Category Archives: charity

A Personal Appeal from The Sparrow Project

A Personal Appeal from The Sparrow Project


Dear Friend,

By now you’ve probably received a dozen or more emails about #GivingTuesday.  I would be remiss to say that this note is something uniquely different, but I’d like to take a second to describe how the scope of work being serviced through The Sparrow Project has changed and can benefit from sustaining donations from people like you.

Support us on: 

In 2016 The Sparrow Project stopped accepting paying clients and started routing requests for paid work through our friends at Balestra Media.  We began emphasizing quality over frequency and this calculous provided a handful of amazing activists working on shoestring budgets (or no budgets at all) with access to top-tier media coverage, digital audience building, and blooming political clout.

This past year The Sparrow Project; partnered with The Washington Post to break Property of the People’s FOIA scoop outlining the Trump administration’s possible violations of the domestic emoluments clause; produced video content and serviced media advisories for a Long Island activist challenging congressman Peter King; and developed a media partnership between Property of the People and ProPublica to publish a searchable online database of White House visitor records previously withheld by president Trump.

Support us on:  

Since 2016, The Sparrow Project has provided hundreds of thousands of dollars in services to grassroots activists for free.  I want to see this work continue.  Please consider becoming a patron of The Sparrow Project and help us expand our scope even further.

All the best,
Andy Stepanian

Award-Winning Documentary LIFT UP Sets Distribution for Two-Year Anniversary of the Haitian Earthquake

Last year Maurice Mitchell had an amazing idea, to do 100 shows that benefit Haiti all in a completely DIY fashion.  The Sparrow Project was excited to join him in that ultimately successful adventure.  Along the way we met film makers Phillip Knowlton and Huguens Jean who had just finished their feature length documentary chronicling two brothers who travel back to Haiti after the earthquake to pay respects to their grandfather.  Their film, LIFT UP will soon be available digitally through their website — http://liftupmovie.com

LIFT UP – OFFICIAL TRAILER from PHiLLYK on Vimeo.

“Though this project started with a personal journey, it quickly took on greater significance as it grew to include the narratives of so many survivors,” said Co-Director Huguens Jean. “We’re thrilled their stories will finally be accessible worldwide.”

Poignant, beautiful and unflinchingly human, LIFT UP follows two brothers, Clifford Muse and Huguens Jean, as they return to their native Haiti after the 2010 earthquake to commemorate their grandfather’s passing. The disaster having prevented them from attending the funeral, Clifford and Huguens plan to create a traditional Haitian kite to celebrate the life of the man who molded their childhoods.

Upon arriving in Haiti, they are surprised to find a vibrant nation filled with people committed to sharing their stories. As Clifford and Huguens collect the materials for their kite, they begin to record the experiences of their countrymen, and the scope of their journey expands. Soon musicians, painters, politicians, educators, family and friends are adding their voices and even contributing to Clifford and Huguens’s kite.

Their kite becomes a tapestry, depicting the life of Haiti after the quake. The familiar image of a Haitian child, standing on a roof, his kite soaring above, becomes a metaphor for the people of Haiti: surrounded by danger and standing on shaky ground while their spirits fight the wind, seeking their place in the sky.

Their journey at an end, Clifford and Hugues return to the US and fly their memorial kite at the 44th Annual Smithsonian Kite Festival. Despite mild wind, the kite dances hundreds of feet above the ground as a nation’s soul soars.

My Father Will Not be Forgotten: Noor Elashi on The Holy Land Five Appeal Ruling

My Father Will Not be Forgotten: Noor Elashi on The Holy Land Five Appeal Ruling

What has happened to Noor’s father and the other defendants in the Holy Land Foundation case is a threat to our constitutional freedoms, a glaring example of prosecutorial bias towards Muslim communities, and an example of the judicial over-reach that has come to define the decade following 9/11.  Below is Noor’s comment about the superior court ruling to uphold the conviction of the Holy Land defendants.

Exactly three days following the tenth anniversary of the Bush administration shutting down the largest Muslim charity in the United States, the Fifth Circuit Court dismissed the appeal for the Holy Land Foundation case, affirming the conviction of my father, the co-founder of the HLF who’s serving a 65-year sentence for his humanitarian work.

On Wednesday, Dec. 7, the three-judge panel, based in New Orleans, filed their opinion, concluding that “the district court did not clearly err.”

