Solidarity Organizational Health 40January 11, 2024

40. USA: A Jewish group’s 30-year solidarity with Palestine

Hosted by Akwe Amosu
Produced by Peter Coccoma

It is now three months since the October 7 brutal attack by Hamas on targets in Israel which, in turn, triggered the Israeli bombardment of Gaza in which a reported 21,000 people have so far been killed. In the US, as much as widespread condemnation was expressed after the Hamas attack, the subsequent death toll in Gaza, and suffering of surviving civilians have shattered whatever remained of a broad political consensus on Israel. Polls show unprecedentedly strong public criticism of Israel’s actions, and of the Biden Administration for continuing to supply Israel with arms. Week after week there are protests – in the streets, in government buildings, occupying railway stations and blocking airports. And present in large numbers among the diverse crowds, are Jews of all ages and origins, carrying signs that say, “Not in my name.” One of several organisations mobilising those protests is Jewish Voice for Peace, active for nearly 30 years in defence of Palestinian rights. JVP’s executive director Stefanie Fox talks about how they have built their movement against the grain of mainstream US politics.   

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The Interview

‘There’s a call from Palestinians for Jewish allies. That call is vital for us’

For Stefanie Fox,  the justification for supporting the Palestinian cause is obvious: “We are very proud of the traditions in our Jewish histories – the religion itself, legacies of fighting for freedom, for justice, for equality. We see that as core to being a Jewish organization.”   


The Coda

‘Making art to mend what is broken’

Carmen Cheung Ka-Man’s day job is as an attorney who works with communities around the world to secure accountability for the crimes perpetrated against them. But she is also an artist for whom making is a metaphor – an effort to find solutions within the constraints of her tools and skills and a dialogue between her and the variables that are germane to her craft.  She sees printmaking is a restorative practice, reconnecting beauty with the struggle for truth and justice.  



Akwe Amosu: Hello and welcome to Strength and Solidarity. I’m Akwe Amosu, here with episode 40 of our podcast about the tools, tactics and strategies being used to defend human rights. And this time:

How a US Jewish organization is answering the Palestinian call for solidarity

and in the Coda, a lawyer makes art to restore beauty to the world

AA: It is now three months since the October 7th brutal attack by Hamas on targets in Israel which in turn triggered the Israeli bombardment of Gaza in which a reported 21,000 people have so far died. Here where I am based, in the United States, it’s been striking to see the level of sustained protest against Israel’s military campaign – marches and disruptions that seem only to increase as the death toll has climbed, and conditions for the survivors have deteriorated. One of the main organizers of that activism has been a US group called Jewish Voice for Peace, or JVP, and quite by coincidence, I had interviewed JVP’s executive director, Stefanie Fox, back in August – nearly two months before the Hamas attack… I had been curious to learn what it was like to build a movement for solidarity with Palestinians in a state that sees Israel as such a close ally and has such a powerful pro-Zionist lobby. And that’s the interview you’re going to hear first – about how JVP was formed, how it organizes and why. We’ll go back to Stefanie Fox after that for an update.

AA: Welcome, Stefanie.

SF: Thanks for having me, Akwe

AA: I’ve been kind of fascinated watching Jewish Voice or Peace, uh, over the last couple of years. It just made me want to start by asking you what the origins were. How old is this movement?

SF: Well, as an organization, we’ve been around for 27 years, a group of Berkeley grad students got together in a living room and said, “not in our names. Like, this can’t keep going on. We have to do something.” And sort of formed a, a local organization at that point. And then in time they thought, “you know, okay, there’s other small Jewish peace groups all scattered around the country – let’s talk to the six or seven of them, see if we can form a national organization that can be more than the sum of our parts,” or have a, a, a broader and a more powerful collective voice. And that’s when it became a national organization.

AA: And what was the distinctive goal, framing that brought them together?

