The secret to effective nonviolent resistance

17 Jun

We’re not going to end violence by telling people that it’s morally wrong, says Jamila Raqib, executive director of the Albert Einstein Institution. Instead, we must find alternative ways to conduct conflict that are equally powerful and effective. Raqib promotes nonviolent resistance to people living under tyranny — and there’s a lot more to it than street protests. She shares encouraging examples of creative strategies that have led to change around the world and a message of hope for a future without armed conflict. “The greatest hope for humanity lies not in condemning violence but in making violence obsolete,” Raqib says.


Kenyan protesters release pigs over parliament pay

The secret to effective nonviolent resistance

Spain’s hologram protest: Thousands join virtual march in Madrid against new gag law

15 Apr
Getty/Pablo Blazquez Dominguez

‘You will only be allowed to express yourself if you become a hologram’

Late last year the Spanish government passed a law that set extreme fines for protesters convening outside of government buildings.

In response to the controversial Citizen Safety Law, which will take effect on July 1, Spanish activists have staged the world’s first ever virtual holographic political demonstration.

After months of massive flesh-and-blood protests against the so-called ‘gag law’, thousands of holograms last night marched in front of the Spanish parliament in Madrid.

Organised by the group Holograms for Freedom, ghost-like figures holding placards took aim at the imminent draconian measures, arguing that holographic people are now afforded greater freedoms than their real-life counterparts.

Getty/Pablo Blazquez Dominguez

The ‘NoSomosDelito’ (meaning: ‘We are not crime’) movement – composed of more than 100 different organisations – called upon sympathisers around the world to participate in the landmark event by simply webcamming their face via the campaign website.

More than 2,000 virtual images were sent and used in the hour-long hologram demonstration, El Pais reported.

Under the Citizens Safety Law, it is illegal to gather in front of government buildings without permission from authorities; this includes everything from universities to hospitals.

Organisers of unauthorised demonstrations could be fined up to €600,000, with further €600 fines for disrespecting police officers, and €30,000 for filming or photographing them.

Getty/Pablo Blazquez Dominguez

In a video promoting the protest, a spokeswoman said: “With the passing of the Gag Law, you won’t be allowed to assemble in public spaces without risking a fine.

“Ultimately, if you are a person, you won’t be allowed to express yourself freely. You will only be able to do it if you are a hologram.”

Spokesman Carlos Escano told Spanish newspaper El Mundo: “Our protest with holograms is ironic.

“With the restrictions we’re suffering on our freedoms of association and peaceful assembly, the last options that will be left to use in the end will be to protest through our holograms.”

via The Independent.

How to Define “Civic Engagement”?

15 May

There is no single answer to this question, which is deeply contested. The definition of “civic engagement” should be contested because it relates to basic questions about what constitutes a good society and a good human life.

To illustrate the debate, I post some definitions below. Some of the ways in which they differ include: the centrality of reflection or knowledge versus action; whether engagement is understood as relationships between the citizenry and formal institutions or as horizontal relationships among citizens (or both); whether the local, the national, or the global scale is emphasized; the balance of civil rights versus civic responsibilities; the importance of morality and ethics; the degree to which good citizens are thought of as deliberating, advocating, monitoring, caring, and/or working; whether civic engagement is tied to democracy or can also occur in other contexts; and whether to specify social outcomes as the objectives of civic engagement or rather to define it as a pluralistic debate about what social outcomes ought to be pursued.

Political engagement or political participation: Civic engagement that emphasizes governmental institutions and/or power. (“Voting is a touchstone of political participation in the United States.”)

