Ava DuVernay’s new documentary, “13th” is a powerful, compelling narrative of how mass-incarceration in the United States is an extension of slavery. Drawing from interviews with professors, politicians, activists, and former-inmates-turned-activists, along with media and news footage from the past ninety years, DuVernay presents a reality embedded in the United States that must be reckoned with and fundamentally addressed.
I urge you to watch it. I assure you, there will be parts that will infuriate you, shock you into disbelief, and bring you to tears of sadness and sheer anger. I’m a strong believer that emotions triggered by injustice could and should be transformed into constructive actions to address the injustices. If you don’t have legal access to it online, find someone near you who does, or someone who can host a screening. If you still can’t figure out a way to watch it, message me. We’ll work it out!
At least check out the trailer. Then go from there.
[Updating post on June 6, 2020: Netflix has made the full film available for free on Youtube since April, 2020. See below]
After I interviewed a few folks at the Unification Media Group for a book that I’m working on, they asked me to do an interview about my background as part of a weekly program they broadcast into North Korea, targeting young North Koreans who secretly listen to their radio program. The specific program hosts young guests from all over — United States, South Korean, North Korean defectors — to talk about their personal goals and dreams. The goal of this program is to inspire hope, dreams, and strength among North Korean youth. My interview ran long (because I’m long-winded), so it was split into two parts. The radio programs have already been broadcast into North Korea.
At the beginning of every program, the radio program host reads the opening lines in Korean (excuse my rough English translation):
“If you raise a chicken egg, a chick will hatch. If you raise a duck egg, a duckling will hatch. American President Lincoln had a dream to free slaves, and eventually emancipated slaves in his country. Similarly, the dreams that human beings raise will become reality. For the North Korean young people who are listening to this program, what kind of dreams do you hold dear in your heart? Now is the time for us to deliver the stories of young people who have passionately followed their dreams and made them into reality.”
If you have ideas of programs or content that you’d like to have broadcast into North Korea, or if you want to write a letter or speak to North Koreans through these radio programs that secretly broadcast into North Korea, contact me any time!
The Seoul-based “Unification Media Group” is the umbrella group for Radio Free Chosun, Open Radio for North Korea, Daily NK, and OTV.
This project will send two North Korean defector journalists to the Chinese-North Korean border to source news and share their findings with us all. Check out the video and support the good work that Chad O’Carroll and team are doing at NK News. (And sign up for their daily newsletter!)
What’s a better way to get news from this regime than from North Koreans themselves who have the skills to source primary materials and write stories to share with the world?
We just launched North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity (NKIS) US website, which makes it easier for everyone to donate to NKIS. Please check out the site and consider making your donation today. You will be helping to make history. Spread the word!
Yes, I’m talking about the HAPPY song by Pharrell Williams.
I was going through some old photos and papers from my time in undergraduate and graduate school, and tried to think about what really pulled these experiences together. Then I realized that it all boiled down to this one fabulous song: HAPPY. (OK, well…there are a few other things, but this is a great excuse to share these videos!)
Last year, a few classmates shot and produced this video at Harvard Kennedy School to the HAPPY song. A few days after my graduation, I went to my college’s 5-year reunion and saw a montage of my classmates’ video footage from all over the world stitched together by Emily Lamont. My friends and I are in this one–we shot it on a freezing spring day on Weeks Footbridge!
I love these videos. They’re fun, and they showcase just how mixed, diverse, colorful and energetic the two student bodies were. You’ll probably recognize some names like…Larry Summers, Greg Mankiw, David Ellewood, and some pretty fabulous students. Some are better dancers than others, but the point is that anyone can be happy, anywhere they are in the world, whoever they are.
Oh, and if anyone knows Pharrell Williams…please feel free to forward this to him! 🙂
After listening to all of NPR’s Weekend Edition stories, I browsed Ted.Com to find a good talk to listen to while writing emails before heading to bed. I was reminded, once again, that Ted.Com talks simply cannot be put on as “background noise.” It’s all-consuming, and Bryan Stevenson’s talk is the perfect example of this.
Bryan Stevenson is the the Founder and Executive Director of Equal Justice Initiative, a Montgomery-based non-profit that “provides legal representation to indigent defendants and prisoners who have been denied fair and just treatment in the legal system.” Check out the incredible work that his organization does. Meanwhile, I’d like to highlight a section of his ted talk titled: “We Need to Talk About an Injustice” that I thought fit this blog content and narrative perfectly. (I’ve added the bolded emphasis.)
