Wednesday, July 23, 2014

My sister honors her late husband every day as an activist on the cause of her life. Let's help her keep doing it.

Heather and her beloved Dan
Photo copyright Heather, 2014; all rights reserved.

I have a lot of sisters, none of them blood. It doesn't matter; in most cases, we're as close or even closer (than my own blood, anyway).

And right now, one of them is in a serious bind. She's a widow with disabling health conditions who has spent much of recent years caring for others; financially, she lives on the edge at the best of times. But now, she's alone, and she's been forced to move into an apartment even less expensive than the extremely modest one she was calling home until recently. She's far away from us, and across a national border, so we can't be there to help in person. And she's good people. Hell, she's a much better person than I will ever be.

Beyond being simply a good person — moral, ethical, mindful, compassionate — she's also a dedicated anti-torture activist. For years, this has been cause and mission, vocation and avocation for her. Her late husband, Dan, was a disabled VietNam veteran who had been tortured as a prisoner of war, and whose health had been damaged beyond repair by exposure to toxins while in-country besides. She bore witness to the war he was forced to continue to fight for the remainder of his life, a daily battle for body and mind, soul and spirit, and she was his moral, physical, mental, and spiritual support throughout. What she saw Dan face every day — what she faced with him every day — altered her forever. And now, though he has walked on, she has taken up the mantle in an even more direct way than before, becoming a fierce activist in her own right for the cause that was (and took) his life.

I'm talking, of course, about Heather, who many of you know as Chacounne.

Over the jump, read on to find out more about this wonderful woman I am proud to call kin, and exactly what it is that she needs to stay connected to the world. Less than $900 will keep her utilities connected; another $1,200 will replace her old, tired, and now-dead laptop with one that will provide the connectivity, stability, and enhancements she needs to remain linked to the outside world when she can't travel, and to continue her important anti-torture work around the world.

I first "met" Heather about five years ago. She was already well situated in her activist role by that time. She also had competing demands on her time and attention and energy, with an aging widowed mother with her own medical concerns. Heather moved to the opposite end of Canada to take care of her, despite her own health and financial constraints, and did so until her mother entered a different world in the way of their tradition.

Photo copyright Heather,
2014; all rights reserved.
She has since returned from the Vancouver area to her home in Ottawa, but circumstances, financial and otherwise, forced her to move to a new apartment. Overall, it's very much a good thing, but moves are expensive, and when your small fixed income consists of disability, it doesn't stretch to cover the basics of the move, much less deposits and hook-up fees. 

One of the best things about it is that, at long last, she has a companion to help get her through her work each day. Meet Gucci (she came from the Humane Society with the name already firmly in place). She has captured Heather's heart, of course, but she's also good for her health and her spirit. 

But still, there is the problem of the added expenses of the move itself. When it was time to make that jump, Heather also had to buy a number of basic items for daily living that she had not needed in her old place, furnishings large and small. She has done so in the most economical way possible, buying used items strictly from thrift stores and the like, but there is a floor beyond which expenses cannot be trimmed. And as much as she's scrimped and saved and juggled, between transfers and connections and ordinary billing and what is now past due, her power bill exceeds $800, and is in danger of being disconnected. With her health issues, that could be truly damaging.

In the meantime, while juggling all of these stresses, her attention to her cause has never flagged, never wavered. Well, I suppose I should say that if it did, it was never obvious for a moment to any of the rest of us. I can only imagine, with what she saw of Dan's experiences, that she must have had — must continue to have — more than the occasional dark night of the soul. Torture is a dark subject, with depths that are never fully plumbed, and with the sure and certain knowledge that however bad it gets, there always remain new horrors lurking just out of sight, ready to show themselves at the worst possible time. She's seen the results of torture first-hand, knows intimately the destruction it leaves in its wake. And I cannot imagine the burden on one's spirit, to see those effects in the face and body and soul of the person you love above all else in the world. It's a burden most of us will be privileged never to have to know in any real way, and yet, without people like Heather to translate that dense and mysterious and frightening language for us, we as a society will never be able to understand enough to correct such horrors, much less prevent them in the future.

So Heather is my hero, just for this alone. But her ability to persist in advancing the cause of her life in the face of one obstacle after another leaves me floored — and not a little embarrassed and ashamed at my own weakness.