“Civic engagement is the participation of private actors in the public sphere, conducted through direct and indirect interactions of civil society organizations and citizens-at-large with government, multilateral institutions and business establishments to influence decision making or pursue common goals.” –The World Bank

“Being sensitive to and understanding the world’s problems as well as addressing them through collaboration and commitment.” Duke University (via

“Civic Participation:  Individual and collective actions designed to address public issues through the institutions of civil society.” “Political Awareness:  Cognitive, attitudinal and affective involvement in the polity.” “Civic Engagement:  The combination of Civic Awareness and Civic Participation.” — Michael Delli Carpini, Dean of the Annenberg School for Communication

“Our mission is to educate and empower people to engage in hands-on democracy in order to individually and collectively take strategic actions to identify and address the root causes of local, state, federal, and global issues of social and economic injustice and concerns.” — Occupy Los Angeles, “Civic Engagement” website

“Engagement, then, is not merely a matter of being active, of deploying the rhetorical and cognitive skills necessary to make your case and press your point.  To engage with others requires that we hear what they have to say, that we make space in our interaction for them to respond fully and genuinely, and that we are fully responsive to their responses and proposals.” — Anthony Simon Laden, “Taking the engagement in civic engagement seriously” (manuscript paper)

“Active citizens seek to build, sustain, reform, and improve the communities to which they belong, which range from small voluntary associations to the world. Active citizens deliberate with peers to define public problems and then collaborate with peers to address those problems. In doing so, they honor certain virtues, such as equal respect for others and a degree of loyalty to their communities that does not preclude critical thinking and dissent. Collaboration—actual work—is just as important as deliberation. People who merely talk about public issues are ineffectual and often naïve or misinformed; we learn from acting together. By collaborating, citizens construct or build public goods: tangible goods like schools and markets, and intangible ones like traditions and norms. In doing so, they create civic relationships, which are scarce but renewable assets for civil society.” — Peter Levine (drawing from recent testimony to the National Academy of Sciences’ Committee on Science, Technology, and Law and a forthcoming book on civic renewal.)

“In American history, the citizen has been not only a voter or a rights-bearing member of the nation or a consumer of services. The citizen has also been a producer, a public-spirited agent in problem solving and common work. … Addressing the tough challenges we face today will require people to reconceive of themselves as citizens. … It will require widespread civic involvement that taps the common sense, energy, insight, and effort that comes from citizens with different talents and points of view working together, often across lines of sharp cultural, partisan, racial, and economic differences. Without active citizenship, we will continue to struggle with narrow, unfulfilling roles and ineffective institutions. With restored citizenship, we act as co-creators of history, reclaiming our birthright as democratic citizens to be full participants in shaping our common life.” — The staff and partners of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship

“A morally and civically responsible individual recognizes himself or herself as a member of a larger social fabric and therefore considers social problems to be at least partly his or her own; such an individual is willing to see the moral and civic dimensions of issues, to make and justify informed moral and civic judgments, and to take action when appropriate.” –Anne Colby and Thomas Ehrlich, introduction, to Civic Responsibility and Higher Education, edited by Thomas Ehrlich (Oryx Press, 2000)

At Portland state University (which has exceptionally strong civic programs), civic engagement is defined as “active involvement in the discourse dealing with the need to develop and utilize knowledge for the improvement of society, to use talents and offer wisdom for the greater good, and to provide opportunities for education in the spirit of a democratic society. A civically educated and engaged citizen is one who is skilled in coalition-building, collaboration, negotiation and synthesis of multiple perspectives.” — PSU, Center for Academic Excellence, statement developed through a Delphi process on campus

“In my opinion, citizenship … should encompass the values of being a good person. You should care about the rights and privileges of citizenship that have been acquired with great endeavor. So defend them. Defend and protect rights that the Constitution has bestowed on you–not just for yourself but for fellow and future citizens. Future citizens have the same desires that you had once upon a time. You should also care about society in general and the politics within it. So, care. Care about yourself, your family, your neighbors, your community, and your country. Care about the world. Be a world citizen and thus a good American citizen.” — Tahmina Watson, immigration attorney, Seattle, Washington.


via what is the definition of civic engagement?


