Saturday, February 09, 2008
Urgent Action Alert--Help Save Dr. Wilkerson's Job; Stop the Harassment
Last December, Dr. Catherine Wilkerson dealt a blow to local forces of repression when, after a six-day trial, she was acquitted of the bogus charges brought against her by the University of Michigan and Washtenaw County Prosecutor Brian Mackie. She had hoped then to get on with caring for her patients at the Packard Community Clinic but, if anything, local Zionists and their minions seem more determined than ever to punish her for speaking out against the Jewish apartheid state of Israel and its local backers. The management of the Packard Community Clinic has decided to fire Dr. Wilkerson and on February 4th they set February 15th as her last day of work. Below you will find a statement by Dr. Wilkerson explaining more fully what is happening.
The Committee to Defend Catherine Wilkerson has issued this urgent action alert because we want to encourage the Governing Board of the Packard Community Clinic to stop the firing of Dr. Wilkerson and to stop the harassment of her for engaging in constitutionally-protected free speech activities on her own time and in her own name. Specifically, we are asking supporters of Dr. Wilkerson to do two things. First, please contact the Governing Board as soon as possible. A written letter is considered one of the most effective forms of advocacy. You can mail one to the address in the sample letter below and/or send a fax to the Governing Board at (734) 971-8545. You may also leave a phone message at (734) 971-1073 or send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. Second, please sign our online petition, which you can find at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/keepwilkerson/ . A press conference and a rally in front of the clinic are being contemplated but have not been scheduled at this time pending the Governing Board's response to an appeal by Dr. Wilkerson for a special meeting with the Board.
Sample Letter to the Packard Community Clinic Governing Board
Your City, State, Zip
Packard Community Clinic
3174 Packard Rd.
Ann Arbor, MI 48108
Dear Members of the Governing Board of the Packard Community Clinic:
I am writing to urge you to stop the termination proceedings against Dr. Catherine Wilkerson, MD and, further, to stop the harassment of Dr. Wilkerson by Packard Community Clinic (PCC) Medical Director Ray Rion and Executive Director Kimberly Kratz. It was known when she was hired that Dr. Wilkerson was politically active. Her profile on the clinic web site notes: "she is particularly interested in social and economic determinants of health, gender issues in medicine, and medical ethics. She has been an activist involved in a number of issues related to public health, including the health effects of war and nuclear weapons, and universal health care." The only thing that has changed is that she is now--after successfully fending off a malicious criminal prosecution--being targeted for, on her own time and in her own name only, criticizing racism in the local Jewish community in its support for the apartheid state of Israel. Dr. Wilkerson is the senior and most experienced physician at the PCC and beloved by many of her patients. No good purpose can be served by depriving them of the compassionate care provided by this conscientious physician simply because she has nonviolently exercised her First Amendment rights to speak out against all forms of racism. Please keep Dr. Wilkerson on the staff of the PCC and stop the political harassment of her by PCC management.
Statement of Dr. Catherine Wilkerson Concerning the Termination of Her Employment at the Packard Community Clinic
Despite the exhilarating victory for the First Amendment right to freedom of expression that my acquittal achieved, I remain the target of those who seek to quash that right. Now I am being forced out of my job. For over five-and-a-half years I have worked at Packard Community Clinic, providing medical care to disadvantaged members of the Ann Arbor/Ypsilanti community. Most of my patients are Black, Latino, Arab, or Asian. My patients overwhelmingly come from the ranks of the working class.
These are the people within our own borders who suffer most from the wars and occupations being perpetrated, funded, and otherwise enabled by the US. These are the people whose brothers and sisters disproportionately wind up as cannon fodder. These are the people who struggle everyday to obtain the necessities of life and whose fundamental human right to health care is denied, while billions of dollars flow to wage these wars and occupations.
The wars and occupations currently waged or backed by the US have killed, maimed and sickened millions of Iraqis, Afghans, Palestinians, Haitians and Filipinos. How can a doctor turn a blind eye to this suffering and injustice? How can a doctor, of all people, not take a stand?
