For the last few months I’ve been quite engrossed in both my writing and my activism and I’ve noticed some important similarities between diverse that have allowed them to engage in work that has resulted in some very important changes for many people, many animals, and the environment. I think that it is telling to look at how different women, continents apart, are engaged in seemingly different work using the same focus and goals. While it is always important to shape one’s activism to the conditions in which the harm we are fighting takes place I also think that it is important to see what others are doing that has worked and to exchange ideas that will allow us to further the higher goal that we all hold in common. I would like to take the next few months to first look at the similarities between these groups and then to examine the women and the movements themselves. This will let us acknowledge the work that has been done and to see how the work is linked together. Many times activism is thought of as limited to one specific condition. For quite some time now many resistant thinkers have recognized that all oppression is connected. I think that this will let us see that all liberation is also connected.
The basic similarity that I have seen is a belief that all life is precious, especially that life which is not valued by society. In all of the instances that I have studied, this belief comes from the women’s own experience of violence and oppression. Many mainstream activist movements have targeted the problems of mainstream groups—groups who are considered to be valuable by society. While it is the case that no one ought ever to be treated badly, there is a large difference between, for example, a female attorney facing a glass ceiling and women whose children are so at risk that it is unlikely they will live to adulthood. We don’t have to look very far to see which people and other creatures are valued and which are not.
Most of the advances I have seen have come from this basic belief- all life is precious. One of the first consequences of this mindset is a change in what kind of security activists are interested in promoting. Mainstream movements generally keep the focus on state security- the security of a country, of borders, of laws. That means that little change will come from them since the focus is on securing the way that things are now, even if a few little changes are made. This also means that the people, the animals, and the environment are not a part of the focus and can, indeed, be put in jeopardy by the movements. Many women have started to look at human security and even at what I like to call life security.
A second immediate consequence is that the activists realize that, many times, the danger comes from the people we are taught are there to protect us. As a result of this these activists are ready to challenge anything that affects life in a harmful way, be it an institution, a principle, a law, or a tradition. Many mainstream activists start out with an agenda to protect mainstream institutions. Wangari Maathai, a Kenyan activist, inspired a movement that has many examples of this. The women gathered and challenged the members of the police force who were raping many women.
Another result of starting from this belief is that there is a coming together instead of keeping a separation between the activists and those who are oppressed. Another way to say this is that the solidarity is created between everyone involved. I believe that this stems from the common experience of violence and oppression that these women share. A good example of this kind of solidarity can be found in the women who were killed in El Salvador- they held a belief that the people who were suffering were precious and that, if they really did care, they would share the fate of the people.
The final result that I have noticed is that the activism is one’s life. Many mainstream activists take jobs as activists and have a set beginning and end to the time that they will spend on their activism. That is partially because their work is about a movement and not about the fate of those whose lives are impacted by the current conditions. There is little room for adaptation to the conditions that need to be fought against and the employment conditions allow for one to further remove oneself from the beings and conditions that are supposed to be the focus. This is not to say that all people who can also make their activism part of their livelihood are more focused on the job than the beings and conditions, but it is to say that many people who take these jobs take them as any kind of a job within activism and feel no connection to the beings who are affected.
Over the last few decades, a few women’s movements have changed the definition and focus of security. In Liberia, during the civil war, women came together in a non-violent protest movement to end the war. Their goal was on the security of the people—not of the state. This means that, since the concern was the safety of the people, they had different kinds of demands. Human security means more than just the absence of violence, it means that the people are safe from violence and that they have access to work, material necessities, and other conditions that are needed in order for people to thrive. The women in Liberia demanded an immediate end to the violence as well as help to re-integrate the soldiers with their families and to rebuild and heal the people of the country. Ordinary women came together in order to end a war, they sang, prayed, held hands, wore white T-shirts, and put their demands out every single day. In the end they did, indeed, end the war and made revolutionary changes in the way that the people in their country live. These women have also started to work to end damage to the environment and to end violence against the animals in Liberia. We could call this kind of work life security and define this as ending the damage that humans have caused to the earth, animals, and people as well as the work to heal life and to ensure that future life has the conditions necessary in order to thrive.
In Kenya, a woman named Wangari Maathai started a movement to plant trees in order to address the conditions under which the people were living. In the process of building the Greenbelt Movement, the women involved helped to overthrow a dictator, stopped the degradation of the environment, and raised the standard of living for most all Kenyan people. They have planted over 51 million trees in Kenya alone. This group has worked to end the human-caused damage to the environment as well as to help to heal the earth, the animals, and the people who live there.
Last year I started to work with a large, dispersed group of women who have made saving the animals in shelters the main focus of their lives. We have made a large impact on the animals and many have been saved as a direct result of our work. Most people don’t even know that we exist, let alone have any idea of the work that we do to save the animals who are clearly not valued by our society. We have, without knowing it, shared many of the same beliefs and tactics as the women in Liberia, in Kenya, in Latin America, and in many other places as well.
In Tanzania, a woman named Jane Goodall started a movement to save the chimpanzees. Half a decade later her movement has spread all over the world and has saved not only many chimps but also many people and has had a positive impact on the environment. She has shifted her focus to children and has had amazing results with what they have been able to do. Almost everyone knows who Jane Goodall is.
Starting now I will blog about a women’s movement that has shown these beliefs and tactics until International Women Human Rights Defenders Day, which falls in the official 16 Days of Activism to end Gender Based violence. If you are following me, feel free to add other movements, too and we can see what we can come up with for the 16 days of activism.
Remember- we have to change the world, it’s the only world we have.