There's no journalist in Indiana with Fran Quigley's global reach and flair for putting a face on social causes. Imagine how he'd shame the rest of us practitioners if this were his day job.
To be precise on his terms, it pretty much is. Quigley's many articles in newspapers and magazines locally and nationally flow smoothly into and out of his work as a crusading lawyer and as director of the Health and Human Rights Clinic at Indiana University's McKinney School of Law, where he is a professor and mentor to students who take up the grievances of the city's poor.
Three books have emerged from his lived learning experiences: Walking Together, Walking Far (I.U. Press, 2009) about the renowned partnership between I.U. School of Medicine and a Kenyan medical school in fighting AIDS; If We Can Win Here, an account of successful Indy labor struggles of recent years, due out next April from Cornell University Press; and the book of the moment, How Human Rights Can Build Haiti: Activists, Lawyers and the Grassroots Campaign, released this year by Vanderbilt University Press.
The new one's premise is that enforcement of existing legal principles will show Haiti the path out of impoverishment and recurring disaster, neither of which is accidental or untouched by foreign, particularly U.S., hands. Here is an edited rendition of our conversation about the book, its motivations, inspirations and implications.
Sky Blue Window: First of all, why should Hoosiers care about a destitute foreign country of 10 million?
Fran Quigley: The fact is, they already do care. There are an amazing number of people in Indiana who are doing direct service with long-term Haiti partners. It's wonderful. The churches, Catholic and evangelical. It's been transformative for them. And as for those who are not currently engaged, these are all our brothers and sisters, they happen to be geographically close to us -- Port-au-Prince is closer to Indy than to Las Vegas -- and they are suffering in ways that if Hoosiers were to know about it, they'd take action. And they are. You can't go to Haiti without seeing the massive need for systemic change and the U.S. role in it.
SBW: It's a matter of long-term self-interest as well, right? It's a small planet, their struggles influence those of downtrodden people here.
FQ: Yes, but I don't like to look at the selfish, practical level because, given our government's past behavior, Haiti will be looked on even more than it is as a source of cheap labor and cheap agricultural products. Paul Farmer (the famed physician/advocate for the Third World) called his book The Uses of Haiti, as you know.
SBW: Speaking of whom, there have been compelling books written about Haiti. Farmer's, Jonathan Katz's The Big Truck That Went By, Tracy Kidder's Mountains Beyond Mountains etc. What does your book add to the discussion?
FQ: I learned so much from all these folks. I've got a whole shelf of their books. What's different about my book is, like Mountains Beyond Mountains, it does profile heroic folks -- reading about Mario Joseph and Brian Concannon (lawyer/activists) will inspire young people as much as Paul Farmer's story does -- but also, my book is kind of a prescription: "Here's how it can get better."
SBW: And how can it?
FQ: From the grass roots. The effort that brought the United Nations to U.S. District Court for causing the cholera epidemic that killed 8,700 people started with Haitian demonstrations. It was not suggested by the NGOs that flooded the nation after the earthquake of 2012. Dating back to its founding, Haiti has a proud legacy of grassroots activism. They just need allies.
SBW: From the opening page, you present a setting of almost incomprehensible misery, yet filled with individual stories that refuse to fade into statistics. Was it important that this be a "writerly" and not just a "lawyerly" work?
FQ: The goal was to be able to share the struggle of Haiti with folks who have not had the opportunity to see it firsthand. I had a wonderful opportunity to do so. I wanted to tell the real story of Haitians devoted to achieving real justice for themselves and their children.
While awaiting the release of his next book and teaching, Quigley keeps busy, among other things, with prodding the Indianapolis City-County Council to enact a living wage ordinance for city workers, and helping organize the nation's many church-based charitable groups for Haiti into an advocacy vehicle to pressure Washington. To learn more details about the groups, visit the website speakoutforhaiti.org.