In 1999, the hell-raising conservative Christian populist Linda Smith left Congress and disappeared from public life. It was like a whirlwind suddenly stopping in midstorm. Hailing from Vancouver, Wash., Smith had improbably made it to the House of Representatives two terms before as a write-in candidate. Once there, she became nationally known as one of a new breed of Republican women leaders crusading for traditional values and helping Newt Gingrich put a female face on his tax-cutting, welfare-reforming agenda. The New Republic once profiled her in a story titled "Invasion of the Church Ladies." But Smith was more interesting than that. Much to her own party's chagrin, she was also an early and strident champion of campaign finance reform, a role that gave her some crossover appeal in her 1998 bid for Patty Murray's Senate seat, which she nonetheless lost.
Last year, Smith resurfaced. She was now, of all things, working with young girls and women who had been forced, or "trafficked," into prostitution in Southeast Asia and elsewhere. She had founded a nonprofit organization that was setting up homes for these women, called Shared Hope International. And she was a leading organizer of an international conference on trafficking held last February under the auspices of the State Department in Washington, D.C. She brought several previously trafficked girls from India with her for press interviews then, and took one of them to Disney World.
From shaking up congressional politics to providing social services, from campaign finance reform to Asian prostitution, it seemed a puzzling, if virtuous, transformation. In her Vancouver office one day in June, surrounded by a few old brassy political posters and many more tranquil pictures of her wearing saris and surrounded by girls in India, the 54-year-old Smith explains what happened this way: During her last year in Congress, she got a call from a man who had visited missions in India affiliated with the Assembly of God Church, to which Smith belonged for many years. Through the missions' work with prostitutes, he had seen "little girls in cages," and he wanted Smith to know about it.
"I thought it was a bit much," Smith recalls, "but I couldn't sleep. So I called my staff and told them, 'I have to see it.'" Within days, she flew to India, where a representative from the Assembly of God organization Teen Challenge took her into the red-light district. "It was one girl, one day," who changed her life, she says. The girl was about 11 years old, and for some reason, she hugged Smith. "She felt so frail in my arms. I can feel her today." She reminded Smith of the girls she knew from Sunday school, of her own granddaughter. She felt an unaccustomed wave of emotion. "It was so different for me. I'm pretty cut-and-dry." As she looked down at the girl, she asked herself, "What do I believe?" and answered, "I believe you are made by God." Right there and then, she made a resolution: "Today I'm going to act on my faith." She returned to her hotel and immediately started fund-raising for homes she wanted to build for these girls.
There's a mythic quality to her story, the way she dropped everything and found revelation in a single moment. It's easier to understand, though, if you take into account the changing currents around her. Smith's redirection reflects that of the religious right as a whole. Looking past the divisive social issues that ignited the movement for much of the '80s and '90s, conservative evangelicals have turned their attention to international human rights, forging new and unlikely allies along the way. One of the biggest issues to seize their imagination is that of human trafficking.
The archetypal case – a young girl, tricked into leaving her impoverished homeland by the promise of a respectable job, then brutally held captive, raped, and forced into prostitution – strikes deep moral chords. Making common cause with feminists also fired up about the issue, evangelicals are largely responsible for turning the issue into a top priority of the U.S. government.
Leading the government's charge is former three-term Republican Congressman John Miller of Seattle. Although Jewish, Miller's convictions and record on human rights – he opposed granting most-favored-nation status to China despite Boeing's ardent lobbying for it and labored against Soviet control of Eastern European countries – helped to make him the pick of evangelicals working on the issue to take over the State Department's Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. President George W. Bush appointed him to the post in December 2002 and this June empowered him with the title ambassador at large. Miller has used his authority to make sure the issue is a top priority of governments around the world as well. His energy and bipartisanship have generated enormous goodwill among groups on both the right and the left. An inspiring spokesperson for the cause, Miller brands human trafficking "modern-day slavery" and calls it "the emerging human rights issue of the 21st century."
It is being treated as such by the press as well as nonprofit groups and government agencies. Thousands of stories have been written on the subject in the last year, including a cover story in The New York Times Magazine under the headline "The Girls Next Door," stressing that trafficking is all around us, even in the "normal, middle-class surroundings" of Main Street, U.S.A.
There's only one catch. There's widespread confusion about what exactly trafficking is and how big a problem it might be. Consider this: Washington state has its own anti-trafficking task force – the first in the country – charged by the Legislature to study the scope of the problem locally. In June, the task force, run out of the Office of Crime Victims Advocacy in the Department of Community, Trade, and Economic Development, released a 92-page report. Congratulating the state for "leading the country in taking collaborative action against human trafficking," the report asserts that "Washington possesses many of the underlying conditions that support trafficking of persons," such as its border status. Midway through the report, however, it notes the number of cases brought under a year-and-a-half-old state trafficking law: zero.
The Christian Right: The Next Generation
"It just jumped off the pages of the newspaper." Richard Cizik, the influential vice president for government affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals, is talking about how human trafficking became a cause for crusade. He remembers reading a piece about the trafficking of women in Eastern Europe, where the harsh economic realities following the collapse of Communism made many vulnerable to false promises. "If we truly stood for human rights for all, surely the trafficking of young girls and boys for the purposes of human slavery could not go unchallenged." Cizik helped put together a coalition of groups across the religious and political spectrum to work the issue. Gloria Steinem sent a representative to meetings. So did the B'nai B'rith. The coalition succeeded in passing federal anti-trafficking legislation in 2000 that created Miller's office.
The coalition did not come about by accident. It was part of a deliberate strategy to move away from the unyielding methods of formative leaders like Jerry Falwell. "Second-generation leaders – people my age – saw the initiatives of the 1980s crash and burn and decided we had to do things differently," the 52-year-old Cizik explains. If evangelicals wanted to accomplish anything, they would have to build coalitions with people they previously considered opponents, on issues they could agree on. Not only did they form alliances with feminists on human trafficking, Cizik says, evangelicals worked with Jews, Catholics, and Buddhists on passing the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, monitoring religious persecution around the world; with the Congressional Black Caucus on bringing about the Sudan Peace Act of 2002; with the American Civil Liberties Union on pushing through last year's Prison Rape Elimination Act; and with gay people on securing more international AIDS funding.
Speaking by phone from Washington, D.C., Cizik sounds practically giddy as he considers the victories won. He notes that some evangelicals take issue with the notice they are getting for their global activism, insisting that it is nothing new. "The difference is this," he tells them. "We have been internationally involved for 100 years, but we have never been successful before on Capitol Hill." Cizik recognizes that having a born-again Christian in the presidential office hasn't hurt.
If leaders like Cizik set a new alliance-building course for the evangelical movement, the topics that rose to the top of the agenda came more from the grass roots, according to Allen Hertzke, director of religious studies at the University of Oklahoma and author of the forthcoming book Freeing God's Children: The Unlikely Alliance for Global Human Rights. Hertzke maintains that the dramatic growth of evangelical churches around the world has led "American evangelicals to an awareness of the plight of their brothers and sisters" in impoverished, often repressive societies.
The religious viewpoint of evangelicals has not been irrelevant in the way they have perceived that plight. It is a reason that human trafficking, more than almost any issue they have worked on, has stood out as an urgent matter. "In some ways, I think having a moral view has actually helped the community see the issue more clearly," Hertzke ruminates. "Trafficking was in a kind of netherworld," he says. It wasn't the kind of human rights issue traditionally addressed by secular groups like Amnesty International, which focused on government abuses of citizens. Hertzke believes that evangelicals saw past that because they came with the understanding that "this is not the way children of God were meant to live."
Out of all the ungodly miseries of the world, though, why did evangelicals pick human trafficking as their clarion call? For one, the notion of modern-day slavery resounded with them, reminding them of the leading role evangelicals like the British parliamentarian William Wilberforce played in the abolitionist movement of the 18th and 19th centuries. Then there is the sexual side of the issue. "It certainly fits with an evangelical concern for sexual integrity," says Ron Sider, founder of the Pennsylvania-based Evangelicals for Social Action, which challenges his peers to work for economic and racial justice. By sexual integrity, he means that "sex is to be reserved for a marriage relationship where there is a lifelong covenant between a man and a woman" – a tenet clearly abridged by prostitution.
The fact that prostitution was being forced upon people, that even children were being held as "sex slaves," seemed all the more horrible but also fit into their world view. "This is just another example of depraved moral behavior," says Clyde Wilcox, a Georgetown University government professor who writes about the Christian right. "The world is a sinful place." Human trafficking resonates with many Christians in the same way that recovered memories of satanic sex rings did in the '80s and '90s, and the way white slavery did at the turn of the century – phenomena, incidentally, that were hailed as endemic until they were scrutinized more closely.
In some respects, the evangelical worldview is similar to that of certain strains of feminism, which also see the world as full of evil – perpetrated by men on women, with sex a primary means of exploitation and abuse. Hence, Equality Now, a New York organization that works on international women's rights and has Gloria Steinem on its advisory board, is enthusiastically working with religious groups on trafficking. The famous feminist University of Michigan law professor Catharine MacKinnon, also affiliated with Equality Now, and whose fervent antipornography views have put her in alignment with the Christian right before, is deeply involved with the cause.
Sex, however, is only one side of human trafficking, which encompasses all forms of coerced labor. The biggest case brought by the U.S. Justice Department, revealed in 2001, concerns a garment factory in American Samoa, where, according to the department, more than 250 Vietnamese and Chinese nationals were forced to work in a guarded compound "through extreme food deprivation, beatings, and physical restraint." When one victim objected, she had her eye gouged out with a jagged pipe. Trafficking victims are also forced to work as domestic servants, on fishing boats, on cocoa plantations, and elsewhere.
There has developed a thinly veiled fault line in the anti-trafficking world, with the evangelical-feminist alliance on one side and, on the other, the kind of liberal, do-gooding groups that traditionally toil in international causes like famine relief and family planning. To the liberal groups, it seems as if the evangelical- feminist bloc, which has the Bush administration's ear, has placed an undue emphasis on sex trafficking. While defenders respond that such is the most common form of trafficking, statistics that back that up are controversial, and critics argue that the emphasis on prostitution is for ideological reasons. "The general public gets confused," says Christina Arnold, founder of an organization called Project Hope International (no relation to Linda Smith's group), which is starting the first shelter on the East Coast for trafficking victims. "All they hear about is prostitution. ... It's gotten to the point where other organizations are having to mount re-education campaigns."
Good Deeds and a Brand-New Power Base
Certainly, Linda Smith has focused on the sexual side of trafficking. The $1.8 million State Department conference she lobbied for and helped host last year went by the heading "Pathbreaking Strategies in the Global Fight Against Sex Trafficking." Similar to other like-minded activists, she has harnessed the trafficking issue to fight against prostitution in general, even where it's legal. "I encourage the administration to consider countries with legalized or tolerated prostitution as having laws that are insufficient to eliminate trafficking," she said in testimony at a congressional subcommittee hearing on trafficking in 2002. "Tolerated prostitution," she argued, "provides cover for the traffickers," a line of reasoning that has become the official position of the Bush administration. It does not penalize countries for maintaining legalized prostitution, as it might through its new policy of sanctioning nations considered to be inadequately fighting trafficking. It does, however, withhold funding from nongovernmental groups that are judged to "promote" prostitution.
