-The struggle against inequality, against human rights violations and against poverty calls for activists willing to struggle for life.
-Without conflict there is no progress. (William Blake)
-The challenge activists face is to pull out potential claim holders from where they are to take them where they have not managed to get by their own desire or will. (Alejo Carpentier)
A revolution of expectations only comes from creating and fighting for true alternatives
-Those who have money abhor any revolution while those like many of us –who are the majority and growing every day– do ask for revolutionary changes. (A. Carpentier)
-You cannot win if you do not fight. You cannot win a fight you are not in in and that you are not prepared for. It is really that simple. (Ben Betz)
1. Activists cannot be unanchored, with only a faint idea what lies ahead. They must have an idea of the scale of things at stake, an idea of the historical time and, more so, of the historical lessons learned. (V.S. Naipaul) To credibly and convincingly disagree, they must first understand well. They have to read attentively, listen carefully and watch closely. They need to grant adversaries perhaps moral respect*, but not necessarily political respect. Furthermore, if activists want to be clever, they have to learn how to ask cleverly, how to listen attentively, how to respond quietly, and how to stop talking when there is nothing more to say. (Leo Tolstoy)
*: True morality consists not in following the beaten track, but in finding the true path for ourselves, and fearlessly following it. Do you have this courage? (Gandhi) As Gandhi observed: ‘Cowards can never be moral’ …much less so political.
2. Successful partnerships activists get-into often start at a personal level, but are then to continue to an institutional and then all the way to the national level. While mutual admiration, respect and collegiality are essential to create the foundation of effective partnerships, it is the institutional and national dimensions of collaboration and partnerships that define how, ultimately, benefits accrue to claim holders.** (COHRED)
**: Beware: By building mini-coalitions that work alongside one another, groups must avoid the Achilles heel of coalitions, i.e., descending to the lowest common denominator, sacrificing impact in pursuit of everyone agreeing. (Andrew Hudson)
3. The list of to dos for activists is long, but unwavering:
• Instead of avoiding confrontation, activists are to dive in. They must set aside quality time to dedicate and focus on the specific area they want to improve.
• Although for activists to look at why something is happening is key, so is analyzing why what ought-to be is not happening. (Joel Mokyr)
• To live in freedom, activists must grow used to a life full of agitation, change and danger, a life devoid of stability, of security, but with a clear identity and with honor, even when modern life overflows with the temptation of material goods. (Alexis De Tocqueville)
• Also, human rights (HR) activists are to challenge international NGOs to recognize their inability, their unwillingness, their powerlessness and/or their incapacity to do the ‘good’ that they purport to do (adapted from Ivan Illich) –‘purport’, because they keep working outside the realm of the HR framework.
• And perhaps a bit ‘out of the box’: As much as possible, HR activists are to use positive, solution-focused language. So, for example, use vision instead of problem. There is quite a bit of research out there now that shows how positive language produces oxytocin in our bodies –which is much better for us than the cortisol produced by thinking about problems. It is thus also much better at enabling us to think creatively. (Alice Welbourne)
Activists’ attack is really a defense (Paulo Coelho)
-Activists are the few of us who are really the voice of the many. (Julio Monsalvo) But beware of ‘boutique activism’, the one that is mainly about branding itself as such, but not really being about promoting justice and fairness. (Chris Hedges)
4. Human rights activists may seem aggressive, but this is because their passion to confront is, in reality, a creative passion. If they were not aggressive …publishers would soon stop producing newspaper, magazine and journal articles about the HR movement. TV programs would devote no strands to the HR plight, sociologists would write learned articles totally ignoring the HR movement.
5. So, if HR activists behave in the guarded way people expect them to behave, they will become ineffective. It requires enormous self-control not to succumb, because their natural tendency is to want to please. If activists do that, they will lose not only their self-esteem, but what they have achieved in their work, as well as taint their future and loose any respect for what they do and write.
6. Hence, given the way that HR activists/defenders live these days, they enjoy one hour of anxiety for every minute of peace. But, mind you, no one is alone in their troubles; there is always someone else thinking or suffering in the same way; and that gives activists the strength to confront the challenges before them.
7. Finally here, activists must avoid two great problems: The first is knowing when to begin, the second is knowing when to stop. (the above from Paulo Coelho in his novel The Zahir)
Often what looks like a defeat is not such
Activists are often preventive pessimists; they always expect the worst and prepare for it.
