immediate contribution to their new homes. “There’s nothing inevitable about refugees being a cost,” Betts says. “They’re human beings with skills, talents, aspirations, with the ability to make contributions — if we let them.”

(2) Plan, design and build refugee camps that are safe and sustainable.  My friend from Gaza is an architect who is completing her PhD in Turkey this year and is focused on this very issue in her dissertation. In 2015, Professor Economakis from the University of Notre Dame’s School of Architecture proposed temporary refugee villages on the Greek Islands. Not only would they provide decent housing for refugees, these villages could be valuable assets for the community once the refugee crisis has dissipated at that location.

(3) Redirect a portion of each country’s military spending towards humanitarian and human rights endeavors — providing food, jobs, health and education to the most vulnerable.  If only 10% of the military spending in the top ten countries, based on the latest figures, was redirected, we might have $142.6 billion next year for life-affirming actions rather than death and destruction. 

United States ($778 billion); China ($252 billion [estimated]); India ($72.9 billion); Russia ($61.7 billion); United Kingdom ($59.2 billion); Saudi Arabia ($57.5 billion [estimated]); Germany ($52.8 billion); France ($52.7 billion); Japan ($49.1 billion); South Korea ($45.7 billion)

(4) Evolve and understand a fundamental truth — that “We are One”. This is a tough one because it’s beyond our grasp, at least for now. Until I feel it in my gut, that the Eritrean refugee I served a meal to in Calais is me, and I am him, I will continue to see him as the “other”. I may embrace him with my mind and heart, but there will still be a wall between us that prevents us from bridging our differences at the core. Humanity cannot succeed in the long-term without evolving to meet this truth and flourish together. Our governments respond to the refugee crisis as if it’s a zero-sum game, but that’s a basic fallacy that prevents us from ending the deplorable global response to the plight of refugees everywhere.

We can, and must, do better.

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Refugees deserve dignity!

Sharing this blog post from my visit to Greece in 2016. Unfortunately, it remains timely as the numbers of refugees from Ukraine seek safety and shelter.

لماذا غزة؟ Why Gaza?

13584840_10209928361671561_5228288725433714449_oNews on local TV channel in Greece

They’re stripped of their country, their livelihoods, their homes, possessions and often their families, but they shouldn’t have their dignity stripped from them too.

UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, estimates that as of 2015, there are approximately 21.3 million refugees worldwide, more than half of them under the age of 18. UNHCR’s database is a sobering reflection of the magnitude of the refugee crisis now, as well as over time.

13528105_10209916057123955_3030500298714158139_o (1)Afghan refugee in a camp on the mainland of Greece

I abhor the notion of disaster tourism, and had to think long and hard about my motivation for traveling to Greece to witness this unfolding tragedy. When the opportunity came to join a small group (Operation Refugee Child) that was distributing donations from the U.S., I decided to join them, not to gawk and snap a ton of photos…

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March 10, 2022 · 9:32 am

Two climate gatherings in Glasgow, Scotland

On the journey from Albuquerque, NM (USA) to Glasgow, Scotland (UK) to attend COP26 as a delegate for the League of Women Voters US, I became acutely aware that there were two climate gatherings happening side by side. The formal COP26 which anyone might watch virtually.  And the COP26 Coalition People’s Summit including youth-led actions and marches demanding action. Before I even arrived for the second week of COP26, Greta Thunberg had declared it a failure. “Just more blah, blah, blah.”

Greta has very good reasons to be skeptical. Since the first COP meeting in 1995 in Germany, there have been many reports warning us about the future, and many promises made to reduce our CO2 emissions to keep the Earth’s warming no higher than the critical 1.5 Celsius.  Clearly, many of the promises made in the 2015 Paris Agreement have not been kept. Greta and her generation are coming of age on a planet where a stable future is in doubt (assured) without serious action right away to change course.

Cognitive dissonance

I’ve been conflicted since learning about this opportunity to join the LWVUS delegation. Flying to a climate conference?! Aviation’s climate impact accounts for 3.5% of total anthropogenic warming. Passenger air travel is producing the highest and fastest growth of individual emissions, despite a significant improvement in efficiency of aircraft and flight operations over the last 60 years. By 2050, commercial aircraft emissions could triple given the projected growth of passenger air travel and freight. But I concluded that someone else would join the delegation in my absence, so I hopped on Amtrak to Chicago, and then a direct flight to London, and finally a bus to Glasgow.

Cognitive dissonance describes the discomfort from holding two conflicting beliefs, values, or attitudes. “This inconsistency between what people believe and how they behave motivates people to engage in actions that will help minimize feelings of discomfort. People attempt to relieve this tension in different ways, such as by rejecting, explaining away, or avoiding new information.” I suspect humans everywhere are experiencing a profound cognitive dissonance in this Anthropocene era. My personal COP26 goal is to learn how governments, the private sector, and individuals are negotiating this cognitive dissonance.  Are we acknowledging the disconnect and taking the necessary actions to restore the planet’s health?

The people in the halls of power don’t give me much hope. President Biden has the power to stop Line 3, a large oil sands pipeline project which has recently completed construction in northern Minnesota. “Line 3 will carry enough oil to produce about 170 billion kilograms of carbon dioxide per year, equivalent to about 50 coal power plants, or 38 million vehicles.” Although he could have withdrawn Enbridge’s permit for Line 3 without any action from Congress, President Biden has decided to support Line 3.  My own U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich and New Mexico Governor Michelle Lujan-Grisham have both spoken publicly about the dangers of climate change and their desire to be allies in the struggle to reduce CO2 emissions, while on the other hand they’re both cheerleaders for development of Blue Hydrogen as an alternative fuel source. The biggest cheerleaders for blue hydrogen are the fossil fuel industry lobbyists because, just as with plastics, their future depends on not keeping fossil fuels in the ground. However, a report published in August 2021 has them scrambling. Cornell and Stanford University researchers believe blue hydrogen may harm the climate more than burning fossil fuel. The carbon footprint to create blue hydrogen is more than 20% greater than using either natural gas or coal directly for heat, or about 60% greater than using diesel oil for heat, according to new research published in Energy Science & Engineering.  “Political forces may not have caught up with the science yet,” Howarth said. “Even progressive politicians may not understand for what they’re voting. Blue hydrogen sounds good, sounds modern and sounds like a path to our energy future. It is not.”

When words and actions don’t align themselves, there’s serious cognitive dissonance. I’ve passed my daily COVID-19 test and I’m headed to the large venue where I hope to see ACTION and not merely words.

