A World on its Knees

Conflict, genocide, and crimes against humanity

In Which I Finally Talk About Israelis and Palestinians (Sort of)

I have avoided talking about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for years.  I feel my reasons are good.  It’s such a highly politicized situation that it’s really impossible to speak.  Any words that suggest that Israelis are not demons are automatically called an apology for atrocities.  Any words that suggest that Palestinians are only human are automatically called anti-Semitic.  In the meantime, the pro-Palestinian politics of Europe and the pro-Israeli politics of the United States are both harmful and skewed.

Plus, I have no dog in this fight.  I like people.  I like Jewish people.  I like Palestinian people.  I’m a people person.

Here’s the thing, though.  I have to watch my friends who do talk about the situation get skewered.  Just in the past ten years, the situation has polarized.  I see people becoming increasingly defensive and racist.  I hear terrible suggestions.  I can’t hear that and not call it out, so I end up in the conversation anyway, however hard I try to avoid it.

Both sides are convinced that they are right… and both sides are right, in some ways.  Israelis need security.  Palestinians need opportunity and freedom of movement.  These are needs, not wants.  Israelis have been victimized.  Palestinians have been victimized.  Congratulations: both sides are right.

So what does being right get you?  It gets you an intractable conflict, everyone looking for an ideal rather than dealing with the facts as they stand.  It gets you anger and bitterness, ultimately, and pain, and danger.

What is the alternative?  What can Israelis, Palestinians, Americans, Europeans, and everyone else do?

How about giving up on rightness and trying to be good?

Start small.  Start by greeting a neighbor and seeing what he or she needs.  Start by greeting the people in the shops you visit, being kind to staff, and slowly making a few fewer assumptions.

Don’t expect it to be easy.  That coworker who drives you insane needs something, too, and it’s not easy to overcome that dislike enough to help. Remember that easy things are rarely worth doing in the long run.

I can guarantee you that you will not be ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or genocide, or war in general.  At least, you won’t be ending it directly.  But you’ll be slowly building a world in which it can be ended.  That’s a world worth building.  Try it.  Meet the people who live next door.  Refuse to laugh at someone who is mentally ill.  Comfort a stranger crying on a subway.  Talk to someone who is very different from yourself – like a fellow human.  Build peace where you can, and count your victories small.  That way, you’ll have more of them.



Meanwhile, in Burundi

I fully intended to write a long blog post on Friday.  Then the terrorist strikes in Paris happened.

I have to be honest with you:  I love France, but I am basically indifferent to Paris.  Mostly, I think of it as that place the airplanes fly to where it’s always raining.  Except… people from all over the world go to Paris for work.  Four of them (two French and two Mauritanian) are people that I care about.  Only one has checked in so far.  So I’ve been a bit distracted.  This is going to be a relatively basic blog post, but I think an understanding – even a basic one – is important.

Today I am not going to talk about Islamism, terrorism, or Daesh.  Those topics are being fully covered by people who know what they are doing.  Instead, I’d like to draw our collective attention to a crisis in Burundi that has been unfolding since August – in fact, really since colonialism, and more proximally since about 1992.

Burundi is a tiny nation in Africa’s Great Lakes region, an area that also includes Tanzania, Rwanda, and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Its colonial history includes the Germans and the Belgians.  Ethnically and religiously, it is similar to Rwanda, which is to say, relatively lacking in diversity.  Most are Catholic, with significant Muslim and Protestant minorities; most speak a single language, Kirundi; and there is real disagreement as to whether there are more than two ethnic groups at all (those two being Tutsi/Hutu, essentially one group, and Twa, the other group).  So why have the Great Lakes been in such a long-lasting free-fall?

There are a few clear reasons for the instability in the region.  Belgian colonial policy was so appalling that even other European colonial powers sat up and took notice.  One of the legacies of this colonial history was to harden identities to accord with a European view of the world, including the idea that Tutsis are closer to White and therefore more civilized, intelligent, and worthy of power.  This is why no one is really sure if the Hutu-Tutsi distinction is one of caste, race, ethnicity, or something else.  There is no linguistic difference.  There are no sure physical markers, as one’s status follows that of one’s father, and intermarriage is common.  There is no one thing that can be pointed to, yet everyone knows where they stand.

