Our View From Here

Perspectives of Five Women

Dark Chocolate

This week’s theme is love. If I chose to write about my love life, it would be the shortest blog post ever: Met a boy as a freshman in college, dated boy, married same boy 10 years later. Began our happy ever after. The end.

Instead, I wanted to talk about a symbol of Valentine’s Day and affection: chocolate. Allow me to step up to my soapbox.

You may not know, but Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) is the largest cocoa producer in the world. If you received chocolate for Valentine’s Day, or if you ran to the store this morning to scoop up all the candy while it was on clearance, chances are the cocoa used to produce the chocolate came from Côte d’Ivoire. Once all the protests in Egypt started firing up over the last two weeks, all other international news sort of fell by the wayside, so I would understand if you weren’t up to date on what’s been going on in Côte d’Ivoire. In November, the country held presidential elections. The country’s election officials and international observers were in agreement that the incumbent, Laurent Gbagbo (pronounced with the first “G” silent) lost. Gbagbo has been ruling the country since 2000. During that time, a civil war broke out that cost thousands of lives and turned the formerly stable country upside down. The economy, still fragile from the war, is tanking fast and the crackdown from Gbagbo as he clings to power is causing a wave of refugees to cross the border in Liberia, which is struggling to recover from its own civil war. No political end is in sight as both Gbagbo and his challenger, Alassane Ouattara claim victory.

In addition to this recent strife, it’s important to realize how your chocolate gets to you. Harvesting cocoa beans is hard, manual labor, and the laborers who work the land are paid little. Often, those harvesting the beans are children, forced to work to support their families rather than go to school. In other cases, they were trafficked from their homes and work as slaves. These kids face backbreaking labor every day and are at risk of getting hurt or killed as they swing their machetes to cut down the cocoa beans.

I don’t mean to depress you or make you feel guilty for enjoying your chocolate. But I think the least we can do as we’re enjoying our sweets and celebrating this festival of love is to think about the people who make Valentine’s Day as we know it possible, and think about what they’re going through. I’ll step down from my soapbox now.

More information:

Q&A: Ivory Coast election crisis from the BBC

Children in Cocoa Production – I wanted to use something a bit more scholarly than Wikipedia, but this gives a good overview of the problem and provides additional resources if you want to explore the issue further.

Côte d’Ivoire – Just a good primer on the country from the CIA World Factbook.

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Go Vote!

In this blog, I think we all try to keep things somewhat apolitical. Obviously, we’re a diverse group of women from all over the country and we all have different viewpoints. That’s the point of the blog. It stands to reason that you, our lovely readers, also come from all over the country and have different viewpoints. I can’t speak to the rest of my blog-writing team, but I’ve tended to shy away from political topics so as not to ostracize readers. However, today is VOTING DAY and without advocating for any particular candidate or platform, I would encourage each of you to get out and vote today. Here’s why:

I would argue that these elections are more important than the last (and most) presidential election. EVERY SINGLE seat in the House of Representatives is up for election this year. That’s right – every one. These are the men and women that are supposed to be representing you in our federal government. They are the ones that you should call when something isn’t working right. And they’re the ones you should go to for the fix. That’s a lot of power. They’re also the ones that write laws. Despite what you may think about them, they’re a pretty important group of people. Same goes for the Senate. And a lot of those seats are up for election this year too.

There are also many governorships, mayors and local councils to be decided upon. These are the folks that determine what happens in your state and in your community. State income tax, sales tax, money for schools, garbage pickups, support for the fire and police departments – they’re all decided at this level. Lots of municipalities and states are also going to be voting on important questions that are going to change the way things work. A prime example of this is the State of Washington, which has 9 initiatives on the ballot this year on issues ranging from the sale of alcohol to worker’s comp to taxes.

And if all that doesn’t sway you, remember that not too long ago, many segments of our population couldn’t vote. Women haven’t even been voting for 100 years yet, and even though African-American men were granted the right in 1870 with the 15th Amendment, many were still effectively barred the right to vote until the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s. Then perhaps you could think of countries like Burma, which haven’t had elections since 1990, and the last time they did have elections, the military voided the results so they could stay in power (see this Newsweek article for more info).

Yup. All in all, voting is pretty important, and for many in the world, it’s still a luxury. Besides, I’ve always thought that if you don’t vote, you have no right to complain with how things are going in this country. If you’re like me and like to complain and rant and rave, that’s a pretty powerful motivator.

Not sure where to vote? Google put together this handy-dandy poll finder. Just enter your home address and it will find your polling place for you. Now you have no excuse so get out there and vote!

(courtesy CIA World Factbook)

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The President Does NE Seattle

Official presidential portrait of Barack Obama...