Day #1

The League found a flat just a mile away from the COP26 venue for delegates to share. I’m expecting that the entire COP26 experience will be improved by sharing and debriefing with colleagues from the US. We walked in the rain to the venue the first morning and arrived looking like soaked rats. There were very long lines for the early folks but by the time my pal and I arrived, there were very few lines. Covid-19 precautions are in full display, and along with the typical security measures, I certainly feel safe in this large venue with thousands of people around. Everyone is wearing a face mask, without exception, and everyone has proof of vaccination. I wonder about the millions around the world who either don’t have access to the vaccine or don’t trust the science and refuse to take the vaccine. They are not part of this global event, by choice or not. Another of my personal COP26 goals is to learn how to communicate effectively about climate change and the work of COP26 with people who are not yet engaged in the issue. I’m convinced that the world “leaders” will not lead unless they are pushed from a groundswell of youth and others who make demands. Engaging with and motivating the grassroots is probably the best use of my time.

Everything about the day’s activities and events were spelled out on the COP26 online platform which I found very confusing. Navigating the app was bewildering but I’m encouraged when I heard others were having difficulty too. It’s not just my old age. There are sessions & agendas, as well as events & schedules.  There’s a blue zone (which hosts the negotiations) and the green zone (where the youth groups, civil society, academia, etc. host events and exhibitions). My first day was spent wandering in the green zone without a plan of action. Learning the layout and the schedule of activities is mindboggling, but I soon realized that COP26 is a marketing extravaganza for countries, institutions and businesses. Each wants to draw you in to learn more about their achievements. I saw a Co-Creative Reflection & Dialogue Space #reflectCOP26 with a small group sitting in a circle. The agenda looked interesting – spiritual and religious perspectives on the climate emergency; breaking the silos for planetary health; artistic expression as non-verbal channel to our experience at COP26; and climate change and collective trauma. Climate Change and its Threats to Takistan was well attended. The International Bamboo and Rattan Organization had items displayed and elaborate posters. I was alarmed when I passed the Nuclear for Climate exhibit — “Nuclear is a proven low carbon source of energy.” #NetZeroNeedsNuclear   Qatar was presenting to a full house about “filling the enforcement gaps”. And there was a good crowd listening to the presentation by the representative of the Republic of Congo. China may not be attending COP26 but that country didn’t miss an opportunity to market itself in the China Corporate Pavilion – “Facing the Future, Daring to Initiate.” Turkey, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, South Africa, UAE and many others have elaborate displays and presentations for anyone they might lure into their spots.

I stood awhile and watched the panel discussion at the International Indigenous Peoples’ Forum on Climate Change, as well as the presenter in the Multilevel Action Pavilion – the home for subnationals (cities, towns and regions). After walking for hours, I was beat. I found a place to sit and watched Obama online speaking to an audience in the building next door. I was pleased that one of my League colleagues actually got into the room to see Obama. Her perseverance paid off.  What I heard from Obama was the closest to an apology that I was hoping to witness at COP26. I encourage you to watch Obama’s speech if you haven’t heard it yet. He spoke about the urgency of the climate crisis, and then spoke directly to the youth, which I found relevant and very important.  “Vote” and get the leaders into positions that know and understand the climate urgency, he said.  I left the venue shortly after Obama’s speech. The first day was discouraging because I couldn’t find the events that I wanted to see. I was hoping to connect with the Women’s Earth and Climate Action Network (WECAN) formal event and press conference. Both the LWVUS and the Progressive Democrats of America signed onto WECAN’s Call to Action last month at my request. I passed activists outside drumming and shouting urging action, not Blah, Blah, Blah, and walked back to the flat. Everyone at COP26 seems either engaged with their laptops or with each other. But I have no clue whether the decision-makers and high-level negotiators are making any progress or whether they’re even listening to the youth who are making very clear demands.

I can learn more about the substance of COP26 from reading Interfaith Power & Light’s summary online or the daily Glasgow Dispatch from EESI or the COP26 Coalition’s reports.

Day #2

I attended three sessions today which gave me a clue about how disparate the topics, people and attitudes about COP26 might be, unlike national conferences that I’ve attended in the U.S. during my career. The first was a discussion with a panel of indigenous people from Nepal, Chad, Peru and elsewhere, organized by and  In response to a question “Will market mechanisms kill the 1.5 C goal?” the Nepali representative noted (paraphrasing) that ‘carbon capture’ and the other tools that the governments are counting on don’t exist. Carbon markets have many limitations. It will depend on how these mechanisms are implemented in the future. The recent Forest Action (Nov. 2) where 130 countries pledged to protect forests and indigenous lands with $1.7 Billion — these pledges are not enough. There needs to be meaningful participation by Indigenous peoples at the table, not mere lip service. Don’t prepare a plan and then bring it to the Indigenous people for their blessing. They also need to be part of the implementation.”  The African delegate said “we’re seeing lots of promises but little action. We should keep our expectations down.”  A question from the audience resonated with me. “Do the people negotiating at COP26 see the planet as a living being or a machine?” The answer touched me deeply. She said “We need to raise our voices louder so they reach the heart, not just the head.” The climate activist from Chad said “the government keeps trying to silence our voices; governments are not doing what the people need.” The discussion ended with an unanswered question: “How can nomads around the world be included in these negotiations?”

I followed my colleague to another session on the topic of data and transparency. Given the concern about COVID-19, each session is being tightly monitored for space limitations, keeping everyone spread out in the room, and turning people away at the door when the room is at capacity. My colleague and I were the last admitted to this session, and stood along the wall in the back. A few minutes into the panel discussion, a young woman sitting at the table turned around to me and offered her spot to me. The audience here looked very different from the audience in the previous session — young people multi-tasking with their laptops while listening to the panelists who talked about using data for better action. I’ll confess that the topic didn’t interest me much until I realized that without good data, what evidence do we have to demand action? Action is driven by data which must be accurate, complete, and transparent. Obtaining the data is only the first step, but then ensuring it is robust and high quality is important. Climate disasters have been responsible for the loss of massive amounts of data. Data for Better Climate Campaign launched this Spring with the hashtag #Data4BetterClimateAction.  One speaker noted “It’s not just about more data – or more accessible data – but also making it understandable to more people.”  “Having data gives you more ‘ammunition’ to demand more action to narrow the gap.”  They talked about the challenges in gathering the data, and noted that countries learn best from each other. The organizations represented on this panel are helping the countries network with each other. The final speaker focused on the need for experienced users.  It’s not just data, but the users who need to be knowledgeable to provide the explanation of the data.

