Here Comes Trouble: Stories from My Life

"Outstanding…Moore Triumphs! Publishers Weekly

Mike & Friends Blog

Other Worlds

Other Worlds is an economic justice group that supports economic and social alternatives around the world.

February 18th, 2010 10:42 AM

Magalie Marcelin

“A loss for the whole nation.” That is how one of Magalie Marcelin’s friends described the death of this women’s rights leader in Haiti’s earthquake January 12. Magalie was at the forefront of the 1980s birth of the contemporary women’s movement in Haiti (‘contemporary’ because recorded actions for gender equity go back as far as 1820). She started Kay Fanm, or Women’s House, Haiti’s first shelter for battered women, which was also a hub of feminist and anti-violence activities. She was instrumental in passing laws for women’s equal rights in marriage, and for the criminalization of rape and domestic violence.

Magalie’s political activism started as a teenager under Jean-Claude Duvalier. She was arrested along with others in a group that used grassroots theater to raise political consciousness. The government then expelled her, and she settled in Canada and studied law. After the dictator fell in 1986, she returned to Haiti and began advocating for women and for political rights. Under the 1991-94 military coup d’état, Magalie lived in hiding. Even then she never stopped organizing, and hosted secret Kay Fanm meetings at her underground residence.

A lawyer, Magalie didn’t argue cases herself, but helped find lawyers and create the defense of women in trouble. She managed to get a fair trial for a woman who, after having been beaten for many years, killed her husband. The feminist sociologist Carolle Charles tells a story of Magalie organizing women to pack the courtroom for a trial of a man who battered his wife, to offset the man’s political influence. The woman won.

Magalie lived at Kay Fanm, sleeping on a thin foam mat on the floor. That way she was available 24 hours for the needs of the survivors taking shelter there, though she sometimes stepped away for a night when she was too worn down. She was not paid for any of this work. It was all volunteer, while she supported herself through doing sociological investigations in the countryside as a consultant for an international NGO.

Magalie was also an actress and free spirit. When she was very young, she appeared in the full-length film Anita, about a rèstavek, child slave. She always hoped to get back into theatre, but never found the time; there were too many women to defend and support. Her email moniker was tilangdeng, mischief. Part of her philosophy was that, to do this work decade in and decade out, she had to keep her spirit nourished. She spoke of how her hometown of Jacmel provided that nourishment for her.

Magalie wouldn’t play political games and told it like it was. She alienated some people as a result, but she didn’t care. She particularly angered people with a statement she made on the radio: “A penis is not a weapon.” In Haiti, synonyms for penis are ‘machete’ and ‘baton’, and having sex is sometimes called ‘to crush’ or ‘to cut’. One extended study in Cite Soleil found that 100% of women’s first sexual experience was rape. This was the context in which Magalie chose not to worry about others’ opinions.

Many of her gestures were quiet and unseen. She continually helped people find jobs, money, or whatever they needed to survive and be safe. She also helped women who wanted to start grassroots women’s groups. This is where she died, in a meeting with a woman in Port-au-Prince who wanted to launch a women’s organization. She was in the woman’s home when it collapsed during the earthquake. Three others who were inside were rescued, but for some reason Magalie was not.

Jacques Bartoli, a close friend of Magalie, tells the rest of the story. “The morning after the earthquake, Delano Morel, another of Magalie’s good friends, found out where she was. I got together a sledgehammer, other hammers, and heavy picks they use for construction, and we headed down. The street was blocked so we walked and walked until we reached the house. Magalie’s daughter Maïle and her husband Andy met us there. We got together a couple of volunteers and some other people I paid. We extracted her five hours later but she was already dead.

“Two other women that Magalie had just helped the day before, women who were having trouble with their mates, joined us to go to the morgue. But the morgue had collapsed. There were people trapped there, too. So Magalie’s daughter said, ‘Let’s take things into our own hands.’ We took her body back to Kay Fanm and we laid it out there with ice. We knew she wanted to be buried in her land in Jacmel, on the other side of the river, but the road was broken. I said, ‘Let’s exhume her body in a year and take her to her land.’ So Magalie’s daughter found a place in Port-au-Prince and buried her the next day.”

Three other founders and shapers of Haiti’s women movement died in the earthquake: Anne-Marie Coriolan, Mireille Neptune Anglade, and Myriam Merlet. So, too, did an untold number of women who worked every day without professional title, office, or resources to make Haiti a more just and equitable place. They were all part of a thriving tradition of women’s activism in social, economic, and gender justice which does not appear in the media depiction of Haiti, in which the reports of sporadic street violence have been blown up until Haiti looks like a nation of barbarians. (Curiously this reporting has by and large left out one form of violence which is prevalent today: a spate of rapes against women and girls who, since the earthquake, have been forced to sleep in the streets.)

No one will ever know how many women activists died in the earthquake, because many of the bodies were quickly dropped from bulldozer scoops into shallow mass graves, or remain in the buildings that are crushed like sandwiches throughout Port-au-Prince and environs. Nor will anyone ever know how many of them died needlessly, not from the quake itself but from not receiving the medical care, food, and water that the U.S. government repeatedly turned away from the tarmac so that its soldiers and weapons could land instead. For those women who died in this way, it was the final injustice in a lifetime of injustices.

The battle against more lifetimes of injustice will require everyone. It will require Magalie, too. Good thing she’s on the case, present and accounted for, inside all who care about rights and justice.


You must log in to comment.