“… I believe that many of you understandthat the moral arc of the universe is long,but it bends toward justice.That we cannot be full evolved human beingsuntil we care about human rights and basic dignity.That all of our survivalis tied to the survival of everyone.That our visions of technology and designand entertainment and creativityhave to be married with visionsof humanity, compassion and justice.And more than anything,for those of you who share that,I’ve simply come to tell youto keep your eyes on the prize, hold on.”
Enticing much? Check out the whole talk! It’ll be an inspirational way to start off a new week.
Next week, Alex Gladstein from Human Rights Foundation and I will give a short talk at MIT about hacking North Korea with information. (The movie is mainly to draw people to the event!) Please come if you can! Email me or drop me a note if you have any questions. Hope to see you there!
I had an extremely insightful conversation with Srdja Popovic, one of the leaders of the Otpor! (Serbian for “Resistance”) movement, which has been largely credited for bringing down the Serbian dictator Slobodan Milosevic. Popovic now co-runs the Center for Applied Non-Violent Actions and Strategies (CANVAS) with Slobodan Djinovic, in Belgrade to train non-violent political activists to bring freedom across the world through people power.
Srdja and I chatted about the possible applications non-violent resistance tactics in North Korea among citizens and defectors. Although I won’t share the content of the specifics here, I will point readers to publicly available material about Srdja and Slobodan’s work that is extremely powerful and can be applied to political contexts across the world.
Students Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea [Young NK], a nonprofit organization with members from 18 universities across South Korea advocating for North Korean human rights, held the award ceremony for its user content created [UCC] film contest on December 10th in Seoul.You can read more about this organization and its film competitionhere.
Below are some of the winning entries — check them out! They’re each 60-seconds long.
In light of North Korea’s hacking of Sony (and previous cyber attacks), the Human Rights Foundation is hosting a fundraising campaign called “HACK THEM BACK” to support organizations run by North Korean defectors who work to send information into North Korea. One of the organizations that the HACK THEM BACK campaign will support is North Korea Intellectual Solidarity (NKIS), run by Mr. Kim Heung Kwang. This is an organization I closely work for, and hope that you will support them through the HACK THEM BACK campaign!
I was asked to give an NPR interview in light of the UN’s recent release of a report on North Korea’s unspeakable human rights violations. It’s a short 12-minute interview. Please listen to it if you get a chance; the focus is on having family members (who I have never met) living in such a different–horrifically different–place while I am living here in the USA. It’s a heartbreaking reality. Here is the link.
One of this week’s top news items have been about the UN’s release of a 372-page report describing North Korea’s systematic human rights violations against its citizens, likening their systems and punishments to those of Nazis. As you may be well aware of, this report describes North Korea forcing women to undergo horrific and brutal abortions and young mothers to drown their own newborn babies, starving and executing hundreds of thousands of detainees in secret political prison camps, just to name a few.
Let’s continue to educate ourselves about the unbelievable–wait, scratch that– the unfortunately BELIEVABLE injustices and systematic violations of human dignity that take place every second. Education motivates action and change.
Below are a few images that North Korean defectors who gave testimonies before the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea provided.
If you're in New York City, I'd love to have you come to a screening of our final edit of the Divided Families Film at the Korea Society. Our team really couldn't have come this far without all of our supporters, friends, and families.
The screening is on Jan 22, 2014 at 6:30 at The Korea Society (950 Third Avenue, 8th floor
New York, NY 10022). For details, check out this link.
Send me a note if you're coming. Would love to have you join us!
I came across this 12-minute Ted Talk with U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright. That quote above are the words of Secretary of State’s Madeleine Albright’s youngest granddaughter, who’s living in a time where her grandmother, Dr. Rice, and Secretary Clinton have been Secretaries of State. I thought it was extraordinary to listen to a the words of a little girl who is growing up in a world where it’s just not that extraordinary for women to be in the most powerful positions on earth. Of course, there is a LOT of room for improvement for bridging gaps in gender equality in terms of power, income, rights, and freedoms. But I thought I’d share this video. It’s definitely worth a watch!