The fact that Smith (along with three other groups, two of them faith-based, that make up the War Against Trafficking Alliance) co-hosted the State Department conference and testified before Congress is a testament to how religious groups have finally made it on Capitol Hill. There is a nexus of connections surrounding the Bush administration of which Smith is a part. She and Attorney General John Ashcroft have had a friendly relationship since her days in Congress. They both belonged to Assembly of God congregations and would see each other at functions for visiting church leaders. "I saw him right after he was sworn in," Smith recalls. She used the moment to talk about trafficking. Smith also counts John Miller as a friend. The two met years ago after Miller wrote an op-ed piece praising Smith's stance on campaign finance reform. They socialize. "We're both single in D.C.," Smith says, "so we have dinner." (Both have spouses living in Washington state.)
Smith's access and standing as a former congresswoman have undoubtedly helped her build her organization. She received $930,000 in federal funding over the last two fiscal years. Shared Hope's total annual revenue last year was almost $1.7 million, including private donations and foundation grants. The former congresswoman didn't exactly run off to become a humble, self-sacrificing Mother Teresa (if that's how you see the soon-to-be saint). Worthy as her work may be, Smith has discovered in it a new power base: a sprawling, well-funded, influential organization riding one of the hottest issues in the world.
Not that you'd be able to tell that from her office. It lies in a modest, nondescript building in a leafy neighborhood of Vancouver. Past a small reception area are winding corridors that lead farther than you might imagine. Smith, who travels almost constantly, meets me on a rare day that she is there. She has stayed in town a few days longer than expected because she picked up a bug the week before during a fact-finding mission to the Czech Republic. The next day, she plans to fly to Washington, D.C., for the release of the annual Trafficking in Persons Report, which comes out of Miller's office. The report is to incorporate Smith's documentation of trafficking cases in Australia, where she worked with a local women's group that has been challenging the government's contention that it doesn't have a problem. A few days after that, she's on to Johannesburg, where the War Against Trafficking Alliance is joining with the South African government in putting on a follow-up conference to the one held in D.C. last year. The alliance has received federal funding to put on six such conferences around the world.
Despite the bug, Smith looks cool and collected in a black jumper and sandals, her short brown hair streaked with highlights. She has an aloof manner, accentuated by a somewhat regal timbre to her voice. But she's intense. She begins talking about subjects as if she were in the middle of a conversation, seeming to pick up threads of thought that come into her head, and which she would like me to know. Within minutes, she mentions a "partner" who's a Muslim. She's referring to Mohamed Mattar, co-director of the Protection Project, a research institute based at Johns Hopkins University that is the only secular group in the War Against Trafficking Alliance. She also repeatedly alludes to the personal financial commitment she and her husband, Vern, have made to the cause, adding a money-conscious note to her generosity. They threw a lavish wedding in January for a woman named Ganga, the same one she took to Disney World, now living in a Shared Hope facility in India. "I don't know if Ganga even realizes . . . ," she says of the expense. "We gave her a full Indian wedding for 500 people."
In Nepal, they're also raising another young girl, named Mannisha, whose mother was a prostitute. Although they have not adopted her, they're paying for her education and living expenses. "That's our baby," she says, pointing to a picture on the back wall of a girl about 8 or 9 years old in a pink dress, smiling broadly, holding what Smith says is the first doll she ever had.
Smith seems genuinely wrapped up in her mission. She talks for hours about trafficking routes and destination points and which group of organized crime is doing what to which nationality of girls. Moldovan girls brought to the Dominican Republic, Thai girls to South Africa, Nepalese girls to India. India, the place she got into this work, is her touchstone. She relates how she met young women who were forced into prostitution in order to repay money that had been given their parents, a classic tale. "They were trying to preserve their dignity even though they were given no more than a day off for the birth of a baby," she says. She bemoans the plight in general of girls in India. "A nonperson is a nonperson," she says of the prevailing attitude. Her response: "These girls can do anything they want."
Her greatest contribution is the way she is trying to help them do so. A number of anti-trafficking groups "rescue" women into the void, with no home for them to go to other than nasty government facilities and no plan for what they might do next. In Mother Jones late last year, Maggie Jones wrote about one rescue in Thailand orchestrated by the International Justice Mission, a religious-based group aligned with Smith in the War Against Trafficking Alliance. Feeding information to police, IJM succeeded in shutting a brothel down, but many of the girls had in one month's time "run away from being saved," according to Jones.
Smith, in contrast, is building homes for trafficking victims, offering them educational and vocational options and sticking with them for the long haul. Michele Clark, the other co-director of the Protection Project, says that Smith understands that "you can't just say, 'Here's a bed for 30 days; go back into the same world from which you were trafficked.' She understands that it can take years for a woman to recover."
Outside Mumbai in India, Smith partnered with Teen Challenge to develop a 72-acre facility known as the Village of Hope. There's a mango orchard on it, and Smith says she's looking at putting a mango processing plant there to make the facility self-sustaining. Smith funded the facility's start-up, while Teen Challenge runs it day to day, a partnership model that she uses on all her projects. In Fiji, she and a local group have established another facility with a bakery. In South Africa this summer, Smith dedicated a renovated farmhouse where she wants to put another bakery as well as a toilet paper factory. While residents would have an opportunity to learn job skills from such enterprises, Smith says she also makes sure they get a basic education and, in some cases, pays for them to go to college. She appears to spend atypically large amounts on individual cases. "We have $10,000 on one girl," she says.
Yet it's curiously hard to pin Smith down on details of her operations. Asked how many people live in the Village of Hope outside Mumbai, she shrugs dismissively and says, "I don't know." It has a capacity for 300 to 500, she had told me, but is not at capacity. She never quite comes up with a figure for how many homes she has opened in all, despite being asked repeatedly, finally saying it's hard to calculate because some have closed while others have opened. Going through them one by one, it emerges that there are at least 10 facilities in six countries. "We intend to not have press coverage," she says at one point, indicating that the dangerous, illicit nature of what she is up against mandates a need for secrecy. So, in some cases, do her methods. "If we identify a child" in a brothel, she says, "we will have her physically removed." Asked how, she responds, "I'm not going to go there."
Obviously savvy to sensitivities around proselytizing, she is wary of talking too much about the religious aspect of her work. Smith's spiritual life has evolved. About 18 months ago, she left her Assembly of God congregation to attend a multi-denominational church that ministers to those coming off the streets and out of prison. But religion is still a central part of her life. In a promotional video about her homes that she plays for me, she says to the camera about those she is helping, "When they find there's a God, one God, that loves them – it changes them." When I ask her about it, she says that workers at the homes "are not trying to convert somebody to a religion," though they are open about the fact that "they're there because of what they believe."
Donald Wilkerson, the executive director of Global Teen Challenge, based in Virginia, is more up-front about the religious nature of the Village of Hope, which his organization oversees on a daily basis. "It's clearly a Christian program," he says, one that entails a regimen of religious instruction and daily prayers. Many of the women that come to the village learn about the facility through a church Teen Challenge has set up near Mumbai's red-light district.
While there might be some specific reasons for Smith to be vague, there's an amorphousness that lingers over the entire trafficking field.
Is All Prostitution 'Sex Slavery'?
Leigh Winchell, head of the regional office of the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement, sits in his high-up downtown Seattle office overlooking Puget Sound. ICE, as it is known, is charged with conducting trafficking investigations domestically. Winchell recently popped up in newspaper coverage of a June prostitution bust in Bellevue. Two of the alleged prostitutes were illegal immigrants from China. Winchell told the Seattle Times reporter writing about the case: "Human trafficking in the sex trade is alive and vibrant, particularly in the Northwest." Yet the Bellevue police, who helped conduct the raid, say they do not believe the women were being held against their will. When I ask Winchell about that, he tells me that he did not intend to suggest that this was a trafficking case. "Any comments I made in regard to the Bellevue case were more global in nature."
A tall, burly former cop, Winchell affirms that he has made trafficking a top priority, both because of directives from top brass and because of his judgment of the local landscape. "My agents tell me that about half of the women smuggled across the Pacific Northwest border are going into the sex trade." I wonder aloud whether they're being trafficked or going willingly. He acknowledges that some may be willing, but says: "All they have to do is be brought into the U.S. for purposes of the sex trade, as I currently understand it."
"But doesn't trafficking require some measure of force or deceit?" I ask.
He falters and reaches for some papers on the subject from a senior official at the Department of Homeland Security. "I have to research it. I believe just the fact that they are being smuggled alone falls into the area of fraud."
A few minutes later, he returns to the subject. "Where do you draw the line between smuggling and human trafficking? A person is smuggled in and put to work in the orchards. Are they being held against their will? They may have come here with a debt to pay and knowingly did that. So were they forced or coerced? I don't know."
It says something about the non-intuitive nature of what this crime is that the man responsible for investigating it here has to check his papers in order to grasp it. His confusion is understandable. There are varying definitions. The United Nations definition has three essential elements: some kind of transportation of an individual, some form of coercion or deception, and the ultimate result of one person "having control over another person for the purpose of exploitation." As this year's federal trafficking report notes, "many nations misunderstand this definition, overlooking internal trafficking or characterizing any irregular migration as trafficking." The differing U.S. definition "does not require that a trafficking victim be physically transported from one location to another," as the report states. But it does require "force, fraud, or coercion," unless the victim is a minor. To complicate things further, Washington state has its own definition, which is so loose as to include exploitative mail-order bride situations as a form of trafficking.
In fact, a number of evangelicals and feminists fighting trafficking consider virtually all prostitution, whether forced or not, a form of trafficking. "In reality, there is no distinction between them," says feminist scholar MacKinnon of prostitution and trafficking. She refers to the "inherent exploitation of the buying and selling of people for sex, which is what prostitution is – paying for sexual abuse, typically paying a third party [a pimp] to sexually abuse someone else."
It's an argument that Miller is sympathetic to. "Yes, people can be voluntarily in prostitution," says the trafficking czar. But, he says, "the more usual situation is that there is coercion or force or threats or psychological pressure." He points to research published this January in the Journal of Trauma Practice, worked on by University of Washington psychologist Ann Cotton among others, who interviewed current and former prostitutes around the world. Many had been raped or abused in their past. Eighty-nine percent said they wanted to leave prostitution. "I don't know of any other occupation where 89 percent of people want to escape," Miller says.
There is an argument to make that people who go into prostitution do not truly do so of their own free will but have been driven by economic desperation and abusive circumstances. But does that make them, literally, slaves? What about sweatshop workers? Poorly paid janitors? They're not as demeaned as prostitutes, but surely they're dying to leave their profession, too. One gets the impression when Miller talks about the "emerging human rights issue of the 21st century" that we are dealing with a new, shocking crime. It seems an odd label for prostitution, the oldest crime in the book.
Part of the problem in understanding trafficking is that there are a lot of assumptions made from afar about the ostensible victims, argues Joanna Busza, a lecturer at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. "Nobody's bothered to ask them how they got there and if they're exploited," she says. She and two fellow researchers spent time in Mali and Cambodia interviewing people that had been identified by local nongovernmental organizations as trafficking victims. They published their findings this June in the British Medical Journal. Of 1,000 young people identified in Mali, many of whom had returned from working on cocoa plantations in the Ivory Coast, "only four could be classified as having been deceived, exploited, or not paid at all for their labor." Talking to Vietnamese prostitutes in Cambodia, just six of 100 women "reported having been 'tricked' into sex work or betrayed by an intermediary." Many of the women, however, were working under a "debt bondage" system, paying back loans made to them or their families, and were unhappy with their sometimes violent working conditions.
