Bringing the eyes of the world

May 25, 2011

Sherry Cronin is a long-time progressive activist from the San Francisco Bay Area who plans to be on board a flotilla of ships that will attempt to sail to Gaza this month with a mission of bringing desperately needed humanitarian aid. Cronin talked to Christine Darosa about the solidarity movement with Palestine, was well as the many other struggles she is involved in, including the fight to stop the closure of the Lyon-Martin Health Services clinic, which serves mainly women and transgender people.

WHAT FIRST radicalized you? What was your first involvement in activism?

GROWING UP in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1950s and early '60s and realizing the great deception--the facts that weren't taught in school about imperialism and manifest destiny. The Vietnam War, which was a corporate lie.

My civil rights, anti-Vietnam War and environmental actions continued for quite a long time. And of course, the feminist and gay rights movements became stronger. I moved to Humboldt County by 1976, and at that time started working in community health, as well as working on protecting the old growth forest there.

Being involved in health care and seeing the inequality of the system in this country, you realize that health care is a hub of what needs to be done for the human family and the planet. A lot of what we have had to be asked for, from reproductive rights to HIV funding. You can't work in community health without feeling you have to do something to stop the inequalities--especially now, with the new powers that be wanting to take away everything we won 30 years ago. I hope we can continue to work for a sensible single payer plan.

Solidarity activists march for an end to Israel's devastation of Gaza
Solidarity activists march for an end to Israel's devastation of Gaza

ONE THING you've been involved in for a long time is Palestine solidarity work. What got you involved in this work?

I ALWAYS knew that something was wrong there. After the Jenin massacre in 2002, I was unable to just sit by and see what my tax dollars were funding.

Thanks to the Internet and IndyMedia and the Dyke March in San Francisco, plus having personal friends from the region who have helped enlighten me about what was and still is going on, I've learned a lot. I've become aware of the occupation, the torture, and the humiliation and incarceration of the Palestinian people. I've learned about collective punishment, which is illegal under international law. I've learned that you aren't anti-Semitic for standing up for Semitic people. I've learned that Zionism has very racist tenets.

I encourage everyone to educate themselves and learn as much truth as possible. Learn the parallels of what happened to the indigenous people here and the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous people of Palestine. Educate yourself about the history of the occupation and the decades of oppression that the people of Palestine have been forced to endure. They are prisoners within their own country.

Palestinians inside Israel are discriminated against and are also being removed, most evidently in the home demolitions in east Jerusalem. So much of Palestinian culture and land has been taken, but the spirit of the people remains strong. We can't change history, only work to change the future now.

I remember hearing a young Jewish woman who had just come back from Palestine speak at the Dyke March in San Francisco in 2002. She spoke about how she would be in homes that were targeted for demolition, and how the hope was that if there was an international face there, the family would have a little bit of time to get their stuff out and not be beaten. It made a difference.

I was already planning to go at that time, but hearing her speak made strengthened my commitment to also come back to help educate folks. I chose to volunteer with the International Solidarity Movement (ISM). Next thing I know, in August 2002, I was traveling into East Jerusalem.

When you go through the ISM, you're given affinity groups and training, both here and in Palestine, and you have choice about what you want to do. I chose to stay in those homes targeted for demolition. We would sit there, and when the soldiers would come to demolish the home--usually in the middle of the night or early morning, the best time to make you lie down in the mud or the rain with your family, your grandmother--it was our job to go to the door in the hopes that the family wouldn't be shot immediately.

We also did checkpoint watches of human rights violations. We witnessed the truth. We held demonstrations and at times joined with Israeli activists. One of my favorite things to do was in the refugee camps, where we threw parties for the kids there. What they live through you wouldn't want any kids to live through--to be tear-gassed, to constantly see their parents humiliated and imprisoned, to experience violence at the hands of these young soldiers.

Israelis are raised to think another fellow human being isn't human. But that's what people in power do. You see it historically--any oppressive regime will dehumanize the people they are oppressing.

I came home and spoke about the situation, which is what you're supposed to do--people in Palestine would say to us, "Go home and tell people about what's happening here." They know that the media is blocked and the information isn't getting out.

I went back in the spring of 2003. We were working on the right to education. The students and teachers there often can't go to school because of the checkpoints or curfew. We would walk with the students in the hope of reducing the harassment they often received.

Checkpoints are sometimes just randomly put up, just like curfews. The first time I went to Nablus in 2002, they were 80 days under curfew. Curfew is sometimes announced on television, or by soldiers saying "there's a curfew" and shooting guns. Sometimes they'll give the people an hour to go to the store after a few days. All this is against international law.

I also volunteered to ride in ambulances with the hope that the ambulance wouldn't get shot at. The whole situation made me very sad--that as an international person, I could go out and walk around, but people in their own city couldn't. I would walk in front of the young medics and say "international medical volunteer," so that we wouldn't get shot. That shouldn't happen. We were taking medicine and bread to people who can't come out of their own homes.

I went back again in October-November 2003 for the olive harvest campaign. That's when I had the honor of going to villages to accompany the farmers to their land, if it wasn't bulldozed or chain-sawed already. We would be there so they could hopefully harvest their olives.

We believed that if there were more international eyes watching, it would help protect people and it would help get media attention. We've been going since the year 2000, and for the most part, having us there has helped.

But we were also naive. I believed that if I got killed, there would be an international media outcry. We learned that's not so with the deaths Rachel Corrie and Tom Hurndall. Rachel's parents and Tom Hurndall's parents have worked hard to bring their children's story to the limelight. As for Vittorio Arrigoni, recently killed in Palestine, the Italians gave him a welcome home to recognize his dedication to justice, and he, too, will never be forgotten in Palestine.

His mom is going to be on the flotilla leaving on June 31, which has been named in his honor "Freedom Flotilla--Stay Human." "Stay human" is something Vittorio would often say. It's about solidarity and standing up for what's right.

I've been very excited about the flotillas since I heard about the idea. I've been doing what I can to support it, along with many other volunteers internationally. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, we have a coalition of groups working for justice and peace in Palestine.

I think every time we go out, the world sees more of what's going on and how out of control the occupation is. People of conscience from many countries make up the passengers going to Gaza with medical, education and building supplies, standing in solidarity for a free Palestine.

WHAT DO you think lies ahead for the struggle for social justice in general, in the U.S. and in the world?

I COULD go on about Palestine, but the real work is here. This is the country that is funding the occupation. You've got billions in direct support, subsidies of Apache helicopters and so on. That's a lot of money. And what it is it used for? To break international law and oppress people.

Activists today are still working on many issues: prison rights, immigration rights, welfare rights, you name it. I think it's important to go back to the slogan of "Work locally, live globally."

I think the most important thing is that each and every one of us has to be true to our own humanity, seek out truth and decide how much we can do to help create change. Keep faith that change is possible and that we can live together on this beautiful planet. Justice and peace for all. Health, education and housing for all. Stay Human.

Further Reading

From the archives