Having watched a powerful clip featuring Terry Waite: https://www.bbc.com/ideas/videos/what-being-a-hostage-taught-me-about-happiness/p06yyqzx I have been mulling again on anger and activism. Happiness too, joy even, of which more in blogs to come, but I am going to focus on the emotion of anger for now, not least due to ongoing events in my own life - thanks for that Mommie Dearest and cohorts.
Anger is a valid emotion in the face of injustice. If we weren’t angry about the evil that humans do to other humans, there would be no peace at all and the world we would all be worse for it. Think of Jesus turning over the tables in the temple when the church was being used as a market place. Or of Wilberforce’s fiery speeches. Anger is a powerful generator for activism. There are glowing humans who put their lives on the line: Mandela; Ghandi; Martin Luther King - these are the rare ones, the ones motivated to act sacrificially for their communities. Some of them start out well and then go wrong: Winnie Mandela; Aung San Suu Kyi. Of the latter, I was once 'involved' in a trendy charity event presided over by a woman that could not pronounce Suu Kyi's name and knew diddly squat about what was going on in Burma. As I was running a charity that benefitted the Karen people of Burma who are still being killed en masse by the Burmese (but the press weren't and aren't much interested in them for some reason) and as such I knew a fair bit about what was going on 'out there,' said lady and I went for a walk in Regents Park where I coached her on pronunciation and gave her all the info she needed. She needed stories though. I attended a dinner at her place where I told them stories told to me by people who had been affected by the regime, to her and members of her committee. They agreed to let me show a film that I had made where I interviewed dissidents but did not show their faces. I had the camera focus on their hands; on the bits of paper they smuggled in and out of prison to write on; on their voices singing, or speaking as we showed their feet that had walked where most people would fear to tread.
After the event at which the actual people who were suffering, were not named, I was handed another concession: a bucket to fundraise while people were drinking wine. The lady basked in The Lady's (ASK was known at the time as The Lady; she's not very lady like now though is she? No. she is in bed with the regime) reflected glory. Was it about her? No, luvvy. Was it about me? No. I had been to the camps and met the people. I know my ego is a no-no in the whole affair and must be kept in check, and really, to be honest, having formerly lived in North London for 30 years, I'm used to champagne socialists: those who express outrage on a variety of pet topics from poverty to immigration, but would no more put their money where their mouths are than discontinue shopping at Waitrose. Needs to an end: She and her organisation got her publicity, and I was able to show a film I had made with dissidents who were on the run from the Burmese regime. Sad that the people in the film remained faceless, but ASK was the poster girl at the time and as is so often the case with posters, they get ripped off the wall. Everyone got their helper's high in the end. Not sure anyone got it though.
I do not pretend to know the hearts of all that take part in charity events, but I reserve the right to remain cynical of some. The people in the film I showed that evening were the heroes - real forgotten folk heroes, who, for their people's sakes are still battling the regime, and have been imprisoned and tortured. The event I highlighted seemed more about the organisers than the people in the film that were risking their lives for their communities. Charity is so often trendy, and monies raised are so often misspent, and those that work for them are often overpaid and those that need the money desperately, do not get enough of it. We have all heard about Oxfam's abuses on the field. For the record, I worked unpaid for the charity for the years I worked in the sector and all the money went directly to the people we were helping. As a single parent, I gave my time for the charity, given I did not have much cash, but I still supported orphans out there as I still do in #Zimbabwe - all of us here are comparatively rich. And if you'd like to join in please contact me and I will tell you how.
There are a lot of folks who look good, doing things 'for charity.' I know of people (happily no longer in my life) who run or jump out of planes for charity but are evil masquerading as good. But what is charity? It usually does not mean the fundraiser coughing up - they ask other people to dig deep (and can you say no when asked at work in front of your colleagues?) so that they can get fit and look good in the photographs in both senses. Middle class gap year students, raise funds to fund their trips abroad where they get adventure but not actual hardship. Sometimes charity means tax relief; sometimes publicity (don't get me started on Bono and co. and Bob Buggeroff - U2 should pay your taxes before lecturing us on poverty): it sells a book and it makes people look good. Do Africans know its Christmas? I would say so, given millions of them are Christians and are familiar with the notion of sacrifice, not least the ultimate one of the cross. There are plenty of us plebs that give to Africa, India and South-America, some of us even monthly, but celebs make a song and dance and a duff tune arranged for all for us, because they are donating their time and promoting an album, albeit one with a manipulative bum note. I'd like to slap them with a mouth tax as well as making sure they pay their actual tax before howling at the rest of us. Consider the troops on life watch, protecting people in Africa and the Middle East, while their families wait at home, and consider too, people like Terry Waite.
Activism is something else entirely and is best left to the rare ones amongst us who understand what sacrifice really is. Activism involves sacrifice for the greater good - for that of a people group, or for the good of humankind. I know some of these people, thanks to the years I worked for the Karen people of Burma. Recently I watched footage of one such man as he ran directly into bullets to rescue a Yazidi child who was clinging to the body of her dead mother. The ground was decorated with the dead. This man regularly goes into Burma with his family to rescue people. He is an ex-special forces ranger, so he is skilled; but he is also a cross carrying Christian - in that he practises what he preaches: he takes his wife and children into operational areas with him; he stays with the people when they are under fire. I am in awe of this man, appropriately called David. He has been up against the might of the Burmese army and more recently that of ISIS. David, is I know, motivated by love in action - his Christian belief. He is honest and upright, and a simple man of prayer. He does not care about political correctness, he cares about people. And he is prepared to risk his life for the one. Christlike indeed.
To be continued...