When was the last time you had something fixed? We live in an age where it is usually easier to buy new things rather than repairing what is broken. When clothes are damaged, shoes fall apart or phones are broken, it is often more convenient to go and buy something new than to having it repaired - in fact, a lot of the things we buy are not made to last longer than a couple of years. If our phone does not work, we don’t have to make an effort to get it fixed; there’s going to be a new edition out soon anyways. Most of us can just buy a new phone. Whatever happens, we will be all right.
“Change is always thought to be impossible until it is made to be possible by ordinary people that find the strength and the capacity to speak up and act” - Jamila Raquib
In a sense, we are no longer responsible for working to improve things. We can carry on with our lives and leave the difficult struggles to the companies and the experts. When it comes to human rights at home and across the world, we can leave the job our governments. They have the skills and tools they need to make a change. It is far easier for us to sit at home and accept things as they are than to go out and cause conflict and confrontation.
After all, what difference can we make?
As it turns out, we have the power to make all the difference in the world. When people come together to peacefully work for a cause, they change the world. In fact, being able to organise and fight for change is a human right.
The right to peaceful assembly and association.
“Everyone has the right to peaceful assembly and freedom of association ” – Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 20
This right of peaceful assembly and association allows people to come together at home or in public in to express, pursue or promote or common interests. This means that every human being everywhere has the right to participate in peaceful strikes, protests, and gatherings. Everyone can join informal of formal groups aiming to take collective action: this includes civil society organizations, cooperatives, clubs, religious associations, unions and many others.
Every country must allow people to come together and organise to fight for a goal – but it must be a peaceful fight, free from violence. That is why nonviolent action is so important as a method of change.
Peaceful change across the world
Turn on the news on any given day, and you’ll see that this right is not always respected. The people of Syria who in 2011 started protesting their government were met with violence, which made many protesters pick up weapons in return. The result is a civil war which has been going on for five years with no end in sight, triggering an enormous refugee crisis in the process.
Whenever and wherever people have tried to fight oppression and dictatorship, authorities have tried to stop them. The right to peacefully protest is violated every day, and many risk being arrested and killed for daring to stand together to fight injustice. But that does not stop the people who fight for their rights and the rights of others. All over the world people are coming together to fight oppression and human rights violations. They empower themselves and their community to fight for their rights, but they do peacefully, without guns or bombs.
But because peaceful protests are often met with violence, some people believe that peaceful protests are weak and ineffective. At times it may seem like violence can be necessary, it is simply not true: peaceful methods of change are always more efficient than violence. All studies that have been done on protests and uprisings come to the same conclusion: that stable, positive change can best be achieved by peaceful means.
We all know the big stories that have made international news: Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr., who through exclusively peaceful means managed to achieve things that many thought were absolutely impossible. And in the video, Jamila Raquib talks about the peaceful Serbian uprising that ousted president Milosevic, who then had to stand trial for numerous human rights violations. But peaceful protest and assembly doesn’t have to make the history books to make a change. In 1942, when Norway was occupied by Nazi Germany, the invaders tried to force Norwegian schools to teach Nazi ideology. Norwegian teachers were having none of it – they came together and successfully defied one of the most brutal and oppressive regimes in history. More recently, one man managed by himself to convince over 200 people to leave the Ku Klux Klan, a racist extremist group, simply by talking to them.
There are an incredible number of ways you can make a difference – big and small. According to the Albert Einstein Institution there are actually 198 different methods of nonviolent actions that have been proven to make big changes all over the world throughout history. These actions of nonviolence have dismantled dictatorships, defended against foreign invasions, challenged unjust social and economic systems and prevented genocide– and that’s just scratching the surface. These actions can be acts like public speeches, displays of flags and symbolic colors, declarations by organizations and institutions, social boycott, or even comedy, humor and acting.
“People think that you just have to go to the street and hold a sing and express you anger - but what people must realize is that throughout history people have done many different things: specific actions that have contributed to change” - Jamila Raquib.
What can you do?
Struggles around the word show us that is possible to repair our societies through a collective creative process free from violence and conflict. As the Executive Director of the Albert Einstein Institution, Jamila Raquib knows more than most about non-violent methods to achieve change. Her work focuses on the promotion, translation and distribution of writings on nonviolent struggle and its potential to solve acute conflicts worldwide.
Her biggest challenge in the quest for spreading awareness about the power of peaceful protest is a misunderstanding about what nonviolence is:
“People think that it’s weak, that it’s simply about rejecting violence, but nonviolent resistance actually has a long history as a powerful technique that creates change.”
Changing the world is a matter of small people that join forces to make a big impact. So, the next time that your phone breaks repair it, next time that you feel that human rights are not being respected, speak up and act - Jamila gives us all the tools we need to begin our own collective creative process to improve the world.
Go out and fix society. Don’t wait for anyone else to do it. The right to peaceful protest and assembly is the most powerful tool we have.
Activity: The Power of Laughter. Requires Annex 1 - 198-Methods of nonviolent actions.
- Naciones unidas. La declaración Universal de Derechos humanos. http://www.un.org/es/universal-declaration-human-rights/
- United nations special rapporteur (2015). What are the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association? http://freeassembly.net/about/freedoms/
- Albert Einstein institution. What is a nonviolent action?. http://www.aeinstein.org/nonviolentaction/what-is-nonviolent-action/
- Albert Einstein institution. 189 methods of nonviolent action. http://www.aeinstein.org/nonviolentaction/198-methods-of-nonviolent-action/
- Albert Einstein institution. Jamila Raquib. http://www.aeinstein.org/about/people/jamila-raqib/
- TED (2015). El secreto de una eficaz resistencia no violenta. https://www.ted.com/talks/jamila_raqib_the_secret_to_effective_nonviolent_resistance?language=es#t-28899
- Oslo Freedom Forum (2014). The success of nonviolent struggle. https://oslofreedomforum.com/talks/the-success-of-nonviolent-struggle