RSN Fundraising Banner
FB Share
Email This Page
add comment

writing for godot

Things change when a critical number of persons is reached who think and act in a certain way.

Written by   
Saturday, 23 May 2020 21:47

Human rights: Food for passing-on a thought   ‘HR activism’


Human Rights Reader 528


-The abolitionist movement in the US started with some Quakers saying that slavery was immoral. The movement then grew, and thus things changed. (Isabel Allende)


[I have learned a lot about activism in my years of circus. I now take this Reader to take stock of that experience. I can distill a good part of it in the form of more of my iron laws for human rights activists (in no particular order)].


Human rights activists: advocates or change agents? What is the difference between the ‘ability to intervene’ and a ‘decision to intervene?


  • Activists need patience and passion. It is not enough to have all the right ideas and attitudes, but with no real passion and no real moral center.
  • Avoid anger if not whole-hearted about it.
  • Come up with a plan that defines the major steps or milestones needed to move towards your vision or preferred future. (Save the Children)
  • Courage is willingness to take the risks once you know the odds. Optimistic overconfidence means you are taking the risk, because you do not know the odds; there is a big difference here. (Daniel Kahneman)
  • The human rights (HR) activists’ main job is to have claim holders persistently resist, build a movement from below and sustain pressure on the government. (TNI)
  • How do we make ourselves heard among so many voices?  Punch! Analyze facts from a close-to-the-people perspective. Over and over ask why…..
  • Human rights activists ought never to give grounds to be criticized for being single-issue activists.
  • I always urge HR activists to recognize that generic statements do no good, because no one feels the heat to change. (Kenneth Roth)
  • We need a few but pure that can and must speak up with much more volume, intention and consistency. If we speak of activism in terms of gears, the small cogwheels have to move the big cogwheel.
  • One cannot credibly develop policies before one has a national consensus on the causes of the ongoing HR violations. The consensus leads to (or is) the policy. This means that HR activists ought not put full pressure on government too early.
  • Only eloquently presenting a problem and its remedy does not necessarily make a difference. It is not just about sharing an interesting/important idea. It must foster common ground so as to convey a sense of empowerment for action.
  • Your responsibility: People’s passivity has to be turned into involvement.
  • Politicizing the debate and the issues means: speaking up (do not forget we are a majority!), asking the whys and denouncing flagrant contradictions. Thinking is not sub-vocal speech, therefore, speak up!
  • Stop being defensive about your idealism.
  • The activists’ credo: Start with William Shakespeare: Love everybody, trust only some and harm nobody. Do not make people feel guilty. Furthermore, orchestrate pressures, align interests, identify champions, go for early wins, reach tipping points, map the big picture, point out the cost of delayed decisions. Identify, befriend and join forces with strategic allies. Identify and neutralize strategic enemies. (But beware, reality changes fast; enemies can become allies. Why? Because networking-of-the-oppressed-against-the-common strategic-enemies is constantly being deflected by the powers that be).
  • Standing up for a common HR cause often means to oppose, to resist, to redirect, to counter, to denounce. The right to information is thus an armor and a weapon in HR work. Denouncing present alternatives, showing the way and suggesting new alternatives, HR activists have to be comfort busters, disquieters, the alter-egos of the public interest CSO community and have to call to reflection and action when they denounce external funding agencies.
  • The efforts to bring together, melt and distill individual experiences to face emerging challenges is to become a higher priority for HR activists. As new alternatives emerge, they need to be explored. They need to come up with concrete and sensible recommendations and with a renewed commitment to see them through.
  • The mobilization of claim holders activists engage-in is ultimately for claim holders to actively demand needed changes.
  • Unite around one major cause; do not wait to grow; members will join-in through action, even if unambitious at the beginning; it is following grassroots desires that is the basis for such actions.
  • The disempowerment of the haves is the key tool to fight inequality; it is to be used beyond just a slogan to rally support for the self-empowerment of the have-nots. Human rights activists must, therefore, make combating disempowerment the focus of their work! This will mean, among other things, mobilizing claim holders: a) to counter reluctant duty bearers (‘obstacles that wear pants or skirts’), b) to counter utilitarian approaches (e.g., intervening because it is cost-effective), c) to go for measures that reduce the power of the haves (as opposed to going for ‘poverty reduction measures’), d) to consolidate a militant youth movement, e) to make the seeking of redress/justice of HR violations their central focus, f) to create/strengthen as many as possible national HR commissions, and g) to push for national legislation based on economic, social and cultural rights, the Convention of the Rights of the Child (CRC) and the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)…
  • It is not about trying to load all these new responsibilities on your shoulders and make you feel guilty. It is about trying to start a process (with you as an active agent) of increasing the swell of people who understand these trends and do give a damn and decide to be counted and do something about them. Individually, you will not --and are not called to-- do the needed changes. We are asking you to take the responsibility to be a catalyst and validator of the changes needed to at least avert further deterioration of the HR situation. Become active in your own environment in helping to empower popular movements from below. This is what it is all about. Do not be intimidated: the silent majority is probably behind you on most issues.
  • Be optimistic! We shall overcome…but things are going to become worse before they get better…