I accidently walked into the tail end of a session where the moderator asked the panelists: “What would you say to your soon-to-be born grandchild about the future?” Since my second grandchild is expected in the Spring 2022, my head snapped to attention. “It’s going to be a wonderful world, beyond what our imagination can contemplate today. New technology always underperforms in the early years and exponentially grows in later years. Imagination leads to engineering. We need to have an exponential mindset…with our head in the clouds and our feet on the ground.”

As a retired lawyer, I’m really pleased I made it to the Law Session at the end of the day. This 90-minute session was divided into three segments – the judiciary, the movement lawyers, and the business/corporate sector. The discussions were uniformly strong, so I’m going to look for the recording of this session and post it later. It was very encouraging to hear the short video clips with appellate judges from around the world talking about their work on climate. (See Race to Zero where all of the videos, including the judges, should be posted later.) The judges just woke up to climate in the past few years and are forming a network of climate judges around the world. The Brazilian judge noted that her colleagues need to learn much more about climate and climate cases from other nations. In 2015, she issued a decision in a coal case without mentioning the word climate once. She thinks today that perhaps she made the wrong decision, but that’s when she woke up to the importance of climate law.

I learned about the Canary case from Pakistan and the Lamu case from Kenya, and the Shell case and plan to read more about each. I was surprised when Cesar Rodriquez Garavito (NYU School of Law) said that the law can change more rapidly than other areas of our society. He sounded very hopeful that climate litigation and the judiciary will be leading the way to protecting nature. Lawyers need to listen and understand the concern about the urgency of the climate reality. “Listen to the young people who are bold and creative.” Match these challenges with legal tools (Lora adds — such as the Green Amendment many states are considering in the US.) Advocates in the Amazonian case have been fighting for the past 30 years and making arguments about nature’s rights. Now we have laws to support their arguments. Movement lawyering is growing, check out Net Zero Lawyers Alliance. The session ended with a discussion about how businesses need to have a social contract, as well finance from the north to the south needs to be in the form of grants, not debt-building loans. A young man (22 yrs old) was beamed in from Australia to conclude with a hopeful message. As a university student, he asked the pension fund what their plans and investment criteria are regarding climate, and the fund couldn’t provide any answers. He was stubborn and took them to court and won. Now investment firms and pension funds in Australia have changed their modus operandi regarding climate factors. The youth around the world are doing the same — going to court about our failure to deal with the climate realities.

These three sessions have given me a lot to chew on — more than I can summarize here.  But the overarching take-away message is that there are very different people, cultures and traditions all focused on climate from their own vantage point (ie. Indigenous peoples, technology nerds, and lawyers) — and the intersection of all of them could be very powerful to make significant changes for a livable future. I have more confidence in these people, professions, and cultures than I do in the governments that represent them at the negotiating table.

Day #3

Wednesday is the “hump day” (the toughest day in the week) but honestly it was a very easy day for me at COP26.  The night before I learned from a native woman from Minnesota who is part of the Indigenous delegation in Glasgow that there was an action planned in front of Barclays Bank. Barclays Bank is the largest financier of fossil fuel projects in the world, and I’ve participated in similar protests in Minnesota and New Mexico, demanding that the bank divest from fossil fuels. Instead of going to the center where all of the activities are occurring, I walked to the large Barclays bank situated in a prominent spot near the river, but didn’t find anyone. I googled the locations of other Barclay Banks and walked to the one located nearer the center of Glasgow. (Google has been my best friend in Glasgow.) Thankfully, I found them.  For the next hour+ I watched the speakers and captured many of the signs and protesters with my camera. The Scottish police were filming protesters too. I noticed some media but I don’t know if the action was covered in the mainstream press. Lots of citizen journalists were hopefully sharing their photos on social media. There were indigenous peoples from around the world speaking with interpreters. The messages were clear and direct. “No net zero, no false solutions”. “Leave it in the ground.” “We (meaning indigenous peoples) are not the problem, we are the solution.” An estimated 200+ attended this action.

I was struck by how far apart the communication is between “inside” and “outside” of COP26.  Inside the halls where the negotiations are occurring, “Net Zero” is a given and I hear no debate about that term. Much of the public advertising around Glasgow includes “Net Zero” as a given. The Indigenous peoples, the youth and many of the activists on the outside are demanding “No Net Zero” because they say it’s simply a false solution, a mechanism to allow the extraction and development of fossil fuels to continue.  My heart and head tells me the activists outside are correct, but communicating that concept of “No Net Zero” is difficult. I tried in Glasgow, unsuccessfully.

Day #4 – Hydrogen, Networking and Indigenous Voices

One of the major conundrums for anyone attending COP26 is whether to attend meetings, events, actions at the center after taking a daily Covid-19 test, passing through two layers of security, and wandering the maze of corridors to find the spot you want. Or just sip a cup of tea in the apartment while watching the meeting online. On this particular morning, my colleague and I decided to take the second option and watched a presentation about hydrogen organized by industry and NGO folks who were clearly promoting the opportunities for investment in the future hydrogen market. The Hydrogen Council (see recently released two reports that I want to look up online. Hydrogen for Net Zero and the Hydrogen Policy Toolbox. The speakers never clarified whether they were talking about Green Hydrogen, Blue Hydrogen, or Gray Hydrogen . . . only referencing “low carbon hydrogen” once which refers to Blue hydrogen (made from fossil fuels). The take-away message is that we need to transition quickly to a hydrogen economy which will require 3 building blocks. (1) Political vision and ambition. (2) Supportive regulatory framework. (3) Investment for both research and innovation (development). There was a lot of talk about Fit for 55 which I need to explore further.  “Fit for 55 refers to the at least 55% emission reduction target which the EU has set for 2030. The proposed package aims to bring the EU’s climate and energy legislation in line with the 2030 goal.”  I learned that hydrogen (hopefully of the Green variety) can be a good alternative fuel for shipping and transportation. But an audience member from Africa asked (paraphrased) “The new hydrogen economy might work for Western countries but how can we be sure it will work for Africa?”  I didn’t hear a clear response.