In my course called "Causes and Consequences of Civil War" with Professor Dara Cohen, we're analyzing research and studies for why mass violence and genocide happens. In our exploration of this highly consequential question, we recently watched Dartmouth Professor Ben Valentino's Ted Talk called "When Bad Men Combine: Understanding the Causes of Mass Violence" who spoke about some causes for mass violence and genocide. He strongly argues against ethnic hatred being a sufficient explanation for mass violence. Cross-national statistical studies reveal that our measures of ethnic differences in societies do not strongly correlate with whether or not a country experiences mass killings and violence.
What he argues for is that mass violence is much easier to carry out than we think. The more we study mass killings, we see that the killings are carried out by shockingly small numbers of people in a society. Generally, we see no more than 1-2% of the male population in a society who carry out these mass killings. [Note: In the United States, 5% of our male population is either incarcerated or on probation.] He states a few examples:
CAMBODIA: in 1975, the Khmer Rouge, no more than 70,000 soldiers, took power over a country of 8 million people. Four years later, over 2 million were dead.
SUDAN: In 2004, the Janjaweed killed over half a million people and ethnically cleansed 3 million people. The Janjaweed never exceeded over 20,000 members.
How can such small groups cause so much trouble, so much bloodshed? What bad men need from people like us is not our participation or sympathy for their work, their work being slaughtering people. All they need is for us to stand aside and let their work happen. This is where everyday hatreds /stereotypes enter the equation. Professor Valentino states that, "although the hatreds are not enough for people to rise up and kill our neighbors, theyre MORE than enough to prevent us from rising up to protect our nehgibors from the small groups of determined bad men who do the killings in these kinds of killings."
Professor Valentino titled his talk after the wise words of Irish-English statesman Edmund Burke, which I urge you to contemplate: "When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle." We each have this power to associate with one another.
On October 5, 2012, the North Korea Study Group at HKS hosted Ms. Kim Young Soon, a former celebrated dancer in North Korea. In her 2008 book entitled “I was Sung Hye-rim’s Friend,” Ms. Kim described her ordeal at the hands of Kim Jong-Il, whom she never met. In an excerpt of the book, she wrote, “I was sent to Yodeok prison camp because I knew Kim Jong Il was with Sung Hye-rim. Even Kim Il-sung was not aware of Kim Jong Il’s relationship with Sung. Kim Jong Il, a would-be No.1 leader of the republic, was in a relationship with a (once) married woman would be a huge scandal, and Kim Jong Il tried to keep the highest security.”
In this blog post, I will write about what Ms. Kim shared with her audience members at our event last month. Ms. Kim and her family were part of the North Korean elite because her ancestors were anti-Japanese fighters when Korea was colonized by Japan in the early twentieth century. She was sentenced to Yodok political prison camp for 9 years. Her crime? She was school friends with Sung Hye-Rim, a famous North Korean actress who became a secret consort of Kim Jong-Il, and bore Kim Jong-Nam, the Dear Leader’s eldest son.
Ms. Kim and Ms. Sung were classmates and friends from high school throughout college. One day, Ms. Sung told Ms. Kim that she was invited to Chamber #5, a residence reserved for the regime’s ruling clan. After the state made the connection that Ms. Kim’s friendship with Ms. Sung led to a civilian knowing too much of the Dear Leader’s private affairs, Ms. Kim and her entire family were sentenced to Yodok political prison camp. In the camp, Ms. Kim’s husband was ratted out for an alleged crime by an inmate, and he was taken to the total-control zone portion of Yodok. Her entire family—parents, three sons, one daughter, and husband–passed away in the camp. Ms. Kim, along with numerous defectors, argue that Yodok and the other North Korean concentration camps have been modeled after Auschwitz under Kim Il-Sung’s reign.
North Korean civilians are sentenced to Yodok camp with zero knowledge of their crimes. They don’t know if they committed a crime –and if so, the nature of the crime–, or if they were sentenced due to the guilt-by-association policy. If the latter, whose crime are they associated with? Guilt-by-association is an antiquated policy that was employed during Korea’s Chosun Dynasty in order to cut off the seeds of the next generation of criminals. North Korea is the only regime that exercises this policy today. It was only ten years after being released from Yodok that Ms. Kim was told why she landed in the prison camp.