Busza's study has tapped into a reassessment some are making within the anti-trafficking movement about the scope of the problem. "The situation has been exaggerated; that seems to be the reality we're learning," says Ann Jordan, the director of a trafficking program run by the International Human Rights Law Group in Washington, D.C., who has worked on the issue since living in China 15 years ago. Jordan, who works with a network of service providers nationwide, notes that the feds keep changing the statistics regarding the number of people trafficked into the U.S. At one time, they said there were 50,000 trafficking victims here, then 18,000 to 20,000 and now, according to the latest State Department report, 14,500 to 17,500.
"I only know that all our partner NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] are busy with clients all the time," Jordan says. "But they have nowhere near that number. Either we have tens of thousands of people in the U.S. sitting in slavery or their numbers are off. I don't know." According to Ashcroft's report on trafficking to Congress this May, the federal government had identified just 450 trafficking victims domestically in the 2003 fiscal year who were eligible to receive certain benefits, including the newly created "T" visa. In King County, the Refugee Women's Alliance received a grant of approximately a quarter million dollars to lead a "trafficking response team" that would provide services to victims. It has handled only about 10 cases in more than a year.
"A lot of the stats are, if not made up, then certainly the basis for which they are derived is never given," says David Feingold, who coordinates regional trafficking projects for the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Bangkok. Speaking by phone from there, he says that a lot of the estimates come from nongovernmental organizations that have no training in research. His agency has put together an illuminating database of the many and wildly varying trafficking statistics, cited along with their sources (accessible online at www.unescobkk.org). The worldwide trafficking estimates vary from 700,000 victims (in the range of the current State Department figure) to 200 million.
"It's very embarrassing," Miller admits of the statistical fluctuations. Within the federal government, he says, the varying numbers reflect the increasingly intensive research effort.
The Victims Are Real, But How Many Are There?
Like Jimmy Carter and George Mitchell, Miller has achieved new renown in his post-political life. "I've been around government for 25, 30 years, and I've never seen a guy as admired by people on both sides of the aisle," says Michael Horowitz, a prominent neoconservative affiliated with the Hudson Institute. Having left Congress in 1993 to spend more time with his then 4-year-old son, the 66-year-old Miller was chairing the Discovery Institute, a conservative Seattle think tank, and teaching English literature at the Northwest Yeshiva High School on Mercer Island when the president tapped him to take charge of the national trafficking office. Since doing so, he has brought a new level of forcefulness to an office that previously kept beneath the radar.
"My role has been to elevate the issue," he says, speaking by phone during a vacation trip to Lake Chelan, "to make sure that our embassies and the State Department and other agencies take this very seriously, that they know that this is not just some throwaway part of American policy." Miller has been willing to put pressure even on allies of the U.S., including Japan, which in this June's trafficking report was put on a "watch list" of problem countries. If those countries fall to Tier 3, the lowest grading of countries evaluated in the report according to their anti-trafficking efforts, then they risk losing American aid and funding for cultural exchanges. Last year, a Tier 3 rating so spooked Kazakhstan that its foreign minister went on national television and gave a 30-minute address railing against the scourge of trafficking.
Miller has met victims himself. He says one of the first was a woman in the Netherlands. She had been living in the Czech Republic in a failing marriage when a friend suggested she could make money waiting tables in Amsterdam. Leaving a 2-year-old daughter behind, she crossed the border with someone who turned out to be a trafficker, who handed her over to another in Amsterdam who took her to the red-light district. "You will work here," Miller says the trafficker told her. When she said she wouldn't, the trafficker replied, "Yes you will, if you want your 2-year-old daughter to live."
There are enough stories like hers, some far more brutal, to serve as a reminder that trafficking is not a chimera. But as for how pervasive it is, Miller maintains that it's impossible to know. "Victims don't stand in line and raise their hands to be counted," he likes to say in his booming, jovial voice. He minimizes the importance of exact quantification. "All of us involved in the issue know enough firsthand to know that the problem is huge." Pressed on the point, he points to 8,000 trafficking prosecutions worldwide in 2003. "The typical trafficker is involved with 20, 100, 500 victims," he says. "If you just take those into account, you're clearly in the hundreds of thousands."
But the difference between 20 victims per trafficker and 500 is the difference between 160,000 and 4 million victims – sizably different levels of magnitude. The difference is not academic. It's essential to determining what should be done about the problem – if you can pin down exactly what the problem is – and how many resources should be put into it. The federal government spent $91 million fighting trafficking in the last fiscal year, much of that money going to nonprofit groups and government agencies around the world that accordingly have a vested interest in trumpeting the problem and are refocusing their energies around it. "Trafficking is big business not just for traffickers but also for the international development community," write Busza and her co-authors in their piece scrutinizing the prevailing wisdom on Malian and Cambodian trafficking. The trafficking task force in our own cash-strapped state recommends that a new funding pool be set up to tackle the issue. Miller's office uses current trafficking estimates, broken down according to country, to pressure governments around the world to pass new anti-trafficking laws and spend money on the problem – or risk facing sanctions.
The disconnect between the rhetoric on trafficking and the actual number of documented cases, nowhere more evident than in Washington state, does more than raise questions about the resources spent. It presents a credibility problem that takes away from the horror of the real cases out there.
Some in the anti-trafficking field consider it heresy to suggest that the issue has been hyped. But the Human Rights Law Group's Ann Jordan takes a more sanguine view. If the numbers are smaller, she reasons, we probably can have more success in solving the problem.
They were two white guys cruising through the black part of Patterson, N.J., back in the 1970s. One was an undercover police officer named Jack Cole, the other an informant known as Fast Eddy. Posing as heroin buyers, they ran into trouble with three thugs who tried to rip them off and who slashed Fast Eddy's hand with a knife before being chased off.
Luckily, Cole recalls, a Good Samaritan came out into the road. He was a young black man who was going to college to get out of the ghetto. He said he didn't approve of drugs but felt bad about the white guys getting roughed up in the neighborhood. He went into his house to get bandages for Fast Eddy and then, since Cole continued to pretend like he needed a fix, brought them to a supplier who wouldn't take advantage of them.
Back at the precinct, Cole felt he had no choice but to include the Good Samaritan's name in his report. The Good Samaritan was duly charged with conspiracy to distribute heroin, a charge that carried the same penalty as distribution: up to seven years in jail. Cole was at the station when the Good Samaritan was brought in. He looked Cole in the eye and said, "Man, I was trying to be your friend."
"So yeah, that got to me," Cole says now, his voice seeming to break and going quiet. Speaking by phone from Boston, the 64-year-old Cole is explaining why he ultimately turned against the war on drugs. He says he came to realize that he liked many of the people he was turning in -- liked them better than some of the people he was working for -- and that his betrayal of them, rather than drugs, was what destroyed their lives.
"You can get over an addiction, but you can never get over a conviction," he likes to say.
Now retired after a 26-year career with the New Jersey State Police, Cole is leading a new group of current and former law-enforcement officials who are similarly disillusioned with the war on drugs. Called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, or LEAP, this nationwide organization takes as its premise that the war on drugs is, as Cole puts it, "a total and abject failure."
"After three decades of fueling the U.S. war on drugs with half a trillion tax dollars and increasingly punitive policies, illicit drugs are easier to get, cheaper, and more potent than they were 30 years ago," reads a LEAP statement. More heretical still, considering the source, the group advocates legalization of all drugs. That, it says, is the only way drugs can really become "controlled substances," subject to the kind of age and safety regulations that are imposed on alcohol and tobacco.
Cole, LEAP's executive director, says the year-old organization has between 400 and 500 members. Modeled on Vietnam Veterans Against the War, with what it hopes is the same kind of credibility, the group includes not just police officers but judges, federal agents, and prosecutors and parole, probation, and corrections officers. Because of the possible professional sanctions posed by coming out against the drug war, LEAP takes care to say that membership can be kept confidential.
The emergence of LEAP seems like confirmation of a profound cultural shift away from the zero-tolerance, throw-the-book-at-them drug policy that has long been at the center of our criminal justice system. Roger Goodman, director of a Seattle-based bar association project studying drug policy, puts it this way: "The news story is not that the war on drugs has failed, it's who's saying it now." When cops are joining in, you know that the movement for drug-law reform is becoming mainstream. Says Goodman, "It's not like it's a front for fringy, pony-tailed pot smokers."
The bar association project, done in conjunction with other professional organizations including the state medical and pharmaceutical associations, has generated a huge amount of involvement and served as a model for similar studies around the country. It issued a report in 2001 that portrayed the war on drugs as misguided -- saying we need to shift from a focus on criminal justice to one on public health -- and is now discussing how to do that. With the bar behind it, the state Legislature last year shortened prison terms for drug users and low-level dealers and prescribed mandatory treatment for them.
Cole is a particularly persuasive spokesperson. He worked in narcotics enforcement for 14 of his 26 years on the force. While he rose to a level that enabled him to direct a three-year investigation of a Colombia cocaine-trafficking ring, his revelations about his work on the street are the most damning. Joining the drug war at its inception in the early '70s, Cole says his bosses were clear about how they wanted cops to generate the arrests that would justify massive new funding in law enforcement: "lie a lot."
Drugs actually weren't much of a problem in the early days, Cole says, but he and his colleagues made it look like they were by claiming that users were dealers, a label applied, say, to a young person collecting drugs for a group of friends. Cole and other cops also lied about the quantity of drugs they found in someone's house. "What we did is we looked around for what we could call a cutting agent -- lactose, quinine, baby powder, almost anything," Cole says. Then the cops mixed together the drugs and the "cutting agent" and turned the mixture into state labs, which called a substance a drug no matter the proportion of that drug that was in it. Voilà: One ounce of cocaine became 4 pounds.
Eventually, Cole says, cops didn't have to exaggerate the drug problem anymore; it was bad enough on its own. Yet he and others in LEAP argue that the prohibition on drugs, like the one on alcohol decades ago, has made matters worse by creating an underground industry ruled by organized criminals.
"Eighty-five percent of the crime associated with drugs is not associated with people using drugs. It has to do with the marketplace," says Peter Christ, a former police officer in New York state who originated the idea of LEAP. Turf wars, smuggling, violent bill collection -- all are typical drug-related crimes that are not the result of being high. Moreover, LEAP argues, the illegality of drugs has inflated their value to a point where addicts have to steal to get their fix. "If we put 50-gallon drums out on every street corner in America filled with drugs, we wouldn't have the problems we have today," Christ says.
At the same time, LEAP argues that the prohibition has kept society from regulating drugs in a way that keeps them out of the hands of children, for whom it's easier to buy cocaine than it is to buy beer. As in the alcohol industry, LEAP says, legalization would also allow the government to license and monitor businesses that sell drugs and to set product standards that would prevent most overdoses. Says Christ, "When you go to buy a bottle of Jack Daniels, you don't have to wonder if there's a quart of antifreeze in it or rat poison." Legalization would further allow the government to tax this billion-dollar industry and use the proceeds for drug treatment programs.