Upon hearing this news, it initially all rushed back to me at once, nostalgia on overdrive. I saw the relentless accusations by pro-Israeli lobby groups, the pressure by pro-Israeli politicians and the defamatory news reports in the 1990’s. I saw the raid on the HLF in 2001, the pre-sunrise arrests and “material support” charges in 2004, the first trial and hung jury in 2007, the second trial and guilty verdicts in 2008, the sentencing in 2009. I saw the plethora of prison phone calls and visitations. And finally, I saw my father being transferred in 2010 to the Southern Illinois city of Marion’s Communications Management Unit—what The Nation has called “Gitmo in the Heartland”—and where my father’s significantly diminished phone calls and visitations are scheduled in advance and live-monitored from Washington D.C.

The case of the Holy Land Five comes down to this: American foreign policy has long been openly favorable towards Israel, and therefore, an American charity established primarily for easing the plight of the Palestinians became an ultimate target. As my father said during our 15-minute phone call on Thursday, “The politics of this country are not on our side. If we had been anywhere else, we would’ve been honored for our work.”

This month could have marked a milestone. The leaders of our country could have learned from our past. The day the towers fell could have been a time to stop fear from dominating reason instead of a basis to prosecute. The HLF would have continued to triumph, providing relief to Palestinians and other populations worldwide in the form of food, clothing, wheelchairs, ambulances, furniture for destroyed homes, back-to-school projects and orphan sponsorship programs. And more notably, my father would not have been incarcerated. My family and I would have been able to call him freely and embrace him without a plexiglass wall.

Yet my father was charged under the ambiguous Material Support Statute with sending humanitarian aid to Palestinian distribution centers known as zakat committees that prosecutors claimed were fronts for Hamas. He was prosecuted despite the fact that USAID—an American government agency—and many other NGO’s were providing charity to the very same zakat committees. Instead of the Fifth Circuit Court taking this fact into account and transcending the politics of our time, the language used in the opinion, drafted by Judge Carolyn King, echoed that of the prosecutors:

“The social wing is crucial to Hamas’s success because, through its operation of schools, hospitals, and sporting facilities, it helps Hamas win the ‘hearts and minds’ of Palestinians while promoting its anti-Israel agenda and indoctrinating the populace in its ideology.”

Even more disappointing is the Fifth Circuit Court’s opinion regarding one of the main issues in the appeal: The testimony of the prosecution’s expert witness, an Israeli intelligence officer who, for the first time in U.S. history, was permitted to testify under a pseudonym. The opinion states:

“When the national security and safety concerns are balanced against the defendants’ ability to conduct meaningful cross-examination, the scale tips in favor of maintaining the secrecy of the witnesses’ names.”

I refuse to let this language bring me down, especially knowing that the battle for justice continues. In the next few weeks, defense attorneys plan to ask the entire panel of appellate judges to re-hear the case, and if that petition is denied, they will take it to the Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, my father waits in prison. This Thursday, when I spoke to him, it had been the first time in several weeks since he received a phone call ban for writing his name on a yoga mat, which prison officials saw as “destruction of government property.” I told him that during the tenth anniversary of the HLF shutting down, the name of the charity is still alive and that he will not be forgotten. My father is my pillar, whose high spirits transcend all barbed-wire-topped fences, whose time in prison did not stifle his passion for human rights. In fact, when I asked him about the first thing he’ll do when he’s released, my father said, “I would walk all the way to Richardson, Texas carrying a sign that says, ‘End the Israeli Occupation of Palestine.’ ”

» “My Father Will Not be Forgotten”, was first published on Counterpunch

Show Your Support for the Galapagos Preservation Society

A few weeks ago we logged edited the footage below that our good friends The Galapagos Preservation Society (GPS) gathered on one of their recent trips to the region. GPS as well as Darwin Animal Doctors (DAD) are providing a very important service in one of the world last ecosystems that has yet to feel the brunt of human intrusion. Both GPS and DAD are working to preserve native ecosystems by practicing safe and cruelty-free control of non-native species through spay & neuter campaigns as well as programs that provide free fences to people with domesticated non-native species. Both organizations selflessly provide free veterinary care to animals in need, but they need your help to continue doing so. GPS needs your help in gathering supplies to be brought to the islands. The message below is from GPS, we suggest that everyone reading this share this post with friends and donate whatever you can to their tireless efforts!

