The photo of multicultural Europe of 2018 and the portrait of the pre-world wars Europe both depict the same mood: hate and dissonance. Nationalism was and still is perhaps the main cause. Nationalism transcended WWI and was the main force of WWII. In addition, the Yugoslav war of the 1990s and the conflict in Ukraine today are offshoots of nationalism. We are 70 years away from 1948, when The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was adopted. And what do we have now, here, in the Babylon of Europe?
That’s the question I was preoccupied with before starting off to the mystical Belgian forest called ‘Bois de Hal’, south of Brussels, to participate in “No Hate Bootcamp”, an accelerated training aiming at development of strategies to combat hate in EU and the neighbouring countries.
When I first saw an open call to join this ‘no hate endeavour’, my response was, predictably, “Nice…but isn’t it too late to fight the billion army of ‘divan warriors”, “armchair activists”, trolls and haters? Are the real people, off-line activists a dynamic cultural force? How can we still combat hate in digital age?
I couldn’t help having these thoughts as I made the pilgrimage to the village of Dworp, where the first phase of the bootcamp took place.
I am here, one of the 30 mavericks, who spend 8 days, working with coaches and experts in human rights to help us begin our own grassroots campaigns.
30 activists from 9 countries and 5 trainers – all are the polar opposite of the kind of shouty, upper-middle-class agitators you might expect to find lobbying for human rights issues. I walk through the door and enter a kind of a secret society, an adventure that takes me through a maze, into a unique, no-ceilinged library of dozens of human books with thousands of thoughts and emotions. I’m astounded to observe individuals from very disparate areas who are involved in social change in diverse and creative ways, wanting to campaign on issues they care about: racism, fascism, social justice, feminism, Islamophobia, LGBT-rights.
No Hate Educators
It certainly didn’t hurt that our ‘no hate secret society’ was staffed with some amazing educators and human rights wizards who made it easy to get immersed into the story. The best people to push for change are those with direct experience, and those are our five gurus: Nika and Tiko from Georgia, Emilia from Italy, Marit from Norway and David from Belgium.
Over the last decade, Nika Bakhsoliani, a trainer on human rights and democratic citizenship, has been advocating for political and social change in his home country of Georgia, inspiring young activists for change. An active participant of multiple international projects (No hate Embassy, All in the same boat – Becoming an Activist Against Hate, Turn Hate OFF, United Youth Against Hate and Violent Extremism in Europe, Turning Mirrors into Windows, etc.) Nika expresses confidence that the Tbilisi-based nonprofit ‘Droni’, where he is a board member, will provide him more opportunities to voice his strongly held principles and values. When deconstructing hate speech, he masterfully uses case studies – his absolutely favorite educational tool, allowing himself to go a mile deep into the subject matter rather than a mile wide. Observing and listening to this constructive change-maker, gave me the understanding of what a protester is: a protester is not only somebody who goes into the street, not only somebody who disrupts a board meeting, a protester is somebody who tells the truth in public and there are many ways to do that.
Emilia Astore has lead uncountable number of human rights education sessions, along with a string of invited talks and presentations. Consultant and trainer on human rights education, participatory decision-making processes, conflict resolution and team building for such organisations as Amnesty International, ILGA Europe, ARCIGAY, CARTUS Intercultural and Language Solutions, she is presently an appointed trainer for the Municipality of Torino’s project ‘G3P Reloaded’, managing learning needs assessment, community engagement and trainings for Police Officers and Procurators on prevention and intervention against racist hate crimes. Additionally to that, Emilia is currently developing campaigns fighting the fascist movement that has brought Mussolini back to the mainstream Italy. Even though there is a lot of tension around, she doesn’t shy away from conflict. For her human rights is a career but it’s also a calling. It’s a difficult path, but the benefit is that she gets to walk through the world with integrity, and doesn’t have to compromise on her values. A confident smile spreads across her face. That’s priceless.
