UNTIL ALL ACHIEVE WELL-BEING

Welcome to the August 31, 2015 edition of the UWAA Peace/Justice action email!

Every year or two this newsletter devotes an issue to evaluating the direction and intent of the newsletter. The end of summer (North America) seems a suitable time. So in this issue we will explore any insights gained from both our content in general as well as our longitudinal focus on Darfur. In addition there are a few items at the end that have accumulated since the last newsletter.

 


GENERAL OBSERVATIONS

This newsletter began over 15 year ago, during the start of online petitions. Its original loosely-defined intent was two-fold and the observations will be clustered accordingly:

#1: To allow people who were already immersed in life's concerns, the opportunity to respond to the larger issues that swirled around them; within that if people were too busy to respond, to keep them informed of a few major issues not being covered by mainstream media.

  1. The format worked fairly well for busy people: It was eventually honed into a brief description followed by the action link (which could be done quickly) and including links for further background.

  2. The newsletters helped people stay informed when they were too busy to take action, and tried to highlight at least a few areas not typically seen on front pages of mainstream media.

  3. Actions have always been filtered to ensure integrity of the action and congruence within best development (and occasionally aid) principles. But starting with the economic collapse of 2008, the number of organizations dropped significantly and has never fully recovered. This has had a slight impact on the range of actions, which was and remains part of the exploratory nature of the newsletter.


#2: To explore the impact of this new form of advocacy and track its changes over time.

  1. There have been significant shifts over the past 15 years. Web technology has allowed organizations like Avaaz to create petitions with over 4 million signatures. But the only metric that counts is "impact" - is the cause advanced by the action? And the response remains the same as last time - "It depends." In brief it typically requires the self-interest of both the target group and possible pressure groups to align.

  2. Over the past few years the term "slacktivism" has gained coinage. Its most basic meaning is simply activism via a few clicks on web petitions or other social media sources. It can also be more pejorative, explored below.

  3. Long before the term "slacktivism" gained coinage this newsletter tried to indicate on occasion that this form of advocacy was a modest targeted part of a much larger dynamic that was needed for success. Informally, the newsletter tried to distinguish the three basic types of intended effects / targets:

    1. The action itself in sufficient numbers might bring about the change;

    2. The action would not bring about direct change but would help build the constituency that could help push the issue to success by others more directly involved;

    3. No action would likely bring about change, but it would be terribly amiss to have the world remain silent about the issue;

      Anyone who viewed these actions as more substantial than that would have misinterpreted this project.

  4. The notion of slacktivism raises another observation. Any genuine contribution should be welcomed. If there is a valid evaluation, it is measured against the adage of keeping "your eyes on the prize." That is, it needs to be: (a) an action that can somehow be connected to nudging the goal forward; and (b) the focus of the person doing the action must be on the goal and not on what it does for him/herself. The latter definitely fails the whole concept (and is part of the pejorative sense of slacktivism). "Eyes on the prize" also means an egoless effort - no one cares who has done what. Of course people should care for each other, but in the context of assuring each remains well-anchored as each keeps their eyes on the prize.

  5. Even successful campaigns are generally contingent. Apart from some ideal prototypical success where a complete holistic transformation has taken place, most achievements leave various degrees of residual antagonists who will continue to look for chances to regain momentum. The point is that while achievements can be celebrated one can never assume it will last -a watchful eye must be kept. For example, some year ago an action nudged Japan off its humpback whale hunts, but it recently has threatened to resume it.

  6. Crowdfunding: The final topic is also a new phenomenon whereby someone hears of a dire heart-wrenching story, for example, parents who need expensive medical care for special conditions in their child, but cannot pay for its enormous cost. And thus the news goes out to donate to help the family story.

    On the one hand they are irresistible stories, one can have a real impact and there is an immediacy in seeing the results. On the other hand it highlights the gaps in our social safety net, etc. If nothing is done about the systemic nature then again it easily slips into a "favoritism of the privileged loudest/visible voices" and "feel-do-goodism."

    I think the best resolution is firstly to acknowledge this downside and then to commit to an overwhelming ratio of giving to root causes. That is, for every dollar given to such crowdfunding, commit ten dollars to organizations that efficiently are attempting to deal with the underlying systemic imbalance. There are many ethical base points at play here so feel free to explore them on the blog (link at top). This includes the parallels to activism in general.

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OBSERVATIONS FROM OUR LONGITUDINAL STUDY OF DARFUR

  1. When the media spotlight moves elsewhere and political avenues fail to resolve the situation, the death, displacement, rape, malnutrition, and lost futures in Darfur continue (now for 12 years). It becomes monotonous news, but it remains a devastating reality

  2. When the spotlight moves elsewhere, it can result in a sharp climb in violence. We saw that with the creation of the ruthless Rapid Support Forces (2014). This has also been true in newly created South Sudan where many displacement camps have grown enormously and are on the verge of starvation.

