Week 2: Becoming a Smarter Activist

“Now that I have seen, I am responsible.”  – Brooke Fraser

I have always found ‘activism’ to be a difficult term to conceptualize.  To me, it’s because activism covers far too much ground to be encapsulated by a single definition.  I also realize that the term carries a lot of baggage and can even have negative connotations attached to it.  Activists are often perceived as individuals who are against something.  They comprise the crowds of people at sit-ins, rallies, marches, and hunger strikes.  They are anti-this and boycott that.  But I see far greater effectiveness in being an activist that is for something.

During my childhood, activism was about putting together shoeboxes of toys and hygiene items for kids from distant countries through the Operation Christmas Child program.  It was about going out into the community with my parents and sister to bring plates of food to seniors who lived alone and needed ‘cheering up’.  It was helping our church raise money for missionaries that were ameliorating suffering overseas, or putting together baskets of basic household supplies and gifts for low-income families in our community at Christmas.

When I went away to study Human Justice at university, I began taking electives that attempted to define the core essence of activism.  Textbooks and lectures taught me that activism was an action, or a series of actions, which could range from formal political campaigning to acts of civil disobedience.  This definition seemed incomplete to me. I read much about lobbying tactics to persuade governments to change or create legislation, but I didn’t hear much about what it meant to genuinely be an activist; to have an activist lifestyle.

Even though I firmly and unequivocally believe in the paramount importance of education, I also recognize that sometimes, the most valuable lessons are learned beyond the walls of a classroom.  So it wasn’t until after I graduated from university when I finally began to understand what it means to be an activist.  At the time, I had been working as a missionary in Mexico, and was listening to a song that a friend had recommended to me.  As I listened to this song one quiet evening, I was deeply moved by the haunting words of an impassioned young woman who had made a promise to a child she met in Rwanda that she would tell the world about the places she has been and the injustices she has seen.  The line that will be forever embedded in my heart is:  “Now that I have seen, I am responsible.” 

In that moment, I understood.  It is not merely an action, however frequently it may be repeated, that encompasses what it means to be an activist.  When an individual has reached a point of accepting responsibility for injustices, he/she has reached the point of authentic activism.  When he/she has moved beyond being against something and focuses on being for something—that is when justice can truly be served.

To me, that is exactly what Not For Sale stands for, which is one of the many reasons why I am absolutely thrilled to be part of the NFS team.  Of course, the founding premise of NFS is the acknowledgement that human trafficking should not exist.  Yet NFS departs from the traditional dogma of most nonprofits or human rights organizations that focus exclusively on fighting slavery, and instead emphasizes “smart activism” to proactively build more ethical mentalities and communities.   If you were to spend even five minutes in the NFS headquarters in Half Moon Bay, California, it would be immediately clear that the NFS team is for something—and that is justice and freedom.

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