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writing for godot

AS A HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST, IF YOU DO NOT HAVE A STRATEGY, YOU ARE PART OF SOMEBODY ELSE’S STRATEGY. (Mauricio Torres)

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Written by schuftan@gmai.com   
Monday, 27 May 2019 05:56

 

-Human rights activists that carry out ‘contagious activism’ with a clear strategic vision and clear ideological positions in the global struggle for human rights (HR) Bertolt Brecht called ‘the indispensable ones’.

 

Some people want it to happen; some people wish it to happen, others make it happen

1. In our struggles, we find a few angry faces in the firing line; behind, we find the more serene faces of those who do not intervene, those who are happy to let things continue as they are, those who do not want complications in their lives. The majority of the latter do not move. So it is a very few, a handful, that are the ones that take the reins and move the process for those who do not. (Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451) Sounds familiar? In Albert Einstein’s words: The world is too dangerous to live in, not because of the people who do evil, but because of the people who sit unperturbed and let it happen.

 

2. Optimism in our HR work is good, but blind optimism is too often belied by the troubling aspects of reality.* (Abhay Shukla)

*: From certainty comes error. True. But error also brings about certainty.

 

The organizations we need need people, leadership, ideas and a plan (Tikkun 2:3. 1987)

 

-Even vicious circles can be broken if addressed in a well-planned way!

 

3. Planned activities generate knowledge whether successful or not. Single shot interventions are like a shot in the dark; they do not necessarily hit the target. Then, be careful, too much evaluation of plans set in motion often leads to what I call ‘paralysis in analysis’.

 

Human rights activists must tell people who say “it cannot be done” to get lost --that people are already doing it! (Dato Anwar Fazal)

4. As activists, we never loose hope that, one day, man will come to cry on the shoulder of his fellow man --unfortunately then it will be too late. (Jose Saramago, La Balsa de Piedra)

 

5. Hope is not blind optimism; it instead is an engagement with the world, a way of facing what is happening and believing you have the power to change things for the better. (Katherine Viner) I add: The side without the power is always the side accused of being irrational… (X. Zhang)

 

6. Activists have to skillfully determine the best ‘social change moment’. When the same comes, intellectuals generally have more liberty and run a lesser risk than activists when they speak up.** But this does not deter determined activists. (Maria Angelica Illanes)

**: Better lose the saddle than the horse…

 

Taking action: The people rising --Anwars’ credo

-If we do not have a good mapping of who is doing what, where and how, we will never have a sound base on which to build the kind of transformational actions that will make the difference, i.e., fostering the needed leap forward.

 

7. Knowing local politicians: Politics is the way things are run and one must learn how to influence those who have political power. By doing what?

  • First, think power and politics: understand the nature and the structure of power and politics in your society;*** know how the decisions are reached and fully utilize the pressures that make the politics work for you.
  • Second, think multiplying leadership: recruit not just more followers, but more leaders, especially among women and youth.
  • Third, think lateral: link with other groups including the mass media, women, ecology, youth and religious groups…
  • Fourth, think everywhere: encourage the proliferation of autonomous self-reliant groups at all levels and all places; little victories have a way of creeping up to become national revolutions.
  • Fifth, think action: there must be a constant stream of simple, high profile doable activities that must be specific and have visible targets.
  • Sixth, think structural: look at the root causes of the problems, not just at the symptoms. (Dato Anwar Fazal)

***: It is difficult for a person to understand something if their salary depends on not understanding it. (Al Gore)

 

Marion’s Credo

8. Activists credo to be effective: be prepared; do your homework; think through your options; have a fallback position; know your opponents and how to get around them; know your allies; take nothing for granted; pay attention to detail; check all your bases; then follow through. Furthermore, be specific, be persistent, be positive, be confident and faithful to the cause and be courageous. (Marion Wright Edelman)

 