Peter Levine’s Working Definitions


Active citizenship: Working to improve a nation or other community, independent of whether you have legal status as a member of that community. (“You were an excellent active citizen in Massachusetts while you visited here from South Africa.”)

Civil society: The array of nongovernmental organizations and networks that address public issues. Sometimes the definition introduces a qualitative dimension, so that civil society is an array of associations and networks marked by peacefulness, mutual respect, trust, and other virtues. Civil society may include for-profit enterprises as well as nonprofits. (“The government worked with civil society groups to help victims of the storm.”)

Civic education: Any process that strengthens people’s capacity for civic engagement and political participation, at any age and in any setting. (“Newspapers traditionally provided some of the best civic education in America.”)

Civic engagement: Any act intended to improve or influence a community. Often, the phrase has positive connotations, so that engagement is viewed as “civic” to the extent that it meets such criteria as responsibility, thoughtfulness, respect for evidence, and concern for other people and the environment. (“Informed voting is an example of civic engagement.”)

Civic health: The degree to which a whole community involves its people and organizations in addressing its problems. (“Minneapolis/St Paul has the best civic health of large American cities, thanks to a long tradition of strong civic organizations and responsive local government.”)

Civic institutions: The organizations and associated norms and rules that people use for civic engagement. (“Political parties and volunteer groups are two examples of civic institutions.”)

Civic life: For an individual, a life in which civic engagement has an important place. For a community, all the acts of civic engagement and associated norms and values of its members. (“A service experience prepared her for civic life.” “The civic life of Somerville, MA is vibrant.”)

Civic renewal: Efforts to increase the prevalence, equity, quality, and impact of civic engagement. (“Attending a public meeting is civic engagement, but making such meetings work better for the whole community is civic renewal.”)

Democracy: Any system for making decisions in which all the members of the community or group have roughly equal influence, whether they exercise it directly or through representatives. Voting is common in democracies but is not definitive of it. Other means–such as reaching consensus or choosing representatives by lot–can also be democratic; and voting requires other elements to be satisfactory, such as free expression and civil peace. (“An elementary school is not a democracy, but it helps prepare students for democratic participation.”)

Democratic participation: Civic engagement that involves democratic political institutions. (“Petitioning Congress is a form of democratic participation.”)

Politics: Broadly, the means and processes by which people govern themselves and others, using power and influence. One important setting of politics is government, but politics also occurs in other institutions. Politics is not necessarily contentious or zero-sum. (“The Marshall Plan was politics at its finest.”)

via defining civic engagement, democracy, civic renewal, and related terms

Art and freedom of expression

28 Mar

Our consideration of the human rights in any country should include the freedom of artists to express their heart, writes Deeyah Khan – a critically acclaimed music producer, composer and an Emmy award-winning documentary film director – in this statement she submitted to the United Nations in March 2014.


Art is a powerful form of communication which has a unique ability to transcend cultural and linguistic boundaries, an exploration of what it means to be human. Art can be brash or sublime, basic or intricate, and is one of the first forms of human expression and which remains rooted in the creative potential for innovation and transformation. It has an extraordinary capacity to express resistance and rebellion; protest and hope. It can start conversations; it can bring subjects into the public sphere, expose abuses and to point towards new worlds: to touch people in a deeper and more affecting way than academic and political discourse, to move us to tears, to laughter and to action. There is a reason why artists, intellectuals and women are usually the first targets of oppressive regimes, of fundamentalist groups and of reactionaries of all stripes, who cannot bear any positions that threaten their perceived monopoly on truth or which expose their corruption and cruelty.

So, where art is transgressive, it is decried as immoral, seditious or contrary to religious rules. Artists are silenced by many means, from harassment to imprisonment, from censorship to accusations of blasphemy; which can itself be a death sentence. This precious human resource is formed from deep continuities with our artistic traditions with the fertile exploration of new forms to make up the glorious potential of creativity: surely one of the pinnacles of human achievement and experience. The English radical poet Shelley considered poets to be the unacknowledged legislators of the world: the future is in the present as the plant lies in the seed, he said; and art has the potential to realise this future, a future of equality, diversity and unity. In this sense, artists should be considered providing a vital, but under-appreciated contribution to the functioning of civil society.