Cole goes one step further and suggests that the government ought to distribute free maintenance doses of drugs to those who want them, thereby taking the profit motive out of the business.
"Would greater availability lead to more addiction?" wonders Washington state Sen. Adam Kline, a sponsor of the drug-law reform bill that reduced local sentences. That's the big question around LEAP's proposals. LEAP and others point to Switzerland, where government-run clinics distribute free heroin to addicts while offering treatment -- and addiction appears to have gone down.
But whatever the alternative to the current system, it's noteworthy enough that many of those who are supposed to be upholding it have had enough. Says LEAP member and police officer Jonathan Wender, "I'm tired of putting myself in harm's way for a losing cause."
Nina Shapiro is a senior editor at Seattle Weekly.
At a Westin Hotel banquet table a few weeks ago in downtown Seattle, Portland millionaire JoAnn Wiser leans over her steak dinner and recalls getting steamed at Charles Schwab, the brokerage titan. She had read an article about how he had used his influence with President George W. Bush to win support for the idea of eliminating taxes on corporate dividends. "I have investments with Charles Schwab, and I totally disagree with that!" Wiser exclaims in her effusive manner.
With inherited wealth from her father, a family farmer who struck it big in year-round agriculture in Southern California, Wiser figured out that she could save $17,000 a year on the dividend scheme. Big deal, she thought. "It wouldn't stimulate the economy at all, because I buy what I want already, right?"
Anyway, it doesn't make sense to her that, in the middle of a serious budget crisis, the federal government would talk about easing the tax burden of people who aren't even working for their money, at least not the money that comes from dividends. "If anything," she says, "we should be raising taxes on dividends."
A lone voice in the conservative, self-interested wilderness of the rich? Not entirely. On this Friday evening, Wiser is surrounded by wealthy folks who think similarly. The occasion is the annual meeting of a Boston-based group called Responsible Wealth, whose 700 members belong in the top 5 percent of wealth nationally and whose mission is to close the economic divide that it says has created a "second Gilded Age." After a round of applause for the waitstaff and an MC's mention of how the Westin was picked because it's a union hotel, Bill Gates Sr. delivers a keynote address on the subject about which he has been stumping across the country: his opposition to repealing the estate tax.
Listening to Gates are a number of millionaires who have been spending their time trying to figure out how, to put it simply, to be good. Some, like those in Responsible Wealth, are challenging the conventional notion of what their political line should be. Others have carved a new identity around giving away money, making Seattle in particular one hub of a movement that has been dubbed "New Philanthropy." Paul Schervish, a Boston College sociologist who is perhaps the nation's pre-eminent researcher on wealth, calls these new philanthropists "hyperagents" or "initiating entrepreneurs." Unmoved by the prospect of simply writing a check, they are people who take a hands-on approach with their giving and sometimes use it to establish whole new directions or causes.
As the concept of class war once again rears its head, with liberals saying Bushites are waging war on the poor and conservatives saying liberals are demonizing the rich, this current crop of do-gooders is mixing it all up. To some extent, they rail against the rich and powerful while being the rich and powerful. It is an irony not lost on them.
They are, in fact, a self-conscious lot. It's hard to imagine the Gilded Age's robber barons in the middle of an earnest conference on how to use their wealth responsibly. As the age of affluence meets the New Age, doing good is not just a value, it is a means toward self-actualization.
Gates Joins the Rabble-Rousers
Responsible Wealth grew out of a broader group in Boston working on the economic divide called United for Fair Economy. In the mid-'90s, that group's co-founder, Chuck Collins, was holding what he calls "economic literacy" workshops on the growing disparity between the rich and the poor when he noticed an odd phenomenon. "We had people coming to us afterwards saying, 'I'm a retired CEO of a division of Kodak,' or, 'I'm in the top 5 percent of income, and -- don't tell anyone -- I support your view.'"
"That's interesting," thought Collins, a descendant of the Oscar Mayer family who gave away a $300,000 trust fund 17 years ago when he was 26. "What would it be like to organize some of these individuals to speak out?"
Since he helped form Responsible Wealth in 1997, it has attracted a range of people, from the superwealthy like multibillionaires George Soros and Ted Turner to the run-of-the-mill affluent. It doesn't take as much as you might think to break into the top 5 percent -- just $164,000 a year in income or $650,000 in assets.
The group has chugged along promoting the meat-and-potatoes issues of economic justice: tax reform that asks the rich to step up to the plate, corporate responsibility that includes livable wages and an end to excessive executive compensation, and exposure of the influence of money on politics.
In 2000, adopting the organization's practice of filing shareholder resolutions to embarrass corporations and generate debate, local organizer Lois Canright filed one with Microsoft requesting a report on its political contributions. The resolution failed, which was expected.
What wasn't expected was that the father of Microsoft's chieftain would find common cause with these rabble-rousers. Collins likes to recall that when he got a message saying that Bill Gates had contacted the office wanting to help in the campaign for preserving the estate tax, he thought it was a joke. He soon found it really was Bill Gates -- Senior. And that jaw-dropping name, combined with the 78-year-old Gates' willingness to work the advocacy circuit at a breakneck pace, has of late given a lot more visibility to Responsible Wealth and momentum to its campaign on the estate tax. (In 2001, Congress passed an odd bill that reduces the tax to zero by 2010 but reinstates it the following year in its original form, making its future still very much an open question. Last month as the nation prepared for war, senators slipped an amendment into the yet-to-be-approved federal budget that would accelerate the temporary repeal by one year, which would make it effective in 2009.)
First, Gates brought some of his power-player friends to the table, like Paul Newman and Warren Buffet, to speak out in favor of the estate tax. Then he co-authored a book with Collins, released a few months ago, called "Wealth and Our Commonwealth: Why America Should Tax Accumulated Fortunes." He downplays his role, saying Collins did most of the work, but his co-author insists Gates is being gracious. They sent drafts back and forth to each other by e-mail, and Gates wrote at least one chapter himself, according to Collins. After the book came out, Gates and Collins hit the road for a book tour of a most unusual sort: Rather than concentrating on bookstores, they spoke everywhere from Rotary Clubs to universities to churches.
What's it Worth to be an American?
If all of this seems like a turn in direction for a man who has followed mostly traditional career and civic paths -- practicing law as a partner at Preston Gates & Ellis, serving as a University of Washington Regent and a national board member of the United Way -- he betrays no hint of it. Asked if he is comfortable in this new circle of activists, he replies flatly: "I'm comfortable being identified with people who agree with me."
The towering, bespectacled Gates is a no-bullshit kind of guy. You can imagine him as the tough law professor played by John Houseman in The Paper Chase. With the manner of someone who doesn't need to be liked, he tersely says what he thinks and smiles when he feels like it, which isn't necessarily that often. "Are you about done? Because I'm about done," he says 45 minutes or so into an interview. The setting is the Eastlake offices of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a place of gorgeous hardwoods and geometric designs that Gates presides over as co-chair, concentrating his efforts on local giving.
But he is warm and downright inspiring at a recent talk for law students. There Gates addresses a fascinating theme of his book on the estate tax, one that takes it from an esoteric subject to one central to the philosophy behind the founding of this country. While the tax in 2001 was an astoundingly steep 55 percent for the portions of estates worth more than $3 million (the new law reduces the top rate to 45 percent by 2009), Gates and Collins argue that it arises out of a very American opposition to European-style aristocracies. If wealth is transferred unobstructed from one generation to the next, it stays in the hands of select families.
Anti-estate-tax champions argue that inherited wealth preserves family businesses as well as family money. They say that to meet the steep tax, calculated according to estates' assets as well as cash, heirs sometimes have to liquidate their parents' businesses.
Gates and his allies, however, are unmoved. They counter that such liquidation is rare and, regardless, there is nothing sacrosanct about family businesses, some of which are worth millions or billions.
Standing before the law-school students, Gates relates that he feels large-scale inherited wealth to be simply undemocratic, though it exists in this country even with the estate tax on the books. "We have done a very good job of creating a society that has political equality," he says. "But we have utterly failed, in my judgment, at creating a society in which we have equal economic opportunity.
"You're not going to get to the point where everybody starts off exactly equal," he continues, "but it seems to me, we should strive for that."
Yet his is essentially a patriotic message. The United States, he believes, has enabled people to become astonishingly rich through huge investments in the public realm through schools, libraries, scientific research, and the like. No doubt because of his son, he pointedly mentions the Internet as one of the government's creations. He calls it "immoral" for the wealthy not to recognize the contributions of society. And comparing such investments in wealth creation to those in a place like Ethiopia, he ends his talk by asking: "The question is, what is it worth to be an American?"
Except perhaps for the explicit patriotism, it's a message similar to what lefty activists have been saying for years. So why does it somehow seem more remarkable, more moving when Gates says it? Is it, one can't help but wonder, because he's such a rich and powerful guy? And if so, isn't that just what he and his political allies are fighting?
Mike Lapham, co-director of Responsible Wealth, doesn't deny it. "Right or wrong, in this country, when wealthy people speak, people tend to listen. We're aware we're taking advantage of that."
They are also grabbing attention by playing off stereotypes about rich people's politics -- stereotypes that some argue are incorrect. While conventional wisdom holds that the rich lust after more and more tax cuts, state Republican Party leader Chris Vance asserts that they are often the folks who are least interested in their tax bill. "People that rich don't need a tax cut," he says. "The people who support tax cuts are those living paycheck to paycheck."
Paul Gigot, The Wall Street Journal's editorial page editor, echoed the sentiment in a column a couple of years ago where he mocked what he called the "plutocrat cavalry" riding in on "private Gulfstream jets" to defend the estate tax.
Indeed, claims Vance, "The superwealthy are almost culturally inclined to be liberals." Removed from the concerns of day-to-day survival, they focus on "abstract" issues, like the environment, that liberals champion, according to Vance. The movement leftward by the rich, he believes, is the "biggest change in American politics that no one has noticed."
Back at the Westin Hotel banquet, Gates draws attention to his wealth and deflects from it at the same time by riffing off a quote from J. Paul Getty. The oil billionaire is said to have once supplied three ways to become fabulously rich: One, get up early; two, work hard all day; three, find oil. "Try this," Gates tells the crowd: "One, get up early; two, work hard all day; three, have a stupendously successful son."
Geeks for Good
There's a similar point that Andy Himes is trying to make when he says he doesn't feel responsible for becoming a millionaire. "There are lots of people smarter than me or better looking than me, but they don't have money," says the former Web team manager for Microsoft.
His story is at once familiar and unique. Like many of today's unexpected millionaires, he essentially won the lottery by virtue of where he happened to work. But he comes from a background that most of his ilk don't share. He grew up in the backwoods of Tennessee, the scion of a fire-breathing, evangelical, and deeply conservative family. His grandfather was John R. Rice, one of the founders of modern Christian fundamentalism who started the newspaper Sword of the Lord. At his funeral, the Rev. Jerry Falwell gave the featured address.
"My granddaddy had six daughters," says Himes. "They all grew up and married six preachers. Most of their children became preachers." Himes diverged.
Now a youthful-looking 52, Himes is of the generation that directly confronted the Vietnam War. He turned against it, and when he went off to the University of Wisconsin, became so influenced by left-wing circles that he dropped out to go back to the South as a full-time activist. In Alabama, he worked for the Selma Project, an organization that provided assistance to civil rights groups.