A friend from New Mexico told me that one of the highlights for her from an earlier COP was the networking experience. Lunch on the 4th day of COP26 proved her correct. I met a woman in the lunch line who invited me to share her table. She was a delegate with the Women and Gender Constituency (WGC) with which the League of Women Voters US (my group) has collaborated with at COP26. An American woman about my age teaching philosophy and military ethics in Idaho, born in Edinburgh, raised in Toronto, and lived in Africa for some time. We could have sat another hour talking but we exchanged contact information and agreed to explore an opportunity to write a paper / book together. I was certainly jazzed when I left the table.

I headed over to the Indigenous Peoples’ Forum – a small venue with a seating capacity of only 20-25 people – where I listened to an Ecuadorian discuss the added-value of bringing Indigenous Peoples’ voices to the negotiating table. A Peruvian young woman explained that the Indigenous movements in the Andes and Amazon have come together in recent years and are working collectively. The young people feel “closely connected to our ancestors’ roots” and come to COP26 to “demand our representatives respect nature and nature’s rights in these negotiations.” An older woman said that without the forests, “we have nothing, no food, no shelter.” When her grandmother traveled to the forest, she would dress up for the special occasion and speak to the forest. Women are the stewards of the forest – the ones conveying the knowledge. After 40 years educating the young people, she is pleased to see so many young people engaged today, and respecting nature. “We should create an Indigenous University.”

My last stop for the day was a presentation by the Land and Water Protectors which began with a #StopLine3 video. Since I had traveled to the headwaters of the Mississippi River in June and visited with the Water Protectors there, I was pleased to see people and places I recognized from my visit. GGM Mary Lyons (White Earth Nation elder) joined the conversation from zoom and said “our young people have to be at the table of justice.” Three younger women spoke about their experience as water and land protectors. “Sovereignty is not something we sign on the dotted line for; and we don’t fight for sovereignty. It’s something in our blood – something we need to remember.”  Fighting the colonizers within their system won’t work. “We will be here long after the colonizers are gone.”

Day #5 – Final Day for me at COP26

The constituencies planned to protest from inside COP today and I was excited as we walked over to the center. There are a number of different constituencies at this COP, including BINGO (business and industry NGOs), ENGO (environmental NGOs), Farmers (farmers and agricultural NGOs), IPO (Indigenous Peoples organizations), LGMA (Local Government and Municipal Authorities), RINGO (Research and Independent NGOs), TUNGO (Trade Union NGOs), WGC (Women and Gender Constituency) and YOUNGO (Youth NGOs).  The delegates from the LWVUS aligned with the WGC. My colleagues and I walked together to the COP center and sat in the back of the large plenary hall with perhaps 200 – 300 people safely distanced from one another. The youth began by summarizing the facts from the IPCC report and the urgency that the science demands. “Governments would be well-advised not to break their social contract with the people.” “The science has delivered, now it’s your turn!” The TUNGO representative (and many others) talked about how the constituencies were invited to COP26 but excluded from any meaningful discussions. “What happens here is shaped by capitalism and colonialism.” Organized workers want a safe future which requires that “we undo the wrongs of colonialism.” “A fair future needs jobs, jobs, jobs, and a just transition in every workplace.”  “We need to build power by working together.”  The WGC and YOUNGO showed powerful videos.  (I’m going to try to find them online and post.)  The RINGO representative said that her group does not advocate for any particular positions at COP and she’s usually sitting in the back of the room observing. But RINGO decided to speak up about the deficiencies in the COP26 process. “Most observers have not had access to negotiations.” “This is a treaty process and observers must be part of the process. It hasn’t been this bad since COP in Copenhagen in 2009.”  77% more people @ COP26 than COP25. 232% increase in the number of media organizations over COP25. 90% more parties participating and 60% more NGOs. RINGO says you can’t be inclusive by just inviting more people. Contrary to their advertisement, COP26 was not the most inclusive COP.  Nearly every speaker confirmed their disappointment in the lack of opportunities to participate and be heard in the work of COP26.

Following these great presentations, the Indigenous Peoples led us outside the sprawling COP26 center holding on to a very long red ribbon. Later I learned that the red ribbon represented the red line that must not be crossed in these climate negotiations. The LWVUS members joined the march outside, with the media and security personnel following us on the other side of the red ribbon.  Outside we met up with activists and protesters with a lot of energy and strong speeches. I was lucky enough to find myself front and center next to the speakers, and tried to capture much of it. In the middle of it all, a single lone woman took the microphone and began yelling messages in favor of oil and gas. Everyone was confused and thought she was part of the program until it became clear that she was spewing nonsense. The police took her away and the activists continued with their speeches. We were shoulder-to-shoulder yelling and protesting the COP26 failures. The thought crossed my mind that this might have been a COVID-19 super-spreader event, but most people were wearing masks, and hopefully most were vaccinated.

After the protest I headed to the Green Zone with no particular agenda in mind but to see how that venue was organized. On this last full day of COP26 there were families and many people who didn’t appear to be associated with COP26 walking through the exhibits which surprised me. After getting a cup of potato and leek soup for lunch, I walked through the exhibits and then found a hall with a large TV screen where many were sitting and watching the plenary discussion happening in the Blue Zone.  I sat and watched one country after another be recognized by the COP26 President to “make an intervention” and speak about their disappointments about the process and the substantive provisions that were under consideration. “We need to handle finance inside COP, not outside.”  “We need a more balanced approach to Article 6.”  The delegate from Switzerland said “We won’t meet our 1.5 C goal without phase out of all subsidies for fossil fuels.” The Bangladesh delegate declared a “panic emergency” – the science is clear and our ambition must not end with COP26. (paraphrased) “We must think about the impacts of moving from 1.1 C to 1.5 C. We are not trying to just agree on text, but want to ensure these words are actually delivered.” “We are negotiating about our future, our existence.”

The representative from China spoke through an interpreter about the “common but differentiated responsibilities” from the Paris Agreement and said China wants to let the parties (countries) decide their own timetables.  The Philippines delegate mentioned this “unfortunate turn of events” with Article 6. He talked about risk management and that developing countries like the Philippines can’t do it on their own. They want to leapfrog and not repeat the mistakes that developed countries have made but the developing countries need $$ to do that. South Africa delegate said they need money not only to meet their NDCs but also for sustainable development. Brazil said “we don’t want small climate clubs but a large collective community” addressing these challenges. Perhaps the most compelling words came from the representative of Tuvalu (a country in the South Pacific I honestly had never heard of until COP26). “We’re not seeing the level of optimism that started the COP26 negotiations translated into this agreement.” “Tuvalu is sinking.” “We need to ensure a financial mechanism and modality of delivery is provided to be able to get the money to the countries that need it now.” Tuvalu wants strong language on loss and damage. (I’m going to look for a video of his words to post later.) The representative from Mexico said the current draft “doesn’t meet our expectations. We should know how to bring our NDCs in line with the 1.5 C goal.” The man from Panama said he couldn’t square the circle where developed countries declare “we understand the impacts of climate change on the global south” but “we don’t pay developing countries.” “All we ask is that you own your responsibilities.” “Get us to real zero.” “Keep fossil fuels in the ground.”

