Richmond resident Marilyn Langlois sat in her kitchen nook, a charming space with book-filled shelves, rounded doorways and warm, natural light. Langlois, who is also Gayle McLaughlin’s mayoral aide, had returned from Haiti a few weeks prior, her first visit to the impoverished country since the 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck in early 2010.
When she got there, she found severe destruction in pockets near Port-au-Prince, and structures and homes left standing were surrounded by tarp cities. She traveled by vehicle through congested roads and spent much of her time listening to community circles, where Haitians discussed the future of the country.
“There were common themes: ‘We’d like to be able to send our kids to school, we need healthcare, better housing,’ ” she said. “The tone was, ‘This is really important to us, and we’re disappointed with our government.’ ”
She also noticed a strong presence of United Nations and military troops, a reminder that Haitians are still under the rule of the coup that overthrew their government in 2004. The U.N. began its process to extend the United Nations Stabilization Mission of Haiti (MINUSTAH) mandate for another year last week.
“Haiti really needs to have its democracy back,” Langlois said, noting that the country is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on the U.N.’s occupation each year alone. “There is so much suffering still following the earthquake, and resources aren’t getting to the right places.”
Langlois, a gentle woman who advocates for local causes including bike trails, became interested in Haiti when the military took over in the mid-2000s and the nation’s president, Jean-Bertrand Artistide, was exiled.
“It was like a political earthquake after the coup,” said Langlois, who visited the country in 2004 and again in 2006. “I started reading when the coup happened, and it was so distressing. I knew I had to get involved.”
Langlois joined the Haiti Action Committee, a group of Bay Area activists who promote and support groups working to bring democracy back to Haiti. Her efforts have included arranging meetings between Haitians and U.N. members to smooth conflicts. Since the quake, she’s also donated her time to raising money for the Haiti Emergency Relief Fund, a Bay-Area-based group that formed to meet the immediate needs of Haitians following the natural disaster.
Langlois participated in the Occupy Richmond demonstration on MacDonald Avenue and the Civic Center Plaza last week. She said she sees a comparison between Haiti and the city where she works and lives.
“The struggle of people in Haiti is similar to the struggle here in Richmond, where we’re experiencing record unemployment, and policies being implemented by our government that negatively affect Richmond,” she said, noting the expensive cost of the U.S.’s military efforts. “It’s a different version, but it’s a similar struggle—the funding priorities really send the same sort of message.”