Eventually he moved to Seattle and got into the field of technical writing and editing. But he still was far from rich. In 1992, when he had $500 in the bank and a kid looking toward college, he decided to accept a job at Microsoft, a place he previously thought of as "a big nasty company." He left six years later. "It was the first time in my life I felt I had any resources," he says.
Harking back to his activist past, he wanted to use his newfound wealth for social change. He began by writing checks to organizations he admired, like the homeless advocacy organization Real Change. Soon, he turned toward a more systematic approach by starting a nonprofit called Project Alchemy, which provides highly discounted technological assistance to grassroots groups. Besides Real Change, some of his clients have included the immigrant-rights group Hate Free Zone, the North Idaho AIDS Coalition, and the Spanish-language Radio Cadena in Eastern Washington.
You could say he belongs to a phalanx of folks who sometimes call themselves "geeks for good," rich techies who now ply their trade for altruistic reasons, though he shies away from the term. It sounds too narrow to him. Yet, indicative of the way new philanthropists think about what they do, he looks to his former job at Microsoft as a model for his new pursuit.
"At Microsoft, my job was to make huge things happen with small resources," he says. Though it sounds strange to talk about small resources at one of the world's richest companies, Himes says such was the case in his role of helping to start the Microsoft Developer Network, an international bevy of people who build products using Microsoft platforms like Windows. There were maybe 50 people on his Microsoft team, Himes says. "And yet our job was to make millions of people successful." Part of his team's big-bang-for-the-buck solution was to create Microsoft's first Web site to communicate with developers.
For how to translate this lesson into philanthropy, Himes looks to his former boss at Microsoft. "I would argue that Bill Gates' philosophy as a philanthropist is very similar to his philosophy as a capitalist. He's spending a little bit of money to focus the world's attention on key systemic problems." The $25.6 billion Gates has pumped into his foundation isn't exactly a little bit of money, but Himes says it is a drop in the bucket relative to the global health problems that are its central mission. "He's not just giving money to help sick people get well. He's giving money to wipe out disease." Himes argues it's the kind of transformative philanthropy that Andrew Carnegie practiced when he helped build libraries across America.
Helping the 'Bedroom' NonProfits
In much the same way, Paul Brainerd, whom you might call one of the founding fathers of New Philanthropy, talks about striving for the "biggest impact" with the money he gives away. That's why, says the 55-year-old, he largely avoided traditional boards and mainstream organizations after making about $120 million by merging his desktop publishing company, Aldus, with Adobe Systems in 1995. The symphony, the university, even the Sierra Club -- they were doing just fine without him, he felt. "The small groups, often with two or three people working out of a bedroom, those were the ones that always appealed to me," he says. He gives grants to such groups through the Brainerd Foundation, which he founded in 1995 to focus on environmental causes.
Even more interesting is an organization he helped launch to draw his techno-rich peers into philanthropy. "It seemed to me there was a vacuum of leadership," Brainerd says. Social Venture Partners's novel approach is to give not only money but time and expertise. Its 265 members, who donate at least $5,500 apiece, do for schools and nonprofits what they have always done in the business world, things like financial management, marketing, strategic planning, and, of course, technology assessment.
The idea has had tremendous appeal. Since it started in 1997, Social Venture Partners has spawned 20 copycat groups throughout the U.S. and a handful of others internationally. And yet, as executive director Paul Shoemaker acknowledges, the approach runs the risk of hubris, premised as it is on the assumption that wealthy folks have crucial contributions to make beyond their money. Indeed, Shoemaker says that not that long ago, some people with "big mouths" damaged the reputation of groups like his by "going around talking about how they were going to save the nonprofit world."
"Not every group has a place for guys who used to work at Microsoft," allows Alan Rabinowitz, a longtime philanthropist and retired economist who is one of the nontechie members of SVP.
Some organizations, however, welcome such help eagerly. Greg Tuke, strategic advisor and former executive director of Powerful Schools, says that he has hosted two dozen SVP volunteers over the last five years. "Almost to a person, they have come with the philosophy of, 'Yes, I have some skills, but I want to learn from the organization, too.'" He has used them to tutor kids as well as to look at the big picture of how the organization works.
Worthy work, it would seem. So, for that matter, is the work done by Himes, who is also an SVP member but reserves the bulk of his hands-on activities for his nonprofit Project Alchemy. Tim Harris of Real Change says that before Himes came along, the homeless advocacy organization didn't have networked computers or even networked phones.
Thinking about the details of what these philanthropists do, though, you might question whether it is as revolutionary as they sometimes make it out to be. Writing in Philanthropy magazine, author Martin Morse Wooster calls the roster of schools, tutoring programs, and early education organizations supported by Social Venture Partners "strikingly conventional causes." The Seattle Displacement Coalition's John Fox adds that he wishes that groups like SVP nurtured more radical organizations like his, ones that in his words are fighting for "structural change."
That, of course, is precisely the goal of Himes and his Project Alchemy, which does fund edgier groups. But does his work for Real Change, for example, truly qualify as transformative? Or has SVP's effort at Powerful Schools produced dramatic new directions or results? One would have to say no, not yet. SVP's Shoemaker concedes as much about his organization generally when he says that its work to date has largely been "good, not great," which is the conclusion of a just-completed internal assessment. Shoemaker is now hoping to take the organization to the next level, in part by looking harder at what its beneficiaries truly need.
The benefactors, though, seem satisfied with what they're getting from it. The payoffs for this generation of philanthropists are different. Uninterested in advertising their wealth, the new philanthropists are less interested in getting their names on buildings than in a kind of self-fulfillment they didn't get by making money.
"What I think is that this is a huge opportunity," says Himes, explaining why his philanthropy is motivated by excitement rather than guilt. "If you give out of a sense of guilt and obligation, then you're relieved when it's over," he says. Now that he thinks of himself as a philanthropist, he doesn't want his giving to come to an end, even if he currently has to give away smaller amounts because of the stock market plunge. "If you think about my ability to contribute -- that's what makes me fully human."
Political do-gooders have a similar perspective. "I realized this had given me an opportunity," echoes Responsible Wealth organizer Lois Canright, talking about the sudden wealth that came to her when she inherited her family's valuable real estate. "I could pay myself to do this important economic justice work and not have to worry about whether people could pay me or not."
As with so much else in life, then, it's actually easier to be good when you're rich. If only every millionaire saw it that way.
Nina Shapiro is a senior editor of Seattle Weekly.
Jeff Henderson remembers the day he finally went to get tested for acquired immune deficiency syndrome. He was living in Washington, D.C., in the mid-1980s and was experiencing classic symptoms of AIDS: swollen lymph nodes, fatigue, and acute body aches. As it happened, Henderson, then a young man working for a federally funded housing program, lived near a well-known provider of AIDS services called the Whitman-Walker Clinic. But Henderson had a hard time getting himself through the door. He walked around and around the block, nervous -- not only about the results.
Henderson is African American. So, largely, was the neighborhood around the clinic, the neighborhood where he lived. Yet the clinic's clientele was mostly white, gay men. Henderson worried: If his neighbors saw him walking in, what would they think?
He eventually did get tested and found out he was infected with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) that causes AIDS. But it has taken him a long time to get where he is today, sitting in his Seattle living room -- cluttered comfortably with potted plants, African fabrics, and books by African Americans such as Bell Hooks -- talking openly about his disease.
Henderson's longtime reluctance to talk about his illness is shared by many in the African-American community, where AIDS often is thought of both as a white, gay disease and as God's punishment. Consequently, many have failed to notice a remarkable demographic shift in the AIDS epidemic: If it once made sense in this country to talk about AIDS as a white, gay disease, it does no longer. Today, if anything, AIDS is turning into a black disease.
Since 1996, African Americans have accounted for a greater share of new AIDS cases nationwide than any other racial group. In 2000, the latest year for which data are available from the federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC), African Americans represented 49 percent of reported cases, although they make up only 12 percent of the population. Whites accounted for just 30 percent of cases.
African Americans account for an even greater proportion -- a majority -- of new HIV diagnoses: an estimated 54 percent, according to the CDC.
Neither black nor white communities generally recognize the new demographics, says Phill Wilson, executive director of the African American AIDS Policy and Training Institute in Los Angeles. "Every time I tell people that, they're absolutely shocked," he says.
Locally, the number of African Americans with AIDS is not as high, given that less than 4 percent of the state's population is black. Even so, African Americans account for 17 percent of both AIDS and HIV cases reported in the state between 1998 and the present, a figure representing more than four times their share of the population.
The numbers come as no surprise to public-health professionals. Dr. Helene Gayle is a former head of the CDC's AIDS program who now directs AIDS-related giving at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation: "The first time we wrote about it in a report was 1985. Even at that time, there was a disproportionate impact -- 25 percent of AIDS cases were among African Americans."
The epidemic was simply going where epidemics usually go, she explains: into "communities of the disenfranchised" -- those with poor access to health care, high rates of drug use, and other social burdens that fuel disease.
Yet at the highest political levels, there sometimes have been reasons for turning a blind eye to this phenomenon. Al Jonsen, a retired chair of the University of Washington's department of medical history and ethics, headed a National Academy of Sciences committee that in 1993 produced a report predicting the rise of AIDS in communities of color. In an e-mail, Jonsen remembers that the report "was severely criticized by Dr. David Rogers," then vice chair of the National Commission on AIDS, "who feared that our message would jeopardize the current political approach to getting AIDS funding, namely that the epidemic was a threat to all citizens equally."
At a Seattle conference recently, Jonsen elaborates that Rogers felt "he was only able to get funding from Congress if congressmen from Iowa or wherever felt that the kids from his district were going to get AIDS." In other words, AIDS couldn't be seen as too black, just as it couldn't be depicted as exclusively gay. Jonsen says that the report was denied any impact on social policy, and "of course, what we predicted ended up happening."
Even with the numbers as bad as they are now in the African-American community, though, those concerned with the issue are still fighting for attention. "It's just not a major issue in our community," says Kiande Jikada, an outreach worker at the People of Color Against AIDS Network (POCAAN), which is the major organization in town catering to African Americans with the disease.
Quinten Welch, executive director of another AIDS organization, the Seattle Treatment Education Project, agrees, even as he plans an African-American summit next month, the second put on by his organization. "You know, there are a lot of issues in the African-American community," he explains. It's hard to add one to the already crowded agenda, particularly one that might make some people say, in the words of Welch, "This is yet another thing that is linked to your community."
Yet linked to the community it is, and African Americans had better come to terms with it, warns Doug Austin, a local black AIDS activist who has the disease himself. "We're in a state of emergency."
The link between epidemics and demographics is a tricky matter, and not just politically. Bringing something like AIDS into the spotlight can prompt those at risk to take precautions, but it can also dissuade others from doing so. One reason AIDS has gotten as far as it has in the African-American community, health workers say, is because of the previous labeling of AIDS as a white, gay disease. Many African Americans have thought they didn't need to pay attention to prevention, even when their risks of infection were high.
If anyone should have been practicing safe sex, for example, it should have been Jeff Henderson. Now 44, Henderson is a well-kempt, well-spoken man who radiates the kind of eagerness for human warmth often shared by those who have been on the verge of death. Five years ago, he underwent chemotherapy for AIDS-related cancer and was in a wheelchair. Anti-retroviral drugs have now filled out his body and given him enough vigor to get around the city by bicycle.
