Saturday, January 31, 2009

Sudan Awareness Week

Sudan Awareness Week, February 16th through the 22nd, provides an opportunity for Alaskan communities -- faith-based or secular -- to honor the plight of the people of Sudan. Ravaged by war for decades, and the site of the ongoing 6-year-long genocide in its Darfur region, Sudan offers little but suffering for many of its people. During Sudan Awareness Week, Alaskans will recognize the people of Sudan and the incredible hardships they face because of the Government of Sudan's destructive and criminal reign.

To kick off Sudan Awareness Week, Grassroots - A Fair Trade Store, located at 1300 West Northern Lights Blvd (in the REI strip mall), is dedicating the whole month of February to Sudan. The store will display a sculpture by local artist, April Boles, that depicts the plight of women in Darfur. On February 15, a power point presentation summarizing the situation in Sudan followed by a question-and-answer session will begin at 2 p.m. Sudanese refugees will be on hand to field questions and to tell their stories. Beginning around 3 p.m., some of the refugees will showcase their culture through traditional drumming and singing -- a treat for all!

Friday, January 30, 2009

5 Bills Call for Alaska's Divestment from Sudan

We've come a long way, Baby!! There are now 5 bills in the Alaska Legislature that would require the Permanent Fund, the state's retirement systems, the State of Alaska Supplemental Annuity Plan, and the deferred compensation program for state employees to divest holdings in companies that do business in Sudan. The bills would also prohibit future investments in those companies for as long as the Darfur Genocide continues.

The bills in the House include HB 5, HB 45, and HB 92. HB 5 is sponsored by Representatives Bob Lynn and Les Gara. HB 45 is sponsored by Representatives Gara, Gardner, Petersen, Kerttula, Guttenberg, and Gruenberg. HB 92 is being put forth by Governor Palin. The Senate bills are SB 37, sponsored by Senators Hollis French and Johnny Ellis, and SB 81, which is the Governor's companion bill to HB 92.

Each bill offers a cost-effective and efficient protocol for divesting the targeted foreign funds. The additional burden to the investment managers would be nominal -- just as divestment would have a nominal effect on our Permanent Fund dividends.

Please continue to let the Governor and your state senator and representative know that you want him/her to vote in favor of divestment. Go to the Alaska State Legislature home page to get contact information for your legislators. Governor Palin's contact information in Juneau is P.O. Box 110001, Juneau, AK 99811-0001; Phone 907-465-3500; Fax 907-465-3532.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Darfur Genocide Legislation Filed January 9

Many thanks to state representatives Les Gara, Berta Gardner, Beth Kertulla, and Pete Petersen for reigniting the state divestment effort by filing legislation on January 9th to stop the State from investing in foreign companies that are complicit in the 5-year-old Darfur genocide. Although the 2008 divestment bill never made it out of committee, we are hopeful that the 2009 legislation will be better received. The legislation has Governor Palin's support and more Alaskans, including legislators, are aware of the Darfur genocide and understand how easy and cheaply the divestment process can be. Please contact your legislators and the Governor and let them know that you back their support of this legislation and that you hope it will move smoothly through both the State House and the State Senate.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

January 1 Celebration

Some Alaskans probably "celebrated" the first day of the New Year with a soft pillow, drawn curtains, and saltine crackers. Many of our Darfuri friends, however, celebrated with music, balloons, and birthday cake. Yep, birthday cake.

It seemed the fitting way to ring in the new year seeing how several of the Darfur refugees now living in Anchorage have January 1 as their birthdays. No, they weren't actually born on January 1. Birthdays aren't traditionally celebrated in Darfur, as is the case for much of Africa, nor are they recorded in any consistent fashion, so the Darfur refugees don't actually know what day of the year they were born.

This is a problem, however, when you're trying to leave your country. You can't exactly get a passport or immigration papers without a birth date. Some of the Darfur refugees were given the option to choose one, but most were simply assigned January 1. A recent article by The Boston Globe states, "It is unclear when the practice began, but more than 31,000 of the 203,566 refugees admitted to the United States over the past four years have been assigned the Jan. 1 birthday."

Fake birthdays or not, the party that occurred on January 1 in a small Mountain View apartment was most definitely real. Laughter, drumming, traditional Sudanese songs, and of course cake and balloons, filed the place. Jokes were told, wishes were made, tears were shed, and all felt gratitude for life.