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writing for godot

The toughest transition human rights activists have to bring about is: Bring the everyday apathy of people to everyday activism. (United Edge)

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Saturday, 17 April 2021 14:14

Human rights: Food for an apathy busting thought  ‘From anger to action in HR’


Human Rights Reader 573


[TLDR (too long didn’t read): This Reader is about what HR activists’ challenges are in their aim to incite and hasten a solid and wide HR movement. For a quick overview, just read the bolded text].


-As D‘Artagnan of the Three Musketeers said: When the sword is short, to hit, one has to move one step forward. Are we talking about the prospects of success of ‘the pushing’?


General truisms for human rights activists to move/push that one step forward

1. Do not forget:


  • When you let pass the critical moments for action, you cannot run to again capture these critical moments; they are gone… (Federico Mayor Zaragoza)
  • Avoid falling in the trap of opening a ‘dialogue’ when you are talking to a wall. (Nestor Restivo) Yet, an open dialogue is always important; consensus can, in some cases, follow. (Dan Brown)
  • Make it a point to know the needs of your people long before those needs are formulated and verbalized. (adapted from V.S. Naipaul, A Bend in the River)
  • You are not only to better understand, but also to address the limits of the current discourse, as well as to address all the protections that are being denied to people. The mere articulation-of and reference-to human rights (HR), while essential, is far from sufficient. (Sofia Gruskin)
  • You cannot be too careful in the choice of your enemies; you got none who are fools plus they are all individuals (or institutions) of power. (Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray) From your friends you get affection, but what is important is what you get from your enemies. (Albino Gomez) Particularly worrisome are ‘frenemies’…
  • You have to escape from the logic of winning and losing, because what it is all about is rather to give a clear signal, a gesture that conveys the incitement to fight against the choking neoliberal project; a signal that popular resistance can and will overcome reactionary forces; that this resistance will bring out the cry of dignity; and that will move true/direct democracy to the streets out of the realm of parliamentary shenanigans. Central is for you to give clear signals in this direction. With the streets filled by the people, the elites will not have it so easy. (Pelado Gómez, Jorge Sabalza) [The streets give rebellion its fascination, and civil disobedience its charm… (Oscar Wilde, ibid)].
  • If you set the bar too low for our HR aims, what will prevail are mediocre standards and achievements. (Norman Solomon) [Again, are we talking about the prospects of success of ‘the pushing’?]. Much depends on you: That which more than one person is responsible for, no one is responsible for.
  • In your struggles, it makes little sense to limit your choices to the use of either local or global political tools. Both are key. (Anthony Tirado, Gaea Morales)
  • Beware: In your position, you move rapidly from depression to optimism and back down again. It is not that there is no right and wrong in what you deal with. There is no right! You often wonder if the truth ever gets known. The idea is not new.* But there are times when it becomes especially painful.** Sometimes, you just feel that everything you do just goes to waste. …We all have to be prepared to cope with this. (adapted from V.S. Naipaul, ibid)

*: It is distinctly possible to be right (on the side of the truth) and still suffer a defeat. (Albert Camus)

**: Colleagues at United Edge ( have set up what they call ‘failure festivals’ where everyone shares failures. They have found this numbs some of the pain and comes up with new ‘popcorn ideas’. (see below)


The challenge: channeling anger into action


-One ounce of action has the value of one ton of theory. (Friedrich Engels)

-A good idea for action is like popcorn: it is impossible to stop it popping and spreading if we keep up the heat! Let's take inspiration from these ‘popcorn ideas’. (United Edge)

-In a way, to influence a person is to give her/him one’s own soul. (Oscar Wilde, ibid)


2. Hegel’s dialectics are notoriously complicated, but we can roughly define them as the bringing together of opposites in order to show how the contradictions between issues eventually break down and lead to a truer and more encompassing roadmap for action. For Hegel, the dialectical process is at work everywhere. i.e., for him, to arrive at the Universal, one must immerse oneself in the Particular!’ ‘Universal’ and ‘particular’ can then find their common ground through a new synthesis. The HR framework exposes the contradictions between claim holders and duty bearers: Aiming for the synthesis is, in this, the job of HR activists…


3. Individual rage robs the country of any hope of bringing about the collective rage needed for effective action and results. This not-collective-way is the reason why social uprisings that push the country towards a better future relying on individuals only remain embryonic or never occur. (A. Gomez) Aiming for this convergence is the job of HR activists… [Remember? Divided we beg, united we demand!]. And do not worry about conflict: It is far worse to try to avoid it, because you just end up creating new conflict that ends up being more insidious and costly than the original conflictual issue. (Adar Cohen) What kills are not hard realities; the killers are our non-fulfilled dreams. (A. Gomez)


4. So, understand the power dynamics and identify what structurally-weak-public-interest-actors are currently living through. Ask: What is needed to release and mobilize their counter-power and work to achieve positive collective structural change? Such an analysis will help understand how the status-quo can be disrupted and how healthy and sustainable systems can be conceived and set up.


5. There is no one approach to transforming the chokehold of the corporate system. It will involve coalition building; articulation of an ambitious shared vision; strategic use of multi-level institutional processes; social mobilization among like-minded and unusual bedfellows, and organized campaigns; political leaders, and compelling issue framing. Human rights activists can indeed bring out the many ‘weapons of the weak’ that can, against all odds, help recalibrate structural inequalities. (Sharon Friel)


Every time we witness an injustice and do not act, we train our character to be passive in its presence and thereby eventually lose all ability to defend ourselves and those we care for (Julian Assange)


-More than the injustice of the mischievous, I fear the silence of the just. (Mahatma Ghandi)


6. “If man is compelled to have recourse, it is essential, as a last resort, for man to rebel against tyranny and oppression so that human rights should be protected by the rule of law”. (Universal Declaration of Human Rights, 1948)


7. Nobody can argue they do not see what is happening. They cannot continue to keep silent just succumbing to their daily routine. Now, we collectively have voice. Now, ‘we the people’ increasingly have influence. There is no longer an excuse to not-voice-an-opinion, to not-propose-initiatives for radical changes that are now claimable under HR. It has become an intergenerational responsibility. Our descendants will very well be able to say as Albert Camus did: “We despise you, because having been able to do so much, you did so little”. What are you waiting to turn against the current plutocratic global governance? It would seem you are ‘waiting for Godot’. But already Samuel Beckett told us Godot will never come. I am talking of a crime/a sin of silence; of complicity; of being silent spectators; of surrendering to the power of the media. (Federico Mayor Zaragoza)


8. Conversely, our ‘best minds’ (?) throw ‘multistakholder platforms’ and PPPs to our global development problems… The problem with them is that the more wealth you have, the more access you get. (Michael Fakhri) …but this is the topic of another Reader.


Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City

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-Utopia is on the horizon. (u-topia = no place). I move two steps closer; it moves two steps further away. I walk another ten steps, and utopia runs ten steps further away. As much as I may walk, I never reach it. So, what's the point of utopias? The point is this: it makes us continually advance. (F. Berri) Hence, the best way to predict the future is to create it. So, take charge of your life by embarking on that what you always wanted to do. If your goal seems utopian or overwhelming, start small. I could not live without a daily victory, no matter how small. (Carlos Fuentes)

-Finally, remember: If you ask for 100 things from the government, you get one; If you ask for one, you get nothing. (Radha Holla) your social media marketing partner
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