I stood up and decided to explore the Green Zone a bit more. I walked past a young man who stopped me to note the button I am wearing everywhere in COP26 “Free Palestine”. He is from Indonesia and is currently studying in the UK but has plans to return to his country when he completes his education to help his nation. We took each other’s photos and shared them on WhatsApp. Perhaps I’ve made a new friend in Indonesia.  Then I walked upstairs to check out the COP26 Cinema and walked into the middle of a film about the YMCA working with youth in six countries engaged in climate change projects. The YMCA in the US had financed the film with $250k and announced today that they were adding another $150k to continue the work of these youth groups. The goal is to raise $1 million by next year. Four young people in the film were on stage to discuss their work and their expectations. Rodrigo from Peru gave a shout out to a youth from Palestine who was not able to travel to Glasgow. I went up to him afterwards and learned that the Palestinian had waited and waited for his appointment to travel to the embassy for his Visa application but the appointment was only given to him TODAY. I found these four young people very inspiring and had tears in my eyes as I was taking notes. The young woman from Zambia said she wished we had more leaders like John Kerry whom they met earlier. She found Kerry to be “a humble person.”  And she was disappointed that the leaders from Zambia at this COP26 were not accessible to her or others from her country. She wants the leaders to be uncomfortable.  Check here to meet the YMCA delegation to COP26, including Atallah Danoon from Palestine.

Many are beginning to leave Glasgow now but the discussions at the plenary continue. I will catch a train to Edinburgh in the morning but stay glued to the proceedings online.

My take-away from COP26 in Glasgow

I’m not going to summarize the final COP26 agreement or its many deficiencies, nor regurgitate what the media coverage is sharing.  If you check out the Irish Times, the New York Times, the Guardian, the Financial Times, and many more, it’s clear that COP26 didn’t live up to expectations. I also recommend opinion pieces from Christiana Figueres who was head of the UN climate change convention that achieved the Paris agreement in 2015, and George Monbiot calling for civil disobedience. While in Glasgow at COP26, I was following several groups who provided excellent coverage of COP26, including regular reports from Architecture 2030, Interfaith Power & Light, and EESI. There’s a lot of information for anyone who wants to get into the COP26 weeds.

Sitting in a youth hostel in Edinburgh after COP26 finished, I met a man from Normandy (33 years) visiting on a lark for the weekend because he found a roundtrip air ticket for €10. He works in international shipping, scheduling exports and imports. He understands the urgency of climate change but doesn’t believe we can repair the damage already done. “It’s only going to get worse, and leaders aren’t going to do anything fast enough because of their love of power and money.” He gave me concrete examples.

I passed a group of young girls (teens?) sitting in the park in Edinburgh and asked to take their photo. I told them I had just come from the climate meeting in Glasgow. It wasn’t the right time and place to engage with them on climate change; they were more excited about being seen and recognized on my Instagram account.

Communication is my take away from COP26. You and I know the science, and the urgency with which a profound transformation must occur if we’re going to leave a planet that our children and grandchildren can safely call home with confidence of a bright future. My new grandchild (expected in Spring 2022) will be my age in 2090; this is very personal for me. We have only a decade, or perhaps two, to avoid the catastrophic consequences of fossil fuels.

We must meet people where they’re at and arm them with the information which spurs them to act. We must engage in every venue where we believe we can make a difference. Some of us will engage with the politicians in Congress, state Capitals, and city halls pressing leaders to act consistent with the climate reality. Others will engage with students and audiences in different venues. Some will write. Others will protest and engage in civil disobedience. Perhaps the most important communication will occur one-on-one with our neighbors and family. None of these will be sufficient on their own, but each will lead us to the critical threshold where public engagement will tip the scales.

I didn’t see any strong presence of the fossil fuel industry at COP26 but they had the largest delegation there, and likely had better access to decision-makers than many others. Listening to many different voices (online and in person at COP26) about what we must do, I was particularly sensitive to the cacophony of ideas often not connecting with each other. (At one point I actually broke down in tears because of the cognitive dissonance.) 

People ask me if I’m an optimist or pessimist about the future. I’m neither. I consider myself a “possibilitarian.” The path we’re currently on is bleak, but I believe we can take another path towards a much better outcome, a future that looks very bright. This possibilitarian understands that switching to that new path could happen very quickly, but it will require (1) more people aware of the dangers of the current path and deciding to change course; (2) new and more effective ways to communicate about the dangers and possibilities; and (3) new leadership. The most encouraging part of COP26 was observing the youth inside and out pushing the status quo, making the leaders “uncomfortable.” I believe the old farts have to step aside or be removed, and the youth need to take the reins of power. They will certainly make mistakes, but don’t we all?  I witnessed their true leadership at COP26.

The 33-year-old from Normandy needs hope; the teenagers need to experience life free of fear; and the fossilized leaders in many countries need to feel the heel of our boots. Communication is the key.

Thank you for joining me on this COP26 journey. 

Lora Lucero

Facebook: LoraLucero

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Twitter: @LoraLucero

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A love affair with trains

Train travel enriches the soul and saves the planet. That’s it, in a nutshell.

I needed no hard sell to convince me that trains are magical. Riding the Rock Island Express and Super Chief trains every summer between Minnesota and New Mexico in the 1960s as a child prepared me for a lifelong love affair with them.

My most recent journey in June 2021 was deliberately chosen to experience new routes and scenery. My planned itinerary was Albuquerque to LA, then LA to Seattle, and finally Seattle to Minneapolis. Not the most direct route, but I was eager to ride Amtrak’s Coast Starlight which, I was told, has magnificent views of the California coastline.

I also wanted to ride Amtrak’s Empire Builder across Washington State, Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota. My great grandfather, Albert H. Hogeland, was the chief engineer for many years on the Great Northern Railroad, the predecessor of the Empire Builder, and was instrumental (or so I was told as a child) in laying out where the tracks would be placed.

