Archive for March, 2013

Freedom for Duc Ta!

March 29, 2013

Just a quick note for those who check in here from time to time to find out what’s happening with Duc.

I am so happy to report that Duc’s parole hearing ended today with the recommendation that he be released in five months.

It’s about time!

The decision still has to be agreed to by the whole Board and by Jerry Brown, but we don’t anticipate any glitch there.

[Update: I realize a number of people have ended up at this post without finding the further information so it finally occurred to me now (May 2014) to add this note: Duc was released to housing with the Amity Foundation in downtown LA where he was hired to lead seminars for other men on release and also took on the responsibility for lining up housing and services for prisoners eligible for release after the barbaric Three Strikes law was amended. It’s a huge job that keeps him very busy and after a short while, Stanford University’s Three Strikes Project became his direct employer though he remains in residence at Amity. He is a remarkable man!]

Diane visiting friend Duc Ta in prison

And many thanks, as always, to Leslie Neale who has been an enduring support to Duc ever since she featured his story in her documentary, Juvies.


* * * * *

And I’ll be reporting soon about her new documentary, Unlikely Friends, about the healing relationships that have grown between violent perpetrators and their victims.

Unlikely Friends

Tickets for the screening on April 27th in Los Angeles to benefit the Amity Foundation can be purchased by clicking here.

Women Veterans: Celebrating Service and Fighting for Change

March 23, 2013

From writing about nonviolence, here’s a segue to the military. In Today’s LA Progressive

The Women Veterans Symposium, held March 21 at the Carson Community Center, celebrated military women and vets while military chaplain Brenda J. Threatt, the LA mayor’s veterans outreach coordinator, spoke out about the continued challenges they face.

“This is the active combat uniform,” she said. “Everything on this uniform means something.”

Chaplain Brenda J. ThreattChaplain Brenda J. Threatt

So what does it mean, she then asked, that military uniforms are not designed for the female body? Though “I’d give my life, I’d give my all for America,” she declared, “we become a part of machinery that has no gender. But we have suffered because of our gender inside our uniform.”

Women’s bodies have indeed been a mystery–or maybe annoying inconvenience–to the US military. VA health centers are now required to have a department focused on women’s health, including treatment for Military Sexual Trauma (MST), a sad necessity given the well documented and horrific rate of sexual assault in the uniformed services. Callie Wight, MA, RN, manager of GLAHS (Greater Los Angeles Health Care Systems) Women Veterans Program offers counseling and psychotherapy to address MST. She also noted that the VA only recently began to offer pre-natal care to pregnant servicewomen in addition to other gynecological services. “We wanted to do that for years,” she said, but the VA had to wait (and wait) for Congressional approval.

Callie Wight MA, RNCallie Wight MA, RN

It’s about time. According to the California Department of Veterans Affairs, women account for 20% of military recruits in the US and the percentage is rising. As of October 2010, California had the highest number of women vets in the country and of the estimated 1.8 million women veterans nationwide, only a fraction–255,000–use VA healthcare services. CalVet further notes that minority vets are less likely than whites to access the benefits due them. This certainly indicates a failure of outreach to women of color or a failure of trust, and so networking was an important part of the Carson event.

Theresa Brunella came from Oxford Health Care to let people know that help exists for low-income vets in need of home nursing and home health care. She connects vets with organizations that help them file VA paperwork and negotiate red tape while Oxford provides the needed services during the many months it takes for a claim to be processed–particularly important given the scandalous delays recently reported that are causing so much hardship to male as well as female vets.

Theresa BrunellaTheresa Brunelle

Helen Brewer, retired from the Air Force, attended with an eye toward moving beyond her current job in security. Her long range entrepreneurial dream is to own and manage her own construction company and she wants to learn about training opportunities in the trades and support for small business initiatives.
Helen BrewerHelen Brewer

Yvette Tucker, veterans representative in the admissions office at Los Angeles Southwest College, is interested in outreach. She helps women vets access tuition benefits and housing and is concerned that more women don’t take advantage of benefits to which they have earned the right. What she sees too often is that women don’t look to veterans programs or get involved because the male culture makes them feel excluded. In addition, some of the vets she assists suffer from MST or PTSD while the nearest VA center with specialized PTSD treatment is in Palo Alto. Locally, if women need specialized help, “it has to be referred out.”