SF: You know, I wasn’t involved in those very first days, but my sense from, from knowing some of the founders and from, very much feeling the legacy alive today in the organization, is that it was a sort of broad refusal of the way that Jewish identity and trauma, has been weaponized to ensure that the state of Israel cannot be held accountable for its crimes against Palestinians. And then a desire to find a meaningful way to organize and to be in solidarity, so kind of, local protests, education groups, reading groups, trying to appeal to community, move more people into that same understanding,

AA: Because there’s a difference between believing that in some way, the state of Israel is falling short in its moral responsibilities, and believing that it is, to use your words, committing crimes against Palestinians. And I think you’ve seen quite a lot of – and I say it with no disrespect – hand wringing about the situation, but a reluctance to go to that place of categorical refusal and, and condemnation of the way that Palestinians are treated. And, more recently, to use the language of apartheid. And so I’m just interested to know, what was different about those people who formed the organization? Was that there from the beginning?

SF: Yes. You know, actually, I think that’s a perfect articulation of, like, the core DNA of the organization, is that there’s a difference between having politics and enacting them. You know, there’s a difference between being horrified or outraged or grief-stricken by watching Palestinians suffering in the hands of the Israeli government, and saying, “absolutely not – I’m going to act.” Like the difference there is organizing, right? That we’re going to move beyond that condemnation and say, actually, there’s so much within our power to do and also there’s complicity to end, and that’s our responsibility.

AA: How was that greeted from within the Jewish establishment in the United States? I mean I’m just curious what kind of a reaction JVP got from taking this position and very explicitly doing so as a Jewish organization?

SF: You know, from the beginning – and I can speak to , like, when I joined the organization as a member in , like, 2007, and then came on staff at the end of 2009 – we’ve always, from those early days to now been organizing against the so-called leaders of the legacy institutions in our community that claim to speak for all Jews, right? So there’s a great deal of backlash, that’s sort of inherent to the task. You know, I mean, we think of ourselves as forming a very specific counterweight to the role that Jewish Zionist organizations play in upholding US support for Israeli oppression of Palestinians. And so in doing that, in trying to form a counterweight, we’re necessarily taking on what is a much bigger sort of power and dominant voice in our community.

AA: And how has JVP navigated the, I’m sure, inevitable accusation that you are traitors, that Israel is a necessary protection for all Jews and you are attacking it?

SF: Mm. While some might say that we are betraying the Israeli government, what we are very proud of extending is the traditions inside of our multiplicity of Jewish histories, our um, the religion itself, legacies of fighting for freedom, for justice, for equality. And we see that as core to being, you know, a Jewish organization. We’re very proud of that. And so I think there’s a self-loving Jewishness in Judaism that we’re embracing, extending and really building in this time.

AA: Why was it important for it to be a Jewish organization?

SF: You know, there’s many pillars upholding this US-Israel alliance that we understand as fundamental to allowing Israeli oppression of Palestinians to continue. If the US stopped funding Israeli apartheid at the tune of nearly $4 billion a year and providing unconditional diplomatic impunity, Israeli apartheid couldn’t continue, we have that understanding and we understand that there’s military-industrial interests. There’s US imperial interests. There’s many reasons why that alliance exists. Um, but we also see that on top of all of that, Jewish Zionist organizations and the Israeli government, frankly, conflates Judaism and Zionism, conflates the Jewish people with support for the Israeli government, um, insists that there’s no daylight between us when in fact, nothing could be further from the truth, you know? And so while, you know, the greatest number and dollars in Zionist organizing in the United States is actually Christian Zionists, right? We understand that we have a specific role to play as Jews to call out that sort of moral cover provided by our identities and our histories of persecution as a Jewish people. And so for us, it’s been essential to kind of speak up just from within the community that’s felt essential, and also there’s been a call from Palestinians to say, you know, we need Jewish allies in this fight. And so answering that call is of, of vital importance to us.

AA: So you became a staff member in 2009. Um, can you look back and give a sense of what you found?

SF: Yes. We were at that stage sort of transitioning more fully into being a national organization. We were saying, okay, we’ve formed ourselves as a national organization with the premise that we’re gonna build power, right? Build grassroots power. We had some, you could say narrative power, because we’d built, um, we had a brilliant, deputy director at the time who started speaking about the issues from a values place that brought a lot of people to, like, our email list, for instance. And so we had this question of, okay how do we from here really build a grassroots movement that can contest for real power, do the real task of organizing, of identifying people, bringing them in, building community and skill around them, and then putting that community on the move and actually making material change and impact. And so, um, it was really a question of, like, can we throw open the doors fast enough for the people who in our community want to be organized, want to move from, like you said, hand-wringing to actual action? And I was continually kind of astonished that the, the organization would kind of grow as fast as we could build the structure to bring the people in and organize.

