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raceAhead: Women Fighting Isis, Inside the Diversity Lottery Program, and Will NBC Takes a Knee?

Her philosophy is partly spelled out on her arm, in a tattoo’ed poem that reads in English and Arabic. “They don’t deserve to live in my world.”

Hanna Bohman left her life in Vancouver, British Columbia in 2014 and joined the Yekîneyên Parastina Gel (YPG) women’s militia of the Kurdish People’s Defense Unit, better known as the YPJ. She has spent the better part of three years on two tours of duty in Syria, as part of a fighting force aiming to eliminate the scourge of Isis in one small town after another. “People find it weird, I know,” she says. “I wanted to make a difference.”

I had the opportunity to spend part of an afternoon with Bohman recently as she prepared to screen Fear Us Women, a new documentary featuring her story at the Women In Entertainment Conference in Los Angeles. The short documentary is a production of RYOT Films, Academy Award-nominated director David Darg and executive producer Olivia Wilde.

“This is really all about something bigger,” Bohman says. “Right now, there are 10,000 women fighting life-or-death battles. But it’s also about the liberation of women in the Middle East. They’re trying to dismantle a thousand years of patriarchy.”

The film will be available online on November 9th, on Go90.

Only 27 minutes long, it’s a gritty look at the horrors of Isis and the wrenching politics of the region – she’s no fan of Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, for example. But it excels as a matter-of-fact look at the experiences of the often unlikely soldiers who come together for the cause. “I didn’t know a lot of girls before,” she says in the film, looking askance at some young women who were dancing during some down time in camp. “We eat in the dirt, we sleep in the dirt, we do everything in the dirt,” she says of the grim boredom of guard duty.

After volunteering for the YPJ, Bohman was smuggled over the border into Syria, and thrown into the deep end. She expected a five-day boot camp. “It was about four hours of training,” she says. “Luckily I knew how to shoot a gun.”

A confluence of events led the former part-time model and store clerk to leave her Western life and take up arms against a force she calls the “Satanic State.” One was a near-death experience on her motorcycle. “I was thinking about my life, and giving back,” she said. “We build our lives out of opportunity.” Then, horrified by a video she’d seen about Isis, she became incensed at the inaction of governments. She also wondered why, if people could volunteer to fight with them, why there wasn’t an opportunity to fight against them. “Turns out there was.”

While there is no trailer for the film online, I would point you to Bohman’s video diaries, which make up a good portion of the documentary.

In this clip, we find Bohman explaining with an almost unsettling good humor one of the most important battles in her military career. It was the retaking of a big town near the Turkish border called Til Abyad, that had been held by Daesh for nearly a year. “Isis has a huge flag there,” she says to her camera, then laughs. “And we’re attacking them with six of us.”

This attack came after the brutal siege on nearby Kobanê, which while successful, killed 741 of her YPJ sisters. (She explores the wreckage of Kobane here.) At Til Abyad, she’s the only woman available to fight.

In this subsequent video, she explains that the group of six soldiers had grown to a band of twenty, who had been joined by some members of the Free Syrian Army. They were awaiting for airstrikes to finish the job. “We’re going to spend the night here on the dirt on the hill,” she says with soldiers from Croatia and Kurdistan.

It’s a big cognitive and physical leap from Vancouver to Syria. But Bohman tells me, “I’m just wired to fight, I guess.” She talks about the things she’s seen – the aftermath of torture and rape, the decimation of people and cultures that Isis has caused, the many combatants she’s dispatched without a second thought. “Isis believes that if they’re killed by women, they go to hell,” says the trained sniper who is happy to send them there. “I don’t see them as human anymore.”

But the YPJ doesn’t stop their work when Isis retreats, and this is what matters now, she says. The women soldiers have earned the respect of the grateful communities they liberate. “They’re setting up councils and democratic forms of local government,” where women have a seat at the table. From what she’s seeing, the changes seem to be taking. “And that’s a revolution,” says Bohman. “That’s the story.”