Political prisoners ate anything that “flew, crawled, or grew in the field.” While in the camp, Ms. Kim witnessed mothers desperately try everything to keep their emaciated children alive. One common ‘medicinal’ practice was to cut open a pregnant rat to harvest its fetuses, roast the tiny creatures, and feed this to sick human babies in the camp. This was believed to cure human diseases. On multiple occasions, she–along with the other estimated 200,000 concentration camp prisoners–were forced to watch public executions of camp prisoners who were caught while trying to escape the prison.
After speaking about Yodok, Ms. Kim spoke more broadly about the regime. By the 1980s, Kim Il-Sung’s leadership had purged all factious groups. The fall of the Soviet Union—on whom North Korea had been heavily dependent for economic support—devastated North Korea’s public distribution system. Years later, one domestic campaign to showcase the power of its regime widely circulated the movie, The Titanic, among its citizens. The regime declared that the sinking of the ship on April 15, 1912 was symbolic of the fall of evil capitalism and the rise of the Sun of North Korea.
Despite the regime’s attempt to demonize the United States by blaming the U.S. for all its own misfortunes, and calling it a wolf that can never turn into a pure sheep, it continues to pay its elites in $ USD.
She then spoke of the luxury that shrouds the ruling family. Among the numerous mansions that exist for the elite, Mansion #72 is Kim Il-Sung’s mansion. All rice that enters these mansions is called Rice #1. Rice #2 is the name designated for emergency rice for war. Every article of clothing for the Kim family is specially designed for the members. She gave several anecdotes of the extremely fresh, large, and exotic seafood that were sent into Pyongyang daily with special government funds. If the seafood delivery food trains were to ever be late, the supervisor of the train would be killed immediately. As one could imagine, these trains were never late. Ms. Kim knew Mr. Han, the supervisor of Train #8 and #9. He was a master of the sea surrounding North Korea, and he was responsible for delivering goods to the Kim family.
Kim Il-Sung had told Kim Jong-Il that the successor must concentrate on keeping the party and military officials appeased. Do not “waste time on the economy,” Ms. Kim quoted the Dear Leader. She claims that Kim Il-Sung argued that a reformed (and presumably a more open) economy would inevitably lead to the country’s demise and the successor’s death.
Despite Ms. Kim’s ardent hope for reunification, she understands that this is not possible in the near future with North Korea pointing 15,000 artillery units at South Korea.
She escaped North Korea on February 1, 2001 and entered South Korea in November of 2003. She serves as the vice president of the Seoul-based group Committee for the Democratization of North Korea.
Throughout our event, Ms. Kim repeatedly encouraged her audience members to watch ‘Yodok Stories,’ a controversial theater play that chronicles the experiences of several North Korean survivors of this political prison camp. This documentary captures the play and interviews of defectors who helped create the play.Please watch this — Ms. Kim tells you so! The actual movie link: http://www.yodokfilm.com
Over the past few months, I watched several incredible films that showcase social issues through captivating means, several of which I've listed below. Forgive me for the overly brief summaries that I wrote for each film. Please watch these films when you can.
This film, based on a true incident, takes place in Anatolia and is about a young teenage girl who was raped and sentenced to death. This film will pique your interest about modern day "honor killings," a horrific phenomenon that continues today that must stop.
Stoning of women is unfortunately a tragedy that continues to take place today. This film is based on a true story of a young woman in Iran who was stoned to death by men in her village for a crime she did not commit. The French-Iranian journalist Freidoune Sahebjam captured this story and published La Femme Lapidée in 1990, which became an international bestseller.
Under the Taliban's tight reign over Afghanistan, where women are unable to work and must be accompanied by a male in public at all times, a little girl feigns to be a boy in "Osama" in order to escort her mother and grandmother around the village to buy food and survive. This film sheds light on the violent oppression of women, and forced child marriages — among many other take-aways–that makes a compelling case for you to watch this film.
Without question, a film or book could never do justice to atrocities that take place against human life. This rings true with the genocide that took place in Rwanda in 1994, where over 800,000 people were killed in just 100 days. Do not forget the countless lives that were lost in massacres between the Hutus and Tutsis in the decades leading up to this genocide that was famously overlooked in the days that it was taking place. This HBO film weaves real footage of the killings through the film. I strongly recommend you to watch it.