Artists everywhere, and in all periods, have taken a role in standing up for human rights and human dignity through their explorations of the human condition, particularly in times of unrest, oppression and chaos. It is no wonder that its liberating and unbounded potential to speak truth to power is feared by those who remain invested in the suppression of the human spirit. Where the media is controlled, art becomes the last voice of freedom; more trusted than official outlets, a channel for dissidence, a telling of alternate histories, alternate futures. Where women’s voices are silenced, women’s self-expression is an act of defiance, of refusal of the strict limitations of gender roles. Where societies are based in fear and oppression, art is a seed of hope for a better world. The creative process itself generates a sense of inner liberation which lays the seeds for calling for broader liberties. Art is a form of expression which is often one of the most available, even to the poorest individual: the tools required can be as simple as a voice, a pencil or a humble drum.

The potential for change that art can bring is shown by the extraordinary means taken to crush it: such as attacks by militant religious extremists on artistic expressions and artists in countries such as Mali and Pakistan. Last year almost 20 artists were killed. Thousands more were censored, or persecuted. Many incidents are never made publicly known – those who experience daily threats from fundamentalists in Northern Mali, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and the Federally Administered Tribal Areas of Pakistan or who are victimized by the internal conflicts of Syria or Sudan, amongst many other assaults upon artistic freedoms the world over.

When musicians, who are questioning political repression and corruption through their music, are imprisoned in Russia, Turkey, Vietnam or Tunisia, it is an attempt to silence voices, which can document oppression and express hope, and dictators wish to conceal their oppressions as much as they wish to stamp out hope. During the early days of the uprisings in the Middle East, for instance, musicians – like ‘El General’ of Tunisia – played an essential role as truth-tellers, exposing political and financial corruption as well as providing rallying anthems, providing a sense of solidarity and unity to those on the street. In the words of a rapper from Gaza, who has since been forced into accepting protection by Gothenburg City Council: “I am the CNN of the street”.

The first ever UN report on freedom on artistic expression and creativity published by the UN Special Rapporteur in the field of culture last spring was a long-awaited achievement, raising many crucial questions, calling upon governments to take action; and for violations to be recorded. However, international reports on violations of human rights tend to focus on media freedom, to the exclusion of other forms of expression. The vitality of artistic creativity is necessary for the development of vibrant, plural cultures. Artists – in the words of the Special Rapporteur – “have proven their ability to bring counterweights to existing power centres in many developing countries and inspire millions of people to discuss, reflect and mobilise”.

Organisations such as Freemuse, Arterial Network and the National Coalition Against Censorship have been established to document violations, but in comparison to the numerous organisations documenting and defending freedom of expression for journalists and more conventional political activists, artists have few organisations to monitor violations worldwide, and to provide support to people at risk, and to lobby for the changes in laws which limit the freedom of expression and for the changes in policy which would make states take responsibility for the protection of artists and of artistic freedoms.

The freedom of expression has become a focal point of clashes between groups in society, reflecting internal conflicts whether these are religious, cultural or political conflicts in nature. Pavlos Fyssas, known as Killah P, an activist against fascism, used his rap music career to criticise the rise of the Golden Dawn neo-Nazi party, in Greece. He was stabbed to death by a party member. While the attention of the international media has focussed on the restrictions upon Chinese artist Ai Weiwei and the imprisonment of punk activists Pussy Riot, somewhat out of the media eye, several of Mali’s world famous musicians joined forces in creating awareness of the cultural disaster of the country.

