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writing for godot

THE CHALLENGE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVISTS UNFORTUNATELY OFTEN IS THAT THEY HAVE TO DRIVE THE TRAIN AT THE SAME TIME THAT THEY ARE LAYING THE TRACKS.

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Written by schuftan@gmai.com   
Saturday, 30 June 2018 15:56

 

-Activists’ work is about recruiting the heart and training the brain. (Hesperian Foundation)

 

1. For a good human rights activist, a problem well-defined is half-solved. This is why, for them:

  • Satisfaction lies in the effort, not necessarily always in the attainment; full effort is full victory; (Mahatma Gandhi)
  • capitalism is not a dream to realize, but a nightmare realized (the challenge for activists thus is to de-privatize the state); (Eduardo Galeano, Apuntes para Fin de Siglo)
  • converting small victories, into personal victories is a step towards greater dignity; (Carla Guelfenbein, La Mujer de mi Vida)
  • to best act on facts that are evolving day-by-day, activists have to guess what is coming or, better, they have to describe what they would like to happen so they can influence the day-by-day; (Alejandro Calvillo)
  • work done with anxiety about results is far inferior to work done without such anxiety. (J. D. Salinger)

 

Then and now

 

2. In years gone by, praise belonged to those who were able to copy (unable to have an original voice, they repeated echoes) and those who wanted to create were held in contempt. The activists we seek should not imitate, but rather ought to be original in framing their strategies.* Doing so is about reclaiming the power to decide what is important. Framing thus is about making sure they/we set the terms of the debate, using their/our language and ideas. Conservatives have beaten us progressives at this for decades. It's time for a change. (George Lakoff)

*: In the same vein, ponder: What realistic different option do activists offer/contribute-to through just wining and complaining? (E. Galeano)

 

3. Nowadays, activists are not entitled to take a view, unless and until they can argue better against the view(s) than the smartest guy or gal who holds the opposite view. The work for this is the hard part.

  • Activists have to do the necessary reading;
  • they have to talk to anyone they can find and listen to their arguments;
  • they have to think about the key counterpoints;
  • they have to consider the questions under dispute from the perspective of the prevailing unfair system;
  • they have to think not emotionally, but rationally;
  • they need to become their most intelligent critic; and
  • they have to think about how they may be fooling themselves.

It sure takes humility and patience… (Charlie Mungor, Farnam Street)

 

4. Finally here, if you are going to be an activist you are going to be very busy. Get good at time management. (People’s Health Movement)

 

The human rights activist’s limitation: ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together’ (old Ghanaian saying)

 

Never forget: ‘Divided we beg, united we demand’.

 

5. People are using social media for their activism; fair and fine. But would it not be better, instead, for people to join public interest civil society organizations (PICSOs) and/or social movements in person?**. To promote this move, from the other end, activist civil society groups have to reflect-on-how and act to better engage with grassroots individuals and local movements. (Luca Jahier)

**: Social movements are groups centered in the pursuit of economic, social and cultural goals that do not necessarily pursue taking over the political power, but that are decisive in achieving the latter goal or at least in influencing the decisions of the powers-that-be. These movements are multiplying worldwide every time a government infringes or postpones legitimate aspirations of the people. They are like a fertilized ground where new power germinates. (Luis Britto) In them lies our hope as they coalesce and build people’s power.

 

A new year, a new chapter, a new verse --or just the same old story? Ultimately we write the story; the choice is ours (Alex Morritt)

 

-Sometimes, you just want to give up. But, at a minimum, we have to shake the country in its values and tell it to look in a mirror. (Charles Pierce)

 

6. Whether we want it or not, the future will bring new challenges; if we seize them, it will bring new opportunities we must take advantage of. (Michael Josephson) Do not worry about some failures. Experience is a daughter of repeated mistakes. (Marianne Levos) So, I hope that in the future, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, you are making new things happen, you are trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, …changing your world. You may be doing things you have never done before, and more importantly, you are doing something for human rights (HR). (Neil Gaiman)

 

7. Although no one can go and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now-on and contribute to a brand new ending. (Carl Bard)

 

Winning is not the one important first step; what is important is the whole issue about participation and engaging and mobilizing claim holders, as well as engaging duty bearers, regardless of the far away outcome. Before the outcome, it is the doing that counts

 

8. In this regard, ‘Melucci’s Theories of Collective Action’ speak to strategies of activism, and the balance between what a small elite group of organizers (vanguard) can achieve and what mass mobilization will achieve. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Social_movement_theory) These theories look at the tensions concerning which of both is the most successful action to pursue. Part of this tension is whether the aim of the activism is to change government/governance and policy, or primarily to act on the more cultural and ideological aspect of change. Here is a set of questions that address these tensions:

  • Is it true that confrontational activists’ activities must be viewed as ‘real’ activism, and working on policy and research be viewed as less ‘authentic’ and less tangible? (The tensions activists feel in dedicating their time/energy towards activism and balancing that with caring responsibilities/family/friends, etc are not to be taken for granted; they are important. Positive experiences of activism, such as gaining skills and friendships, help to motivate them and sustain their activism and manage potentially dangerous situations).
  • Do activists have to have a solid ideological base? (Yes, if they have to know the principles that they are fighting for; they cannot become an activist with just a number of slogans; such a base helps them to be consistent and follow up on activities).
  • Does the outburst of energy that we see in street protests that are, more and more, denouncing the things that are wrong in this world have to be followed by an organized preparation of announcing in terms of what alternatives have to be proposed to keep and multiply the momentum? (Yes, this is absolutely key for activism).
  • Can activists continuously be denouncing what is wrong without having alternatives to announce, i.e., how things can be done better? (No, we cannot continue to just be reactive; we have to become more and more proactive; we have to organize our activism in a way that pre-empts some of the most possible directions that the forces of status-quo are probably going into).
  • Is it true that if activists continue to believe that they can change the system from within they will be very naif, because the system and the regime have the tools to persevere in their old tricks? (Yes, if we try to compete with the system using the same tools they are, we are going to lose; we need to use something different that leads to mass mobilization and placing demands).
  • Have many activists realized that their comrades were maybe not quite so comradely or progressive thinking as they thought they were? (Hmm…perhaps).
  • Is it hard to separate, for instance, health activism from political activism, e.g., working as a health worker and getting involved more with the politics of the country? (As political contexts change, activist approaches need to change as well; it is the political context that dictates what type of approaches are needed and what will be successful in bringing about change; it is always about: ‘when governments fail, mass mobilization is needed’).
  • Is it important for activists to set up links to create a critical mass of people to bring about change? (Yes, what is missing now is bigger groups of people mobilizing, bigger alliances and networks that are able to make an impact, to aggregate counter-power --and that have a certain level of discipline and a clear ideology. Yes, there are difficulties and hurdles to overcome in managing and maintaining an international movement and creating a movement that is adaptable-to and useful in different local contexts).
  • Is placing more emphasis on local and community work closer to real and authentic activism than working at the global and policy levels? (Yes, closer it is. Therefore maintaining links with the local community and with grassroots activism avoids a disconnection with the people who activists are supposed to be representing at the national and global level).
  • Is educating and empowering people at the grassroots level what it is all about --enabling them to empower themselves and to participate in their own social struggles? (Yes, it also means learning from them. Whether activists work at community level or at any other level, every level must internalize the characteristics of the structure of society, i.e., class, caste, patriarchy, social exclusion).
  • So, being a health activist means being an activist for the justice causes that we are faced with in that particular period of time? (Yes, justice issues very much so include health issues).
  • Is it correct to say that, if activists do not have a constituency, they are not accountable to anybody, even ethically? (No, they are always ethically accountable to local communities).
  • Since activists are trying to change the world around them, must they always remember they also have to change the world inside themselves? (Yes, because they are representatives of what is just and fair and struggle to change caste, class, patriarchy and social exclusion; they have to realize that there is an inside that needs to change accordingly. “I must recognize my complicity in the structures that I want to change, and must be able to learn about my complicity”. Job-related activities that do not contribute in the long run to changing many things or if, as an activist, you are involved in a paid job because of the circumstances of life, you still have to make time to devote to pursue what you believe-in for society).
  • Is it possible to be an activist and be stuck in a narrow silo? (No! Activism is the all around enterprise of changing something, and whatever it is you are trying to change and do, it must be done in person rather than only on Facebook or through WhatsApp or any social media of some sort.  That can complement what you are doing, but it cannot be the core of what you do.  Just do, get up and do.  Activism is being passionate about things).

9. So, if you do not want-to or cannot commit yourself full time to the HR struggle, can you do anything? (And I say, yes, you can; every bit helps --and this is not a contradiction!).

 

Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

Your comments are welcome at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

www.claudioschuftan.com

 

Postscript/Marginalia

-Facetiously speaking, team work is nothing but the possibility of faulting others. (Comedian Diego Capusotto)

-As readers of these Readers you have to realize that you are not alone; that what you do and what you believe-in is important to others as well. This is why we all have to overcome the vast and ingrained range of conscious and/or unconscious convictions that rule our lives. For the novelist Philip Roth what is ‘adequate’ is an imposed value aimed at regulating our most basic impulses. This is why it is not a value written in stone. What is considered ‘adequate’ is only a dam that time and human nature can and do end up breaching. (C. Guelfenbein)

 

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