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Log in | Register

If you have a moment today, I hope you can read the obituary for my father Francis (Frank) Moore, who died this past Saturday at the age of 92: Francis...

Apr 22nd
6:33 PM
Read More

My father, Francis (Frank) Moore, passed away this morning a few months shy if his 93rd birthday. He was a great dad I am blessed to have had him in my life. I...

Apr 20th
2:58 AM
Read More

Time to put the cuffs on Chris Christie -- not for the bridge scandal, but for this: Chris Christie's $300m pension proposal broke state anti-corruption...

Apr 18th
7:31 PM
Read More

George W. Bush Debuts New Paintings Of Dogs, Friends, Ghost Of Iraqi Child That Follows Him... President Bush has a new hobby -- painting! --...

Apr 17th
7:28 PM
Read More

Big new story from David Sirota and Pando on top Christie adviser and appearance of corruption at New Jersey's pension fund: REVEALED: Gov....

Apr 17th
12:41 PM
Read More

FBI Uncovers Al-Qaeda Plot To Just Sit Back And Enjoy Collapse Of United States WASHINGTON—The FBI announced today that it has uncovered a...

Apr 15th
3:28 PM
Read More

Revealed: Rahm Emanuel's top donor bought stock in Marriott just before it was awarded huge contract As schools are closed and pensions cut,...

Apr 9th
2:00 PM
Read More

I'll be at First Time Fest today in New York City at the screening of my first film, Roger & Me. Loews Village 7 at 12:30 pm. Come see it on the big...

Apr 5th
9:48 AM
Read More

Revealed: Rahm Emanuel cuts public pensions, diverts money to benefit campaign donors If you've read the financial news out of Chicago the last...

Apr 4th
2:19 PM
Read More

Please take a moment today to think of Casey Austin Sheehan, son of Cindy and Patrick, who was murdered by U.S. foreign policy in Sadr City, Baghdad ten years...

Apr 4th
2:00 PM
Read More

ICYMI - I've joined this "thunderclap" to support the Connecticut legislators who voted yes on last year's Act Concerning Gun Violence...

Apr 3rd
7:38 PM
Read More

I've joined this "thunderclap" to support the Connecticut legislators who voted yes on last year's Act Concerning Gun Violence Prevention...

Apr 2nd
8:27 PM
Read More

I am opposed to the death penalty, but to every rule there is usually an exception, and in this case I hope the criminals at General Motors will be arrested...

Apr 1st
3:55 PM
Read More

How Long Some in the US Will Survive Under New Health Law Donna Smith Those who must access care to live and can afford it are not...

Mar 31st
10:13 PM
Read More

Last night, The Good Wife on the East Coast started 40 minutes late due to the overrun of the NCAA basketball game. If you had your DVR set for the show, you...

Mar 24th
5:41 PM
Read More

Watching films today, looking for the ones I'm going to pick for my film festival this summer. I (and a whole bunch of others!) have this thing we put on...

Mar 23rd
4:48 PM
Read More

When the U.S. Health Care System Keeps Killing, Who Cares Enough to Fight? Donna Smith We have largely forgotten that people are at...

Mar 21st
5:56 PM
Read More

Tell the White House not to give up on Dr. Vivek Murthy's nomination as Surgeon General despite the ferocious opposition from the NRA: Don't give...

Mar 21st
5:38 PM
Read More

This criminal would never see a jail cell, nor would his cronies. In fact, they'd later be rewarded with re-election: Presidential Address on War with...

Mar 19th
9:40 PM
Read More

The crime of the century -- our invasion & slaughter in Iraq -- started 11 years ago tonite in this 7pm (ET) hour, March 19th, 2003: CNN Coverage of...

Mar 19th
9:08 PM
Read More

Washington’s Back-to-the-Future Military Policies in Africa Nick Turse Nick Turse is an award-winning journalist, historian,...

Mar 17th
4:59 PM
Read More

"I think democracy is the most revolutionary thing in the world." -- Tony Benn, 1925-2014 Tony Benn in 'Sicko'

Mar 14th
10:07 AM
Read More

RIP Tony Benn, one of the UK's greatest leaders: Tony Benn, veteran Labour politician, dies aged 88 Former cabinet minister died at...

Mar 14th
9:53 AM
Read More

Please read this important story from K. Ford K.: Am I the Face of the New American Middle Class? I began to feel I had slipped so low...

Mar 13th
2:24 PM
Read More

Yesterday Dianne Feinstein revealed that the CIA has been spying on the Senate Intelligence Committee. This is all about the report the committee has produced...

Mar 12th
6:48 PM
Read More

Health Care for All Colorado has brought Mercy Killers, a show written and performed by Michael Milligan about our murderous for-profit healthcare system, to...

Mar 10th
1:08 PM
Read More

Health Care Dramas that Sting and Why We Have to Watch Donna Smith The realities Milligan has written into the show cut deep into...

Mar 10th
1:02 PM
Read More

Did you know the Lehrer Newshour on PBS has been produced for 20 years by a company owned by conservative cable billionaire John Malone? Me neither. After...

Mar 7th
8:39 PM
Read More

Mr. Obama, if int’l law is so damn crucial . . . | The Russian intervention deserves criticism. But let’s be clear. The...

Mar 6th
1:21 PM
Read More

Subscribe to Mike's Blog RSS

Click here to suggest an article

Mike's Blog

See More Blogs

Vew the archives

View older articles