As we near the end of our fellowship as Atlas Corps Fellows, there is the anticipation of possibilities that lay ahead and also the skepticism of re-integrating back to work after a year of being away. For the most part, some consider this year-long break as a hiatus from on-the-ground work, as we engaged in a more ‘corporate’ setting at our host organizations. This is a more familiar interpretation for persons working in grassroots activism and organizing.
Of further concern is how to stay safe when we dive back to activism in our various countries. It is evident that socio-political environments have changed tremendously during the past year in many of our home countries. In Africa and Eastern Europe for example, there has been a growing of shrinking civil society spaces, through introduction of new laws, or plain old harassment and intimidation of members of the civil society.
Governments are looking to curtail civil society voices through harassment, arbitrary arrests and imprisonment, as well as cutting sources of foreign funding which is a key lifeline of civil society. Members of the fourth estate are under attack as well, especially those deemed to be dissidents and whistle blowers of inept, corrupt and self-serving political bigwigs.
As activists, we are often faced with the daunting tasks of standing for, and by our causes, pushing forward even in the face of aggression and massive difficulties. It is no secret that there is now, a war of cultures between the superpowers in the West and the East. This new battleground has unfortunately found fresh breeding ground, to add onto the dominance of economic and military power. And in every war, there are pawns, swiveled back and forth with little regard to the citizenry, their human rights and subsequent human suffering.
As we prepare to go back to our home countries as leaders in our own capacities, the dilemma of the safety of our own selves, our families and colleagues is etched on our minds. Does this come with the territory of why we do what we do? Absolutely. Do we, as activists, have safety nets? Maybe, maybe not. Are we still passionate about being louder in our causes? Most definitely.
We want our voices to be heard. We want to influence our world so that we can eventually leave it better than we found it. And we want to do that, where possible, without violence. But we don’t want to get our necks broken in the process.
We, and the organizations we work with and for, have a shared responsibility to be aware of our environments, our safety as activists and how best to continue with our work, with our heads firmly on our shoulders. Our struggle is a long term one and we need all hands on deck.
In Swahili, we say ‘tafakari hayo’, loosely translated to mean ‘think deeply, deeper still, about that’.