Since 1972, there have been two periods of genocide and violence against civilians in Burundi.  The first began on a small scale as a land grab.  The second began with the assassination of a Hutu president.   In Burundi, the government has  generally been Tutsi, then generally Hutu, and now is fairly evenly divided.  Power struggles have led to several power sharing agreements, none of which have taken particularly well in part because concerns were never thoroughly addressed.  The Twa, a small minority considered “primitive” by colonial governments, are not considered, either as politically important or as culturally significant.  Burundi’s nods toward liberal democracy have been halfhearted and piecemeal.  At the root of Burundi’s problems today is a persistent struggle for ethnic and personal dominance expressed as political power.  The current president,  Pierre Nkrunziza, a Hutu, has been engaged in seizing the mechanisms of government to secure a third term for himself, which he claims is a second term as he was appointed to his first term rather than elected.  Unsurprisingly, many Burundians are not pleased.  Increasing violence has been reported in Bujumbura.  History and regional politics suggest that Burundi is teetering on the brink of widespread violence against the civilian population.

The Belgian government has asked all nonessential personnel to leave Burundi, and for good reason; if I were Burundian, Belgians would be very high on my list of targets.  But the international community often errs by seeing a narrative of “ancient hatreds” and by refusing to give a clear mandate for concrete action to protect civilians.  Evacuating nonessential personnel is smart.  Abandoning Burundi would not be smart.  Leaving a UN peacekeeping force and declaring one’s moral duty done is never smart.  Civilian populations are at risk.  In the short term, they can only be protected by the credible threat of force.  In the long term, Burundi needs a system that takes into account the interests of the people.  All the people, and not merely those in power.

Religion and Violence

A few weeks ago, my father handed me a book that I am about to recommend to all of you.  It is called Fields of Blood, and it is so well-written that it reads as easily as a novel.

Its thesis is very simple: religion does not cause conflict.

It has become axiomatic in the Western world that religions cause more conflicts than anything else.  It is true that there is a religious element to many conflicts.  (Lest I be accused of cherry-picking, please note that in each of the four links in the sentence before this one, a different religious group is instigating violence.)  However, to support this thesis, we have to deliberately blind ourselves to the many occasions when conflicts are not religious.  We have to blind ourselves to the atrocities committed in the name of political ideology, racial purity, global economic domination, and empire.  We also have to blind ourselves to wonderful examples of religiously-motivated peacemaking.  Author Karen Armstrong points out, rightly, that secularism and liberal democracy can be absolutist ideologies; that they can make the nation-state the superior value; and that people around the world resent being robbed of their right of self-determination because secularism has been deemed to be the only good way to run a society.   This is true to such an extent that a theocrat can be accused of Islamism, simply because he or she believes that the state should be run on religious principles.

I found myself, about halfway through the book, annoyed at Armstrong, not because she questioned assumptions, but because she did not give a complete analysis of what actually does cause violence.  This is my area of interest and (yes) expertise, and it took me until the end of the book to realize that such an analysis was outside of the scope of her thesis.  That’s the book that I would write, rather than the book that she wrote.

If you believe that most conflict is religious, read this book.  If you believe that nationalism is good in itself, or harmless, read this book.  And if you want to know more about the history of religion and government, read this book.

If you have read this book, I welcome your comments.  Tell me what you thought of it.

Crisis On My Doorstep: The Racialization of Dominican and Haitian Identities

Haiti is one of the poorest nations in the world.  It shares an island with the Dominican Republic (DR), a more prosperous neighbor with a better ecological situation.  As will happen when a less prosperous nation lives near a more prosperous one, migration of Haitians into the DR is common.  Haitians work in the fields and as servants, are paid little, and are routinely looked down upon, yet they stay in the DR from sheer economic necessity, often for generations.  Whilst the DR has offered birthright citizenship, those of Haitian descent continue to be marginalized and are now being registered, a first step to being held and deported.  Due to a recent court ruling revoking birthright citizenship that is retroactive to up to four generations, many are being denied citizenship.

One of the reasons for this crisis boils down to a contentious history.  The Island of Hispaniola was united from about 1821-1844 as Haiti.  Before that time, the island (as its name suggests) was first a Spanish colony, later undergoing a process whereby the French slowly annexed the Western region.  The Spanish, naturally, were opposed to the annexation, and thus was born a difficult relationship between the French-speaking (Haitian) population and the Spanish-speaking (Dominican) population of Hispaniola.

