Community Advocacy on Environmental and Social Justice

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Reclaiming Activism.



    World Peace Foundation
     
    For most of my adult life I introduced myself as an “activist” first
    and a writer, researcher, or practitioner of humanitarian action or
    peacemaking second. Then, about seven or eight years ago, I became
    rather uncomfortable with the word. Not because I had diluted my
    personal commitment to working in solidarity with suffering and
    oppressed people, but because a group of people, in whose company I
    didn’t want to be, were claiming not only to be activists but to
    define “activism” itself. I am speaking of course about the policy
    lobbyists in Washington DC, also known as “designer activists,” who
    took on the role of promoting certain causes related to Africa, and
    who arrogated to themselves the privilege of defining these problems
    and identifying and pursuing ostensible solutions. It was no accident
    that those purported solutions placed the “activists” themselves at
    the center of the narrative, because many of them were Hollywood
    actors—or their hangers on—for whom the only possible role is as the
    protagonist-savior. The actions they promoted all had one thing in
    common: using more U.S. power around the world.
     
    I was not the only one to find this arrogation of “activism”
    offensive, demeaning and counter-productive. One of the most
    refreshing aspects of our recent seminar at the World Peace Foundation
    was finding out just how much the consensus among national civil
    society activists from Uganda and Congo, as well as Sudan, has
    coalesced around the view that the basic narratives and policy
    prescriptions of the Enough Project and its ilk are not only
    simplified and simplistic, but actually pernicious. Theirs isn’t
    activism: it’s insider lobbying within the Washington establishment
    using celebrity hype as leverage. They are not just a benign variant
    of advocacy, perhaps somewhat simplified: they are wrong.
     
    It’s time to reclaim activism. It’s time to reassert some of the
    fundamental principles that made activism an honorable vocation and
    practice.
     
    Some of the principles are contained in blog posts relating to our
    February-March seminar, easily findable under the tag “advocacy.” Let
    me outline three such principles.
     
    First, activism should be undertaken in partnership with affected
    people, under their leadership. It should facilitate those people
    defining the problem for themselves—it is only by defining their
    problem that they can ever be master of it, rather than it becoming
    master of them. It should be sensitive to their leadership. Activists
    should be alert to the possibility that local people will be dazzled
    by the illusory prospect of outside salvation and surrender their own
    leadership to their supposed foreign friends. And so activists should
    approach the people with whom they hope to act, in a spirit of
    humility and self-effacement. That is the practice of solidarity.
     
    Second, activism should seek truth and speak truth. That means being
    honest to the facts, and doing the hard work of finding out realities,
    and when required, changing one’s mind accordingly. There should be no
    sacrifice of uncomfortable and complicated truths for the sake of
    simple messages that foreign audiences can understand and to which
    they can relate easily. A central part of activism is the hard
    intellectual work of understanding.
     
    Third, activism should challenge power. That doesn’t mean abandoning
    the pragmatics of calculating effort and impact, of calibrating
    intermediate and strategic goals. But it does require being honest
    about where the greatest concentrations of power lie, and how that
    power is utilized, and making that power uncomfortable, at least.
    Lobbying that merely adjusts the trajectory of super-power policies,
    in directions that are not uncomfortable for that superpower to shift,
    is not challenging power, but giving power an alibi. The U.S.
    government didn’t need the Enough Project to know that bad things were
    happening in Darfur, that Joseph Kony is a villain, and that the war
    in eastern Congo is causing desperate suffering. But maybe it needs
    principled and brave people to tell it that the interventions in
    Somalia, Libya and Mali are deeply problematic, that its friends in
    power in Juba, Kampala and Kigali need to be more honest and less
    militaristic. “Activists” who pick only on the already-identified bad
    guys are at best activists-lite, whose inconvenience to policymakers
    is that handling them takes up precious time. If these policy
    lobbyists did mount such challenges, they might lose some of their
    insider access and glamour, but they might gain our respect.
     
    So: three clear principles to guide an individual or organization
    aspiring to the honorable term “activist.” One: act in solidarity and
    support of the affected people, and don’t impose on them. Two: be
    honest to the facts, and open to inquiry into the facts. And when the
    facts change, change your mind. Three: be ready to challenge the
    biggest powers: the U.S. government and its allies.
     
    http://sites.tufts.edu/reinventingpeace/2013/04/30/reclaiming-activism/?utm_source=buffer&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Buffer:%2Bviewfromthecave%2Bon%2Btwitter&buffer_share=076f9
     

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Hi Eroo !! Whats your Views on this ?