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So, something unexpected happened on Thursday.  Wednesday night, prior to school letting out, a series of no parking signs appeared on the side of the road.  I didn’t think much of it at the time.  That night, I saw on the Wedgwood View Blog that President Obama might be visiting the neighborhood.  I knew he was in town for a big rally at the University of Washington in support of Sen. Patty Murray. Later on, I heard that he would be hosting a “backyard chat” in a home about eight blocks from our school, and the main road into that neighborhood passed right out front. I was going to see the motorcade!

The school was buzzing about the visit all morning.  It turns out that President Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham, actually attended my school when she lived nearby, so we thought it would be fitting that he pass by. Someone had made a big sign stating, “Thank you Mr. President!” and hung it in the library windows.  We weren’t sure when he’d pass, but we knew he was due at the UW around 11am, so it had to be around 9:30.

Nothing happened during first period.  Second period came and my students went off to their various classes.  I had one student with me who was new today, and we were going on a tour of the school when I saw that some of the gym classes were hanging out in front of the building, waiting. We went to join them as several of my students were out there.  Before long, the crowd was growing, joined by the entire administration!  The teachers kept the kids out of the street as they were so excited they weren’t paying attention to where they were!

Finally, around 9:45, the police shut down the traffic coming up our street and diverted the traffic going to opposite direction.  Two Secret Service vehicles drove by, one stopped and told us to keep the kids back off the sidewalk.  We knew we were getting close.

Then it happened.  My school sits at the top of a hill.  To our west, is a small valley followed by another hill.  A few lights crested the top of the far hill and all the kids started screaming!  The rest of the motorcade appeared and we could see just how big it was.  Dozens of police motorcycles led the way, followed by another couple of Secret Service Suburbans. Then, two odd looking limousines came next, and in the back seat of the second one was a smiling, waving President of the United States! The kids were absolutely crazy, and I have to say, most of the teachers were pretty excited too.

The rest of the motorcade passed on, and the school filed back into the building.  I saw everyone smiling and even a couple teachers wiping tears from their eyes.  No matter your political views, seeing the president is something special and will likely be something that these kids (and I) will remember for a long time.

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Nine Years On…

Light beams were used to symbolize the missing...

Image via Wikipedia

Tomorrow is the 9th anniversary of 9/11. I have mixed feelings about this day. My heart goes out to the families and friends of those who were lost that September morning. However, I am sickened by those who try to use it for political gain or just to get people riled up.

As we all do, I remember where I was on September 11th, 2001.  Still in Pennsylvania, I had graduated college a few months earlier and had a week until I started my new position with AmeriCorps.  I had been enjoying my last few days to sleep in, but on that particular morning I was wide-awake around 7:30.  I wandered downstairs and poured myself a bowl of cereal.  Before the milk even hit the bowl, the phone rang.  I looked at the caller ID and saw that it was my roommate (now my brother-in-law) calling from work.  I answered the phone and he told me to turn on the TV because “something was happening in New York.” The first plane had just hit.

I sat there, watching for hours as the second plane hit and as each of the towers fell. Because both of my roommates worked or had classes, I was alone for most of the day.  My mom called at one point, telling me that they had closed down some of the major skyscrapers and bridges in Seattle.  Then there was the silence.  Once all of the planes were on the ground, it was way too quiet.  Not only was the lack of air traffic odd, no one was talking much.

I didn’t cry much that day. I think I was in shock and just didn’t know how to handle my feelings.  I do remember, though, a year later, sitting in my apartment, watching the tributes to the people who died that day and crying my heart out. In many ways, it was cathartic – all that anger and sadness had built up and needed a release.

Then by the third anniversary, I found myself in grad school in New York. From where I lived in Jersey City, I could see the pillars of light representing the towers.  I was there when they opened the PATH train and subway station at the World Trade Center site.  It was eerie riding out into the crater itself.  Once I was teaching, I talked to colleagues who said that they watched the towers fall from their office window.  I had students who had been scheduled to have a field trip to the WTC that morning, but by some fluke of fate, their buses showed up over 45 minutes late. They should have been there when the planes hit.

And now, it has been nine years. I heard this week about the pastor who wanted to burn the Quran on that day to send a message to the radical Islamics.  While I understand that under the Constitution, he has the right to do this, but is this really how we want to remember the over 2,900 people who died that day?  Maybe the hate is what got us there in the first place. I am so tired of the “Us vs. Them” mentality. The vast majority of Islamic people had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks, so why insult the entire group by this hateful act? I don’t want to say something as simplistic as “love everyone,” but maybe if there were a little less hate in the world, we wouldn’t be remembering the sacrifice of nearly 3,000 poor souls this weekend.

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