8. A life dedicated to the struggle for a fairer, more solidary and truly democratic society requires a full devotion to such a noble cause. But the problem is that perseverance is no guarantee of likely results to show for. This may sound a bit depressing. We have all witnessed the veritable dismemberment of the Left, because reaching the goals set has been so elusive. Repeated setbacks create additive disappointments that lead to frustration and often to an abandonment of the cause. But if we look more closely at the efforts and actions of growing numbers of activists that are devoting a large part of their time to the struggle for HR and social justice, the outlook is not grim at all. (Arturo A. Munoz)
9. To win, HR activists are actually in the business of eliciting effective demands from claim holders (effective demands understood not only as placing demands in front of pertinent duty bearers, but also claim holders showing willingness to invest/give up resources they hold).
10. In order not to face defeat, further attributes that need to be in the mindset of HR activists include:
• they cannot stop when they have achieved something;
• they must understand that initial achievements are just the beginning; they have to have more than a single issue goal in mind;
• in their minds, they have to plan for a sequence of processes to arrive where it is needed;***
• they have to understand the limits of their circle of competences;
• they must not give up at the first sign of trouble and assume they are failures;
• they have to look at failures as inherent to the process of eventually succeeding;
• they have to pass on their wisdom and advice; and
• they must accept responsibility and realize that they have to work with the world as they find it. (Farnam Street)
***: It is here useful to refer to Amartya Sen’s distinction between ‘culminating’ outcomes and ‘comprehensive’ outcomes. Culminating outcomes are those where the objective is achieved, regardless of the process, i.e. winning at any cost. Comprehensive outcomes consider the process of reaching an objective, through dialogue and persuasion, not by imposition.
11. The problem with activism is that although many single-issue movements have sprung up at the national and international level, these rarely see themselves as a unified movement; their many battles, big and small, are, more often than not, conditioned by their local or thematic context. This is the reason why, as HR activists, we have begun to explore and set up ways of weaving theoretical and practical approaches into a-wider-struggle-for-social-and-political-change.
12. Ours is an age when it is impossible to pry one crisis apart from all the other. They have all merged, reinforcing and deepening each other …like one threatening, multi-headed monster. So, social movements must start to dream together, laying out bold and different visions for the future –visions that present credible pathways out of these crises. And, most importantly, they must begin engaging with political parties to try to increase counter-power, moving away from the heat of the different single issue campaigns being waged there. More time must be set aside to deepen the relationships between issues and movements, so much so that our solutions have to address the multiple crises at once. In all our countries, we can and must do more to connect the dots between economic injustice, racial injustice, gender injustice and so many other injustices… We must fight against the forces of conformity keeping us divided. To keep ourselves protected, we simply have to demand more of ourselves. Winning is a moral imperative. The stakes are too high, and time is too short to settle for anything less. (Naomi Klein)
Claudio Schuftan, Ho Chi Minh City
all 400+ Readers can be found at www.claudioschuftan.com
[As I have said before in these Readers, my intention is not to make HR activists some kind of super-human super-heroes. I just try to highlight the needed attributes of good, dedicated leadership –of which, I have to say, there is quite a bit out there].
-The future depends on what we do in the present. (M. Gandhi)
-Sometimes it is necessary to get away from things –put an ocean in-between– so we can then see things from up closer. (A. Carpentier)
-I never seek to defeat the man I am fighting; I seek to defeat his confidence. A mind troubled by doubt cannot focus on the course to victory. Two men are equals –true equals– only when they both have equal confidence. (Admiral Yamamoto Isoroku, Japanese Imperial Navy)
-When we fight upstream against a rocky undercurrent, every foothold takes on a kind of urgency.
-Nobody who has alleviated the misery of his fellow humans will have failed in this world. (paraphrasing Charles Dickens)
-Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. (Friedrich Nietzsche)
-The social process towards emancipation will not disappear if one leader disappears. The process may take longer, prolong itself, but ultimately cannot be stopped. (President Salvador Allende in his farewell address before taking his life)
-Every generation believes that it must battle the unprecedented pressures of conformity; that it must fight harder than any previous generation to show its moral integrity. …and this is right. (Maria Popova)