AA: And in practical terms, what were the activities that were happening in that period?

SF: So we were, um, working to persuade and bring in more Jewish people – let’s talk about what’s going on, let’s try to bring that into our community spaces. But we’ve always also been an organization that sought to, to campaign and to agitate inside of power. So, like, there was a big moment in 2009 where, or 2010 where we interrupted, um – Netanyahu was prime minister then too – interrupted his speech at the Jewish Federations of North America General Assembly. We had, this crowd of young Jews who stood up in the middle of this crowded auditorium and, shouted him down essentially, and got dragged out by the police. And, um, those kinds of agitational moments, and then also longer-term campaigns that were, were designed to make, uh, a bigger impact. And so, of course, we were grateful for the call from Palestinians civil society around Boycott, Divesting and Sanctions, because that provided kind of a scaffolding for us to build campaign work that felt strategic and impactful.

AA: So supporting BDS and advancing BDS was a big part of what was being done.

SF: Yes, absolutely. One of the things I’m proudest of about the organization is that as we’ve gotten bigger, we’ve also moved to the left. We’ve refined our politics in an ongoing conversation and practice of accountability with Palestinian partners, and as, also, the goalposts have moved, of the conversation in the US society. So in those early days, we were very much taking up the call for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. In that time, we were focused on, um, products and, companies and corporations that were specifically profiting off Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, Golan Heights and Gaza. So specifically the Israeli occupation, rather than really taking on targets that took on the whole of Israeli apartheid from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River.

AA: I said at the beginning that I’d only in the last couple of years really paid attention to the work and seen it peaking in multiple spaces. What happened? Did something change or is it just that I hadn’t been paying attention?

SF: Well, I’m sure you’ve been paying attention . you know, I think the organization, um, has just organically grown over time. In the early years we had really broad approaches to strategy. We would try, you know, every time there was a strategic opening of which there were many, would advance, we’d go in that direction. You know, we’d do interfaith organizing with the churches to move divestment there. We were on campuses you know, our student group, our rabbinical council, our arts and cultural work, like, we were building in all kinds of directions at once, in part because we are a base-building organization and wanted to bring all kinds of constituencies in. And so we were in all of these places at once, and I think we’ve learned a tremendous amount through that. Um, in the last several years, I think it’s been really critical for us to think about, um, what is the way that we can focus and and bring our attention to a more unified point so that, the collective impact can be as strong as possible? And so we’ve been in a bit of a process over the last several years to refine that and clarify that, and to say, okay, of all the things we could be doing, what is our specific role and mandate in this broader movement?

AA: How many people are we talking about?

SF: In our organization? We’ve got an email list with, like, about 400,000 people on it. And our social media accounts reach several million. And, um, we’ve got chapters all over the country, local organizing happening in 60 or 70 places, and students and rabbis. And so we have all of those, um, constituencies that at one point we’d kind of built out, like, okay, students, what is the specific strategy you think makes sense for you? Rabbis, what about you? And I think where we are now is we’re saying, okay, collectively, let’s all pull together and say, here are the individuals or companies in the US that are specifically funding the far right settlers in Israel, and as a full organization, how can we pull our weight together to go after them? Or, Israel bonds are a quarter of Israeli external debt in the world held by US Israel bond holders. Um, so what is the opportunity there for us as a collective to say, okay, there’s real impact we can have on the Israeli government’s ability to uphold apartheid. And also, it’s an opportunity to kind of get at the cultural bonds that have said for years that Jews should assume that supporting the Israeli government with an Israel bond at a holiday occasion is an appropriate thing to do.

AA: Like everybody else, on the planet, you’ve lived through a pretty massive upheaval, uh, the pandemic, not over, but certainly all the other movements I can think of in the US have been quite profoundly affected and disrupted, by going through that experience. And I was just curious what that did for JVP, or to JVP?