But in the mid-1980s, back in Washington, D.C., Henderson was a high-living young man. Bisexual and on a quest to "bring together the perfect man and the perfect woman" in a three-way relationship, Henderson was living with a woman and openly having affairs with men. On top of that, Henderson was taking speed intravenously as part of a hardworking, hard-partying crowd of D.C. do-gooders.
It was a double whammy of risk: having sex with men and I.V. drug use. But Henderson continued to have unprotected sex, never considering that he might infect his girlfriend as well as himself. "Our understanding back then was that it was kind of a gay thing," he says of AIDS. And even if he were to become infected by having sex with men, he didn't think he could pass the virus through heterosexual contact. "We didn't think it was a problem," he says.
It wasn't until his girlfriend got pregnant that they realized that not only they, but their unborn child, were at risk. Their baby was not infected, but both Henderson and his girlfriend were.
It might have been looking at AIDS as a "gay thing," rather than a white thing, that helped trip up Henderson. But among many African Americans, gay is perceived to have a color, and it's white. Henderson recalls getting a hate call during Gay Pride Week a few months ago, when he advertised an event for black gays in The Facts, one of Seattle's African-American newspapers. "You need to take that gay shit and keep it in the white community where it belongs," the caller hissed. Hinted at in the caller's venom was a notion that being black and gay is a kind of assimilation, even selling out.
In large part, too, the stigma of homosexuality derives from the traditional religiousness of the African-American community. One time a few years ago, Henderson was visiting his mother's church in Tacoma when the pastor called him into his office and gave him what he calls the "Adam and Steve" speech: "God didn't create Adam and Steve, he created Adam and Eve."
POCAAN's Jikada says homosexuality is also seen as "a last break in masculinity" for black men, after centuries of being torn down. So, Jikada and others say, many African Americans who have sex with other men don't identify as gay or bisexual (the classic case being men in jail), either to themselves or to the world. Many have wives or girlfriends. Such men are said to be "on the down low," and it is an existence that has implications for the spread of AIDS. The term is used as the name of a newsletter targeting African Americans put out by the Lifelong AIDS Alliance. Men who see AIDS as a gay disease and don't consider themselves gay have tended not to take precautions.
Even those who know they're at risk, if they're in the closet, might not use condoms with their wives or girlfriends because of the questions it would raise. That's how homosexual transmission often leads to heterosexual transmission among African Americans. AIDS activist Austin says that's how unsuspecting black women end up with the disease, "because somebody lied to them," and so they might have an advanced form of the disease when they find out. "The woman has no ordinary reason to feel like she should be tested, so she doesn't until her health is really in jeopardy."
It would be a mistake, however, to assume that gay sex (with its tangential effect on the straight population) is the driving force behind AIDS among African Americans, as it is among whites. About a quarter of blacks with AIDS nationally were infected through homosexual contact. The biggest means of transmission, accounting for 36 percent of cases among blacks, is intravenous drug use. Austin himself is an example. "I always say I had four careers," the bald 51-year-old recounted one day in his South Seattle apartment. Looking drained by his illness but roused by the subject to sharp observations, Austin says, "First, I spent 10 years as a firefighter and paramedic in Bellevue," a pioneer -- only the second black person to graduate from the University of Washington's paramedic training in 1978. "For the next 10 years, I was the program coordinator for all the emergency medical services at the county." It was an excellent job with a lot of responsibilities. But it was also stressful.
Meanwhile, his personal life was turning more stressful as well. His brother and sister were having problems, so he took in their four children, though he already had four of his own. Then his wife had a stroke. She survived, but had to re-learn everything. When his mother died a few years later, he went over the edge and into his third career -- as a drug addict.
"It didn't start out sharing needles," he says. "But when you get to the point where you have an addiction, you don't care whether the needles are dirty or not. You just want the drugs." Of course, he should have known better. "I was a medic, my god," he says plaintively, the bitter irony seeming to strike him anew. "I had helped put together the HIV training program for the state." That program trained paramedics in precautions for handling patients with AIDS.
Two years into shooting up, he found out he had AIDS and lost everything, including his family. He did, however, find a fourth career -- as an AIDS activist. He joined King County's HIV/AIDS Planning Council and became a peer supporter at POCAAN.
"I don't know how much time I have left," Austin says. His body is wracked by an AIDS-related case of hepatitis C. "I want to do as much as I possibly can to see the rates of infection start dropping."
Austin was lucky in one way: He didn't pass the virus on to his former wife of 22 years. Other drug users do, further fueling heterosexual transmission among African Americans.
That might be how Madeline Brooks-Wyatt ended up with AIDS. An extroverted 44-year-old with a cascade of red extensions piled atop her head and a warm, deep voice, Brooks-Wyatt had taken her ex-husband back after a period of separation when she found out she was infected.
Brooks-Wyatt heard that during their separation, while she was living out of state, her now-deceased ex had "gone wild for his drugs," wild with the women, too, for that matter. Deciding to give him another chance anyway, she soon observed him undergo a mysterious transformation. "He was cold all the time and had night sweats. And he was in a lot of pain; he was like, 'Don't touch me, leave me alone.' He would just close himself up in his room" -- sometimes for weeks at a time. "And he had this body odor that turned my stomach."
She pleaded with him to go to the doctor. He refused. Eventually, she went to the doctor, because she was noticing some strange symptoms in herself, including the swelling of lymph nodes on the side of her neck. "To me, I looked like Frankenstein's wife." The doctor gave her every test in the book before she reluctantly asked Brooks-Wyatt to take an HIV test.
When Brooks-Wyatt told her man the results, she says, he accused her of infecting him. It's not an uncommon pattern, AIDS workers say, but it infuriated Brooks-Wyatt. She says she was spending all her time at church, where she served as choir director. "I didn't have no time to mess around."
As sick as he was, why didn't her former husband go to the doctor himself? It could be he didn't want to hear the bad news. But another factor could also have come into play: the wariness with which many African Americans greet the medical profession. There's the financial element, certainly. Because proportionately fewer African Americans are insured, doctor visits can be prohibitively expensive, as would be prescription drugs.
Steve Wakefield, a longtime advocate for African Americans with AIDS, has written about another barrier that sometimes keeps blacks from getting tested and from continuing with treatment once they are. Traditionally, most AIDS services have been oriented toward white, gay men. "And that's probably the hardest part of beginning to deal with HIV as a person of color: being forced to move in a new world on account of your HIV status," Wakefield writes in a publication called "There Is Hope: Learning to Live With HIV."
That's not all, however. Perhaps most damaging for the medical profession's reputation in the African-American community are the infamous Tuskegee experiments, in which, for research purposes, scientists watched poor blacks die from syphilis, even though an effective penicillin treatment had been developed.
That's a legacy Wakefield confronts constantly in his current job as head of community education for the HIV Vaccine Trials Network, the worldwide collaboration of research centers coordinated by the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.
His office is on a sprawling floor at the Hutch. On the wall is a big map stuck with pins showing the locations of the centers, including Pune in India, Sao Paulo in Brazil, and Soweto in South Africa. Wakefield, a burly African American, shakes his shaved head and laughs when asked if Tuskegee comes up as he talks to African-American communities about the risks and benefits of the trials. "Every time, every city. I've never spoken to a black audience where it didn't come up."
In turn, he says, "When I go to potential research sites in Uganda or Botswana or Malawi, the minute I step down from the podium, someone comes up to ask a question: 'How many black Americans are involved in the trials?' They don't want to do experiments in their country if we're not willing to do it on black Americans."
Researchers, in fact, are very willing to do it on black Americans. You might even say they're desperate to, for one simple reason: As Wakefield explains, the trials need to reflect the epidemic. Because so many African Americans are infected, scientists need to make sure that any vaccine developed will work just as effectively on them as on anybody else. For instance, Wakefield says, "African Americans have a propensity for sickle-cell anemia." Could that possibly be a factor in how a vaccine will affect their immune system?
You need to appreciate, however, just how tough Wakefield's job is. Not only is there the Tuskegee legacy, but these particular clinical trials are different than most. Most trials ask people who are already sick to come in. But these, as vaccine trials, are about prevention. Scientists ask participants who are perfectly fine to have something shot into them repeatedly.
No, subjects aren't then infected with HIV to see if the vaccine works, to answer a question frequently asked of Wakefield. In early trials, scientists just want to gauge the safety of the vaccines and their effect on the immune system. Later, researchers will look for high-risk subjects, like I.V. drug users, who are likely to be exposed to the virus themselves. Still, that's quite a hard sell for anyone, not just blacks. It's even harder because of the way vaccines work: The substances tested trick the immune system into thinking the body has the virus, thus creating antibodies. Unfortunately, it also tricks the conventional AIDS test, which measures such antibodies to detect the virus, generating a result that could be frightening.
The participation rate among African Americans isn't bad, considering. Twelve percent of the subjects in the network's largest trial are African Americans, proportional to their representation in the population. Still, when you consider that the majority of new infections are among African Americans, Wakefield says, "we haven't done the job we need to do yet."
Locally, where just 3 percent of vaccine participants since 1988 have been African Americans, researchers are starting to recruit blacks more aggressively. In May, the University of Washington's research center for the first time placed an ad in "The Facts" seeking participants. For maximum impact, though, says Dennis Torres, the local center's community educator, "it's really about getting into the churches."
Again and again, AIDS professionals and activists stress the importance of mobilizing churches, the traditional center of black life, in the fight against AIDS. But persuading black churches hasn't proved easy, in large part because AIDS has long been linked with the taboo of homosexuality. In January, Brooks-Wyatt took a job at POCAAN as a church liaison. Seeking to involve churches in educational work, she sent a letter explaining her mission, inviting pastors to contact her. She heard nothing. Then she phoned pastors and left messages. Not one called her back.
Frustrated, she has a new plan: "I won't be calling anymore. I'll be showing up."
The Multifaith AIDS Project, known as MAPS, has had a similar experience trying to recruit care teams in black churches. Each team acts as a support system for one person with AIDS, doing such things as driving that person to doctor's visits, running errands, and celebrating birthdays. Of the organization's 40 care teams, only two are in African-American churches. "I don't know the best way to get past it, I just don't know," says MAPS program director Trudy James.
Still, there are those teams at two black churches, First African Methodist Episcopal Church and Mount Zion Baptist Church, although they haven't been supported as well as one might hope. Charlotte Ruff, a founding member of First AME's team, says members of the congregation seem glad it's there but aren't necessarily volunteering to help. "I wouldn't say it's in the forefront of activities," Ruff says, adding that she'd like to see the church have more teams. "There's such a big need in the African-American community, and each team can only take care of one person or family."
Similarly, Kenny Joe McMullen bemoans the fact that the care team he heads at Mount Zion has only four members. Parishioners look to their pastor for priorities, McMullen says. "If the pastor does not legitimize or make something an urgent matter, if it's not something he's pushing, parishioners will not rally behind it." And that's what McMullen says has happened at Mount Zion, whose high-profile pastor, the Rev. Dr. Leslie D. Braxton, has put his energies into more conventional civil-rights issues, helping, for instance, to shut down part of Interstate 5 last spring after the fatal police shooting of a black man.