Amtrak’s Empire Builder — Chief Engineer A. H. Hogeland laid out much of this route in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

There’s a litany of reasons why =you= should ride the trains. My personal list includes (in no particular order of importance): meditating on the scenic wonders as they unfold; reading a good book when the landscape is not so wonderous; meeting new friends and some crazy characters who might take the seat beside me; capturing amazing memories on camera; writing on a project if a deadline is looming; supporting Amtrak so that Congress knows Americans care and want train service prioritized; giving psychic space to the people and places I’m leaving as well as preparing for the new energy of the people and places I’m expecting to meet at my destination; and so much more.

Without a doubt, the most important reason to ride trains, is to reduce our carbon footprint. We must give the Earth a fighting chance of recovering from the harm we’ve inflicted on her since the beginning of the “industrial revolution”.

Anyone who cares about reducing CO2 emissions and the climate chaos that is bearing down on us more severely and rapidly than even the climatologists predicted, should be riding trains. There’s no serious dispute that air travel has a super bad carbon footprint. Really bad! Trains are the smart mode of travel in this Anthropocene era. There’s no debate.

The downsides of train travel are huge, I admit. Chief among them is the time involved. Other challenges include: unreliable schedules (Amtrak is notoriously late); no Wifi onboard, the food in the cafe is mediocre; the cleanliness varies widely from train to train; and it’s chilly at night (bring a blanket).

Of course, your seatmate on the train might be a weirdo. Unlike air travel, you can usually move to the Observation car and avoid the crazies.

Despite these challenges, I’d step onboard a train rather than walk down the jetway any day of the week.

My recent Amtrak itinerary (June 16 – 21) was the longest train journey I’ve taken in the US, and included some bumps and many highlights!

The Southwest Chief from Albuquerque arrived into the Los Angeles Union Station 4+ hours late, and I missed my connection to the Coast Starlight traveling up the California coast. Amtrak guarantees that connection; and I finally caught up to the Coast Starlight more than 12 hours later in Sacramento. Amtrak put me on two buses and a train to make my connection — a long and weary day. I never saw the California coastline but I enjoyed the beautiful LA Union Station, and the interior farmland scenery, and talking with California commuters along the way.

I’ve had the joy of riding many trains around the world, including the Trans-Siberian Railroad, the Norwegian Railways, the ScotRail in Scotland, the Eurail, ItaliaRail, the Malaysia train and the Egyptian National Railways. The Bullet train in China was the fastest. The train through Mongolia and China was the biggest eye-opener!

So I speak with a measure of experience when I say that Amtrak in the USA has to scale a very steep learning curve in order to compete and become a serious 21st century mass transit system.

Some of the most memorable conversations have occurred on a train. In June, I met Osamu on the train when he glanced over and noticed the book I was reading. “Our History is the Future — Standing Rock versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance” by Nick Estes (2019). He had read the book too, and then I learned he incorporated the book into the class he taught at MIT about Indigenous Environmental Planning. Serendipitous! I mentioned that I was a city planner in an earlier life, and that I was traveling to Minnesota hoping to hook up with the Native Peoples resisting Line 3. Our conversation took off from there.

In the middle of the night, the train stopped at the station in Spokane where we waited for another train to arrive and connect up with us. Most passengers were asleep, but I was curious about what the train personnel were doing outside. I walked through the station to stretch my legs, and then stood on the platform to watch them preparing the train for the additional train cars that would be joining us. Then my jaw dropped. They were switching out engineers at this stop, and the new engineer climbing up into the cab appeared to be no older than twenty-something. GOOD FOR HIM!

On Father’s Day a young father was sitting in the Observation car with his toddler daughter. He was pointing out to her the community and farm where they lived near Glasgow, Montana. He spoke with so much pride. Listening to their conversation, I suspect that he purchased tickets for them to just ride from one station to another so she could see their farm from the train, another perspective. My heart melted. That’s when I thought that each and every member of Congress should be required to ride Amtrak across the USA. They could learn so much from people and places along the way.

Traveling during a pandemic requires extra precautions; Amtrak requires everyone to wear a mask unless eating or drinking, and the conductor announces this requirement at every stop. When we reached North Dakota, the typical announcement became much more stern. “If you fail to wear a mask, we will remove you at the next station, and you really don’t want to be dropped off in the middle of the night at ___ . So wear your face mask, no exceptions!”

I asked the conductor how many passengers were typically removed. Not many in other states, he said, but passengers boarding in North Dakota and Minnesota were stubborn and there had been a number removed for refusal to wear their masks. That explained why the announcement sounded more stern.

“I thought face masks were suppose to cover the mouth and the nose.”

Amtrak Joe‘ Biden is a big fan of passenger trains and wants to build Amtrak’s golden age. This should be a no-brainer but the big stumbling block will be the private freight companies that own the tracks on which Amtrak runs. The notorious Amtrak delays are usually due to freight trains on the very same tracks. They have priority use, and Amtrak trains must scoot over to a siding and wait. That explains why the Coast Starlight train I was riding was more than 6 hours late arriving into Seattle.

Freight traffic is important and needs to move efficiently. People are important too. If the private & public sectors can’t compromise in order to improve rail service for both, the freight rail service needs to be nationalized. A 21st century public transit system requires both people and goods to get where they need to be efficiently and safely. I suspect this means the US needs to put much more $$ into improving the railroad tracks, rail stations and signaling, and modernizing the rail cars themselves, and also building new tracks to presently unserved communities.

The U.S. has provided trillions in subsidies for the production and consumption of fossil fuels. We need to do an about face . . . pronto. Soon after taking office, President Biden proposed a $2 trillion infrastructure bill, of which about $80 billion would be directed towards improving Amtrak. Now (August 2021), our leaders are discussing the $550 billion infrastructure bill, of which $66 billion would be targeted towards Amtrak improvements.

Lora at the Albany, NY Amtrak Station – July 2021

Amtrak passenger service is the future; and it’s time for all of us to climb onboard and advocate for Amtrak’s good health.

Contact President Biden here.

Contact your member of Congress here.

Contact your U.S. Senator here.

Contact the U.S. Department of Transportation here.


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#StopLine3 — an arsonist is in the house!

If an arsonist was sneaking into your home with the gasoline and matches to burn it to the ground, how would you respond?

If the professional firefighters were nowhere to be found, and no one picked up on your 911 call, how would you respond?

If your family and neighbors passed buckets of water down the line to help you put out the fire, but the police came to arrest your family rather than the arsonist, how would you respond?