SF: I think it was a bit of a force factor. And I mean, of course it was a massive upheaval for everyone, like you said, but for us, I think it also brought home the point, like, you can’t do everything. And so let’s get really clear about what it is we’re doing here, in this moment, what’s most needed from us? The pandemic has meant – I think – opportunity for the far right to make advances in the US and around the world, and certainly also on the ground in, in Israel-Palestine. And so for us it was like, okay, there’s a clarity here about where our, our focus is needed. We’re getting ready to launch this, uh, campaign that targets this particular family in South Florida, the Falic family, they own a bunch of companies and then they use that money directly to fund both far right, Israeli settler organizations on the ground, which are now, you know, empowered in the Israeli government. And they also use it to fund, far right anti-trans legislation and, uh, you know, racist anti-black legislation here in the US. So that money is, doing harm in, in lots of ways. And it’s an opportunity to have this broad consumer boycott campaign.

AA: And of course, that period – in the US at least,- was not just about health and, uh, the risk of, of Covid. It was also a massive racial reckoning, which was both coincidental and not, I mean, obviously the murder of George Floyd and a number of other black people, uh, really focused attention and somehow was accelerated by the sense of jeopardy that the whole society was in. Did that affect JVP or shape JVP in any way?

SF: Absolutely. I don’t think there’s a corner of our society that hasn’t been forced to reckon in a, a deeper way, rightfully, and I think for, for JVP, we’d already been undergoing what we refer to as a racial justice transformation process for several years, brought forward by critique from Jews of color inside of the organization saying, you know, let’s ensure that the political home that we’re building here is of, and for, and by all of us. And I think that the reshaping and, refocusing of the organization post- pandemic has allowed us to, ensure that our organizing of Misrahi Jews, of Sephardi Jews, of black Jews, of indigenous Jews, of Jews of color in general, is not just one side project of the organization but is integral in all that we do. Because strategically, it’s absolutely critical that we build a multiracial base and that the critical perspectives analysis, scholarship and solidarities that can be forged by diversity of Jews inside of our organization are at the center of the organization, not the margins.

AA: And, and I guess that makes me want to ask about solidarity and, the alliances that you’re building – what does that look like? Who are your primary allies in this fight, and where do you want to offer solidarity in the US? I mean, I think your mission is clear, but you just mentioned other struggles that have been going on that the far right is pursuing. I mean, are you active on those issues as well?

SF: Absolutely. I mean, we see Palestine as an intersectional justice issue, right? And so we see that, our struggle against colonialism, against racism, against racial capitalism. None of those things are possible – they’re not complete, without understanding and integrating the struggle for Palestinian freedom and so we make broad alliance across the progressive, world. You know, we kind of sit at the juncture of Jewish progressive organizing, of broader leftist and progressive organizing in general, um, and of, of course the Palestine solidarity world. And so we see our role as kind of building deep partnerships in all of those spaces and building campaigns then that also target the shared opposition that we have. It’s not just ideologically that our struggles are intersectional at the roots and that we have to understand the solidarity between us, but also see the way in which the opposition is shared. They’re trading tactics, they’re trading tips, their shared funders. And so we have the opportunity to act together, and to make an impact collectively that advances freedom in multiple places.

AA: So would that mean that you are active, for example, in racial justice issues in the US as well?

SF: Absolutely, yes. We, absolutely feel part of racial justice struggle in the US, whether that’s looking at and, working on anti-black racism and the carceral system and, and advancing abolitionist work in the US. Um, we’ve worked in deep partnership with the Movement for Black Lives, with Red Nation, with many other groups to build what was our Deadly Exchange campaign that looked at US-Israel police exchange programs, right? So understanding, again, that way in which the US policing system, which needs no tips on how to be racist, is rooted i, of course, in slavery and colonialism in the US, but is happy to receive additional tactics, training and sort of arms and surveillance mechanisms from partnerships with Israeli forces so designing that campaign is an opportunity at the local level for coalitions to advance demands that are both, like, defund the police and also outlaw these kinds of training programs.

