Amnesty International Group 22 Pasadena/Caltech News
Volume XIX Number 1, January 2011


Thursday, January 27, 7:30 PM. Monthly 
Meeting. Caltech Y is located off San Pasqual 
between Hill and Holliston, south side. You will 
see two curving walls forming a gate to a path-- 
our building is just beyond. Help us plan future 
actions on Sudan, the 'War on Terror', death 
penalty and more.  

Tuesday February 8, 7:30 PM.  Letter writing 
meeting at Caltech Athenaeum, corner of Hill 
and California in Pasadena. This informal 
gathering is a great way for newcomers to get 
acquainted with Amnesty!   

Sunday, February 20, 6:30 PM.  Rights 
Readers Human Rights Book Discussion group. 
This month we read "A Mercy" by Toni Morrison.


Hi everyone

Happy New Year!
This year has gone so fast'll be summer before 
we know it...glad that we are having a reprieve 
from the cold weather this week.

In December, Group 22 held our 6th annual letter 
writing marathon for Human Rights Day at one of 
our favorite spots to hang out - Cafe' Culture in 
Pasadena.  105 letters and cards were produced 
by participants, plus we received enough in the 
donations can to almost cover the postage! A 
highlight of the event was visiting with Kala 
Mendoza, our Western Regional Field Organizer 
and visits from la familia Romans! (Long time no 
see). Many thanks to all who came, especially to 
Joyce and Stevi who set up in the morning. There 
are some photos of the event on Facebook - to 
find them, search for amnesty international group 

A few Saturdays ago, my husband and I were 
listening to Wait Wait Don't Tell Me on NPR (our 
Saturday routine), when the announcer broke in 
with the news of the shooting in Tucson.  What a 
shocking thing to have happened in the beautiful, 
liberal town where I attended college (University 
of Arizona, BSN, 1977).
What can I say that hasn't been said already, 
especially by President Obama (in his moving 
speech paying tribute to the victims and calling 
for an end to hatred and violence), but we pray 
for the recovery of Ms. Gifford and the others 
who were injured that day.

Con carino,

Human Rights Book Discussion Group

Keep up with Rights Readers at

Next Rights Readers meeting: 
Sunday, February 20, 6:30 PM
Vroman's Bookstore
695 E. Colorado Boulevard
 In Pasadena

  About the Author
Born Chloe Anthony Wofford, in 1931 in Lorain 
(Ohio), the second of four children in a black 
working-class family. Displayed an early interest 
in literature. Studied humanities at Howard and 
Cornell Universities, followed by an academic 
career at Texas Southern University, Howard 
University, Yale, and since 1989, a chair at 
Princeton University. She has also worked as an 
editor for Random House, a critic, and given 
numerous public lectures, specializing in African-
American literature. She made her debut as a 
novelist in 1970, soon gaining the attention of 
both critics and a wider audience for her epic 
power, unerring ear for dialogue, and her 
poetically-charged and richly-expressive 
depictions of Black America. A member since 
1981 of the American Academy of Arts and 
Letters, she has been awarded a number of 
literary distinctions, among them the Pulitzer 
Prize in 1988.
Book Review by John Updike November 3, 
2008  The New Yorker Magazine
Dreamy Wilderness:  Umastered Women in 
Colonial Virginia

Morrison's novels have an epic sense of place and 

Toni Morrison has a habit, perhaps traceable to 
the pernicious influence of William Faulkner, of 
plunging into the narrative before the reader has 
a clue to what is going on. Her newest novel, "A 
Mercy" (Knopf; $23.95), begins with some kind of 
confession from an unnamed voice, which 
reassures the reader: 

Don't be afraid. My telling can't hurt you in spite 
of what I have done and I promise to lie quietly in 
the dark - weeping perhaps or occasionally 
seeing the blood once more - but I will never 
again unfold my limbs to rise up and bare teeth. 
We are not totally reassured. What blood? What 
have you (there in the dark) done? The darkness 
does not quickly lift: "You can think what I tell 
you a confession, if you like, but one full of 
curiosities familiar only in dreams and during 
those moments when a dog's profile plays in the 
steam of a kettle." A dog's profile does what? 
"That night" - what night? - "I see a minha mae 
standing hand in hand with her little boy, my 
shoes jamming the pocket of her apron. Other 
signs need more time to understand."

