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Jim Geist, a former pastor of the New Life Fellowship Congregation in Queens, is the New York City director of the American Anti-Slavery Group. On April 8, he organized a rally at the United Nations "to demand international action on slavery in Sudan and Mauritania."
In a statement read at the rally, New York City comptroller Alan Hevesi said that the Islamic government of Sudan compensates militias for "the privilege of abducting defenseless women and children from their homes and selling them into slavery. They are raped, beaten, tortured, maimed, and even killed at their masters' whim. They are enslaved because they are black and because they are Christian."
(Also enslaved are black animists and independent Muslims.)
There was also a message from former mayor Ed Koch:
"You and your colleagues at the American Anti-Slavery Group are . . . alerting millions of citizens of a host of countries and encouraging them to apply pressure to their governments to end one of the greatest of sinsthe enslavement of one human being by another."
But New York's newspapers and television stations did not report this rally, although the tireless Jim Geist alerted all of them, in detail, about the forthcoming UN demonstration.
Geist tells me that BBC radio was there and broadcast the event to Africa and the Caribbean. Curtis Sliwa of WABC radio came to the rally and told his listeners about it. Also covering it were the Queens Chronicle and Catholic New York. But the rest of the media was uninterested, confirming Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's point that "the human rights situation in Sudan is not marketable to the American people." (A constant exception is Steve Malzberg, who regularly talks about the return of slavery on WABC radio.)
On the same day as the UN rally, there was a mass demonstration in front of the Chicago headquarters of Amoco Oil, charged by the American Anti-Slavery Groupas reported here last weekwith involvement in slavery in Sudan. Also on April 8, the AASG led a march against human bondage in Concord, Massachusetts, a town where American liberty was born in the blood of minutemen.
Did you see any news of these events?
Credit is due Bloomberg News, however, which, in an April 5 story, told more about the divestment campaigns against companies earning profits from slavery, such as PetroChina, than The New York Times or other New York sources of information have up to now:
"PetroChina Co.'s initial public offering last week earned less than half the $7 billion initially targeted because labor and human rights groups persuaded labor pension funds not to invest in it, those groups said.
"Now the AFL-CIO, American Anti-Slavery Group, and Friends of the Earth are urging pension funds not to buy shares in China's biggest oil-firm stock when it lists tomorrow on the New York Stock Exchange and Friday in Hong Kong."
Bloomberg News went on to report that AFL-CIO president John Sweeney has been making conference calls to dissuade potential investors in PetroChina, and that the AFL-CIO had a role in getting pension funds in Kansas and California to shun PetroChina's initial public offering.
The news story also cited the American Anti-Slavery Group's ongoing boycott against British Petroleum-Amoco, "the world's third-largest publicly traded oil company," an action that was called because BP Amoco is involved with PetroChina, which is a partner of the Sudanese government.
Said the AASG's Jesse Sage: "By extension BP Amoco is now a supporter of the Sudanese government. Sudan is using the oil project revenues to bomb schools, bomb hospitals, enslave its own people."
In a predictable use of Orwellian newspeak, BP Amoco told Bloomberg News that there is no connection between its investment in PetroChina and slavery. But Amoco says it "will encourage the company to adopt progressive policies which meet international standards."
What international standards? Has the United Nations moved against genocide and slavery in Sudan? Is any nation doing anything effective to stop the ethnic cleansing of blacks there?
But the AFL-CIO has its own ethical problems in this fundamental human rights campaign. Ron Blackwell, director of corporate affairs at the AFL-CIO, says that big labor will not join any boycott of Amoco.
"That would be very hard for us to do," Blackwell told Bloomberg News. "We represent many workers at BP Amoco."
If there had been American union workers in industries doing business with the Third Reich, would the Blackwells of those times have taken a similar position?
I belong to two unions and, in the past, have helped organize shops, so I think I have some standing to ask John Sweeney how he can justify giving a pass to any company that is complicit in the events a former Sudanese slave, Natalinia Yoll, described to the African Calgary Herald, in an article quoted by District of Columbia delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton in Congress on April 4:
"She could hear the galloping horses [of the slave raiders] in the distance. . . . Running, running, running. Then, as someone had made an opening, she found solace in the deep, thick bushes. Alone, scared, tired, but safefor now."