AA: You said earlier, I think with justification, that the situation on the ground in Israel and specifically in Palestinian communities has become a great deal worse. It is shocking to see the level of violence that’s being meted out, the summary injustice that these communities are experiencing, not just on adults, but on children. And, I wonder, looking at that, you’re in an organization that’s nearly 30 years old, been fighting on this issue, and the situation’s getting worse. I’m wondering how you respond to this moment. You sound like you are already running at full throttle, but I’m not sure that these efforts are sufficient to be able to turn this tide. And I ask it not as a criticism, I mean, I ask it because obviously that there is a need for more, and I’m not sure where that’s coming from.

SF: Yes, , I mean, more is needed. Um, I think – it is a true horror. You know what, like I said, I’ve been at it for a while and, you know, there are moments when Israeli violence and brutality against Palestinians is so profound, like, that we, we call it, like, a rapid response moment. We’ll gather up the whole team and say, okay, what do we have to do to, like, respond to this particular moment. That used to happen a few times a year where we’d say, okay, Israel is bombing Gaza, like, what is the move to mobilize at top speed? And over the last year or so, it’s every day, you know, the profound, levels of violence meted out against Palestinians and in every way, shape and form. And so for us, I think, we understand that the mask is off, right? That, the quiet part’s being said out loud. You have openly, proudly, people, ministers pursuing what we understand to have been the agenda from the founding of the state of Israel, of expropriating and taking as much Palestinian land, with the elimination of as many Palestinians as possible, really is, like, the Zionist founders stated that from the beginning. And while there’s been a veneer at times over that agenda, you see now, a government empowered to say it outrightly and to be pursuing it as quickly as possible. And so of course we feel this, like, utter kind of gut-wrenching urgency every day when we get up, you know, every night . Um, I think because of that, we also understand that there’s an obligation that’s heavier than ever to reach more of our Jewish community and to bring them into the struggle because I think that people are waking up to the, the moment in so many ways, waking up not just to, like, oh, that’s a horrifying one news article, but, like, to the kind of core falsehoods that they’ve been fed their whole lives about what the Israeli government is and is about. And so it’s our job to meet those people in their grief, their heartbreak, um, their rage, and say, yes, and come do something about it. We’ve got the place, you have a role here. We need you, and we have work to do. Um, and so we just have to escalate our work on all fronts. We have to be, like, better at bringing our people in and, and moving them into action. We have to be better at getting them skilled up and ready to fight. We have to be better at building community amongst ourselves, so we know how to move as a diverse whole. And then we have to, like, really build to fight and fight to win. We have to, in this moment.

AA: Thank you, Stefanie.

SF: Thank you so much.

There are points during that interview when Stefanie Fox could have been talking about the events in Gaza of the past few weeks. But as I noted at the start of the show, that conversation was actually recorded at the end of August last year. So I decided to call Stefanie again last week to get a brief update on what the past three months have been like for her and JVP. I started by asking what was her reaction to the events of October 7?

SF: Hmm. Yeah. I mean, the story for us was very visceral and very personal. we are in constant daily, hourly contact with dozens of partners on the ground and the night of the seventh, uh, we started to get updates, and were, you know, listening to the developments, hearing the situation unfolding, and in the middle of the night, the person who is one of the people who is in direct touch from our team on the ground, learned that his own, close family members had been killed by Hamas. Um, and so, that person was out for several hours in, in, in, in their own personal grief and shock. And as, as an organization of American Jews, we were horrified. There was grief, there was shock. It was very visceral. It was very real. There was no theoretical for us. Um, the extent of the horror was, was not immediately clear, but there was a lot that was clear to us immediately. And we understood that our principles and our values would really need to light the way, that every single person deserves to live in safety and freedom and dignity, no exceptions, and that what we’ve always fought for and understood to be true, that the lives of Palestinians and Israelis are completely intertwined with one another and that the shared vision of freedom and justice and equality for Palestinians is the only way forward for, for all people there. It was also quite clear immediately to us that the Israeli government with the full backing support and complicity of the US government would declare, and immediately did declare a genocidal war on the people of Gaza. And, I remember having a conversation with a dear partner, Palestinian, you know, she was calling to see if I had family lost, how we were. And we were both crying, and she said to me, “You know, Stefanie, they kill thousands of us when not a single Israeli has been hurt. What is going to happen next?” You know? And so, um, the sense that we needed to grieve a massacre while preventing a genocide was just very acutely real for us from the very first second.