"Minha mae," research reveals, is Portuguese for 
"my mother," and in time we come to comprehend that
it is 1690 in Virginia, and that the narrator is a
sixteen-year-old black girl called Florens, who
was, at her mother's plea, impulsively adopted,
eight years ago, by a white proprietor ("Sir" to
Florens), in partial settlement of a debt owed
him by an insolvent slave owner from Portugal
called "Senhor." This adoption constitutes the
"mercy" of the novel's title. It landed Florens
in a tobacco-growing homestead populated by Sir,
known to the wider world as Jacob Vaark; his wife,
Rebekka, a hardy and good-natured London native
the servants call Mistress; Lina, short for
Messalina, a Native American whose people have
been decimated by a plague, and who was sold to
Jacob by the Presbyterians who rescued her; and
Sorrow, a "mongrelized" young woman, possibly a
sea captain's daughter, who survived a shipwreck
and was named Sorrow by a sawyer's wife who cared
for her until passing her on to the hospitable
Sir and Mistress. 

When Sir dies, this household becomes a typical 
Toni Morrison collection of "unmastered 
women," each spinning "her own web of 
thoughts unavailable to anyone else." Their 
vulnerable isolation is mitigated but not wholly 
relieved by the presence of Scully and Willard, 
two indentured laborers, homosexual and white, 
whom Sir hired to work on his quixotically 
ambitious mansion. After Sir's death, they 
continue to work for the widow's pay. With 
amiable competence, the two men deliver a child 
that Sorrow, who watched Lina drown her 
firstborn, has conceived. The infant safely born, 
Sorrow, long addled in the head by her shipboard 
traumas and her illusion of an advisory 
companion called Twin, regains focus and, to cap 
this saga of freighted names, renames herself: 

She had looked into her daughter's eyes; saw in 
them the gray glisten of a winter sea while a ship 
sailed by-the-lee. "I am your mother," she said. 
"My name is Complete." 

From her first novel, "The Bluest Eye" (1970), 
Morrison has worked, in line with the celebrated 
Faulknerian dictum that the past is not past, in a 
historical vein. "The Bluest Eye," bristling with 
sixties literary trickiness and protest, takes place 
in 1940-41, and includes an impressionistic map 
of black flight from the South during the 
Depression; stepping momentarily into the 
present, the author offers a retrospective history 
of the structure "on the southeast corner of 
Broadway and Thirty-fifth Street in Lorain, Ohio," 
which for the time of the narrative was occupied 
by the doomed and desperate family of the 
thorough loser Cholly Breedlove. "Sula" (1974) 
opens with an elegiac sketch of a black 
neighborhood called the Bottom and dates its 
chapters from 1919 to 1965. "Song of Solomon" 
(1977) begins four years after Lindbergh's 
transatlantic flight, in 1927, and "Beloved" 
(1987) takes place a few years after the Civil 
War. The shorter novels that have followed -
"Jazz" (1992), "Paradise" (1997), and "Love" 
(2003) - share a reminiscing narrator and a sense 
of the bygone as reverie, a dream that it is a 
struggle to remember and piece together. 

"A Mercy" takes us deeper into the bygone than 
any of Morrison's previous novels, into a 
Southern seaboard still up for grabs: "1682 and 
Virginia was still a mess." Indian tribes haunt the 
endless forest; the colonial claims of the Swedes 
and the Dutch have been recently repelled, and 
"from one year to another any stretch might be 
claimed by a church, controlled by a Company or 
become the private property of a royal's gift to a 
son or a favorite." Jacob Vaark, coming from 
England to take possession of a hundred and 
twenty acres bequeathed to him by an uncle he 
never met, rides from Chesapeake Bay into 
"Mary's land which, at the moment, belonged to 
the king. Entirely." The advantage of this private 
ownership is that the province allows trade with 
foreign markets, and Vaark is more trader than 
farmer at heart. The disadvantage is that "the 
palatinate was Romish to the core. Priests strode 
openly in its towns; their temples menaced its 
squares; their sinister missions cropped up at the 
edge of native villages." His claim lies in 
Protestant Virginia, "seven miles from a hamlet 
founded by Separatists" who "had bolted from 
their brethren over the question of the Chosen 
versus the universal nature of salvation." 
In "A Mercy," Morrison's epic sense of place and 
time overshadows her depiction of people; she 
she does better at finding poetry in this raw, 
scrappy colonial world than in populating 
another installment of her noble and necessary 
fictional project of exposing the infamies of 
slavery and the hardships of being African-
American. The white characters in "A Mercy" 
come to life more readily than the black, and they 
less ambiguously dramatize America's discovery 
and settlement. When Vaark strides ashore 
through the Chesapeake surf, he is Adam treading 
the edge of an immense Eden:

Fog, Atlantic and reeking of plant life, blanketed 
the bay and slowed him. ... Unlike the English 
fogs he had known since he could walk ... this 
one was sun fired, turning the world into thick, 
hot gold. Penetrating it was like struggling through 
a dream. 

When Rebekka sails to join him, the indignities of 
steerage are made vivid - she says, "I shat among 
strangers for six weeks to get to this land" - as 
are the squalor and the gory public executions of 
the London she is escaping: 

The intermittent skirmishes of men against men, 
arrows against powder, fire against hatchet that 
she heard of could not match the gore of what she 
had seen since childhood. The pile of frisky, still 
living entrails held before the felon's eyes then 
thrown into a bucket and tossed into the Thames; 
fingers trembling for a lost torso; the hair of a 
woman guilty of mayhem bright with flame. 

When she disembarks in the New World, "the 
absence of city and shipboard stench rocked her 
into a kind of drunkenness that it took years to 
sober up from and take sweet air for granted. 
Rain itself became a brand-new thing: clean, 
sootless water falling from the sky." 

In so keenly relished a near-virgin environment, 
the diverse "unmastered women" blend into the 
moonlit trees like guilty phantoms in Hawthorne. 
Rebekka, who had disembarked as a "plump, 
comely and capable" young woman, becomes 
Mistress, and, after gamely coping with the 
wilderness, the deaths of three infant children 
and of a five-year-old daughter, and her 
husband's untimely dying, takes to her bed in 
despair: "The wide untrammeled space that once 
thrilled her became vacancy. A commanding and 
oppressive absence." She falls ill, and orders 
Florens to find a free black man she thinks might 
cure her, a blacksmith once hired by Jacob to help 
build "the grandest house in the whole region" -
an unfinished mansion that becomes haunted by 
its dead master. Florens, travelling alone through 
the forest primeval, finds the blacksmith living in 
a cabin, where he has taken in a small male 
foundling. He returns to Mistress, and effects a 
talking cure: he is asked, "Am I dying?" and 
answers, "No. The sickness is dead, not you." 
Back in the cabin, Florens proves to be a poor 
babysitter for the foundling and injures his arm. 
The blacksmith, who had been her lover, is 

Much has been made of Florens's love for the 

The shine of water runs down your spine and I 
have shock at myself for wanting to lick there. I 
run away into the cowshed to stop this thing from 
happening inside me. Nothing stops it. There is 
only you. Nothing outside of you. My eyes not my 
stomach are the hungry parts of me. There will 
never be enough time to look at how you move. 

Alternating chapters take up her stream of 
consciousness during the hazardous journey to 
deliver Mistress's message and reunite with the 
blacksmith. Morrison has invented for her feverish 
mind a compressed, anti-grammatical diction 
unlike any recorded patois: "Both times are full of 
danger and I am expel. ... With you my body is 
pleasure is safe is belonging. I can never not have 
you have me. ... I dream a dream that dreams 
back at me." But the blacksmith rebuffs her love 
in his own firm diction: "Own yourself, woman, 
and leave us be. ... You are nothing but 
wilderness. No constraint. No mind." This 
rejection and her subsequent violence are the 
bitter fruit, then, of the mercy that Jacob Vaark 
showed her when she was eight years old. 