At Daily Kos lately, there has been much talk of the purposes and effects of Netroots Nation. Natural, yes, given that this year's conference just ended over the weekend, but this discussion has exploded over the NN board's decision to hold next year's conference in Phoenix, and Markos's reiteration of his refusal to set foot in, much less support with his hard-earned money, the "Papers, please" zeitgeist of Joe Arpaio's Arizona in the 115+-degree heat of next July. For the record, both Heather and I stand firmly with Markos on this one, for reasons that should in some cases be obvious, in others perhaps not so much, but that are nonetheless not germane here. 

So why is this relevant? Because of the details leaking out in the discussion about what NN actually is now. There is increasing consensus that it is a "trade show for the Professional Left" — a sentiment shared by some self-described members of the Professional Left who were in attendance. What it does not seem to be any longer is a grassroots effort by grassroots activists on grassroots issues. And lest you think torture is not a grassroots issue, Dan and every other vet who has experienced it, every survivor of rape and abuse and sexual trauma and the atrocities of war and imprisonment and other privation, all of these people will tell you that it is indeed as grassroots as it gets: It's a matter of life and death, or survival, of daily existence for people who have experienced it. And we have far too many people the world over, and in this society, who have been there.

Heather has taken up the mantle of these survivors, made her cause theirs, become their champion.  And for four years running, she has done her damnedest to get this issue in front of the NN attendees and the media in a meaningful way, proposing outstanding panels comprising survivors of torture who were unusually well-placed and well-picked to tell their stories in a way that would bring this message home to everyone. One year, she had lined up American Indian Movement co-founder Carter Camp (Ponca), a man I loved and revered, and who I was privileged to have call me "sister." Carter would have delivered this message in his inimitable way, a way that would have been completely unforgettable and oh, so necessary for anyone who attended. But last year, he walked on, and that is yet another opportunity that will never be realized. 

And still, Heather fights for what she believes. She has committed to sitting out next year's Netroots Nation on principle, yet I know for a fact that she is busily lining up new educational initiatives. Her current one involves a multimedia project that will provide a means for survivors to tell their stories directly to audiences who want and need to hear them. And this is why having access to a functioning computer with decent connectivity is so crucial. in her own words:
Basically, I'm gathering 30 survivors and or their families to each do a youtube video in time for Torture Awareness Month next June. As I've planned it now, the videos will be silent, with the words printed on 3 x 5" cards in marker, so hopefully people will be drawn in to read the messages. We are still at the beginning, so the words are still up in the air, and, of course, inspiration may strike. 
Yes, it's early days, but I also know from talking to her that "at the beginning" is a synonym for "well under way." And, yes, there's nearly a year to complete the program, but as anyone who has ever tried to implement such a project knows all too well, that year will fly by in a virtual heartbeat. It's work that cannot even get to the next stage without consistent access to a computer, something with, shall we say, modern power and speed and connectivity. And the work that she is doing is important enough — hell, it's life-saving — that it should be a natural target for support by a progressive community.

So we're looking at trying to raise $2,000 for Heather. the truly immediate need  "immediate" as in this week — is the $900 to cover her electric bill and keep them from disconnecting the power (and, of course, turning it back on is always much more expensive, requiring new and higher deposits). I'll be happy if we can raise that for this dedicated activist and beloved Kossack this week. But she does need computer access, and taking the bus to the University of Ottawa to borrow the library computers is manifestly not going to cut it. So please, share this post, and her PayPal address, with all of your networks, both on- and offline. You never know who will be moved to give — who, among the people in your circles, might have a very personal reason to support her work. And of course, if you can donate, please do; simply go to and type in her e-mail address:
chacounne [at] gmail [dot] com
You do not need a PayPal account yourself to be able to donate.

And if you need an added incentive, here's one — Heather and Dan in happier times:

Photo copyright Heather, 2014; all rights reserved.
She told me that that photo was taken "the day after he formally proposed." She also told me that the one at the top of this post "was taken the day I knew I was in love with him."

Those are beautiful things. Things to remember. Things to honor. She honors her beloved Dan every single day with the work that she does. Let's help her be able to keep doing it.

Chi miigwech.

Note: Posting diaries and comments at Daily Kos remains a problem for me, a combination of script and connectivity issues. Another of my beloved sister, also not blood but closer yet than that, Kitsap River, will be posting a version of this for me at that site under the auspices of the Community Fundraisers group.

1 comment :

  1. (((((((((((((((((((((((((((((((Aji Sis)))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))

    You have me in tears. Thank you is not enough. Dan had the hard part. I only do what I can do; with Dan inspiring me and pushing me every day. Thank you, always, for being you. Much Love and Many Hugs, H