It is likely that a good many of those who obtain care at Packard Community Clinic agree with that analysis. The same is true, no doubt, for many of the clinic workers and for many of the clinic's supporters in the community. Yet, Medical Director Ray Rion and Executive Director Kimberly Kratz have deemed me "not a good fit for the clinic."
Months before the trial and the not-guilty verdict, the wheels to force me out had been set in motion. In early October, the Ray Rion called me in for a chat. I was not a good fit for the clinic, he claimed, because of my political activities. He cited the publicity surrounding the approaching criminal trial, my Palestinian human rights activities, and his desire for the clinic to "piddle to the middle." A few people had threatened not to donate money to the clinic. A local doctor threatened not to refer patients to the clinic. Who were these people? What kind of people threaten to withhold their money and not to refer patients in need of medical care to a clinic that is known to provide excellent care and to take all comers?
We talked, for the first time, about the case against me. He disputed my assertion that I had an obligation to help a person in need of medical attention, stating that in Michigan there is no duty to treat. We would have to wait and see how the trial turned out before he would know how that issue would affect my employment. But my Palestinian human rights activities were also a problem. Among those activities was my affiliation with Jewish Witnesses for Peace and Friends, a group that has stood vigil in front of Beth Israel Congregation for several years, silently holding signs protesting Israeli oppression of Palestinians. He wanted to know why I did that. I answered as I always have, "I do it as an act of solidarity with Palestinians."
I do it because more than four million Palestinian refugees live exile after being violently expelled from their homes by Jewish forces in 1948 and 1967. I do it because another four million or so Palestinians live under brutal Israeli occupation in Gaza and the West Bank. I do it for the more than one million Palestinians who live as second-class citizens in Israel. I do it because Israel's oppression of Palestinians is enabled by the American Zionist community and billions of US-taxpayer dollars that go to support Israel every year. I do it because Beth Israel is a political as well as a religious institution. As Rabbi Dobrusin wrote in the Ann Arbor News in January 2007: "Beth Israel Congregation affirms without any hesitation or equivocation the legitimacy of the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish state." I do it because the flag of Israel hangs in the synagogue and because the Rabbi Dobrusin uses his influence to defend Israel I do it because I believe that there is no more appropriate time to think about right and wrong than when worshiping. I do it as an act of solidarity, knowing as I stand there being assaulted with slurs and obscene gestures and swerving automobiles by those heading inside to worship God, that the harassment we endure in front of the synagogue does not even rise to the level of the tiniest smidgen of what Palestinians endure every day and have for decades. I do it to remind those who pass by of the plight of an oppressed people, whose oppression is facilitated by all of us who do not take a stand against it. At least I used to do it. After much soul-searching over the next few days after that meeting last October, I informed the medical director that I had decided to stop participating in the vigil. While I was already facing a criminal trial I didn't want to lose my job, too.
When the jury found me not guilty, I hoped my boss would no longer threaten me with termination. But three weeks after my victory, he presented me with a contract requiring me to "refrain from conduct, both at work and outside of work, which tends to reflect negatively on the reputation and public image of Employer, which may negatively affect the ability of Employer to retain current patients, attract new patients or attract donations, or which may otherwise in the judgment of Employer's Medical Director reflect poorly upon the public image of Employee or Employer."
When in the course of my attempting to negotiate with the Medical and Executive Directors of the clinic, I protested the vague and restrictive clause. I asked for more specific language and for guidance about what kinds of activities would constitute violation of the contract. They repeatedly criticized my political activities, and finally, the executive director terminated the negotiations, declaring that it was clear that my continued employment would not work, and that we should proceed with determining the terms of my severance.
No one should have to forfeit her constitutional right to freedom of expression to keep a job. It was not a fair contract and I believe that it was presented to me, on a take-it-or-leave-it basis, for the purpose of strong-arming me out the door. I believe that we could have negotiated a fair contract if both parties had negotiated in good faith. If it were not true, as I believe, that my termination is the culmination of months of efforts to force me out, they would have done so. But the saddest part of this story to me is that the needs and desires of so many of my patients to continue their relationships with me don't seem to matter.