Yvette TuckerYvette Tucker

But other help is available, as Wight explained before leading a guided meditation. In addition to locally based counseling and psychotherapy, the VA is now embracing some surprising treatment modalities. At the Sepulveda Ambulatory Care Center, Wight offers programs to women vets who–like anyone–can benefit from stress and tension reduction. You don’t need a diagnosis to participate in and benefit from meditation, Tai Chi, and yoga-based breathing, stretching, and relaxation. Call her for information at 818-895-9555.

Of course there’s another issue that preoccupies everyone today: Jobs, jobs, jobs.

Thursday’s symposium was organized by Julie De La Mora of the California Employment Development Department (EDD) which has many services specifically for veterans.

Her boss, Carolyn Anderson, Deputy Division Chief of LA’s EDD proclaimed, “At EDD, every day is Veterans Day,” and recalled the too often forgotten service and sacrifice of women dating back to the Revolutionary War. She paid special tribute to Army nurse Carol Ann Drazba who died in Vietnam only days after saving the life of Anderson’s father-in-law. Drazba, the war’s first female military casualty, was denied the Purple Heart and only recently honored with a monument funded by private donations.

Carolyn Anderson of EDDCarolyn Anderson

How can the contributions of women become more visible? Eric Brubaker of the Red Cross attended to let people know about the Veterans History Project which since 2000 has been collecting audio and video oral histories from veterans as well as civilian workers who were actively involved in war efforts. Interviews are archived by the Library of Congress and some have been made available to the public at the website []. A visit there shows that California women are not well (if at all!) represented. To be written into the history they helped make, women can schedule an interview or ask about the project by contacting Mike Farrar at 562-490-4003 or

Keynote speaker, Brigadier General (Ret) Ruth Wong, and the many highly motivated women in attendance were living examples of the positive strengths and attributes employers can find in women vets.

Brigadier General (Ret.) Ruth WongRuth Wong

Wong, now Acting Director, LA County Department of Military and Veterans Affairs, served in the theater of operations during the first Gulf War, leading troops and carrying weapons to protect herself and her patients as she cared for them during aeromedical evacuations. In other words, she served in a combat zone long before the recent decision to make women’s combat role official–and appropriately compensated.

In the military, she learned she could adapt to most situations. By commanding troops from all over the country, she tested her leadership skills and ability to understand people. “There’s always more ways than one way to get the job done,” and so she learned how and when to delegate responsibility. “Did combat experience change me?” In sharp contrast to negative stereotypes of combat vets she said, “It gave me added strength and compassion and gave me a road map for the future.”

For all the positive outcomes and outlooks at the symposium, no one forgot the sister vets struggling with poverty, hunger, and the results of trauma.

“Don’t ever let another sister down,” said Threatt.

As for the future of women in the military, she reminded all in attendance, “We can fight this fight against discrimination because we are in America. There are places around the world where women struggle to show their faces. We have the opportunity to fight.”


We all-–active military, veteran, or civilian-–have the opportunity to spread the word to help women vets connect with the programs cited in this article as well as services listed below:

Need a copy of your DD214 (separation from service form) to access benefits but you’re getting stuck in red tape? It can be requested from Military Service Records but a Statement of Service on Veterans Benefits Administration letterhead is also acceptable proof and can be obtained from the VBA on the fifth floor of the Federal Building in Westwood (11000 Wilshire Blvd.)

For active service members and vets returning from Iraq and/or Afghanistan and their loved ones, The Coming Home Project provides free and confidential services addressing emotional, psychological, spiritual and relationship challenges of deployment and reintegration: 415-353-5363.

Licensed mental health professionals throughout California offer free psychological treatment to military service members who have served in or expect deployment to Afghanistan or Iraq and would prefer not to be seen by the VA: 818-761-7498 for a referral.