From the above, flow some aphorisms I have gathered


-People you fully trust will return to you that trust. (Abraham Lincoln)


  • Success always happens in private and failure in full view.
  • Activists ineffectiveness does not diminish duty bearers’ obligations.
  • All things eventually fold. Things never fail to fail. (John Updike, The Centaur)
  • Reality is not objective; it is socially constructed and controlled. So activists can construct a new reality around HR…
  • Do not forget: There are important unimportant pieces in any game… (Graham Greene, Our Man in Havana)
  • Fire can bring about illumination, as well as heat.
  • Free are those that create, not copy; those who think, not obey. Teaching is teaching to doubt. (Eduardo Galeano)
  • Fundamental change is impossible without entering into conflict with the powers that be (an oldie).
  • Reality is seeing shades of grey; issues are not black or white.
  • Idealism, particlarly if uninformed by experience, is abstract and dangerous. (A. A. de Vitis)
  • Not to advance is to regress. Advance to where? That is the question… Beware: The world does not know where it is going to, but it sure goes fast.
  • A protest always also ought to be the beginning of a proposal!
  • Talmudic teaching: While we may not be able to complete the task, we are not excused if we do not start addressing it (the oldest).
  • The activist’s job pays in migraines…


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

All Readers are available at



The human rights activist’s existential questions (Luis Weinstein)

  • Do you ever briefly think about the origins/history of your own prejudices?
  • What is your most conservative side? What do you think about it?
  • What is the difference between rigidity and discipline?
  • What is the question that allows you to maintain hope in the freedom of wo/man?
  • In what moment of your life did you feel you grew by becoming politically conscious? What prompted that change?
  • What good and bad characters are within you?
  • What did you learn from some of the big conflicts in your life?
  • What, for you, is a concrete utopia? Did you ever have one? If yes, What was/is it?
  • How can you reduce the distance between what you think about politics and what you actually do in everyday life? What was the process that led you to it?
  • Is it possible for you to actively engage with the idea of a more just society? ..and beyond an idea?
  • Is it possible to be free when there are so many human beings that are not?
  • How would you explain to a five year old what HR are?
  • What questions would you pose to someone who claims to be ‘socially responsible’?
  • Do you have somebody who can be like a mirror to you, showing you your prejudices, rigidities, your black and white points?
  • Do you happily join someone that is working on a social program that is not necessarily your own?
  • Which of your fears are your own, which those of any human being? Which of them relate to the world we live in?
  • How do you perceive the similarities and differences between men and women?
  • What, for you, is a renewal in a sociopolitical sense?
  • What, in your opinion, is the relationship between spirituality and hard facts?
  • Ever had a desire to care about nothing? If so, was it associated to some past experience? Did it block you in your search for meaning?
  • Is our collective thinking a triumph of evolution or a fog hiding stark realities?


[I apologize for this Reader being so ‘enumerative’ and ‘bullety’…packs-in a lot]. your social media marketing partner
Email This Page


THE NEW STREAMLINED RSN LOGIN PROCESS: Register once, then login and you are ready to comment. All you need is a Username and a Password of your choosing and you are free to comment whenever you like! Welcome to the Reader Supported News community.