Over time, the colonial history of the island has become racialized.  Racialization in this context is the process whereby a difference or perceived difference is given a racial character.  While both Haitians and Dominicans are descended from a mixture of European slaveowners and African slaves, Dominicans see themselves as Native (an identity which masks African heritage in the DR and European in the US).  Black identity is seen as non-Dominican, belonging solely to Haitians on Hispaniola, echoing European beliefs on the superiority of White skin and the natural inferiority of Black.  A similar dynamic has been seen in Rwanda and Burundi, where German and later Belgian officials racialized the categories of Hutu and Tutsi (in this case, the lower-caste Hutu were considered Black while the higher-caste Tutsi were considered Semitic).  An excellent exploration of this dynamic in the case of Rwanda/Burundi can be found here.

Racialization gives rise to myths of natural superiority.  It hardens class structures and brings about an identity based on opposition to another group.  It leads to division, violence, the formation of permanent underclasses, and genocide. Dominican-American and Haitian-American activists are calling for a boycott of tourism to the Dominican Republic.   More opportunities for action will be presented in this blog as they are found and vetted.

A Letter to Baltimore from Los Angeles

I tried to write this as an actual letter, but it was kind of silly, so I stopped.  Instead, I am going to break down what I have to say into four parts:  My relationship to Baltimore; an analysis of the situation as of tonight (April 27, 2015, 11:30 p.m. EDT); some lessons learned from our experience in Los Angeles; and a conclusion.

How Charm City Charmed Me

I moved to the Washington, DC metropolitan area at the end of my Peace Corps service in 2003.  I met my wife, a Bawlmoran by birth and inclination, at a DC bar in 2005.  She first took me to the city under tragic circumstances in 2006.  Her family immediately decided I was one of them.  I have been ever since.  They live all over the city, and two of my sisters-in-law live in the heart of the area that is worst hit tonight.  I have been to ballgames at Camden Yards, Pride in Druid Hill Park, and other festivals and gatherings galore.  I have eaten crab cakes at Faidley’s and my family has watched gleefully as I polished off a chicken box (apparently, the appreciation *really* shows on my face).  We drove in from Montgomery County just to have snowballs in the summer.  This Christmas, we went to Baltimore for Miracle on 34th Street (lights, not a movie), a visit to Lexington Market, and to show friends around the Enoch Pratt Free Library (the central branch).  I love Baltimore.  The people are friendly and polite, the food is amazing, and the spirit of the place is hard to beat.

What’s Going On Here?

Baltimore is a great city, but it also bears many of the classic markers for conflict.  City government is starved of resources and infrastructure and services are weak.  Unemployment is high (by U.S. standards) and poverty is close to 25%.  Parents have had a decades-long, wearying fight to bring most city schools up to the minimum Federal standard.  As a result, many students are left with few prospects once they graduate.  The population also skews very young.  If Baltimore City were a country, it would be at great risk of state failure.

When you add to this a long history of discrimination against the majority African-American population, things get pretty grim.  Police in Baltimore see themselves as fighting, rather than protecting, the people.  Other organizations, both legal and illegal, have stepped into the empty space left by ineffective government.  As in many fragile situations, all it takes is a spark to turn a latent conflict into an overt one.

That said, protests in Baltimore have been remarkably peaceful considering all the factors that are at hand.  Remember, this is a city known for its politeness.  Have outside agitators come in to ruin Baltimore’s reputation?  It’s possible, but not necessary.   Remember the young, unemployed, hopeless population.  Then realize that the first places that were shut down were a main transit line and the city mall – right before school let out, in a city where all students rely on public transit to get to and from school.  The mall is a transfer point for buses coming to and from a number of city schools.  It is within walking distance of four middle schools and two high schools, right next to a community college.  It gets heavy traffic from high schoolers every week day, and the police, acting as enemies of the people, closed it just before school let out.  Any decent conflict analyst could have told BCPD what the result would be.  That part of the city is burning.  It is terrifyingly near where my in-laws, including my youngest nephew, live.

Lessons from L.A.

Let me be clear here:  riots destroy the local economy.  My neighborhood saw the Zoot Suit Riots in 1943, the Watts Riots in 1965, and the Rodney King Riots in 1992.  After 1992, many local businesses shut their doors forever.  West Adams is a beautiful area, full of historic homes on tree-lined streets.  There are cultural centers, foundations, famous restaurants, and museums.  We are 20 minutes from everything in Los Angeles.  We are freeway close.  We are on two brand-new subway lines and very close to two more.  Yet the economy is slow compared to the rest of the city.  Property values are not growing as quickly as they are elsewhere in the city.  We bear many of the same alarming characteristics as Baltimore City: a young population, high poverty, and troubled schools.  Rioting made doing business in the area feel chancy and unprofitable.  Local people lost jobs.  Homelessness is rampant.