Are there women out there who would like contact with other vets but don’t want to join the local American Legion post? Irene Cruz, a Marines vet and co-chair of the SEIU Veteran Caucus, is building up an all-woman virtual post and invites interested vets to contact her at

Irene Cruz (left) and Julie De La MoraIrene Cruz (left) and Julie De La Mora

Rock for Vets, a music therapy program based at the Long Beach VA, gets veterans together for sing-alongs and for instrumental music lessons. For information or to join the group, vets are encouraged to contact Frank McIlquham at

Rock for Vets

New Directions Women’s Program, the first residential program in the US specifically for female veterans confronting homelessness, substance abuse, PTSD and other mental health issues, offers both emergency and transitional housing and a wide range of support services, including assistance in family reunification and regaining custody of children. For more information, please contact Renee Banton, program supervisor, at 310-709-5871. For immediate 24-hour assistance: 310-914-5966.

The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is a 24-hour hotline for anyone in distress. Call 1-800-273-8255 to be connected to a civilian California crisis center or press 1 to be routed to a VA counselor at the Veteran Suicide Prevention Hotline.

The Lifeline also offers online chat, in English or Spanish, through which veterans, their families and friends can connect anonymously to either a civilian or trained VA counselor.

Diane Lefer
Friday, 22 March 2013

Reverend James Lawson and the Power of Nonviolent Action

March 2, 2013

I am more than thrilled that much of the extensive interview I did with Reverend Lawson back in 2007-08 has finally seen print, in this month’s issue of The Believer. Here’s the excerpt they put on their web page. I’m waiting for the hard copy to give to Jim Lawson who may have forgotten by now that he ever talked to me.




Lawson B&W


Four major factors that have taught America to depend upon violence and animosity:

The decimation of America’s indigenous people and subsequent stealing of their land

The establishment of slavery

Sexism and the “headship” of the male

“Plantation capitalism” and its exploitation of the worker

Martin Luther King Jr. called him “the leading theorist and strategist of nonviolence in the world.” To Congressman John Lewis, he is an architect of the nonviolence movement. Author David Halberstam believed he was responsible for sowing the seeds of change in the South as much as any person (except maybe King). Rev. James M. Lawson Jr. was born in Pennsylvania in 1928 and to this day continues his life’s work in the service of direct action for social justice.

In 1955, Lawson was teaching in India while studying Gandhi’s life and work. It was there that he read newspaper accounts of the Montgomery bus boycott and first learned about Martin Luther King. Back in the U.S., after the two men met, Lawson went to Nashville, where he led workshops to prepare for direct action—marches, boycotts, sit-ins, and picketing. He also enrolled in Vanderbilt Divinity School, which had just begun to accept a small number of black students. He soon raised hackles by acting like a normal human being: eating in the cafeteria with white classmates and joining in intramural sports. When trustees realized that their black divinity student was the key figure behind the protests, two members of the board demanded and won his expulsion. Though the white faculty rallied in his support and Lawson’s enrollment was reinstated, he chose to complete his degree in Boston. (His relationship with Vanderbilt was renewed—or perhaps redeemed—in 2006, when the onetime subversive was named Distinguished Visiting Professor.)

Lawson coordinated the Freedom Riders, interracial groups of activists who rode interstate buses into the Deep South to exercise their civil rights under the Supreme Court’s anti-segregation rulings. They endured jailing and violence from mobs that included local police and the Ku Klux Klan. Years later, Lawson relocated to Los Angeles (where he has been arrested more times than during all his time in the South). As pastor of Holman United Methodist Church, he made nonviolence training part of Christian education and soon began to offer workshops, free, to the public.

Today, past the age of eighty, he continues to assert that justice is a tenet of all religions and that religious leaders must stop blessing violence and war. Lawson has moral authority and significant influence with elected officials, but still believes he can accomplish more in the streets than in the halls of power.

—Diane Lefer


THE BELIEVER: You’ve said we have sufficient activism in this country to have a better country than we have. What are we getting wrong?

JAMES LAWSON: Activism is not appropriating and practicing the Gandhian science of social change. What Gandhi called nonviolence, or satyagraha—“soul force”—is both a way of life and a scientific, methodological approach to human disorder. It is as old as the human race and can be found in the oral and written history of the human family from way back. Then Gandhi began to put together the steps you need to take to create change. He is the father of nonviolent social change in the same way that Albert Einstein is the father of twentieth-century physics—not the inventor but the person who pulled it together.