On the book's last pages, Florens's mother 
somehow returns, as a disembodied voice, and 
recounts her enslavement in Africa ("The men 
guarding we and selling we are black"), the 
middle passage in "a house made to float on the 
sea," her arrival in the hot sun and cane fields of 
Barbados, and her "breaking in" - her rape - by 
white men who apologize and give her an orange 
as consolation. Florens and her brother resulted, 
and the moment of Vaark's mercy is recalled, but, 
in view of the dismal outcome, to sadly little 
point. Of the other characters, Lina remains a 
stoic source of domestic order and a nurturing 
substitute mother to Florens when she is docile, 
before love turns her feral. Sorrow/Complete is, 
in this household of orphans, the hardest to 
picture. By her own account, she had always 
lived on a ship and was brought to land by 
"mermaids. I mean whales." The insemination 
that produced her two pregnancies is mysterious, 
at least to me. She seems less a participant in the 
action than a visitor from the Land of Allegory, a 
"curly-haired goose girl" whose only human skills 
are sewing, acquired on shipboard, and, 
eventually, motherhood. 

In the dark stew of seventeenth-century America, 
procreation seems the one intelligible process 
available to slave, servant, and mistress, and love 
and disease threaten to make martyrs of them all. 
Motherhood is so powerful a force in Morrison's 
universe as to be partly malevolent; its untidy 
agents, menstruation and sex and birth, come 
with a menacing difficulty. This author's early 
novels were breakthroughs into the experience of 
black Americans as refracted in the poetic and 
indignant perceptions of a black woman from 
Lorain, Ohio; as Morrison moves deeper into a 
more visionary realism, a betranced pessimism 
saps her plots of the urgency that hope imparts to 
human adventures. "A Mercy" begins where it 
ends, with a white man casually answering a 
slave mother's plea, but he dies, and she fades 
into slavery's myriads, and the child goes mad 
with love. Varied and authoritative and 
frequently beautiful though the language is, it 
circles around a vision, both turgid and static, of 
a new world turning old, and poisoned from the 

Books, "Dreamy Wilderness," The New Yorker, 
November 3, 2008, p. 112 

Read more

  By Cheri Dellelo

  Maternal Mortality
Every 90 seconds, a woman dies in childbirth. 
What's most shocking about this tragic statistic? 
That these deaths are almost entirely preventable. 
Federal legislation such as the Global MOMS Act 
and the MOMS for the 21st Century Act can 
protect the health of mothers both globally and 
here at home if the issue of maternal mortality 
makes it onto the legislative agenda. Please tell 
the leaders of Congress, Speaker of the House 
John Boehner and Senate Majority Leader Harry 
Reid, that 1,000 deaths a day from pregnancy 
complications is a human rights emergency, and 
that we must do what it takes to save lives now:

  Haiti: Sexual Violence Against Women Increasing
Women and girls living in Haiti's makeshift 
camps face an increasing risk of rape and sexual 
violence, AI said in a new report released January 
6, Aftershocks: Women Speak Out Against 
Sexual Violence in Haiti's Camps. Those 
responsible are predominately armed men who 
roam the camps after dark. More than 250 cases 
of rape in several camps were reported in the first 
150 days after January's earthquake, according to 
data cited in the AI report. (See a short YouTube 
video that offers personal accounts from Haitian 
women -
AI's report highlights how the lack of security 
and policing in and around the camps is a major 
factor in the increase in attacks over the past 
year. The response by police officers to survivors 
of rape is described as inadequate. Many 
survivors of rape recollected how when they 
sought police help they were told officers could 
do nothing. AI is calling for the new government 
to urgently take immediate steps to improve 
security in the camps, ensure police are able to 
respond effectively, and guarantee that those 
responsible are prosecuted. 