Yet in one way, the Rodney King Riots worked.  The Chief of Police was forced to leave office in disgrace.  Amnesty International released a damning report on police tactics in Los Angeles.  Ever since then, LAPD has been struggling to change its tactics and culture.  Progress has been mixed, but progress has been made.  Over and over, people tell each other that rioting does no good, but that is manifestly untrue.  It at least does some good, some of the time.

Do protests do more good?  The record of protests is as mixed as that of riots.  We need a new playbook.  When the police decide that the people are an enemy, one can hardly blame the people for going to war, yet war is destabilizing and when war is conducted willy-nilly, a win can be worse than a loss.  In Los Angeles, churches served as honest brokers between the government and the people.  Baltimore needs some good mediators.  My nieces and nephews should never have been forced to live like this in the first place.  As a society, we need to work together to turn this bus around.

Final Thoughts

Baltimore is unlike Los Angeles and other cities to the west in that it has played a central role in American life since the 17th Century.  We need Baltimore; it is part of our identity, as much as New York or Boston.  The people of Baltimore once saved the United States as we know it.  Americans should stand with the residents of the city and demand real change in its institutions, just as we should demand change from institutions all over the country that are stacked against minorities, the poor, and women.  This struggle did not end in the 1960s, friends.  We have a long, long way to go.

We Have the Power

One of my friends recently commented that it seems like her Facebook feed is full of sadness and bad news. Well, there’s a lot of bad news to be had. Christians have been driven out of Mosul; bombs have been falling from the Mediterranean practically to Tehran; Rohingya people are still being terrorized and driven from their homes in Myanmar/Burma; Muslims have fled their homes in the Central African Republic; South Sudan has fallen into civil war; the genocide in Darfur continues; children as young as five or six, many of them Native Americans, have been fleeing violence in Central America to come to the United States alone; Ebola is stalking West Africa in much the same way that the Black Death stalked Europe. It is important to know what is going on with our neighbors. How can we help them otherwise? How can we show them compassion when we don’t know they need it?

It’s also important not to fall into the trap of thinking the world is getting worse, and despair is around every corner. It’s not so much that things are getting worse as that we know more about them, and we are overwhelmed by the information.

Well, everyone, I have good news for you. We are not helpless. The international community advocated, and Meriam Ibrahim has escaped Sudan. The international community advocated, and a Ugandan activist has been given asylum in the United States. The international community advocates because advocacy works.

But advocacy is not all you can do. In fact, advocacy is one of your lesser tools.

Humans are remarkably social. Genocide gets its strength from our tendency to do what those around us are doing, believe what they believe, enjoy what they enjoy, and revile what they revile. Yes, we are individual people, each different, but we want desperately to belong. Humans are always lonely, always searching for each other. So even when we know something is very wrong, we tend to give it a pass, or even rationalize it as being for the greater good. Standing up is difficult; it puts us at risk. The loss of family and friends is a serious matter for humans. Isolation is such a powerful tool that it is considered torture to impose it on prisoners for more than a short time. Moral courage is a rare virtue because it is costly.

Moral courage can also be taught. You can teach yourself to behave courageously. (Courage is a behaviour, not a feeling!) You can teach your friends, your spouse, and your children to do so also.

Speak Out

Conversations at the workplace, at places of worship, on the bus, and in all sorts of other everyday settings are full of casual bigotry. It can be hard to tell your friends that using words like “gypped” or “faggot” are fueling hatred, but they are. (I’ve even known people who don’t believe that the Roma (gypsies) exist or are an ethnic group.) It is even harder when the issue is not the word being used, but the sentiment expressed. (News flash: telling Black children not to look/behave like thugs or want designer shoes would not have saved Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown.)

Do Your Homework

It’s easy to focus your attention on others’ ideas and actions, but it takes a lot more work to confront your own. Doing your homework isn’t just about not saying things that are bigoted. It’s about changing your attitudes from the inside, and that takes a lot of consciousness (you have to know what you are before you can change them) and a ton of honesty. It is much more difficult to confront your own darkness than that of others. All I can tell you is that it’s a road that you can travel today that will save lives in the future. Just as you look to others for your cues, they look to you; use human sociability to heal rather than hurt. You might not see the results, but the results are there.