These images went through my mind as I sat near the sacred fire at Camp Manoomin on the White Earth Nation lands in northern Minnesota in mid-July. One of five indigenous camps leading Water Protectors in actions across northern Minnesota, Camp Manoomin was my introduction to the devastation occurring from the construction of Line 3.

Camp Manoomin – White Earth Nation in northern Minnesota — July 2021 (photo: Lora Lucero)

Enbridge LLC, the Canadian company building Line 3, is working night and day to finish this pipeline to carry tar sands oil from Alberta to Lake Superior and beyond.

With runaway climate chaos so clearly present everywhere this summer, can anyone deny that our planetary home is on fire? We’re being boiled alive. Climate scientists are admitting they might have badly misjudged how quickly and how badly our planet might be warming. The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) is warning us that we may have crossed some planetary thresholds (tipping points) which will be impossible to reverse and repair. And in northern Minnesota — the Line 3 pipeline will unlock CO2 emissions equivalent to 50 coal plants!

One of many Line 3 construction sites in northern Minnesota. (photo: Lora Lucero)
Enbridge pumping station next to the headwaters of the Mississippi River where the company is drilling to extend Line 3 below the river. (photo: Lora Lucero)

Line 3 is set to cross more than 200 waterways and cut through the 1854 and 1855 treaty territory where the Anishinaabe people retain the right to hunt, fish, gather medicines, and harvest wild rice. As Minnesota experiences a severe drought, Enbridge will be using nearly 5 billion gallons of water, 10 times more than it originally requested for construction.

Check out the interactive maps here.

Enbridge expects to complete Line 3 construction by the end of August, and commence testing and delivery by the end of the year. Although there’s an appeal pending in the Minnesota Supreme Court to stop Line 3, the decision will be too late. Action is needed today. How would you respond if the arsonist was sneaking into your home?

The Water Protectors are calling on everyone from everywhere to come to the frontlines to #StopLine3. Information about where to go, how to show up and make your voice heard can be found here.

The Tribal Council and Elders of the White Earth Nation are calling on Governor Walz and Lt. Governor Flanagan to meet with them, nation-to-nation, to respect the Treaties and the rights of the Indigenous peoples to hunt, fish, gather medicinal plants, harvest and cultivate wild rice, and preserve sacred or culturally significant sites.

Press Conference held in the Minnesota State Capitol on July 14. Good explanation of the treaties here. (photo: Lora Lucero)
Several hundred people attended the press conference. Where were Governor Walz and Lt. Governor Flanagan? (photo: Lora Lucero)

Water protectors are asking everyone to contact Governor Walz and Lt. Governor Flanagan here, contact President Biden here, contact Secretary of the Department of Interior Debra Haaland here, contact the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (agency responsible for permitting and monitoring the Line 3 construction) here. The message is simple. #StopLine3, Keep fossil fuels in the ground, Protect our water, Respect treaty rights.

In less than 12 hours, more than 100 people signed the petition to Secretary Haaland asking her to visit Line 3.

The Mississippi River looks very fragile when you stand at its headwaters in northern Minnesota. Drilling a pipeline below and near the river is the epitome of mankind’s arrogance and disrespect for Mother Earth. Please take action today, and visit the Mississippi headwaters if you can.

Mississippi River headwaters. (Photo: Lora Lucero)

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Mental health must be a human right

Today I joined about a dozen people in Albuquerque to walk the #Gaza5k along the Rio Grande Bosque trail. As I explained here, it was for a very good cause. We were moving for mental health, specifically raising funds for UNRWA-USA to support mental health professionals working in the Gaza Strip. Their clients, Palestinian refugees, are the primary beneficiaries of the #Gaza5k.

Each step along the way, I kept thinking of the freedom of movement that I enjoy, and how moving in nature helps to keep me sane and grounded. I wish the Palestinian refugees had that same freedom. Israel’s 14-year siege of the Gaza Strip must end, with or without Israel’s consent.**

I’m pleased that UNRWA-USA exceeded its goal and raised more than $1 million. My team — the New Mexico Roadrunners — exceeded our goal of $3,500 thanks to the generosity of many individual contributions, large and small.

Many of us take our mental health for granted. I know I do. But whether it’s a family member or friend in the U.S., or refugees we’ve never met abroad, mental health is the unseen flower inside each of us. We need to nurture and care for ourselves and each other more gently and compassionately. We need to listen and reach out to each other, never assuming that we’re alone in our own struggles or assuming that the “other” is not struggling.

In Gaza, this is particularly true. A 2020 study found that the majority of children and adolescents in Gaza experienced personal trauma (88.4%), witnessed trauma to others (83.7%) and observed demolition of property (88.3%) during the war. The research is here. Also published in 2020, another study found that 38% of the young people had considered suicide at least once.

Suicide rates in Gaza have been trending upward for the last 10 years. Current average figures put the number at 562 attempts per year. The suicide rate is much higher among young men aged 18-30 who make up about 75% of all suicide deaths here, with young men shouldering the social expectation that they will provide for their family. Feeling without value and unable to seek help due to the stigma attached to mental health, young men are turning to suicide as a means of escape.

Of the 17 UN sustainable development goals, the third goal is “good health and well-being”. Israel is clearly, without any debate, failing in this regard. As the occupier responsible for the Palestinian refugees, Israel owes a duty of care towards the Palestinians under international law and must be held accountable. Failing to provide vaccines to the Palestinians during this pandemic is just the latest example of Israel’s disregard for their health and well-being, not to mention Israel’s most recent military campaign against Gaza that left 66 Palestinian children dead and wiped out three entire families (generations) from the population registry.

Mental health should be a human right.

Our brothers and sisters in Gaza deserve no less.

The organization that is best positioned and equipped to provide those critical services to the Palestinian refugees is UNRWA-USA. From the bottom of my heart, I thank UNRWA-USA for stepping up to meet the tremendous needs and challenges in Gaza (food, education, health care). I thank my friends and family for stepping up and generously answering my request for donations. And I thank my #Gaza5k team who stepped up and shared their love and commitment to raise the funds for mental health services to Palestinians in Gaza. Together, we did it.


If you would like to contribute to UNRWA-USA’s campaign to support mental health services in Gaza, please make a donation online here. Thank you.

** Yes, I’m talking about breaking Israel’s land, sea and air blockade of the Gaza Strip.


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Countdown to the #Gaza5K

This is really gonna happen on Saturday, June 12th —- the virtual #Gaza5k with nearly 2000 people around the country walking / running in their communities to support mental health services for Palestine refugees in Gaza. (I’m walking with friends in Albuquerque.)

