Activism is as activism does

Camila Vallejo Dowling

This is (was?) an activist blog, and I saw these two interesting activism articles in the Times this week:

1. Just Don’t Call Her Che: an article about Camila Vallejo Dowling, who is leading hundreds of people for education reform in Chile. According to the article, she beats senators in debates on prime time TV and leads protests with hundreds of thousands of demonstrators. According to the article, she’s the world’s most famous student leader and has the governmment going crazy over how to deal with the issues. Chile, according to the article, is economically successful, and she has still managed to pull people away from their daily lives and get an audience.

I can say honestly that I wish I knew more about how other countries operate. It’s one thing to say, for example, that we like the way Sweden mandates maternity and paternity leave, or how we love Canadian healthcare. It would be better to understand the system from a closer perspective. Is the Chilean educational system really so unfair that people follow Camila Vallejo? Or is this an example of exceptional leadership? I will say that I can’t imagine an American 23 year old going head-to-head with a U.S. Senator in a debate without getting himself/herself whooped, so major props to her!

Too bad I don’t understand the Spanish. Nottyboy, what’s she saying?

2. The Mixtape of the Revolution talks about how hip hop is one of the most potent forces in politics in other countries. The article opens:

DEF JAM will probably never sign them, but Cheikh Oumar Cyrille Touré, from a small town about 100 miles southeast of Dakar, Senegal, and Hamada Ben Amor, a 22-year-old man from a port city 170 miles southeast of Tunis, may be two of the most influential rappers in the history of hip-hop.

Pretty heady stuff.

Someone once asked me: What is activism? I said something along the lines of “creating change that influences a lot of people.” Whether we’re trying to create art outside of The Typical, or whether we’re trying to get people to think differently or whether we’re trying to invest money responsibly, I think that’s the nature of activism.

I do have to say–life looks a lot more dramatic in other places of the world. 200,000 people marching? A hip hop artist whose words are actually getting government to take notice? American students don’t march much these days. And the last time an American politician paid attention to a hip hop artist was when Kanye said that George W. Bush doesn’t care about black people! Whatever happened to this kind of activism in America?

10 thoughts on “Activism is as activism does

  1. Look at the way they protest

    They protest with joy, in the anticipation of freedom not violence. Sheer numbers too.Even read that the students were smart enough to foresee agent provocateurs to try and cause violence to justify a violent reaction

    In the west theres too little unity and too many apathetic careerists. In some parts you could probably see someone shot dead in the streets in broad daylight and most would just carry on with their workday, thats how cold and selfish people have become.

    Its not the bankers fault, its ours for not doing enough/ anything to speak out against their crimes except when it comes to moaning about pay cuts. The west is too damn selfish.

  2. yeah mj is embarrassing but i think it needs to be understood in context. heres what i read:

    ‘These kids have organized from age 12 through college age. Half the middle schools in the country are currently occupied by student protesters. Tens of thousands march through the Chilean equivalent of the Mall in DC every week or so. Every time the police move in with force to disperse the crowds. There is plenty of anger, but it always deteriorates into anarchists vs. police. Nothing is accompished, and I am glad to see some positive protesting’

    basically, consistent positive peaceful protesting gets attention. and violence gets nowhere.

  3. Could it be that the culture changes over time? Maybe the happy kind of protesting works better in this day and age and place (Chile), especially because of internet videos.

  4. My first impression was “cornball.” But then I though about it. How many more people have seen this video and therefore became aware of the protest because of the corny Michael Jackson part of it? Sometimes you have to break the mold to get noticed, and being actually noticed is the first goal of an activist protest.

  5. I have no experience whatsoever with activism. I simply do not feel safe participating in it. There is always the worry that more is going on than I know about, and this is a valid worry, especially if I am being encouraged to demonstrate on the street in the name of some cause, but I have no knowledge of who the organisers of these demonstrations are, what their network and organisation is like, and what they really want to do. In many countries, secret police photograph people at political rallies and meetings and compile dossiers. This does not stop people from following their heart. However it is naive to believe that the innocent have nothing to hide. If you can neither be intimidated or blackmailed, then you can only be coerced, and everybody has a breaking point. Everyone will break eventually.

    Demonstrations, protests and mass assembly are symbolic acts. They have their purpose. When I heard the news about the NDAA provisions, in between trembling mouse clicks I thought that if there was a time for the OWS to make themselves useful it would be now, because even just a hundred thousand ordinary people marching on Washington into a hail of rubber bullets, bean bag, tear gas, water cannon, LRAD and attack dogs would have severely shaken the resolve of those counted upon to usher through those provisions. There would be casualties, but it would be nothing compared to these provisions becoming a reality and taken through to its only final, logical conclusion, by that time decades later. But of course, that was just a wild flight of fancy. Mass assembly is no longer possible, not since the million man march. Americans are also more familiar to being guided and influenced by lobbies, PR firms and mass media, than they are with the vagaries of martial law and the police state, with disappearances of people, walls of silence, economic and social pressure brought to bear on individuals, with the parilla, with murders carried out by criminals and paramilitaries as a form of extra-judicial punishment and terror, with mobs incited to massacre defenceless young and old and commit all sorts of atrocities you do not even inflict on animals, with holding their tongue because what they know and feel can never be said out loud, for not even a moment’s lapse because anybody who could hear could then point you out to anybody interested in taking notice.

    I have noticed that for many years the places and countries I thought of as backwards were not really backwards. They were advanced. They were advanced in levels of human degradation. What I thought of as a remnant of an undeveloped past was actually an advancement brought about by the methodical application of tactics and strategies designed to reduce people.

    We common people struggle to even understand the world around us. If that were not so, then how could there be so many people out there telling us so many conflicting things, drumming in our lessons, subtly and not so subtly showing us our place? How could there be entire industries built around it? There is a level underneath the realm of public consciousness about how the world really works, and until people in general understand this, activism will always fail or do less than what it should. Activism is reduced to a rabble of people agitating for special rights and interests, when it should be about more. It should be an understanding of consequences, motives, interests. In theory this could help protect humanity from the hubris and mistakes of its own leaders.

    This era will decide if any lasting, meaningful impact will come from the efforts of activists, or if as a wise man once wrote, we are helpless, like the animals. Failing this then this new century will not be an American one or even an Asian one, but one where dystopia becomes an irreversible norm and progresses more and more, becoming more advanced, and people continue sleepwalking into it.

  6. By the way, speaking of activism, there was a great David Brooks column recently. He talks about how people who protest these days are only going by feeling, and not doing their research. I couldn’t agree more.

    “If you go out there armed only with your own observations and sentiments, you will surely find yourself on very weak ground. You’ll lack the arguments, convictions and the coherent view of reality that you’ll need when challenged by a self-confident opposition. “

  7. Brooks also goes onto say

    ‘You should attach yourself to a counter-tradition and school of thought that has been developed over the centuries and that seems true. ‘

    and quotes the man Jesus as presenting a new religion or alternative.

    That tradition is basically one of human integrity – love thy neighbour. The system that followed it, Christianity, then became perverted until it became a religion as well and suffocated its original message of love thy neighbour

    So fast forward today, corruption from governments we trusted are staring in peoples faces but instead of taking action for fear of dystopia, we survivalists just bury our heads in the sand hoping it will go away. Undoubtedly, more of doing nothing means more suffering until its us who are suffering and by then it may be too late.

    ‘all it takes for evil to win is for good people to do nothing’. As long as we consider ourselves evil, that phrase doesnt apply.

    Stereotypical Asian apathy included.

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