  3. Advocacy helped keep tens or hundreds of thousands of people alive. But advocacy can't bring about lasting peace when a government is intent on its destructive ways and the international community will not provide the government sufficient pressure to change its calculus. Primary bridling includes:

    1. Sudan's almost totalitarian control (control/suppression of media; almost omnipresence of ruthless security services);

    2. Outside funding for Sudan (Qatar; Russia & Chine arms, etc.);

    3. Veto power of UN Security Council (China, Russia);

    4. Conflicted US policy (State Dept wanting to resolve issue; security agencies wanting terrorist info.; the latter continues to win);

      There are times, with all sides seemingly entrenched, when advocacy, while always looking for openings, can do little. But it can at least let the people of Darfur know that they are not forgotten.

  4. A basic rule-of-thumb for despots: Slow down the rate of death and displacement and you can keep the atrocities under the news radar.

  5. Advocacy was most helpful in the early years, but it was slow to adjust its narrative to the changing dynamics, though that has been somewhat corrected. However in 2007 it made a blunder by knowingly over-inflating the number of deaths. Its credibility has never fully repaired.


  6. When a conflict is not quickly resolved, it starts to compete for media attention and international resources. It is easy to start comparing tragedies in terms of priority. That is always a mistake as a first principle - any death torture or displacement is equally abhorrent. Of course given limited resource, priorities must be made but the point is that to start improperly is never to visit and reinforce the perspectives that might get us beyond such dynamics (by ensuring there are adequate resources for conflicts; developing better overall global strategies that reduce conflicts, etc.).

  7. UN (and African Union) hybrid Peacekeepers: it is better to have them than not. Their firewood patrols - where they would accompany women gathering wood - have kept some people from being raped.. But in terms of being able to keep conflicting groups apart, it was an utter failure. Here are three basic reasons:

    1. The Sudanese government did not {willingly} invite them in; it was more of a begrudging coercion. Thus they continually threatened to kick out the peacekeepers if they became too active (and did kick out some NGOs) and hampered all efforts by the peacekeepers. This is far the main reason.

    2. In ongoing conflict and civil war-like scenarios, it is hard to distinguish all the relationships and sides as they eventually splinter; as well as groups that use the unrest to create an advantage over previously existing tensions, and those groups created solely to obtain power to loot, etc.

    3. Internally: While not diminishing those who have a commitment to a deeper sense of peacekeeping and have put themselves at risk for it, the effectiveness of the UN peacekeeping was undercut by:

      1. The makeup of the forces was often not up to standard. As one of my contacts notes, for some African recruits it was basically a pay cheque, much more money than any other option but not something they would risk their life for,

      2. Sometimes their actions were questionable and even reprehensible because for some peacekeepers, all they had known was a violent world;

      3. The supporting UN agencies did not provide sufficient support, for example, the long-term plea for a measly 18 helicopters;

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    === FOLLOW-UP TO PREVIOUS ISSUES ===
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    Status of Hunt for LRA and Joseph Kony

    In 2011 there began a more concerted effort to capture Kony, with some US Special Forces joining the African Union Special Task Force. Since then the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) has lost several key commanders, and over 260 people have defected. The LRA is scattered in three countries. The strategy has reduced the LRA attacks to mainly survival rather than growth. But it also means attacks still occur and there remains controversy about whether this approach or a rapprochement style would finally bring things to an end.
    http://www.irinnews.org/report.aspx?reportid=101667

    Court Rules Against Gay 'Conversion Therapy"

    In what is considered to be a landmark civil-rights ruling, a New Jersey court ruled against the notion of "gay conversion therapy" - the notion that gay people can be "cured" and made straight through some form of treatment. This newsletter already noted [ Special issue on mental health] the serious harm that can be done and the harsh criticism of it from the American Psychiatric Association.
    Landmark Ruling Against Conversion Therapy [Guardian]

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    === ARTICLES OF INTEREST ===
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    'Sea Slaves': The Human Misery That Feeds Pets and Livestock

    The vast oceans hide many terrible deeds. This newsletter has highlighted some of the environmental destruction as well as overt human trafficking. But this article highlights another dimension: abuses suffered by the crews, as well as a whole industry hidden behind simple pet food.
    Thailand 'Sea Slaves' [Four-part series; NYT: requires registration]

    Mapping the World's Current Wars

    The conflict in places like Syria and Iraq dominate the news recently. Their effect is global - from humanitarian crises, to migrant flows to money spent, etc. But there are other conflicts that don't make the headlines. Our long-term focus on Darfur has made it clear that the world (at least the western media) can only highlight a couple of tragedies at a time. The rest are seldom even given passing mention.
    http://newirin.irinnews.org/map-world-conflicts-dataviz-interactive/

     

     

     


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