Talk About It

We all have prejudices. It’s likely that you share yours with someone who is really close to you. So talk about them. Explore what you’re thinking and why together. Talk about how these attitudes are unfair to the people who fit the category in question. Learn about it together. Evolve.

We have the power, friends. We can change what the world looks like by cultivating everyday courage in ourselves.

Take Action Right Now

Are you on Facebook?

Below is a community that uses Nazi symbolism, speech, and rhetoric.   Several people I know have reported the group and its posts to Facebook today and all have gotten the response that nothing here rises to the level of hate speech or symbols.  (Seriously, swastikas don’t qualify?)

Please help make a small part of the internet slightly cleaner.  Report this group and as many posts as you can bear to.  Tell your friends.  Facebook’s response is likely automated, but it’s also disgusting.  It should scandalize us.


More About #BringBackOurGirls, #SaveMeriam, and #BringBackOurBoys

“The people!  United!  Will never be divided!  The people!  United!  Will never be defeated!”

When I was in high school, I loved a good protest.  You got to get out into the community, chant inspiring things, and feel like you were making a difference.  Of course, sometimes the protest was very small and the cause was not as good as I thought it was.  I had not learned to analyze the causes I fought for yet.  I had righteous indignation without the experience to apply nuanced critical thinking.  The activist community sometimes fails at nuanced critical thinking in victory as well as in defeat.

What does victory look like?  In the case of the Nigerian girls kidnapped by Boko Haram, it looked like getting attention to the matter, and it looked like help from and for the Nigerian government.  The U.S. and many European countries, including the UK, have sent surveillance equipment and soldiers, sent money, and generally given support.  Thousands of people have tweeted, facebooked, hashtagged the World Cup games, and talked to their friends about the situation.  So do we declare victory?  Can we declare victory when the girls are most likely in Cameroon, and will likely never be returned to their parents?  Boko Haram has kidnapped 60 more girls and is terrorizing people who are watching the World Cup.  Is that victory?  After all, the campaign has achieved many of its goals. 

What is the lesson here?  The people, united, can be defeated – even when backed by the great economic and military powers.

Meriam Ibrahim, meanwhile, was imprisoned, promised release, kept in prison, released, re-arrested, and the US is working to have her released again.  I will breathe easy when she is out of Sudan, and not before.  As in Nigeria, this case was championed and led by local people (yes, many of them Muslims) who were outraged by the Trousers Woman case and have been agitating for better treatment of women and religious minorities in Sudan.  Unfortunately, they are led by a power-hungry genocidal war criminal who asserts himself at every turn.  If she gets out of Sudan, as I confidently believe she will within 48 hours, it will be because of international pressure, but even more because of internal pressure.
Finally, we come to the case of the three Israeli boys kidnapped two weeks ago.  International concern is high, and it is fair to say it has not been equally high for Palestinian children caught up in the ongoing mess there in the United States.  Israeli forces, including Bedouin Israelis, are searching for them.  What, then, is the aim of the campaign to find these boys and bring them home to their families?  In part, it must be to highlight the insecurity that Israelis and Palestinians live in every single day.  It is always, always a problem when children (yes, teenagers are children) are targeted in a war – yet it is not infrequent.  This case is not special, but it is not less important for that.  In this case, it’s clear that attention will not be enough to bring these kids back, nor will it solve this ongoing imbalanced conflict that directly involves four and a half countries.

With all these international campaigns, it is easy to get lost and wonder what international attention is worth.  But to me, part of the point is attention, and paying attention.  The risk is that we pay attention without applying nuanced critical thinking, or that we pay attention until our attention is taken by something else – the latest game, whatever the Kardashians are doing, a scandal involving a clown, a blowtorch, and a Bible, or just our everyday lives.  Attention is in short supply.

It’s also very easy to get burned out if you think that your country’s involvement will magically solve the problem.  The problematic Kony 2012 campaign led to ever-increasing US involvement in trying to arrest Joseph Kony, but he is still at large.  The Obama Administration has spent resources in an attempt to find the kidnapped Nigerian girls, in vain.  Don’t get me wrong: we have to try.  There is no going back in time; we are involved in world affairs, whatever country we live in, and every country must take responsibility for its place in the world.  That means giving aid when required, accepting help, and bringing criminal governments and individuals to justice.  But sometimes the countries, united, are as vulnerable to defeat as the people, united.  Sometimes the outcome is not what we wish it to be.  That’s not a reason to give up.  It’s a reason to learn some lessons and keep working at it.

