From Johann Hari’s list of 5 underappreciated people, these are three that particularly bekon to me:
Under-Appreciated Person Two: Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. The only African leader who appears with any regularity on our TV screens is the snarling psychopath Robert Mugabe, spreading his message of dysfunction and despair. We rarely hear about his polar opposite. In 2005, the women of Liberia strapped their babies to their backs and moved en masse to elect Africa’s first ever elected female President. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was a 62 year old grandmother who had been thrown in prison by the country’s dictators simply for demanding democracy. She emerged blinking into a country trashed by 14 years of civil war and pillaged by dictators — but she said she would, at last, ensure the Liberian state obeyed the will of its people.
In the face of a chorus of cynics, she did it. She restored electricity for the first time since 1992. She got the number of children in school up by 40 percent. She introduced prison terms for rapists for the first time. Now she is running for re-election in a fully open and contested ballot. I look at her and I think of all the women I have seen by the roadsides of Africa, carrying impossibly heavy loads on hunched backs — and I know what they will achieve when they are finally allowed to.
Under-Appreciated People Four: The Saudi Arabian women who are fighting back. Women like Wajeha Al-Huwaider are struggling against a tyranny that bans them from driving, showing their face in public, or even getting medical treatment without permission from their male “guardian”. The streets are policed by black-clad men who enforce sharia law and whip women who express any free will. Saudi women are being treated just as horrifically as Iranian women — but because their oppressors are our governments’ allies, rather than our governments’ enemies, you hear almost nothing about them. Al-Huwaider points out that her sisters are fighting back and being beaten and whipped for it, and asks: “Why isn’t the cry of these millions of women heard, and why isn’t it answered by anyone, anywhere in the world?”
Under-Appreciated People Five: The real N’avi. The people of Kalahandi, India, saw the film Avatar and recognized it as their story. The land they had lived in peacefully for thousands of years — and they considered sacred — was being destroyed and pillaged for by a Western bauxite mining corporation called Vedanta, whose majority owner lives in luxury in Mayfair. The local protesters were terrorized — for example, in one case documented by Amnesty International, they were abducted by local gunmen and tortured. But they didn’t give up. They appealed for international solidarity, so Vedanta meetings in London were besieged by people dressed as N’avi. The Indian government finally responded to co-ordinated democratic pressure and agreed the corporation had acted “in total contempt of the law.” The real N’avi won. They saved their land.
See the complete list at Johann Hari: Let’s Hear It for the Unappreciated Heroes of 2010.
As Hari ends with,
“In 2011 we could all benefit from turning off the tinny, shrill newszak and hearing more real news about people like this — so we can resolve to be a little more like them.”
In the case of the Saudi Arabian women, I think that a lot of Westerners who have a case of the “Almighty Westerner who wants to save the poor oppressed Arab women” should here stories like this. Let’s support people in their struggles by following their leads instead of imposing our views on them.
UPDATE: In my excitement of using the newly discovered (by me, anyway) Press This feature on WordPress, I neglected to mention that I got this link from The Cranky Linguist, although I think it was on his FB page… Thanks Ron!