Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Who inspires you?

To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty, but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness. What we choose to emphasis in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places-and there are so many-where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction. And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, it itself a marvelous victory. –Howard Zinn

I recently started reading, Then They Came for Me by Maziar Bahari. This is actually the book that Jon Stewart is making a movie about, so you may have heard of it. In the first few chapters I kept thinking to myself that these are the types of stories we should be passing on, telling out friends about, discussing at the workplace water coolers. I know there’s a lot of drama on The Bachelor and everyone is super curious what Kim Kardshian’s baby will look like, but instead of giving these stories so much attention, let’s focus some extra google searches to something productive, positive, potentially world changing. In this post, I would also like to forgive Jon Stewart for abandoning us this summer because Bahari’s story deserves more airtime.

Here’s a list of some documentaries, memoirs, stories I think are worth sharing, stories that reveal the capacity of human actions to reshape the world. Often we romanticize people who’ve passed, your Gandhi, MLK Jr., and we assume that no one is carrying that torch, the torch of peaceful protest. As I mentioned in my last post, there are people all around the world who are fighting for environmental justice, social equality, and political freedom in the face of some pretty daunting obstacles. As I’ve mentioned before, what we give energy to multiples. Let’s honor those, who without extraordinary power, have acted courageously to better their communities. The people on my list are already pretty famous. They have been recognized for their activism, namely many of them have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but I feel that our Western society spends much more time admiring the frivolous or incessantly debating our political differences, rather than being inspired by stories of the audacious and truly brave. These people should be household names.

What does progress look like to you? What stories do you think deserve a little more attention? How do these stories serve us? Maybe you’re not willing to risk political imprisonment. I get it. That’s ok. What can you do? Can you be inspired to strive to act for progress even in some small way? Can you be more conscious of the root of your actions? How do these actions serve you and how do they serve your neighbors?

Personally, I feel that stories like these remind me that even small positive actions are meaningful. If African women can work to forgive their rapists, surely I can let go of some wrong in my past, some burden I’ve been carrying. If Chinese dissidents risk persecution for demonstration, surely I can start a letter writing campaign to my Congressperson.

Add to this list! Tell me about stories, books, movies that highlight people with courage, tenacity, just straight up ballsy-ness. Tell me about people you think are totally badass, putting out positive messages and trying to change the world even though it seems impossible. It’s about what we value. Looking at pictures of celebrities in bikinis does pass the time, but how does it serve you? Let’s spread around some global good news, ya’ll.

Letters from Burma
 1)   Aung San Suu Kyi and the makers of the documentary Burma VJ (2008)

"It is not power that corrupts, but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it."
 From speech, Freedom from Fear, 1990
She may be the world's best known political prisoner, having spent roughly 15 years under house arrest in Burma. During this time, however, she gained notoriety globally through her writing and inspired hope in the hearts of her country men and women living in political oppression.

Burma VJ

Image Source
“There are no outdoor sports as graceful as throwing stones at a dictatorship.”
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Famous for co-designing the Bird’s Nest for the Olympic games, Wei Wei has used his notoriety to draw attention to party corruption in China. 
This documentary is also really entertaining.

3) Liu Xiaobo

This guy’s name is censored in China, you can’t even look him up on Wikipedia without an internet proxy around the Great Chinese Firewall. He has served four prison terms for various crimes such as “disturbing the social order,” and spreading messages to subvert the country and authority, these terms have been from 1989-1991, 1995-1996, 1996-1999, 2009-2020. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for co-writing Charter ’08:
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 “After experiencing a prolonged period of human rights disasters and a tortuous struggle and resistance, the awakening Chinese citizens are increasingly and more clearly recognizing that freedom, equality, and human rights are universal common values shared by all humankind, and that democracy, a republic, and constitutionalism constitute the basic structural framework of modern governance. A "modernization" bereft of these universal values and this basic political framework is a disastrous process that deprives humans of their rights, corrodes human nature, and destroys human dignity. Where will China head in the 21st century? Continue a "modernization" under this kind of authoritarian rule? Or recognize universal values, assimilate into the mainstream civilization, and build a democratic political system? This is a major decision that cannot be avoided.”

4) Leymah Gbowee, Pray the Devil Back to Hell documentary and personal memoir, Mighty Be Our Powers, How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War
“You can tell people of the need to struggle, but when the powerless start to see that they really can make a difference, nothing can quench the fire.” 

Book website
This is what women working together looks like. So, so powerful and inspiring. 
5) The Island President with Mohammed Nasshed
“I do not even like the term negotiate. There is nothing to negotiate with the environment.”

All I really know about Mohammed Nasshed is what I’ve seen in The Island President and his speech in Copenhagen at the UN Climate Summit. There are year old stories in the NYTimes of him resigning from office and back and forth claims that he abused power and that he was forced to resign under gunpoint. He has since been arrested, detained, questioned, and put on trial. The Diplomat, Asia Pacific blog has a good summary. 

6) Mala Yousufazi, 8th grader and Pakistan’s first Nobel Peace Prize winner.
I seriously hope you’ve already read a lot about this girl because she blows me away. Death threats from the Taliban be damned, this girl’s on a mission. There are frequent stories of her continuing activism for female education, like this story from yesterday, June 18th.
“I don’t mind if I have to sit on the floor at school. All I want is education. And I am afraid of no one.”

1 comment:

  1. Wow! You are making me THINK and hopefully DO Melissa. Look forward to reading your blog.