There's an Activist in Each One of Us pushing to Speak Up
Pulse Wire does it again! Here I am presented with my first month assignment and here is my head spinning with questions and insights again…
My first month assignment would be about a female activist in my community; an assignment that has presented me with questions for the past two weeks about the term “activist” and what it means in my community today.
The truth is, “activist” has become a very cool term here over the past few years. In such challenging circumstances of conflict, the image of an “activist” as I see it today seems to be somewhat associated with that cool scarf-wearing, Che-Guevara loving, Bob-Marley singing, weed smoking, at-the-soldier screaming, at-institution-and-religion-cursing individual who most probably smells bad and curses a lot. This image pops up in my mind both locally and internationally. When you speak of an “activist”, chances are you will bump into such a group in some concert or flee market. An activist in this sense would be a rebel; an anarchist in a certain way but more importantly, a free soul who would be willing to do anything and lose everything for the sake of liberation and freedom. This person would most probably be recognized in the local media, with his/her popularity increasing at the prospect of getting into serious trouble. Going head-to-head with soldiers, challenging the state, screaming for people’s rights, throwing stones, perhaps being imprisoned or getting shot at in the middle of it would all add to this overall heroic effect of an activist!
That said, the woman I chose to write about today is not in the least pointed out as an activist. She is not particularly “cool” nor is she exceptionally popular. She does not surround herself with fellow rebels dressed in revolutionary-style outfits and you would not find her down the streets throwing rocks or fighting with soldiers. The activist I chose to write about for this assignment is an unmarried 39 year-old woman from Beit Sahour who has had a reporting and fundraising office job at the YWCA in East Jerusalem for the past 6 years before she decided to quit her job this year.
Rana Qumsiyeh was the highest-ranking student of the taweejhy-exam in all of the West Bank when she graduated from high-school about 20 years ago. She is undeniably smart, but that is not the reason I chose to write about her. It is not her open-mindedness to the world either, though I have to mention she has not restricted herself to societal constraints. Coming from a conservative Christian community in the village of Beit Sahour, Rana has chosen the path of knowledge. She has studied abroad and taken various courses in several countries across the globe. From Jordan to the States, Kenya to South Korea, she has not hesitated from exploring the world. With a commitment to learn, be critical and give something back to the community, she has been presented with different challenges in this troublesome country.
Under the justification of security measures and part of a collective punishment, Rana is one of thousands of persons caged inside the walls of Beit Sahour. For the past 6 years, she has been commuting back and forth to her job location in Jerusalem, and every day she has had to cross the checkpoint to come to work.
This does not necessarily make Rana special, for there are thousands of persons just like her, stuck between the walls and forced to wait for hours for a permit or be sent back home in the scorching heat. Rana is just another random person standing in one of those checkpoints. What makes her different, however, is her choice not to be quiet about it. Just like everybody else, she has been standing in line for all those years with humiliation and disappointment. However, Rana has chosen to make those stories heard.
For the past six years, Rana has been distributing her checkpoint stories online. Her stories have become like a journal that a lot of have related to and have been depending on. They got us in touch with what was happening on the ground at some checkpoint so close to us while we were sipping coffee at our desks.
According to the dictionary, an activist is “an especially active, vigorous advocate of a cause, especially a political cause.” An activist could after all be a regular but dedicated person trying to make the voice of the wronged heard. An activist is not necessarily a hero but any one of us who chooses to speak up. The fact that Rana was writing out and sharing these stories has compelled me to think of her as an activist. Just like all of us, she has passed through injustice, but unlike most of us who have stayed quiet about it, she has chosen to speak up.
Now that Rana has quit her job in Jerusalem after 6 years, she has written yet another piece as a personal farewell to the checkpoint. She finishes her piece by saying: “For all of you, who have been reading my checkpoint stories, please remember that there is a story every day at the checkpoint, waiting for someone to tell it.”
This article is part of a writing assignment for Voices of Our Future, which is providing rigorous web 2.0 and new media training for 31 emerging women leaders. We are speaking out for social change from some of the most forgotten corners of the world. Meet Us.