Do you work at a veterinary clinic? Do you know anyone who does? If so, you can help us round up the supplies we need for upcoming campaigns in Galapagos!

As you know, Galapagos Preservation Society protects wildlife, preserves ecosystems and promotes animal welfare in the Galapagos Islands.

Many people are unaware that the Galapagos has a human population of about 40,000.

Those people have brought cats, dogs and farm animals with them. The cats and dogs prey on and terrorize the indigenous wildlife who have evolved without any natural predators. Goats and cows compete with tortoises for food and space. In addition to preying on wildlife, dogs and cats spread diseases that can affect human health as well as
the health of endemic wildlife.

Many of the dogs and cats on Galapagos are not spayed or neutered. This is due to a lack of veterinarians on the islands, lack of education on the importance of sterilization and cultural attitudes toward sterilization, although they are changing.

GPS offers free sterilization for cats and dogs, free fences for dogs who are chained or left to roam free and conducts humane education and public outreach to teach kids and adults about the importance of sterilization for pets, wildlife and the ecosystem.

GPS works with another organization who runs a small clinic on Santa Cruz Island. We will be going to Santa Cruz in January with a small group of vets to do a spay/neuter campaign. In addition to that campaign, we are gearing up to have a couple more veterinarian volunteers on the islands. To successfully sterilize as many animals as possible, we are looking for donated veterinary supplies to bring with us to the islands. While it is possible to buy supplies on the mainland of Ecuador, it is prohibitively expensive to do so. We would like to bring as many donated supplies as possible, however, even if we have to purchase supplies in the U.S., it will be less expensive that doing so in Ecuador.

I have included a wishlist of supplies below. GPS is a registered non-profit (26-3586158) and all donations are tax-deductible to the fullest extent of the law. We will happily provide you with the necessary paperwork for your records. If you would like to introduce us to your veterinarian or clinic manager and have GPS contact them directly, or have any questions, please email Danielle at danielle@gpsociety.org

Wishlist
SXC Gloves, Drapes, Guaze Cotton, Vet Wrap, Adhesive, Syringes, Needles, Benz All, Sterile Vials, Tattoo Ink, Suture Material * (2-0, 3-0, internal and external), Scalpel Blades, Disinfectant Spray Bottles, Tupperware, Alcohol, Peroxide, Glue

* MOST NEEDED DONATION!

 

Echoes of Korematsu: The Holy Land Five Case by Noor Elashi

Echoes of Korematsu: The Holy Land Five Case by Noor Elashi

As we approach the tenth anniversary of 9/11, and my father remains incarcerated in a modern-day internment camp, the time in which we live begins to feel less like 2011 and more like 1942. But this week could determine whether today’s justice system is capable of rewriting the sad chapters of our history. I say this week because on Thursday, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals will hear the long-awaited oral arguments in the Holy Land Foundation case, involving what was once our country’s largest Muslim charitable organization.

Meet my father, Ghassan Elashi. The co-founder of the HLF. Inmate number 29687-177, sentenced to 65 years in prison for his charity work in Palestine. He is an American citizen from Gaza City, who before his imprisonment, took part in the immigration rally in Downtown Dallas, joining the half a million people wearing white, chanting ¡Si, se puede! The prison walls have not hindered his voice, as he writes to me, heartbroken about the homes destroyed during the earthquake in Haiti, the young protesters killed indiscriminately in Syria, the children lost to the famine in Somalia. Most frequently, he writes to me about the Japanese-American internment.

Now meet Fred T. Korematsu, who after Peal Harbor was among the 120,000 Japanese-Americans ordered to live in internment camps. This was in 1942, when President Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, which authorized the military detainment of Japanese-Americans to ten concentration camps during World War II. Mr. Korematsu defied orders to be interned, because he viewed the forced removal as unconstitutional. So on May 30, 1942, Mr. Korematsu was arrested. His case was argued all the way to the Supreme Court, which ultimately ruled against him, stating that his jailing was justified due to military necessity.

Nearly forty years later, in 1983, Mr. Korematsu’s case was reopened, and on Nov. 10, 1983, the conviction was overturned. Judge Marilyn Hall Patel notably said, “It stands as a caution that, in times of international hostility and antagonisms, our institutions, legislative, executive and judicial, must be prepared to exercise their authority to protect all citizens from the petty fears and prejudices that are so easily aroused.”