It should not be the case that only the persecution of famous artists raises outrage: a barely literate Afghan wedding musician threatened by the Taliban deserves the same support and the same attention as globally known artists, even though these rarely attract the same diplomatic attention. In a world which fears women’s participation, and women’s voices, being a woman and an artist is itself a political act, an act of resistance against the strict gender roles and limitations placed women in our world. For more than 30 years, Iranian women have not been permitted to sing solo, nor to perform before mixed audiences. We also need to recognise that it is not necessarily only the state or fundamentalists who pose a threat to free expression: for some, particularly women, the threat against their safety comes from their own relatives. Pashtu singers like Ghazala Javed, killed by her husband after she filed for divorce; Shamim Aiman Udas, killed by her brothers in a so-called ‘honour’ killing at a time when Pashtun militants were engaged in a campaign of harassment of musicians.

The marginalization of women artists, the censorship of free expression, the harassment of artists, has effects beyond those who are victimised and their families, it impoverishes debate, and delimits some of the most profound expressions of the human spirit. I believe that art is as necessary to democracy as a free press. And yet it is suppressed across the world, sometimes in more discreet ways than through the violence expressed against individuals in Mali and Afghanistan. Art is suppressed through the institution of blasphemy laws, through the high pressure tactics of special interest groups who consider their own sentiments more valid than freedom of speech, leading to subtle and devastating self-censorship; where those who distribute and market art, through galleries, publishing houses and concert venues, are rendered fearful of the implications of the most iconoclastic forms of art, which are often the most generative.

Art and freedom of expression are vital elements of any functioning democracy, and priceless human treasures. Our consideration of the human rights in any country should include the freedom of artists to express their heart. The persecution of artists must be recognized as political rather than as a facet of tradition or faith: as acts of repression against dissidents, differing from more overt political activism only in the method of expression; methods which are as old as humanity and deeply engrained into every culture and tradition, which have moved, inspired and unified people for generations. As a woman, and an artist, I believe in the power of art to bring about social change, and I believe that it is in our common interest as human beings to ensure that artists have the freedom to speak out; to release the plant from the seed.

Deeyah Khan wrote this statement about the role of art and artists in civil society for her presentation at the United Nations Human Right Council in March 2014. But, as it can be seen on the video above, because of time constraints and personal preference, Deeyah eventually decided to leave the manuscript and just speak from the heart.

» We recommend you also read this compelling and well-written story about Deeyah’s life as an artist:
Rebel filmmaker & music producer Deeyah shares life on International Women’s Day

via Arts Freedom

Police clash with protesters in Ukraine

26 Nov

Tens of thousands of Ukrainians, bearing European Union flags and chanting “down with the gang!” marched through Kiev on Sunday in a pro-Europe rally denouncing President Viktor Yanukovich’s U-turn in policy back towards Russia. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko

I’m on the Square! Where are you?

You wouldn’t necessarily expect the European Union to be such a rallying cry in Ukraine, but Ukrainians are so enraged by a government decision to suspend trade deal negotiations with the EU that they have been rallying protesters under the hashtag #євромайдан (“European Square”). Opposition demonstrations were held in the cities of Donetsk, Ivano-Frankovsk, Lutsk, Uzhgorod and Lviv. Kiev’s Independence Square is a focal point for protests – just as it was during 2004’s so-called Orange Revolution. Back then, protesters were bolstered not just by their strength in numbers but also by SMS messages: mobile phones were key for organising protests, avoiding police cordons and ordering supplies. Now, the protests are mostly being galvanised by social media. Ukrainian digital marketing expert Maksym Savanevskyy says there has been an explosion of calls-to-arms online since the government’s decision on EU talks.

This video, dated November 22, was taken a day after the Ukrainian government U-turn, saying that it would instead look to revive talks with Moscow. A large crowd turned out at Maidan Nezalezhnosti to protest the decision, and the protests have continued since.

This footage shows the scene near Independence Square on November 25 as thousands took part in demonstrations.

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