AA: And what was your next step in terms of practical organizing? Where did your mind go – what I have to get done now?

SF: Um, you know, we have lived by the mantra from Mother Jones of, you know, “grieve the dead and fight like hell for the living,” and understood that we needed to leap immediately into action, that the US and Israeli government were, you know, beating the drums of war in a way that many of us have never seen in this generation. And we saw that nobody in the legacy Jewish institutional world was doing anything but fully agreeing with that call to genocide and ethnic cleansing and war. And so we just leapt into action. You know, the day after we held an online space to mobilize that grief and shock into action, and we had 900 people in attendance that first day. Um, and we, within a week of the crisis had held five or six or seven protests all over the country with, with bigger numbers than we’d ever seen. But we were by, by a week or so into the crisis, we realized we need to be demonstrating and shutting things down and organizing at a scale that we’ve never done before in order to pierce through this narrative and to be very clear that there is no military solution here, and that Jews say no. And so two weeks into the crisis, we called for Jewish people around the country to come to an action in DC and in three days time, people got on planes, they found childcare, they did whatever they needed to do. Um, and we had, you know, about 7,000 people at a rally in Washington that was the largest rally ever of Jews in solidarity with Palestinians. And as that rally became a march at the same time, we had 25 rabbis lead about 500 people in a sit-in inside a key office building, Rotunda on Capitol Hill for hours, praying and reading testimonies from Palestinians and Gaza, and, um, holding the space for hours and hours as we held all of Independence Avenue outside. So that kicked off what has become a pretty relentless set of mobilizing in the streets, um, all across the country. That was the biggest protest we’d ever done, the biggest rally we’d ever had, those sort of things. And then we’ve continued to just each week attempt to do more and bigger and to speak with a louder voice all the time.

AA: There seem to be a number of different organizers making sure that there are protests pretty much every day. How much of that is coordinated?

SF: Um, you know, our relationships are everything in this work, absolutely everything. And we’ve been working, you know, in deep, deep coordination with organizations across the Palestine movement and also across the progressive movement in the US. Everybody understands, you know, climate justice, immigration justice, racial justice groups, economic justice groups, electoral groups in battleground states. Everyone is saying we understand that this is a moment really of historic atrocities, of genocide before our eyes. We have to bring everything. And so we work in those coalitions and, um, and it’s been clear to us from the start in conversation with our partners that having a very strong Jewish voice as one sort of instrument in that symphony or whatever is critical given the very strong Jewish Zionist support for this war and genocide. So we have sort of held our, our lane while being in very, very close coordination.

AA You said when we spoke in August that you thought you had about 400,000 people on your mailing list and 60 to 70 branches of JVP around the US. Has that changed?

SF: Yes. I would say by, by pretty much every measure we’ve doubled in in size. We have about 780,000 members and supporters online. We have over 80 or 85 local groups now. In those chapters that maybe had five or 10 people for years and years, holding it down, are now having new member meetings, meeting that have many hundreds of people coming in the door. I think that Jewish Americans really understand that now is the moment to bring literally everything to this fight and so are joining us in that.

AA: I’m not sure I can remember, a situation in which a foreign issue, um, an issue beyond US borders, has mobilized this kind of response. Perhaps the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa is the last time?

SF: Well, you know, it’s not a, a foreign matter. There’s now a, a case in US courts brought by the Center for Constitutional Rights, charging Biden and Blinken and Austin with complicity with genocide. Um, and, I think that it’s very clear that it is a US-Israel assault on Palestinians. These are our tax dollars, you know, this is our money. These are weapons made in the US with the money being sent from us, billions and billions of our dollars to fund this unspeakable horror. So I think people understand, it’s not just a moral conviction, but it’s also a desire to rid ourselves of the horrifying complicity that we have with this.

AA: So, Stephanie, just to close, how are you doing in this incredible high pressure moment?

