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sdane's picture

Since our class lunch on Friday, I've been thinking a lot about what 360-inspired activism might look like and what we might want to focus on.  I've also been thinking a lot about the skepticism expressed by some members of our class about what kind of dent a small amount of activism might make on problems as huge and systemic as the ones we’re discussing.  I don’t think that any of us are able or willing to take the kinds of risks Rigoberta Menchu did to fight against injustice this semester, even though I know some of us wish we could.  I was thinking a lot about Rigoberta Menchu today when I went to interview a former Philadelphia School District teacher who is also a peace activist for one of my other classes.  We spent the day together, from early this morning until about a half hour ago, and it was riveting to hear this 80-something woman talk about the on-the-ground activism she did in Nicaragua, El Salvador, and Guatemala throughout the 80s and 90s.  It was shocking to hear about the ways she was willing to risk her life, and the fact that she made it clear she would even give one of her children’s lives if it meant stopping the mass murder she saw happening all around her.  Her other stories of fighting for water access in Mexico, being in Cuba during their revolution, doing reconciliation work in Vietnam, Cambodia and the former USSR, and going on peace missions to Palestine were incredible.  This is also someone who relates very well to our class because of her significant time spent in prison – whether after protesting Langley, doing civil disobedience at a Nevada nuclear test site, or doing actions with Occupy, she’s not afraid to get arrested.  (She has a lot of experience with Philadelphia prison system, in particular, although her most recent time in prison was solitary confinement at the FDC we had originally planned to go to – lots of interesting anecdotes about that.)

So, after hearing all of these stories (and many more) I asked her what she was most proud of.  She paused, and said that the other day she had been walking in Chinatown and saw a police officer harassing a man who clearly didn’t speak English.  She said, “I told the police officer that he had to stop because my tax money paid for his job, and he listened to me, and walked away. I bet I made that man’s day a lot easier.  I’m proud of that.”

We can be inspired by the bravery of Rigoberta Menchu, but I was very moved by the fact that a much smaller action can be just as meaningful.  The woman I interviewed kept stressing that “injustice needs to be confronted,” but I think that it is true for problems as big as genocide or as seemingly small as campus-wide issues.