Marit Moberg, the founder and chief of board of Shokkin Group Norge, which is a part of the network Shokkin Group International. She has mainly been working with using activism and creative tools such as photography, graffiti and podcastmaking to address issues connected with human rights. On the national level, she works with migrants and refugees, focusing on inclusion of minorities in our society, as well as women’s rights in the immigrant communities in Norway. Things should change further. The hardest challenge of today is overcoming the psychology — this prejudice goes deep. Which is why Marit is steeling herself for the next fight – a battle against hate speech.
Tiko Nadirashvili is active in Georgian social and political scene as a human/women rights defender. She poses a challenge to the deep-seated patriarchy in Georgian society: she’s young, secular, independent, still childfree, internationally active, photogenic and articulate. She’s an in-demand public speaker, traversing topics from feminism and rights of employees to communications strategies, political science researcher, blogger, vlogger, indie film producer. Tiko engages with the audiences through her regular columns on www.droni.org/blog, an alternative blog ran by the non-profit Droni, a non-governmental organization with the mission to promote the establishment of a modern, healthy, educated and perfect society.
David Mgeladze has dedicated the last six years to building “We Speak Love”, a Brussels-based human rights organization that’s equally concerned with anti-bullying support, fighting for equal opportunities and HIV. He seems to operate with two expressions: a serious scowl or a wide-mouthed smile. When discussing LGBT rights or eco-friendly initiatives, you can expect either one to surface on his face. As we sit in front of each other and talk about the seemingly impossible challenge that lies ahead – strategic planning and execution of a Belgium-wide cultural campaign to fight hate speech – he peers thoughtfully into the clear Belgian sky and in a few minutes comes up with the uncompromisingly brave and clear roadmap ideas.
The gurus talk and listen, transmit concepts and skills, observe and try to figure out what, if anything, those in the group are learning. Their talk-to-listen ratio is perfectly 50:50. What I personally didn’t expect is how they could adjust the bootcamp program according to our every day feedback. Every evening we had a reflection session where we analyzed our daily outcomes. The activity in itself reinforced the learning of that activity, moreover, recording that reflection further enhanced the learning. As a result, my mood shifted from the first-day despair through hope as I participated in daily trainings to the last day of the state close to nirvana.
Activities Addressing Hate Speech
Our daily education sessions took place everywhere: in the classroom, in the garden, in the forest, at institutions in Brussels. We literally experienced the intensity of A-Level: there were icebreakers, team- and trust building exercises, lessons on hate speech, film-screenings, case studies and local actions. We were up at 8:00 and down after midnight. Truly severe, not for wussies!
“Roots and Branches” Exercise
First, I was mesmerised by the “Roots and Branches” exercise. We explored the causes and effects of hate speech using a ‘problem tree’ approach. Each country identified the core target groups of hate speech, the reasons, which lead to hate speech (the ‘roots’ of the tree) and some of the effects of hate speech (the ‘branches’). The practical and political part of this exercise is learning to articulate exactly what has been undervalued in society. As a result, we had an exhibition of major human rights violations country by country launched in the middle of the forest. How can one fail to be fascinated by something like that?
The Stories They Tell – Deconstructing Hate Speech
We work in small groups to undress a particular case of oppressive narrative or a news publication. Results are presented as a drawing, chart or a collage. The step-by-step guide to hate speech analysis was the following: 1. the content, structure and tone of the oppressive narrative; 2. the intent of the oppressive narrative; 3. the context and the targets; 4. the media, geographical and temporal distribution; 5. verifying the facts; 6. the impact.