Fast-forward six years. It’s already 1989, when my father co-finds the HLF, which becomes a prominent American Muslim charity that provides relief—through clothes, food, blankets and medicine—to Palestinians and other populations in desperate need. Then, in 1996, President Clinton signs the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, giving birth to the Material Support Statute, a law that in time would come under fire by civil libertarians for profiling and targeting Arab and Muslim Americans.

Two years later, in 1998, Clinton awards Mr. Korematsu with the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest citizen honor, condemning Mr. Korematsu’s persecution as a shameful moment in our history.Three years later, the towers fall. And President Bush declares a “War on Terror.”

The HLF case was tried in 2007, lasting three months, and after 19 days of deliberations, the jury deadlocked on most counts. The judge declared a mistrial and the case was tried the following year.In 2001, President Bush signs the Patriot Act, which strengthens the Material Support Statue. The law’s language is so vague that it gives prosecutors the authority to argue that humanitarian aid to designated terrorist organizations could be indirect, and therefore, a crime.

In my father’s case, he is charged with conspiring to give Material Support in the form of humanitarian aid to Palestinian distribution centers called zakat committees. Prosecutors admit the zakat committees on the indictment were not designated terrorist groups, but according to the indictment released in 2004, these zakat committees are “controlled by” or act “on behalf of” Hamas, which was designated in 1995. Their theory is that by providing charity to zakat committees, the HLF helped Hamas win the “hearts and minds” of the Palestinian people.

In 2008, after essentially the same arguments, the retrial ended with the jury returning all guilty verdicts, and in 2009, my father was sentenced to 65 years in prison, for essentially giving humanitarian aid to Palestinians.

In 2010, my father was transferred to a “Communications Management Unit” in Marion, Illinois—the aforementioned modern-day internment camp. The CMU received the nickname “Guantanamo North” by National Public Radio since two-thirds of its inmates are Middle Eastern or Muslim. The purpose of this prison—which has another branch in Terre Haute, Indiana—is to closely monitor inmates and limit their communications with their families, attorneys and the media. Thus, I only get to hear my father’s voice once every two weeks, for fifteen minutes. And our visitations take place behind an obtrusive Plexiglass wall.

My father and his co-defendants—now called the Holy Land Five—are in the final stages of the appeal as the oral arguments approach on Thursday. In the Fifth Circuit Court in New Orleans, defense attorneys will urge the panel of three justices to reverse the HLF convictions based on errors that took place in the trial process.

According to the appellate brief, there’s a major fact that undermines the prosecution’s claim that Hamas controlled the zakat committees: “The United States Agency for International Development—which had strict instructions not to deal with Hamas—provided funds over many years to zakat committees named in the indictment, including the Jenin, Nablus, and Qalqilia committees,” writes my father’s attorney, John Cline. He continues stating that in 2004, upon the release of the HLF indictment, “USAID provided $47,000 to the Qalqilia zakat committee.”  Furthermore, defense attorneys will argue that the district court:

a) Violated the right to due process by allowing a key witness to testify without providing his real name, thereby abusing my father’s right to confront his witness. They are referring to an Israeli intelligence officer who became the first person in U.S. history permitted to testify as an expert witness using a pseudonym.

b) Abused its discretion by allowing “inflammatory evidence of little or no probative value,” which included multiple scenes of suicide bombings.

c) Deviated from the sentencing guidelines when they sentenced my father to 65 years.

When putting the lawyerly language aside, human rights attorneys have deemed the HLF case as purely political, perpetrated by the Bush administration. Likewise, the decision to intern Japanese-Americans was based on “race prejudice, war hysteria and failure of political leadership,” according to a 1982 report by the Commission on Wartime Relocation and Internment of Civilians.

I can only hope that my father’s vindication won’t take 40 years as it did for Mr. Korematsu. Let us learn from our old wrongs.

Noor Elashi is a writer based in New York City. She holds a Creative Writing MFA from The New School.  This op-ed was inspired by a forward written by Karen Korematsu in the upcoming book, “Patriot Acts: Narratives of Post-9/11 Injustice,” which includes a chapter about Noor’s father. You can purchase a copy from McSweenys HERE

Echoes of Korematsu; The Holy Land Five Case by Noor Elashi was originally published on Counterpunch