  Mass Rapes Continue in the DRC
On January 19, the BBC reported that a 
Congolese army commander led an attack that 
saw up to 50 women raped over the new year in 
Fizi, Democratic Republic of the Congo.  This 
devastating report comes on the heels of another 
account of mass rape in the DRC last summer. 
The Congolese authorities must ensure that those 
responsible for these violations are held 
accountable through thorough investigations and 
free and fair trials. AI recommends taking action 
by using the online letter they have drafted to 
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. I recommend 
doing this, but, before sending, please be sure to 
edit the portions which they have not updated 
since the e-mail was first created (i.e., references 
to an upcoming meeting in December 2010). Here 
is the link:

  "Corrective" Rape in South Africa
In South Africa men are raping lesbian women to 
"turn" them straight or "cure" them of their 
sexual orientation. A small group of lesbian 
activists called Luleki Sizwe, most survivors of 
corrective rape, is fighting back. Recently, created a petition asking the Minister 
of Justice to declare corrective rape a hate crime. 
Unfortunately, Lulekisizwe has still not heard a 
word from the Justice Department. They would 
like to meet with the Minister of Justice to discuss 
how "corrective rape" victims are treated, the 
lack of police response, how long the court cases 
take, why so many of the dockets get "lost," and 
why the rapists get out on such low bail. Please 
help Lulekisizwe keep up the pressure on the 
Minister of Justice by signing the petition on's website:

  Rape and Sexual Abuse of Girls in Nicaragua
Two-thirds of all rape cases in Nicaragua involve 
girls under the age of 17. Survivors receive little or 
no government support. Some face the extra 
trauma of becoming pregnant as a result of rape. 
Girls who choose to carry the pregnancy to term 
find little or no state support to help care for the 
baby and rebuild their lives. For those for whom 
the pregnancy poses a risk to life or health, or for 
whom the idea of giving birth to a child as the 
result of rape is unbearable, a law criminalizing 
all forms of abortion in all circumstances leaves 
them with little choice. Please urge the Nicaraguan 
government to fulfill its obligation to prevent 
sexual violence against girls and ensure that 
survivors receive justice and reparation:


Happy 2011, the first year of the second decade of 
the 21st century.  

In 2010, we in the United States executed 46 
people in 12 states with Texas taking the lead by 
executing 16 people.  Forty-four of these 
executions were via lethal injection while one in 
Virginia used the electric chair and one in Utah 
the firing squad. 

As we've discussed, the drugs to carry out lethal 
injections have created a bit of a problem for the 
executioners, but one that has been temporarily 
solved.  A company in the UK shipped 500 grams 
of sodium thiopental to the US.  British diplomats 
were none too pleased about this.  According to 
an article in The Independent World "Officials from 
the British embassy in Washington said they were 
'dismayed' and 'very concerned' that UK-sourced 
sodium thiopental, a barbiturate injected to 
induce unconsciousness, would be used in future 
executions."  There have been calls for a total ban 
on the export of all the drugs we use for 

Here in the US, Hospira, the company that makes 
sodium thiopental, has decided that it will not 
supply this drug any longer.  Human rights 
activists encouraged the company to make this 
decision since executioners in 34 death penalty 
states refused to heed the company's warning that 
sodium thiopental was to be used only as an 
anesthetic and not to kill people.

Unfortunately, California did score sodium 
thiopental from the UK shipment, so we will have 
to see if the state's death chamber shifts into 

Illinois is poised to ban the death penalty. A bill 
for its abolition passed both houses of the 
legislature and now it awaits the signature of 
Governor Pat Quinn.  If you would like to ask 
Gov. Quinn to sign the repeal bill, go to

On January 9, the Los Angeles County Coalition 
for Death Penalty Alternatives had its monthly 
meeting.  Presently, four committees are forming: 
resolutions, events, tabling, and lobbying.  Both 
Lucas and I volunteered to sit on committees so 
we will keep you informed about what's going on 
and how you can join in the activities.