My first introduction to Gaza in 2004 was a meeting set up with Dr. Eyad El-Sarraj, a world-renown psychiatrist in childhood trauma. That year he was honored with an international award for his leadership in childhood trauma but the State of Israel would not allow him to leave the Gaza Strip to travel and accept the award. An American psychologist invited me to travel to Gaza to present the award to Dr. El-Sarraj personally.

I remember sitting across the room from him at the Gaza Community Mental Health Programme which I believe Dr. El-Sarraj had founded. As my friend was making the presentation, I was documenting it with my camera and thinking “this man looks like my grandfather, why would anyone prevent him from traveling?” In 2004, I knew very little about the history, the occupation, or the politics.

On that trip to Gaza, I asked a Palestinian to drive me to Rafah (in southern Gaza) where a young American woman had been killed a year earlier (March 16, 2003). I wanted to see the site where Rachel Corrie, a peace activist from Olympia, Washington was run over by an Israeli bulldozer driver. Rachel had traveled to the Gaza Strip to work on a sister cities project between Olympia and Rafah, and while she was there she joined the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). On the day of her death, she had been standing in front of a Palestinian’s home in Rafah to dissuade the bulldozer operator from demolishing the home. He ran over her, not once but twice, and killed her.

Rachel Corrie, Rafah, March 16, 2003

When I visited in 2004, the site was absolutely barren. I got out and stood there a moment, and was soon surrounded by children, lots of them. They saw my camera and wanted their pictures taken. I complied.

And then my world changed.

An old Palestinian man (maybe in his sixties or seventies), wearing the traditional galabeya, came up and stood directly in front of me. He started forcefully telling me something in Arabic but I had no clue what he was saying. I could only stand there and maintain eye contact out of respect. But I could tell he was either angry, frustrated, upset or maybe all of it. After a few minutes, he waved his arms in the air and walked away. I hadn’t said a word to him but when I stepped back into the car, the driver asked me if I wanted to know what the man told me. “Yes! Of course!”

“He was telling you that foreigners come to Gaza all the time. They see how bad things are here, and how difficult life is for us. They cry big crocodile tears, and they take lots of pictures. Then they leave and nothing changes. The same is going to happen with you. You will leave and nothing will change. And then he threw up his arms in disgust and walked away.”

On the ride back to the hotel in Gaza City, about a 40-45 minute trip, I sat silently in the back seat looking out the window and thinking to myself . . . “I can’t be that person he described. I can’t be a disaster tourist and go back to my life in the USA unaffected by what I’ve witnessed. I need to educate myself and then take action.”

Fast forward to June 2021 — after years of study, reading, talking with the “experts”, visiting and living in Gaza (2012-2013) and trying unsuccessfully to learn Arabic at UNM — I am taking action this Saturday. I’m walking the #Gaza5k and raising money to support the mental health professionals who are so critically important to the lives of Palestinian refugees in Gaza. And I’m going to be thinking of Rachel Corrie, the young American woman who knew that her moral compass demanded she take action, which her parents have carried on. And Dr. El-Sarraj who I visited with again in Gaza in 2012 before he died in 2013 from leukemia. And I’m going to be thinking of that old Palestinian man in Rafah, whose name I never learned, and the important wake-up call he shared with me. TAKE ACTION!

If you want to join the virtual #Gaza5k on Saturday, June 12th — either with me in Albuquerque or in your own community, just register here ($45 adult, $35 student/child). (Your t-shirt will arrive after the event.) And you’ll be able to join the Digital Festival that begins at 1 pm ET. If you can’t walk/run, please consider making a tax-deductible donation here.

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Why is the world’s opinion changing?

The world’s opinion about Israel, Zionism, the occupation and Palestine has noticeably changed between Israel’s brutal slaughter in its Operation Protective Edge in 2014 and its most recent military campaign in Gaza, Operation Guardian of the Walls.

A big reason for this change is that we’re now hearing and reading more Palestinian voices, both in the mainstream media like the New York Times (My Child Asks, “Can Israel Destroy Our Building if the Power is Out?”) and in social media. There are big lessons to be learned here for social justice activists worldwide.

One of those prolific Palestinian voices is Refaat Alareer, a professor of English literature at the Islamic University of Gaza. He’s also the editor of Gaza Writes Back (2013) and coeditor, along with Laila El-Haddad, of Gaza Unsilenced.

Today (Sunday, May 30, 2021) he was on a panel discussion sponsored by the Popular Front of India. He spoke about why the world’s opinion is changing, and the important context that the mainstream media and many western journalists have missed (or omitted) for decades. Refaat’s comments begin at hour-minute 1:04. This should be required viewing for everyone.

Another reason the world’s opinion is changing is due to the fact that American Jewish voices are rising in opposition to the State of Israel’s prolonged and brutal military occupation. Exhibit #1 is this open letter signed by many rabbinical students calling on U.S. Jews to hold Israel accountable. Exhibit #2 is Rabbi Sharon Brous’ sermon on May 22, 2021 to her congregation. Take a listen and share her words if you agree.


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‘War Crimes’, ‘Resistance’ and an American’s love for Gaza

Thanks to UK journalist and filmmaker Harry Fear for sharing his recent conversation with Denny Cormier, a citizen journalist, humanitarian and Palestine solidarity activist, originally from New Mexico but now in Massachusetts.

I met Harry Fear in Gaza over pizza in 2013. We had both been monitoring and sharing our observations about Israel’s Operation Pillar of Defense in November 2012 from Gaza. Harry’s voice and talents reached a far larger audience than mine ever has. I was even following Harry’s postings on social media from my room in Gaza during the 2012 bombardment.

Harry Fear’s award-winning 2019 film – Gaza: Still Alive is a remarkable documentary about the ongoing trauma experienced by many Palestinian refugees in the besieged Gaza Strip. It’s available to download for free and I highly recommend it.

I first met Denny in Cairo in 2015 (I think) and remember sitting across the table talking about our shared concerns about the Palestinians we had met in Gaza.

Denny Cormier is the American I wish — more than anyone else — I could clone over and over and over again. The world needs many more Denny Cormiers. Watch the short 25 minute discussion between Harry and Denny …. posted above …. and you’ll see why. Denny exudes the qualities of compassion, empathy, curiosity and intelligence that the world needs so much more of. Truthfully, both Denny and Harry share those same qualities, and they both know how to use them responsibly and generously. The world is a better place because of them.


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