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Posts Tagged ‘human rights’

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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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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A Message About Darfur

Currently, I’m volunteering with a fledgling organization that is dedicated to using art and design to create social awareness about human rights issues across the globe. I’m helping in a number of ways, which includes developing the organization’s web presence, creating a newsletter, project cataloging – and oh, did I mention that I’m also supposed to develop one of their art exhibit tours?! Specifically, I will be handling the print exhibit that showcases the work of photojournalists who visited Darfur.*

Yes, it’s a lot. And there is a lot of work to be done.

But, it’s definitely worth it. In the end, people will get to learn in a new way about the atrocities happening in Darfur, the Congo and other areas of the world where violence has infiltrated the daily social infrastructure. Yet, beyond that, there is a rich, beautiful and powerful heritage that people don’t get to see (or understand). 

I will keep you posted as we take the (baby) steps towards growing the work and spreading the message of this organization.

*If you aren’t aware about what’s going on in Darfur, please read this, this or this.

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