Since 1976 when the death penalty was reinstated 
in the US, 138 innocent persons have been freed 
from death row.  As I looked at this list, I 
wondered about what it would have felt like if 
these people had not had the appeals process, and 
they had gone to their deaths as innocents.  Then I 
looked at the number of years that elapsed 
between conviction and release.  Some of them 
served only one, two or three years, but others for 
10, 15, 20 and in one case 33 years behind bars.  
Every once in a while I get on my pity pot of 
'life's not fair' but when I think about 33 years in 
prison, during which time I would wonder when 
I might lose my life through whatever means of 
execution the State was using, I get a sick feeling.  
The system is fallible, so why we use it, I don't 

  Stays of Executions

January 2011
11	Edmund Zagorski		Tennessee
11	Cleve Foster			Texas
14	Ricky Ray Malone		Oklahoma
31	Ronald Allen Smith		Montana

  Clemency Granted

January 2011
12	Richard Clay			Missouri 


December 2010
16	John Duty		Oklahoma	
				lethal injection

January 2011
6	Billy Alverson		Oklahoma 	
				lethal Injection
11	Jeffrey Matthews	Oklahoma	
				lethal Injection
13	Leroy White		Alabama	
				Lethal injection

  by Joyce Wolf

There is still no information regarding the present 
whereabouts of Gao Zhisheng, a Chinese human 
rights lawyer who is Group 22's adopted prisoner 
of conscience. However, two weeks ago 
Associated Press released an April 2010 interview 
with Gao. In this interview he recounted horrific 
details of his treatment when he disappeared 
from February 2009 until March 2010. He had 
asked AP not to make the interview public until 
he either reached a place of safety or went 
missing again. Since he's now been missing for 8 
months, AP decided to release the interview.

"The police stripped Gao Zhisheng bare and 
pummeled him with handguns in holsters. For 
two days and nights, they took turns beating him 
and did things he refused to describe. When all 
three officers tired, they bound his arms and legs 
with plastic bags and threw him to the floor until 
they caught their breath to resume the abuse. 
'That degree of cruelty, there's no way to recount 
it,' the civil rights lawyer said, his normally 
commanding voice quavering."

During his disappearance the police kept him in 
hostels, farm houses, apartments and prisons in 
Beijing, Shaanxi province, and the Xinjiang 
region. His tormentors said he must forget that he 
was a human and told him he was a beast. "Why 
don't you put me in prison?" Gao said he asked 
Beijing police at one point. "They said, 'You going 
to prison, that's a dream. You're not good enough 
for that. Whenever we want you to disappear, 
you will disappear.'"

You can read the entire AP interview with Gao by 
visiting the Group 22 book blog,, and clicking 
on the new Gao tab, where you will also find 
automated links to the latest news articles about 
Gao. (Thanks to Martha for setting this up!)

Secretary of State Clinton stressed human rights 
and mentioned Gao Zhisheng in her speech of 
January 14, titled "Inaugural Richard C. 
Holbrooke Lecture on a Broad Vision of U.S.-
China Relations in the 21st Century." She said, 
"Now, I know that many in China, not just in the 
government, but in the population at large resent 
or reject our advocacy of human rights as an 
intrusion on sovereignty. But as a founding 
member of the United Nations, China has 
committed to respecting the rights of all its 
citizens. These are universal rights recognized by 
the international community. So in our 
discussions with Chinese officials, we reiterate 
our call for the release of Liu Xiaobo and the 
many other political prisoners in China, including 
those under house arrest and those enduring 
enforced disappearances, such as Gao Zhisheng." 

On the Op-Ed page of the January 23 LA Times, 
Kenneth Roth of Human Rights Watch gave an 
account of his conversation with China's 
ambassador Zhang Yesui at the recent state 
dinner for Hu Jintao. Roth concluded, "I thanked 
him [Obama] for being more outspoken on 
human rights in China and for finding a way to 
discuss the issue that was genuine and heartfelt. 
But of course, talk is only the beginning. 
Ultimately, the test of a dialogue's productiveness 
is a change in behavior. Given China's 
increasingly tough restrictions on basic freedoms, 
there is still a lot of work to be done."

My suggestion for an action is this month is to 
thank President Obama for discussing human 
rights with Hu Jintao, describe to him the case of 
Gao Zhisheng, and call upon him to continue 
emphasizing to China that the freedoms of 
speech, press, association, and religion are all 
recognized in the Chinese constitution. Go to, or write to 
The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue 
NW, Washington, DC 20500.


DP          1
SOA Watch   1
Other UA's 15
Total      17 

To add your letters to the total contact                                                         

Amnesty International Group 22
The Caltech Y
Mail Code 5-62
Pasadena, CA 91125