Save Meriam Ibrahim’s Life and Family

It’s a sad story: a baby is born in Sudan to a Christian mother and a Muslim father.  Six years later, the father abandons the family.  The baby, a girl, is raised Christian.  She later marries a Christian man with disabilities who is a U.S. citizen.  They have a son together, and she is pregnant with their second child when the government in Khartoum (a criminal government) arrests her for apostasy based on a complaint filed by her brother.  You see, religion follows the father, not the mother, so she was a Muslim (a contention not supported by the majority of Muslims, by the way, who believe that saying the shahada is essential) and has strayed.  

She is given three days to renounce Christianity and embrace Islam, admitting too that her marriage is invalid, as Muslim men may marry Christian or Jewish women, but Muslim women may not marry out of Islam.  She refuses.

Today, she is in jail with her 20-month-old son, who is an American citizen, because Christian men are not permitted custody of their sons in these situations.  She is sentenced to 100 lashes for adultery after she gives birth, and then death for apostasy.

Americans, without any ambiguity, must act in aid of their fellow-citizens.  If you are a U.S. citizen, contact the Department of State immediately.  The American husband, Mr. Daniel Wani, has been trying without success to obtain a visa for his wife, Ms. Meriam Yahya Ibrahim, and their son Martin.  The visa must be granted immediately.  Ms. Ibrahim is nine months pregnant, so even though an appeal has been filed that will postpone the sentence somewhat, the danger to her is imminent.

Whoever you are: Here are some petitions you can sign.

Whether or not you are a U.S. citizen, send an email to the Sudanese government protesting this action.  You and your friends and family may save a life and a family.

What Can We Do To #BringBackOurGirls?

The short answer is that we are not all-powerful.  Living in a powerful, developed country does give us responsibility, but it doesn’t give us magic powers.  Not one of us – not even the Marines as a group – can walk into Nigeria, do away with Boko Haram, give every child a polio vaccine, and rescue the young students that have been kidnapped.  We certainly can’t bring their brothers back from the dead.  Petitions and naming are problematic.  There is a strong, not very subtle tone of racial paternalism and sexism (girls: need protecting; boys: radio silence) to this campaign.  But we are outraged for good reason.  Many of us have children in our lives and are heartbroken over what is happening in Nigeria.  We feel deeply empathetic.  We want to help.  We want to show support and compassion.  How can we do that and not make things worse?

First, join an advocacy group.    Advocacy groups study these issues day in and day out, all year around.  Some of them focus on letter-writing.  Others focus on citizen lobbying, incorporate art, or do other creative work.  All of them have a strategy and knowledge-based suggestions for government action.  Policy-makers don’t always know what to do.  While advocacy certainly has its flaws, it can also be extremely effective. For example, I have personally known several people who were freed from prison because of the work of Amnesty International.  One of them was even told that he would not have been freed – ever – if it hadn’t been for a letter-writing campaign.  Here are just a few advocacy groups you can work with, donate to, or both:

Amnesty International
Human Rights Watch
Peace Brigades International
Genocide Watch

Another way to help is simply by donating funds.  All the groups above accept donations.  There are also NGOs that focus on peace, women’s rights, and African issues.  Join them!  Here are a few:

Search for Common Ground
The Fund for Peace
Peace Direct
African Women’s Development Fund
Women for Women International

There are many, many more of these organizations.  If you’re not sure whether or not an organization is reputable, feel free to contact me via the comments and I’ll let you know.

Social media is a great tool to raise the profile of global situations, but it’s very easy to feel hopeless or get burned out because after you sign a petition… what next?  After the Marines are sent in… what happens?  Was it right to pressure the government to send in the Marines in the first place?  Working with a reputable organization can connect you more directly to what is going on and give you specific action that you can take, with specific results.

Finally, if you want to post about an issue on either side, I recommend that you refrain from insulting your reader.  I’ve seen numerous articles about why “nobody is talking about kidnapped Nigerian girls” – except that everyone is talking about nobody talking about it.  On the other side, I’ve seen people calling those who have helped to spread the word “slacktivists” and essentially insulting their intelligence.  Both sides need to remember that no one has infinite time or attention; we all do the best we can.  I am proud to know people who are so good-hearted and truly want to help, even if they are not sure or disagree as to how.