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Posts Tagged ‘activism’

Photo Credit: stijnbokhove @Flickr

Photo Credit: stijnbokhove @Flickr

Create awareness. Engage new audiences. Pursue and develop dialogue.

I think those steps get lost in the conversation of social justice. People get trapped in semantics (are you going to call it forced child labor or just child labor?) and the evidence of tangible results (what kind of result are you looking for?).

When tying advocacy with rigidly specified definitions, I think you lose purpose – maybe even focus. There is a tone that colors some forms of social justice advocacy that is a mixed bag of guilt, a sense of overwhelming and ambiguity.

We aren’t interested in victimization. We want to know about empowerment. Instead of manipulatively shocking me with photos of disembodied hands with cigarette burns and bruised legs – show me a person. Don’t just show me that something bad happened.

Better yet, show me a person with a story to tell.

People, in a readily conscious way, want to feel a tangible connection. The dialogue is about connection. There is no relevancy in creating distance.

When something seems beyond you – it stays there. On the outer edges of remaining “other people’s problems.” We say, “Too bad – that’s so sad.” Shake our heads and move on to the next news item about The Bachelor overdoing the waterworks on television.

Yet, it’s much easier to bring the content to people who may not, otherwise, seek your conversation. We want them to overhear what we have to say. Loud and clear. And, that’s the point, right?

There is one avenue of writing reports, setting up websites and creating booklets for human rights conferences – it is quite another to create a 3-dimensionality that you and I can touch, read and see on street corners.

And, that is what I think is missing from the conversation of these issues. The dimension of “realness” -making it touchable, heard, felt and seen. Books and articles don’t necessarily do it by themselves.  Yet, when creating this dialogue, activists  (unintentionally) needle potential new audiences  with guilt learning and wagging fingers.

Virtually, alienating the very people from whom they seek support. Look to empower on both ends of the spectrum, from those who are unengaged to those needing the support. When you start there, only then can the real energy of change begin.

It burrows into the mental space of your brain. It stimulates a question that may not have been asked.

It adds, without pause, a third dimension.

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Lynsey Addario
Photo Credit: Lynsey Addario

Jimmy Briggs is telling a story about a Congolese woman he is interviewing.

The woman is describing how she was raped twice in one day.

In the interview, the woman explains that her brother, husband and children were present when she was first attacked in the morning by the Congolese government army.

When they were  finished, the army left the house.

Later, that afternoon, non-government soldiers arrived. They are more brutal. The woman’s husband ran away.

Her brother tried to hide on the rooftop. The militia shot him. The group of men (5 in all) proceeded to rape the woman inside her house. Her children began to call for help outside the home.

The militia men stop the attack and proceed to leave. The woman follows them out. Then, one by one, they shoot each of her children in the back of the head. They proceed to finish the rape.

They leave.

I heard this story while at the Congo/Women opening reception this past Thursday (curated by this organization). The room is surrounded in black and white photos of Congolese men, women and children.

There are huge color photo displays detailing the life and violence in the Congo.

It’s beautiful. Yet, it is also tremendously tragic.

The room shudders with a very still quiet. Mr. Briggs tells the crowd that he wants us to remember this woman’s story. Do not be afraid to remember it. Be brave enough to keep it in your mind.

He wants us to remember that we have the power to change the world if we remember to tell each other’s stories.

Sometimes, the only power you have is simply telling someone else’s story.

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Yesterday, during a rainy and gloomy evening in the Union Train Station, I met up with K, a fellow volunteer with the organization I’m working with to create exhibit tours on human rights. L, the head of the organization, is looking for ways to increase her web presence as well as create avenues for contact besides the standard word-of-mouth and snail mail campaigns.

I suggested she start an e-newsletter, launch a mega-upgrade of her website, and while she’s at it, create a blog (and get on Facebook!). Why not?

Blogs are wonderfully creative ways for small NPOs (as well as small biz/startups) to cultivate interest in their mission as well as develop connections with potential donors and supporters.  Blogs behave as your “active” link between your organization’s website and its official publications – and their awesomely fun, too! Plus, it fosters an environment for e-brainstorming with supporters, donors and other sponsors – people love to suggest things when given an open (but seemingly semi-private) forum.

The e-newsletter that L, K and I are working on will be developed by www.myemma.com, a nifty little website that requires no software, no crazy programming and best of all – it’s super affordable. It only requires a carefully tailored list of contacts that will be uploaded to Emma’s server and divided (as we choose) in various categories of our creation. I can’t say anything more in particular detail yet, but I’m quite excited! It’s a great feeling to see your suggestions put to (much appreciated) good use.

Our goal with the e-newsletter is to be short and sweet. I believe it is bad e-etiquette to clog inboxes with an overbloated newsletter or blast readers with publications that have the visual display equivalent of a 4th of July fireworks show.

Therefore, K and I want to make sure that the initial newsletter is finely tuned to only include very little text and teaser paragraphs about upcoming initiatives and community engagement. We have to figure out other (but, relatively boring) nuances like official organizational wording and formatting, but we are having a blast so far.

This is a great outlet for me, as well as a way to hone my more creative passions. I wouldn’t say that volunteering is for everyone, but if you find yourself bored to tears with a job (or looking to change jobs altogether) volunteering is a great avenue to tread. You can make dozens of contacts, develop a bigger social circle as well work with a cause you care deeply about (or want to learn more about).  

Honestly, I feel like my work with L and K is much more meaningful than anything I’ve gotten paid to do in the last 8 months – and that’s all that matters for right now.

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flagYesterday, I went to a screening of the (not quite so underground) documentary Chicago 10.  Later, that evening, I also went to see Spike Lee’s Miracle at St. Anna.” 

Essentially, both movies cover war and questions of citizenship, although they are set in two completely different types of political and social climate. The common link, however, is the attitudes of citizenship civilians and soldiers develop during wartime, conflict and distress.  

This particular debate has become even more visible in reference to the government’s treatment of its citizens during natural disasters and economic crisis. Hurricane Katrina has led to a mass upheaval of New Orleans residents from their communities with little government assistance for the repurcussions (not to mention, undercurrents of hostilty towards the survivors). Lousianians currently question their place in America and are forced to renegotiate their sense of community. 

Meanwhile, Washington’s mulling over the finer details of a $700 billion dollar bailout  causes Americans to wonder if the financial package will really put the economy back on a solid financial footing. Understanding the link from Wall Street to Main Street has not added much to the fading confidence of struggling Americans in the US financial infrastructure.

Also, the events of 9/11 which place us in the current turmoil of Iraq have created a murky, muddy strain of answers when questions arise of our involvement (and purpose) in the conflict abroad.

What does this have to do with citizenship?

Plenty. 

Recognizing the interconnectedness from me to you, from state to state, from country to country  (and, ultimately, to the world at large) will be equally challenged by the definition of what it means to be citizen.

Does your citizenship include economic stability (should it?)? Does it include government assistance when you are displaced in your own community? What about recognizing your role in the preservation and conservation of nature and humanity? Does citizenshp imply automatic protection?

The simple side of this argument includes that we already know what it means to be a citizen of [insert country here] – what does it include? What parts do individual citizens play in the larger role of contributing to their own nations and communities? What must we expect of ourselves and others (as citizens of America, of the world)? We shouldn’t be allowed to limit ourselves to its base definition.

I know these are broad questions, but they are meant to start an internal dialoge – and then, maybe foster a debate amongst friends. Then, perhaps, it will spread and people will challenge themselves to re-define a simple little word into something more powerful and brilliant than ever before.

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