SF: Um, I, the wonderful, uh, Palestinian poet and, uh, clinical psychologist and novelist Hala Alyan says, you know, we owe Gaza our endurance. She talks about how relentless entities rely on us to tire. And I think that, um, you know, we all come from beautiful lineages of activists who have endured and who have made the impossible possible. And, you know, I feel like the only thing that has to be bigger than my grief and my – honestly – disbelief and absolute horror at what we’re seeing unfold is, is a determination to, to, to fight bigger and, and more and with more resolve all the time. So that’s how I’m doing .

AA: Thank you. Stephanie.

SF: Thank you so much.

AA: Stefanie Fox is the executive director of the US organization, Jewish Voice for Peace.

AA: Time for the Coda – our regular chance to hear from a human rights worker about the ways they find inspiration, solace and energy to stay engaged. Carmen Cheung Ka-Man is a lawyer who works in the international justice arena, supporting communities who seek accountability for crimes perpetrated against them. We were interested to learn that she is also an artist and we wondered how those two very different strands in her life might be interwoven.

Carmen Cheung Ka-Man: I’ve always liked making things. And it wasn’t though until I was In college that it formalized into a practice. And that practice happened to be printmaking.

CC: I signed up for a printmaking class, and I didn’t really know what any of it was about, but I was immediately drawn to it. I think the mechanical part of printmaking really appealed to me as a framework for thinking about what I would do creatively within you know, those mechanical constraints. When I went to law school I discovered that you could apprentice with a master printer. I was in law school in New York City during 9/11, and I felt the city change in really profound ways. Um, as somebody who was thinking about a career in social justice and what my position would be in so many struggles, I found that going to the studio alone really helped me think about where and how I wanted to be in the world. So that was sort of where my practice began.

CC: Over the years, my practice has evolved a lot. It depends on really pragmatic things like, do I have access to a press? More oftentimes it depends on, you know, what kind of space can I make for my practice? My practice has evolved to respond to life and the demands of the job.

CC: In the early years when I was making prints I was doing fairly traditional things. I would create a matrix, you know, the sort of plate on which you would make your image, and then you would create multiples of that image. And as my access to a printing press diminished, I started working more in monotype. I was interested in experimenting with what the press would allow me to do. I would print a number of prints off of, you know, one etching, but then I would continue to work on them through drawing and painting to see where that kind of iterative process could take me. It became sort of a conversation between me and me, between me and the machine, um, and what I could get the machine to do. And it also created a way for me to think about how do you sort of test the limits of the press? But it was also influencing the way I was thinking about the work. How do you test the limits of this thing that confines you, and be able to achieve something creative, something different without breaking your press?

CC: I think human rights work is always in dialogue. It’s in dialogue between the communities that I serve. I need to listen to them, hear them, and be able to translate their experience into whatever skill that I have. And then it’s about kind of an iterative dialogue between me and power, the power that is able to change the material conditions for the communities that I serve. And again, it’s a testing of limits and of where I can push where, you know, it might cause stress on the whole system such that the whole project falls apart. And so, I do see, at least conceptually, a lot of parallels in the way that I approach the practice and the way I think about human rights.

CC: I think the act of making is for me, contemplative, restorative, especially in human rights practice where so much is broken. And, so the ability to create something that did not exist before, has a strong therapeutic value. I also think of the act of creation and making in terms of, you know, just sort of this classic notion of truth, beauty, and justice. In the work that I do, we think so much about truth and justice, and we don’t think about beauty but we forget that beauty is that third pillar that sort of creates the world . And so to be able to try to access that beauty in other ways also gives me hope for the human rights work.

AA: Carmen Cheung Ka-Man is the executive director of the US-based Center for Justice and Accountability. You’ll find links to her bio, and the CJA and other background on our podcast page.

AA: That’s Episode 40! … As always, if you have feedback or suggestions, we really want to hear from you, you can write to… And if you would like to receive the email we send with every new episode, providing context for the interviews and sometimes some bonus content, you can sign up on the website, or just send your details to the same address – It only remains to say, from producer Peter Coccoma and me, Akwe Amosu, all the best for the new year.