“The most common way people give up their power
is by thinking they don’t have any.”
The path to activism has always been a challenging one. Looking at historical events led by influential individuals, we only sometimes think about the sacrifices, setbacks, backlash, or hardships they could have endured. Yet, their resilience and perseverance led to the success of many historical movements. Throughout the years since its creation, Nonviolence International (NVI) has highlighted and supported an endless list of brave social activists who dedicate their lives and put themselves on the forefront to fight for social justice. Among these young activists, I had the pleasure to meet Simon Peter Bayingana.
Simon is a community organizer and a human rights defender in Uganda. He has engaged in several fellowships and organizations focused on movement building and nonviolent strategy. Of the organizations he has worked with, Simon was invited by Katherine Hughes-Fraitekh to be part of Solidarity 2020 and Beyond, one of NVI’s fiscal sponsors. Solidarity 2020 and Beyond, founded by a team of three Rotary Peace Fellows, is an international network that provides support and solidarity for grassroots activists worldwide. The mission of this network is to support grassroots activists in the global south and those doing the work of human rights defenders through sharing knowledge and resources like rapid response and legal support. They also help identify what specific skills, knowledge, strategies, campaigns, tactics, analytical tools, plans, resources, and alliances grassroots activists and organizers need at the local level (Solidarity 2020 and Beyond, 2022). Through Solidarity 2020 and Beyond Simon was able to join the Global activist Network that connected him with activists across africa, which has become a considerable resource for his work.
Since a very young age, Simon always knew he wanted to dedicate his life to fighting social injustices. But it wasn’t until after attending a course on narrative and story of self that he answered his calling to serve his community. As a community organizer, Simon helps people realize that they have power, and empowers them to use it. Coming from a country like Uganda, an authoritarian state under a dictatorship regime, Simon realized that collective action and effort while utilizing nonviolent tactics is the only way to achieve some level of justice and change. Simon has successfully employed many nonviolent tactics including wearing chains, protesting, fasting, press conferences, petitions, boycotts around universities, and training students in civil resistance, to name a few. He utilized these tactics to combat land grabs, forced evictions, and the installation of new pipelines that would result in more human rights violations and environmental destruction.
While Simon has been able to mobilize for social change in his country, his work proves even more difficult as Uganda continues to violate human rights and the freedom to assemble. In a country like Uganda, human rights defenders trying to seek justice face higher risks of imprisonment and political backlash. Activists are often arrested, intimidated,, kidnapped, brutally tortured, face threats, and left with long-term injuries as well as mental and emotional trauma. Despite these risks and challenges, Simon continues to inspire and train young leaders to use their voices to facilitate change.
As Simon touched on the realities of being an activist in his country, I felt grief. Being from the Democratic Republic of Congo, I could not think of a safe way to organize and protest. I could just remember all the times my siblings and I had to skip school because a peaceful protest had turned into police brutality, living during a time of political unrest when men and boys were being kidnapped, hearing about the disappearance of local activists, or even seeing nonprofits constantly falsely accused and sometimes shut down for being political stunts. Witnessing such events made me feel hopeless, like the damages and human rights violations were irreparable.
For many aspiring and current activists, hopelessness during hard times is a shared sentiment. So, in the face of struggles and hardships, how can one remain hopeful or even committed to activism? It is easy to let fear and frustration get in the middle of your work. But, for some, looking ahead for a better future and recognizing and embracing small victories keeps them hopeful that their work is not in vain. It is also important to remember that if people like Martin Luther King Jr, Mahatma Ghandi, Nelson Mendela, and Thich Nhat Hanh had completely given up their hope, we wouldn’t be able to embrace their substantial contribution to the nonviolent movement.
Therefore, nonviolent activists, this is a message for you:
“Take courage and do not stay silent. If you keep quiet, no one will speak up. But also keep in mind that your life matters as an activist. It is important that you build strategies that do not put you or any one at risk. See that you can achieve and build a better world. Build as many networks as possible to help build solidarity around you. Organize because you can’t achieve it alone. Stay informed, share knowledge, build skills.” -Simon Peter Bayingana
Credit: Community Organizing event(2022)
Ahlers, R. (2022, February 2). Land Archives. SOMO. Retrieved November 30, 2022, from https://www.somo.nl/topic/land/
Global Grassroots Activists Movement Solidarity initiative. Solidarity 2020 and Beyond. (n.d.). Retrieved November 30, 2022, from https://solidarity2020andbeyond.org/