Gene Sharp wrote the classic book in the field, The Politics of Nonviolent Action. Looking at different centuries and different cultures, he discovered 198 different techniques—various forms of protest and agitation and strikes, sit-ins, and civil disobedience, and there are many more, because people have invented other techniques. Activists ought to study this so they can become like military strategists, not just operating out of the adrenaline that develops out of anger.

Today, much of our activism does not discuss, study, and apply what nonviolence theory offers the struggle. Too much activism gears itself to lobbying legislatures and Congress and the president. That activism does not have the clout that the Council on Foreign Relations has, or that Exxon has or the Pentagon has, so it’s lost. Again and again, when a movement begins to raise its head in the United States, the so-called political social progressive forces immediately try to surround it and guide it into the channels they think are important. I experienced this as early as 1961 with what I think to be very wonderful people in the Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson administrations. Robert Kennedy was mobilizing foundations and others to put money into voter registration. In meetings, he pushed very, very hard and eloquently that we should end the Freedom Rides and go toward voter registration. In 2006, when the coalition of immigration groups came together to start the big marches, they were immediately approached by foundations and political groups that said the way to do this was to lobby for a good bill.

BLVR: But voting rights and voter registration paved the way for the election of Barack Obama. Doesn’t that show we can bring about change through the ballot?

JL: Pulling down the WHITE and COLORED signs across the country—the NO JEWS, NO MEXICANS, NO IRISH, NO WOP, NO INDIAN signs—has done far more to prepare the mind of the nation for a black president than voter registration. Desegregation of the sports world and the university and the professional world has done more to prepare the American mind than the Voting Rights Act of ’65. The country has grown since the ’50s and ’60s precisely because we put into play those forces that began the desegregation process while real access to the right to vote still hasn’t been settled in the United States.

Obama is one man, and we are still trying to establish a democracy. In the meantime, there’s the chaos and the greed. JPMorgan publicly said that this time of recession is a great time for it to buy up assets. The bailout was used to give dividends to its investors. There’s no indication that these engines for self-destructing our country have stopped or slowed down. And while the visible signs of segregation have come down, the systemic stuff is still there. Blacks are still largely the last to be hired and the first to be fired.

The peace movement has failed to slow down militarization and the empire elements in our country, and it has failed to stop war, because it does not understand that the road to peace is justice. The peace movement does not have the focus that dismantling racism and poverty in the United States is the critical issue for the security of the nation. Stabilizing families by good work, by health care, is the critical issue for the security of the land and the well-being of the land. Only by engaging in domestic issues and molding a domestic coalition for justice can we confront the militarization of our land. We must confront that here—not over there. Iraq and the Middle East are not the central, pivotal places for the well-being of the American people. The central pivotal place for three hundred million people here is the United States and our domestic policies.

We hope you enjoy this excerpt.

To read the full piece, please purchase a copy of the magazine from The McSweeney’s Store.

We Are Here: Theater of Witness with Survivors of Torture

March 2, 2013

We Are Here photo

February 26th and 27th, 2013, torture survivors from Cameroon, El Salvador, Guatemala, Russia, and Uganda told their stories of surviving ordeals and rebuilding their lives in Los Angeles. They aren’t trained as actors, but they took the stage with confidence, speaking publicly for the first time thanks to the direction of Hector Aristizabal and Alessia Cartoni.

It was an honor to meet these brave men and women and put the script together from their own words captured in extensive interviews.

The project was supported with a grant from the LA Department of Cultural Affairs and with the cooperation of the Program for Torture Victims, providing healing and hope since 1980.

We had wonderful audiences both nights – first at Mercado La Paloma and then at Club Fais Do-Do – and Alexandra Chun brought flowers to each performance for audience members to carry to the stage for the impromptu shrine or to present to the cast members. Two beautiful nights with beautiful people!

Wishing much happiness to the participants: Rossana Perez, Mario Avila, Masha Choporova, Edison Bandeeba, Josephine Athieno, and Boniface Talla who was not able to perform but allowed Hector to present his story.