Brian Concannon Reveals American Injustices

Katy Wills, Columnist

Brian Concannon is not what I expected him to be. I envisioned the most prominent U.S. lawyer for human rights in Haiti to be big and loud and oozing with self importance. I expected someone who schmoozes–or at least has an obvious ego. That’s not Brian. Brian Concannon is quiet, hard to crack, rarely appears surprised, and doesn’t laugh at my jokes. But Brian is good at his job.
For the last 21 years, Brian has been working between the United States and Haiti, pushing for infrastructure improvements; a strengthened, autonomous Haitian government; adherence to rule of law and accountability for the United Nation’s egregious abuse of the Haitian people. When I first read of Brian Concannon’s class at Whitman this semester, I was skeptical. I wasn’t interested in being taught by some white man wrapped up in a white savior complex, proud of himself for being so invested in the lives of poor black people. But I was curious.
In preparation for Brian’s one-week seminar on Human Rights and Advocacy, I read a book called “How Human Rights Can Build Haiti.” The book tells of the uphill battle for justice in a troubled country and of the way a few human rights lawyers have made serious improvements in the possibility of justice in Haiti.
I learned that Haiti exemplifies an imperialist’s worst nightmare. Between 1791 and 1804, Haitian slaves fought a bloody, gruesome but successful revolution that won them freedom from slave rule imposed by French invaders. Though Haiti proclaimed its independence over 200 years ago, white imperialists still have the people in a chokehold of poverty and disease–except this time it’s inflicted by the United Nations, the United States and our murderous lust for cheaply-crafted cotton t-shirts.
The week left me with three things. The first, exhaustion. After four nights of two-and-a-half hours intensely dissecting foreign policies and humanitarian aid politics, I felt like a zombie. It felt like a rude awakening to what human rights or social service work could look like. What my future could look like. The second thing I came away with was a great sense of respect for this lawyer. Concannon has constantly been putting his ego aside for the sake of human rights advocacy.
For as long as I’ve been cognizant of gross human rights abuse inflicted or propelled by the U.S. government, I’ve wanted to know how to stop it.
Throughout the class I became much more aware of the role our country plays in making life harder for Haitians. The United States promotes democracy when it’s convenient for our needs, but bulldozes through autonomy when we think a democratically-elected government would be unfavorable for us. Thus, the third thing I came away with was anger.
Americans need to be aware and outraged about the way the government under which we complacently live is abusing people for personal gain. The U.S. Department of State is outwardly supporting a fraudulent election in Haiti and has threatened to revoke visa privileges if the government does not comply. How long will we let the United States bully its way around the world, knocking down economies and destroying lives?