McMullen notes that Braxton has shown more interest in the matter after a trip this summer to South Africa, where, like all of sub-Saharan Africa, the impact of AIDS on blacks is impossible to ignore. At the pulpit on a recent Sunday, he spoke about the need to establish AIDS ministries. (Braxton didn't return phone calls seeking comment.) And, in fact, Carolyn Dukes, the head of Mount Zion's health ministries, is trying to put together a new support group for people with AIDS, which she hopes will be headed by a deacon.
There are other signs that AIDS awareness is growing in the black community. "When you think of HIV and AIDS, I'm not sure people will think, 'That's the Urban League,'" says the organization's Seattle president, James Kelly. Like Braxton, the Urban League has been preoccupied with classic civil-rights concerns. With the civil-rights battle not what it once was, however, and the Urban League looking for relevancy in the 21st century, Kelly says he is watching for ways to get involved in the AIDS fight. "We have to put energy into creating an [AIDS] agenda, just like we put energy into getting the right to vote," he says.
For the Urban League, Kelly says, the trick is finding a unique contribution to make amidst all the other groups working on AIDS, while not eclipsing the organization's "bread and butter" issues. One approach might be concentrating on the lack of access to health care faced by many African Americans.
AIDS groups are stepping up their services to African Americans, too. There's the African-American summit planned for next month by the Seattle Treatment Education Project. There's also a new program run by an offshoot of POCAAN, called Brother to Brother, that takes advantage of barbershops as a mainstay of African-American life by training black barbers to educate their patrons about AIDS.
Meanwhile, POCAAN has been running, for the past three years, a support group and referral service for African Americans with AIDS called KONNECT II. The group meets on Wednesday nights over dinner. On a recent night, a restaurant has donated Cornish hens, wild rice, fruit salad, and thickly frosted chocolate cake. About a dozen people take their plates and settle in around a conference table at POCAAN's Rainier Valley office, ready to listen to a psychologist speak about how her profession can help people with AIDS.
To look around the table is to be reminded that this is the new face of AIDS, not one we're used to seeing. Attending are a former drug user, a bisexual man, and a woman who believes she became infected through her husband, along with Austin, Henderson, and Brooks-Wyatt. Here also are two women with their children.
One of the mothers is making funny faces at her small baby, who is wrapped in a blanket lying in front of her on the table. As the participants go around the table introducing themselves, she informs the group that her little girl is, thankfully, HIV-negative.
As for herself, she says that she just got the results of a blood test that measures the strength of the body's immune system by the number of white CD4 cells. "I'm sorry to say," she says, pausing dramatically before throwing her hands up in the air jubilantly, "my CD4 count is 900." It's a high number, well within the normal range for an adult.
She declares: "I feel like Stella trying to get my groove back."
Best-selling author Rachel Simmons slumps on a couch before giving a talk to a group of girls. "I'm wiped," says the 27-year-old. With her dark hair pulled back in a ponytail and wearing jeans, chunky jewelry and a knee-length black jacket, she looks almost as youthful as the girls she is here to see.
No wonder. The frenzy over so-called mean girls, the subject of Simmons' book, "Odd Girl Out," as well as a spate of other books just out (Rosalind Wiseman's "Queen Bees and Wannabes"; Emily White's "Fast Girls"; Phyllis Chesler's "Women's Inhumanity to Women"), is building. She recently appeared on Oprah -- for the second time. Newsweek just put a mean girls story on the cover. And for the second week in a row, she was listed on the New York Times best seller list. (Last week she climbed to number 6.)
Buoyed by a wave she doesn't entirely understand, Simmons has come to conclude that the interest in her topic is linked to the concern over adolescent bullying provoked by the Columbine high school shootings, whose perpetrators had been ostracized by their peers. While Columbine involved boys, Simmons says, "it was only a matter of time before girls were discussed."
The link may seem tenuous, but it is true that many people, remembering their own tortured adolescence, responded viscerally to the despair and rage felt by the Columbine shooters. Just as many now are responding viscerally to the powerful examples Simmons uses to prove her point that girls engage in aggression that is indirect but at least as damaging as that of boys. A group of girls tormented one poor soul by sending her flowers under the name of a boy she had a crush on, sending him a sexually explicit letter under her name and telling a teacher she was cheating on tests. These examples provide a darkly fascinating portrait of the incredible lengths to which girls will go to humiliate other girls.
Yet there's also a way that Simmons' book and others like it are generating heat by playing into ongoing debates about gender and kids. First came a wave of books in the early to mid '90s, like Carol Gilligan's and Lyn Mikel Brown's "Meeting at the Crossroads" and Peggy Orenstein's "Schoolgirls," that looked at how girls lost confidence during adolescence. The books chronicled how girls started to feel pressure to conform to notions of feminine demureness, how they began to perform less well academically, particularly in subjects of math and science, and how they engaged in destructive behaviors like eating disorders. And they launched a movement to address the problem that sparked a crop of new girls schools around the country.
What about boys?, shouted a subsequent spate of books that seemed to be a reaction to the burgeoning interest in girls. Michael Gurian's "Wonder of Boys" and "Raising Cain" by Daniel Kindlon and others argued that boys' emotional lives were being ignored or misunderstood, and that there was a misguided attempt to turn boys into girls rather than channeling their testosterone in productive ways. While the books didn't necessarily counter the books on girls, they drove home a message: Girls aren't the only ones who have problems, so do boys.
Now comes a new rush of books that fits right into the cultural dialogue created by the previous waves of books. At first hearing, the new books sound like a postscript to the tomes demanding attention for boys: By the way, girls are mean too, not simply virtuous angels deserving of constant concern. At least that's how they could be interpreted and possibly one reason for their appeal.
So it's no surprise that revered feminist scholar Carol Gilligan, who has a new book, "The Birth of Pleasure," worries that a backlash against girls is afoot. Gilligan says she has mixed feelings about the mean girl books. She feels that Simmons' book in particular is an "excellent" attempt to air an undeniable problem. But she is suspicious of the larger uproar Simmons' and other books have created. "At a point when people have started to look at girls and see their strength, suddenly this comes up," Gilligan says.
In fact, though, a closer look at Simmons' message, and at some of her most ardent fans, reveals that an opposite force is also at work. As the author says, "The people who are talking about this are the people who want to help girls. This is an attempt to empower girls."
Simmons bears out her point as she strides into a classroom full of worshipful 6th grade girls, sinks to the floor where they're seated, and begins to draw them out.
"Once I had a friend who dropped me like a fly," says one girl. Another, countering a peer who suggests that boys have it worse because they can end up dead from their kind of fighting, says of girl cruelty: "Maybe you don't die physically, but you can kind of waste away, and to me that's worse than death."
Simmons responds with a heaping dose of positive reinforcement. "Yes, yes, yes, yes! Totally. You guys are so smart and easy to talk to."
She ends the session by stressing a major thesis of her book: "Girls tend to be indirect because in our society they are not given permission to be mad at each other."
Yet while the effort to cast girl aggressors as victims of societal oppression no doubt contributes to its popularity among the female sex, it's a troubling part of the Simmons' phenomenon. Doesn't the impulse to explain away girls' cruelty reinforce rather than challenge the stereotype of sugar and spice that Simmons rails against?
Peggy Orenstein, who laughs at how she's become the "grandmother" of all these books, hasn't read Simmons' book but allows that there is often a perceived subtext to feminist writings that women are morally superior. "I hate that whole morally superior thing. It goes way back, to groups like Mothers Against War."
"That just doesn't get you anywhere," Orenstein continues. "I don't know why we can't accept the idea that everybody, whether oppressed or not, can be nice and everybody can be a big fat jerk."
Orenstein does buy the idea that girls are culturally conditioned to express their meanness in indirect ways. But if they weren't, girls would still be mean, she offers, just in more direct ways like shouting, "I hate you, I hate you, I hate you."
While that's a fair point, it's not exactly the one Rachel Simmons wants to make. She gives the roomful of girls a scenario of an alternative to indirect aggression. Say her roommate Jenny is mad at her for not doing the dishes. "Jenny needs space to say 'I'm upset' and I need to honor that space." Nobody's mean there. Jenny has a valid reason for being upset. All is discussed calmly and productively.
Yet Simmons' book is full of examples of astounding cruelty that have no such rational explanations. Yes, girls can be mean. Why would you expect anything else?
Nina Shapiro writes for the Seattle Weekly, where this article originally appeared.
A light went on while I was sitting at my friend's kitchen table a few years ago. She was pregnant and telling me that she planned to take a four-month maternity leave from her high-tech marketing job, after which her lawyer husband was going to take a six-week paternity leave. I was only thinking about having kids then, but new possibilities started multiplying in my mind. Oh, so you could add a significant paternity leave on top of a maternity leave -- I hadn't thought of that. Later, my friend offered even more inspiration: She and her husband both scaled back to four-day workweeks, cutting day-care time to three days a week.
When our time came, my husband and I came up with our own permutation. Between us, he and I stayed home for the first eight months of our daughter's life -- me for the first six, and my husband for the following two. Then, for the remainder of that year, both of us went on four-day workweeks. My husband, also a journalist, felt he couldn't ask for that schedule indefinitely and eventually went back full time, but I've stayed part time.
And as obvious as it sounds now, here's what surprised me, what contradicted everything I had been led to believe: I love it -- not just working less, not just spending more time with my child, but everything together in combination.
We are surrounded by a barrage of negative information about the choices parents -- in particular mothers -- make between work and home. It's usually presented as an either/or thing -- what can seem to mothers like a Hobson's choice: Either give up your careers or neglect your children. Whatever you do, you're bound to be not only condemned by someone but, in the popular imagination, miserable to boot. Just think of the relentlessly pessimistic story lines that have prevailed in the media: the frazzled mother unsuccessfully trying to juggle work and home, and the "myth" of the superwoman; the purported failure of the women's movement to get men to do their share of child rearing and housework; the "mommy track" that traps even women who do choose to remain at work; the self-esteem problems of stay-at-home moms who are disdained by the working world.
The ideological war between traditionalists and feminists furthers this negativity, with each side casting the gloomiest possible portrait of the other. Strangely, what both sides seems to agree on is that women can't have it all. For traditionalists, the thesis seems natural enough: Women are supposed to stay home, and that should be enough for them. Feminists, though, seem to have fallen into this ironic message due to their habitual critique of a society believed to be sexist. Like the media, a slew of feminist academics, pundits, and authors have urged us to look at the terrible lot of mothers.
Naomi Wolf, for instance, in her new book, Misconceptions, depicts one downtrodden mother after another who married supposedly feminist husbands only to find out, after giving birth, that they were the ones expected to make all the sacrifices in order to raise children. There's a clincher of a scene in which Wolf's brother confesses to what he portrays as the dirty little secret of dads: love their children as they might, they would never, ever compromise their careers because of it.
I'd love for Wolf to meet some of the dads I know -- or, for that matter, some of the moms. All around me, women and men are coming up with creative and untraditional ways of balancing work and family life, whether they be taking long and sequential parental leaves, shortening their workweeks, working at home, or taking turns staying home. Quietly, these families are forging a new lifestyle that expands conventional notions of what is possible.