The lesson I learned through deconstruction was not just analyzing or criticizing the narrative, but carefully unwrapping the words and suddenly seeing other interpretations. In language there are three different worlds: the world of the speaker, the world of the text itself, and the world of the receiver of the idea. The speaker has his own view and he expresses it through language. The language, though it is being used by the speaker, has its own world also. It is because language can’t capture precisely what we are ought to say or the content of the thought that we are trying to express. Plus, language evokes many meanings. The same also goes to the perceivers of the language. They, too, have different world, because they have their own perspective of the meaning of the words. When you free the text, it is not longer yours. It belongs to the wider world. Usually, text can be easily interpreted if we are on the mainstream of it or when it conveys our experiences. Hence, it is very important for no hate speech ambassadors to share with people knowledge and broaden their experiences, for them to be able to interpret the content and the context, to play with the meanings and detect the hidden agendas.
This method is used globally as an anti-oppressive tool to bring together representatives of different minorities in society, who volunteer to share their life stories and experiences in order to help others overcome prejudice using active dialogue based on respect.
The Living Library works exactly like a normal library – readers come and borrow a ‘book’ for a limited period of time. After reading it they return the Book to the library and – if they want – they can borrow another Book. There is only one difference: the Books in the Living Library are human beings, and the Books and readers enter into a personal dialogue.
A Living Library requires three kinds of people:
– Books, who openly and honestly represent certain stereotyped groups (i.e. Feminists, Disabled People, Muslims, Police, Goths, Gays)
– Readers, who check out the Books for 45-minute to 2-hour discussions
– Librarians, who facilitate the whole process
I’m especially attracted to the one-on-one nature of the method, the fact that it’s not forced, and the simplicity and ease of it. Digital world does not help us to understand each other as effectively as the personal touch of a real-life dialogue.
I suppose this is what makes a bootcamp, and being among the fellow bootcampers, a unique experience. It is an intensive and at the same time slow-motion, steady form of off-line travelling through issues and challenges, entering into them as a river would penetrate a jungle carrying spellbound explorers. While the hate speech flies around us, in every direction, like an immense snowstorm, the slow river of counter activism continues to flow, at a human pace, from mouth to mouth, poem by poem, from film to film, carrying humanism to new destinations.
Small, overcrowded Europe is still a great place to watch these happening, and make plans for future ‘no hate journeys’.
Inspire Creativity With Headline Poetry
One of our fun-filled evenings was filled with workshops conducted by the bootcampers. Volunteers took turns sharing their expertise with the other group members.
Here is the link to one of those curious sessions, a workshop by a Belgian poet Jee Kast on how to inspire creativity with the “cut-up” technique invented in the early 20th century by Dadaist poet, Tristan Tzara.
Watch video on: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8amo7Iimms8&feature=youtu.be
On the 21st of July we were encouraged to prepare a local action devoted to the 22nd of July which marks the anniversary of the Oslo attacks and Utøya massacre that claimed a total of 77 young lives. We were asked task to come up with an action to commemorate all victims of racist attacks. Taking into consideration that we were short in time, with 24 hours to create something meaningful, the outcomes were extraordinary: a gorgeous podcast “What is your name”; a flashmob in the downtown of Brussels and interviews with the spectators; a group video manifesto; a team hands photo message; a film-poem “Above the Babylon of Europe”.
I found it to be the most emotionally draining, explorative, and amazing week. I laughed, cried, felt vulnerable, was overjoyed, conquered with doubts, challenged my views and the views of others, and realised we are all pretty strong.
The actions made me think that the future of activism is not about pressing our politicians through synchronised trivial street protest, but about how to make people see the world in fundamentally different way. For this, we should refuse to follow existing patterns, invent new forms of protest to spread the contagious mood throughout the human community. Movements work when they inspire people, when they make people lose their fear.
The Intermediary Phase
In the upcoming two months of August-September 2018, our group continues its life online. We use social media platforms to discuss issues, share information and carefully plan the upcoming projects. Each of the 30 members is working on his/her country campaign to contribute to our simultaneous action plan to fight hate as a group.
Below, you can see the map of our intermediary phase activities around Europe before we meet again in Georgia for the third phase of our ‘#NoHateBootcamp‘.
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