On Point

Inside the Diversity Visa Lottery programFlaviu Simihaian, the CEO and co-founder of iMedicare, an online Medicare plan comparison platform, came to the U.S. via the Diversity Visa Lottery program, which has come under fire since it was discovered that the Uzbek immigrant who perpetrated the recent  terrorist attack in New York City had been admitted to the country via the system in 2010. It is not a random lottery, he says. Simihaian was born just two years before the revolution that overthrew Romanian dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, he earned admission to a high school and college in the U.S., thanks to his tennis skills. His mother, an engineer, was the original recipient of the visa, which she extended to her 16-year-old son. The visa allowed him to pursue his education, become a citizen and start a company. “Today, we’re profitable, and employ several dozen U.S. employees — something that would never have been possible if my mom hadn’t been able to share her winning lottery ticket with me.”Fortune

Brands threaten to pull ads if NBC continues to cover the national anthem protests
Linda Yaccarino, the chairman of advertising sales at NBCUniversal, said in her keynote at an industry event on Friday that while no advertisers have pulled out of the NFL, they’ve taken a different approach with the network. They want the protests off television. “Marketers have said, ‘We will not be part of the NFL if you continue covering it,'” Yaccarino said. She declined to name specific brands but did say that she thought the protests had affected ratings.
Business Insider

Coal miners are refusing federal job retraining assistance
When faced with a choice of hundreds of federally funded career training courses in a wide variety of fields, Mike Sylvester from southwestern Pennsylvania chose to double down with a course on coal mining. “I think there is a coal comeback,” he told Reuters. Despite the fact that hundreds of coal-fired facilities have closed and the Appalachian region has lost nearly 34,000 jobs since 2011, mining communities are continuing to put their faith in President Trump’s promise to preserve the coal industry. There are other reasons, too – the jobs pay well and there are no guarantees in a career switch. But new employers won’t enter a region without a trained workforce, putting entire communities in a bind.
Reuters

Why do we tolerate brilliant abusers?
The narrative is always the same. He has a brilliant, unwavering vision, a flair for the dramatic and a cruel streak. He can make a movie or a deal like no other. But entertainment writer Todd VanDerWerff says the Weinstein affair should shatter that narrative for good. “The American entertainment industry is famously motivated by whatever will help it make lots and lots of money, to be sure, but it will almost always indulge an artist’s bad behavior if it thinks he’s brilliant enough.” He is reminded of sets he’s visited where the work was good and people were happy. On Cougar Town and Scrubs where producers had instituted a “no-asshole” rule and stuck to their principles. “You can be uncompromising and certain of your vision while still being kind,” he says. You can be collaborative, too. 
Vox

The Woke Leader

A Sikh motorcycle gang finds faith and fellowship on the road
Sikhism is a quiet faith that’s largely unfamiliar to most Americans, despite being the fifth largest religion in the world. Sikh men are often mistaken for Muslim, particularly due to the edict to “never be without the turban, wear it always.” A minority community the world over, they’ve been increasingly targeted in hate crimes since the attacks on September 11. It’s part of what makes this small group of traveling friends so sweet. The Sikh Motorcycle Club was founded in 2012 by five New Jersey men and their ranks have since swelled to 28. They show none of the swagger displayed by outlaw motorcycle gangs of American legend. Instead, they feel affirmed by proximity to others who share the same faith and minority status. “The bikers ride together in a single line, with more experienced riders in front and at the tail end. These riders haven’t taken the mufflers off their engines; they don’t cut in front of cars; they don’t claim the road. They just ride.”
Buzzfeed

On hope and homelessness in Spokane
Rachel Alexander, a staff writer at the Spokane, Wash. Spokesman-Review, spent the night at The House of Charity, one of the local shelters struggling to deal with a growing homeless population at a time of budget cuts. Once a men’s-only shelter, the facility now accommodates some 110 souls of all genders, most of whom sleep on mats on the floor. Her story is a cacophony of experiences – of minor conflict and snores, of anxious dogs in tow, a possible heart attack, a newlywed couple sitting quietly together for as long as they could before they had to go to separate sleeping quarters. The rules seem to be working. “The staff list is longer and more detailed, starting with an expectation that staff will view each opportunity to interact with clients as a privilege.” But the despair is palpable.
Spokesman Review

The last Hawaiian princess
It sounds like a movie. Abigail Kekaulike Kawananakoa, now 91, is the heir to the estate of a wealthy white landowner and a descendant from one of the most elite Hawaiian families, which includes the powerful chief Kamehameha. But she refers to herself as a princess. Like most self-appointed royalty, her long life has been marked by both romance — a dashing polo player — and scandal, including the unexplained death of a young woman in her estate. The drama continues. She now finds herself in the middle of a dispute over her $200 million estate, much of which had been promised to indigenous Hawaiian people and causes. Part of the issue is her recent marriage to her much younger partner, Veronica Gail Worth, who is being accused of physical and financial abuse. While the drama is the stuff of tabloids, the Hawaiian history is the important part.
Honolulu Civil Beat

Quote

Our government, if [it] indeed is a democratic form of government, must be representative of the different segments of the American society. I feel that the cabinet and the department head of this country must have women, must have blacks, must have Indians, must have younger people, and not be completely and totally controlled constantly by white males.
—Shirley Chisholm