They're not the norm perhaps, but they're out there. The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that last year some 15 percent of employed parents with children under 6 worked part time (mostly women, but also around 3 percent of working men with children that age). According to the bureau's latest statistics, about 30 percent of both men and women with children under 6 have flexible schedules, which could mean working, say, four 10-hour days or varying the time they begin and end work each day.
Granted, a lot still needs to change. As feminist-leaning academics and others keep pointing out, work and society are often appallingly unaccommodating to family life. Many employers remain fixated on rigid schedules. The ostensibly big advance of the Family Leave Act, a mere 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave, is woefully inadequate. The kind of day care that doesn't make your heart sink is mostly unsubsidized, expensive, and hard to find. Yet as Stephanie Coontz, co-chair of the national Council on Contemporary Families, allows, "What's remarkable and encouraging is how much it (the career-family combination) does work."
In a central area craftsman with wood floors and leather furniture, Steven LaRose is spending the afternoon with his 14-month-old daughter, Zaida. While jazz plays in the background, LaRose offers his daughter some post-nap sustenance: first a crumpet, then grapes, then, moving into the kitchen from the living room, a bowl of Cream of Wheat. He's used to the routine.
LaRose has been a stay-at-home dad since Zaida's birth, a role that he says seemed "obvious." He couldn't support a family doing his work as a painter and scenic artist; his wife, a high-tech manager, could.
Though initially he thought he'd be able to paint at night, he found that unrealistic. With only one household income, he had to give up his studio. But he is not resentful. "I got the better end of the deal -- by far," he says. "You don't want to miss this," he says pointing to his blonde toddler playing happily on the living-room floor. "Child development is fascinating. Something about it makes me feel like a researcher."
Nor does his unconventional role make him socially uncomfortable. Among the artsy circle of friends he had before having children, five men have joined him in becoming stay-at-home dads, and he has met three more such dads since.
Yet LaRose and his wife, who also doesn't want to miss out on Zaida's development, have struck a fascinating bargain with each other: He will stay home for a while, and then she will. That may mean moving to a place where he can support his family with his art. His wife, Stacy, says she can't wait to trade places; he's the one who's ambivalent.
In many ways, the arrangement between Colleen and Laird O'Rollins seems ideal: They both work part time and take care of their kids part time. They have two, Cecilia, 3, and Ilsa, 6 months. Colleen teaches earth science at a private school every morning. Laird, an ecologist who works on fishery restoration projects, is currently taking a two-month paternity leave, following Colleen's four months off, and will return to a Monday through Thursday job. At that point, they'll rely on day care -- using both a center and a baby-sitter -- for 20 hours a week.
That they both work did not seem ideal to Colleen at first. With three sisters who stayed home when their children were born, Colleen says she pictured herself doing the same, even though she knew it was financially impossible. Holding red-haired Ilsa while a sleepy Cecilia watches cartoons and an old-fashioned living room stove heats a late-afternoon chill, she recalls going back to work after her oldest was born. "The first day was horrible," she says. "By the third day, it was like, 'Oh, here's something I'm good at, that I get recognition for, and it's stimulating my brain.'"
She's pleased with the arrangement now, and so is Laird. A self-described pessimist who was convinced before having children that "it was going to be the end of the world as I knew it," Laird says as soon as he looked into his first baby's eyes he thought, "Now I get it." He says he can't imagine spending time with his kids only while his wife was around, rather than having time alone with them to bond. Apparently, his friends feel the same way. "Most of the men I know have at least one day off a week," he says.
And what if men don't, or can't, make such accommodations in a working world that still typically gives greater leeway to mothers than fathers? Does that mean that their wives are unhappily stewing over their "sacrifices"? A Portland State University study of 309 dual-earner couples around the country coping with work and family responsibilities found that although women cut their hours and juggled around their schedules more than their husbands, such accommodations gave them high levels of satisfaction. "Traditionally, work/family research focused on conflict," says psychology professor Leslie Hammer, a co-author of the study. "Most recently, it's begun to focus on the positive effects of [combining] work and family."
Sitting in her living room while her 18-month-old son, Owen, frolics with his baby-sitter, Paige Eagle shrugs her shoulders when asked about her husband, a political consultant who sometimes works 70-hour weeks. "He's a busy man," she says matter-of-factly. She admits she feels exasperated sometimes, particularly during what she terms "child-care crashes." But she adds that at least he works flexible hours that allow him to come home when really needed.
For her part, working about half-time from home, she feels lucky -- very lucky. "If I had to choose [between work and Owen], obviously it'd be Owen all the way. But because I've been able to do both, it's been fantastic.
"I would go crazy if I didn't work. I don't think it ever crossed my mind. I mean, I just got my Masters. I feel like I've got work to do -- I don't even necessarily know what it is." Eagle studied songbirds while getting a degree in conservation biology from the University of Michigan. Now she programs Web databases for universities and the federal government, like one that records research on amphibians across North America. It's a problem-solving work that she says makes her feel creative and smart.
Yet she says, "I've never put working above having a child or below having a child. It's just part of the equation. It's what makes me satisfied."
She loves having time to take Owen to a kind of pre-preschool class, where she can watch him make new discoveries. Currently pregnant with her second, she's determined never to work full time while her kids are young. "I'll always be there at 3," she says, meaning when her kids come home from school. "But you know, 9 to 3, that's three-quarters time [working]. That's plenty."
Now pregnant with my second myself, I can't say that I'll always be home at 3, though I'd like to be. Between my husband and myself, there's absolutely no doubt in my mind that I'm the lucky one for being able to work part time.
I was thinking about that a short time ago on a Friday, my day off. My daughter and I were visiting the zoo with a writer friend and her daughter. As we pointed out gorillas and elephants to our mesmerized children, my friend and I discussed everything from world politics to story ideas to toilet-training tips. We then repaired to a little playground tucked into a pocket of the park. I looked at the fall sunshine streaming through the trees and then at my daughter, who had climbed to the top of a little clay mountain and was wearing an expression of pure, unselfconscious joy -- the kind that most of us lose somewhere along the line to adulthood and which is one of the great rediscoveries of parenthood. If this is a sacrifice, I'll make it gladly.
Nina Shapiro writes for the Seattle Weekly, where this article originally appeared.
Is Boeing compromising on safety in order to cut costs? Some workers believe so, pointing to changes in the way the company carries out inspections. A former head of the National Transportation Safety Board, among others, seems to agree.The new inspection procedures are the subject of a labor grievance filed with Boeing by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, according to several sources. Unable to agree in initial talks, the company and the union are setting up arbitration for the summer.At issue is a process known as "self-inspection." That's when parts are inspected by the people who build them, rather than full-time, extensively trained inspectors. Boeing has been using self-inspection for more and more plane parts for a number of years. But, according to veteran tool inspector Bryan DuPaul, who has supplied information to the union for its case, "Now we're beginning to move to aircraft systems that are critical to safety of flight" -- for example, portions of what's known as the wire bundle, which gathers together all of a plane's wiring.The job security of DuPaul and other inspectors is at stake, which is undoubtedly a big reason the machinists union that represents them is complaining. The union itself won't comment publicly, other than to say that it has agreed with Boeing on a panel of six arbitrators for a process that will be binding.DuPaul, however, says that workers are equally concerned about safety. "This is a very emotional issue for people on the floor." He says they have a love of aircraft that makes them want to see things done right. In addition, he says, "We fly on planes too."Because under self-inspection employees are judging their own work, DuPaul says, "people have a vested interest in passing work that could be marginal or questionable. Or they could be under pressure from their supervisor to get [the part] out on time." What's more, he says, using the example of a wire bundle builder, "the person who is building the wire bundle actually has a full-time job. So you're asking him to do more in the same amount of time."A part needs thorough inspection at the time it is built, he continues, because "some of the things that go into an airplane are buried so deep, there is no way they'll ever be inspected again." Furthermore, he adds, "As you know from recent history, there could be problems built into an airplane that could take years to manifest." Consider, for instance, the possible manufacturing problem with a part called the jackscrew assembly on the Alaska Airlines plane that crashed last month. (The MD-83 was built by McDonnell Douglas before its merger with Boeing).Boeing couldn't manage to find someone to talk about the issue for this story, despite repeated requests over a week's time. Company spokesperson Peter Conte says only, "Safety is the number one priority of the company," and "every plane meets FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] requirements."It doesn't take an aerospace engineer, however, to figure out that Boeing is trying to save money by getting rid of its high-priced inspectors and asking other workers to take on more responsibility for the same pay. After a postmerger change in management and a historic financial loss in 1997 that had Wall Street screaming for blood, Boeing has made no bones about its intention to cut costs -- a principle that when applied to employee benefits gave rise to the bitter engineers' strike. Plagued by production delays in recent years, the company is also trying to speed up the manufacturing process. To that end, it would help if builders didn't have to wait around for an inspector to come and approve every part.But as management keeps telling workers that it wants to build planes "faster, cheaper, and better," workers like longtime toolmaker David Clay are saying, "All it's gotten is cheaper."The FAA is well aware of what Boeing is doing. In fact, since January of last year it has been monitoring a self-inspection program in two Boeing shops, the wire and fabrication shops in Everett, according to Seattle FAA spokesperson Kirsti Dunn. She puts the most palatable gloss on the changes. "The point is to promote ownership," she says. "You're building in quality rather than inspecting for quality." If nevertheless the FAA is not satisfied when it evaluates the program in July, Dunn says, it could require Boeing to revert totally back to the traditional inspection method.Yet FAA supervision isn't necessarily reassuring. "Unfortunately, I think the FAA's record has shown that it is a handmaiden of the aerospace industry," says Jim Brunett, a transportation safety consultant in Arkansas and, from 1982 to 1988, chairperson of the National Transportation Safety Board, the federal agency that investigates airplane crashes. One recent example was the FAA's willingness to keep secret information about Boeing's troublesome 737 rudders, as revealed last month by The Seattle Times' Byron Acohido.That Boeing has swallowed its American competitors hasn't helped the situation, Brunett suggests. "The danger we have now with one major aerospace manufacturer in the US, one that finds itself in competition with a foreign firm," he says, referring to the rivalry between America's Boeing and France's Airbus, "is that we've become a bit of a cheerleader. I hope that's not influencing [the FAA's] decision making."Brunett himself, when told of Boeing's use of self-inspection, finds it "very disturbing. The idea of quality control means that there is some independent determination of quality." He says that must be done by staff who have a "completely different reporting channel" than the people who are doing the job to be inspected. For example, he says, when airlines bring their planes in for maintenance, quality-control inspectors who look over the work report to a different vice-president. "Not only is there different personnel, but a whole different administrative unit," he stresses. "In fact, regulations require it, and the failure to do that by some airlines has been identified as a cause of accidents."Perhaps self-inspection has already taken a toll. "Boeing has had a number of production problems over the last few years which have been significant enough to shake the FAA into an audit," notes David Evans, editor of the industry newsletter Air Safety Week. The FAA has finished the unusual production audit but won't make results public for several months.Boeing inspector DuPaul insists that despite his concerns planes are still safe to fly -- for now. "I don't think anybody's life is at stake at this point in time." He says workers are more worried about the future, as Boeing continues to extend self-inspection into critical areas.Still, the consequences are so great that it's hard not to feel uneasy. As DuPaul says, "At 30,000 feet, you don't want things to start to go wrong."