Reinhard’s credo

9. Activists are usually comfort busters, disquieters, denouncers, alter-egos of the NGO community, and callers to action reflection. They ought to master how to go from getting information to mounting an argument, to organizing action, to standing up for a common cause, to resist, to oppose to redirect, to counter. They do not romanticize the victims. They must not go back, but forward, and their task is to define where forward is! All this has hardly been done so far. We all have to stand up and strive instead of lamenting. (Reinhard Thiel)

10. No group has made changes without courage. Therefore, activists must speak out without fear or favor as they organize groups and actions around people-felt issues; they must do this without resorting to violence.**** If, on the other side, our own HR leadership is confusing and contradicting us or is clearly careless, then we must not be afraid to also speak out. (Dato Anwar Fazal)

****: I object to violence, because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary, the evil it does is permanent. (M. Ghandi)

 

Are human rights activists advocating for? On behalf of? or Through?

 

-Activists are a special avant-garde with the role of causing fermentation.

 

11. There are four essential strategies for political advocacy movements applicable to HR work:

  • Building strength from scientific evidence;
  • exposing human drama of the situation including economic costs an how the problem will worsen in the future to create urgency for change;
  • exposing the principal causes of the problems to foster a strong public voice; and
  • presenting specific and feasible actions. (The Lancet Committee on the Global Syndemic of Obesity, 2019)

 

12. It all boils down to concentrating on a few issues, calling them core issues and certainly not losing focus on the macro issues. Activism work includes work in the big and the small league. Highlighting success stories early on is crucial.

 

13. Furthermore, HR activists have to cross-over disciplinary lines. What counts is what they do as mobilizing agents (as facilitators, as animators) and what they do to bring about consensus and ultimately obtain a mandate for action.

 

Ultimately, what you push is what you change

 

14. Activism is a question of drive. The driving factor: either you have it or you do not have it. What makes it what breaks it?

 

15. Not to despair, each time an activist stands up for an idea or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, s/he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope. (Robert F. Kennedy)

 

16. The choice between using confrontational or cooperative means depends on circumstances being faced. But beware: Spur-of-the-moment street protest movements use big words, are most often more anti- than pro- and, therefore only create bigger perplexity.

17. Human rights activists do not forget!

-       What and how you ask is what you will know. You have to ask: Are decisions taken based on perpetuating the status-quo or are they bringing about greater equity and greater respect for HR?

-       Applying a too low level of resources is wasteful since it does not mean the problems will be solved proportionately more slowly; they will not be solved at all until a sufficient level (a threshold) of resources is committed. Therefore, people you work with are to fight for their rights including a certain share of resources.  (When in competition, who gets the resources, he who is right or he who has muscle? Who has muscle? He who controls resources --and information that is definitely a resource. …) Remember: As a resource, information is both an armor and a weapon.

-       Since the objectives of HR work is not to stabilize the problem, but to make it disappear, accountability is not about whether services are being provided, but tackling the problem at its roots of why they are not being provided as they should. Activists are thus to give the structural causes of oppression a face and a context, because they are otherwise nebulous to the people. They must throw some light and operationalize these causes. But, beware, exposing the structural causes makes HR activists ‘dangerous’ in the eyes of the Establishment.

-       Do not condone procrastination. On HR, we need reciprocal commitments by the local, national and international community perhaps starting with a committed anti-poverty (disparity reduction!) alliance.

-       Divide up the difficulties so as to make it easier to overcome them one-by-one.

-       Myths are seductive. They crowd out facts --and when the facts make a compelling case for action, myths must be buried, because myths make people complacent and stifle their imperative for action. (Lawrence Haddad)

-       The routes to real impact are dependent on how we navigate these routes to keep them both operational and operating.

-       Official inquiries carried out by HR activists are not to be limited only to determine the fundamental whys, but also the not so superficial hows of the affairs at hand. (Joseph Conrad, Lord Jim)

 

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

-Experience is not what happens to you, but what you do with what happens to you. (Aldous Huxley)

-It may be easy to meet, but not easy to act together. Are the rich more united? They close rank very rapidly, no…?

 

 

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