5 Civil-Rights Leaders for a New Generation
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because a dream never dies.
By OZY Editors
If you were to choose some of the toughest acts in history to follow, Martin Luther King Jr. would probably have one of the top slots. Half a century later, his long-lived campaign of nonviolence is still deeply rooted in our country’s consciousness. In fact, your first brush with the civil-rights legend was probably inside the glossy pages of a history textbook.
But his legacy doesn’t end there. He inspired the next generation of fresh-faced leaders who are at the helm of today’s global-justice movements. Some are public figures; others are unsung heroes. Yet they all channel the same razor-sharp sense of purpose that King is remembered for today. It doesn’t matter if it’s peacemongering for Tibet or lobbying for women in Fiji — these men and women pay a sacrifice and dive in, hearts first. So here are OZY’s five campaigners, reformers and activists who are crusading from their own mountaintops and delivering their own dreams, at any and all costs.
Whether you love him or hate him, Julian Assange took on the behemoth of political corruption — no easy feat, of course. He was left wide open to the might of the government. But that’s where Jennifer Robinson swooped in. She’s the high-octane human-rights lawyer for dissidents and activists who face backlash for blowing the whistle. In Assange’s case, she’s offered him legal counsel and moral support at a time when few dared to do so. It’s a big risk to take, but she’s driven by the passion of those who shoulder the courage to “take people on and not back off,” as she puts it. Even before Assange, the bright-eyed Australian attorney was a priest who fought against child sexual abuse and an activist who took on the plight of victimized West Papuans. Justice is calling, Robinson.
The 26-year-old Tibetan has many grand-slam achievements under her belt: She’s a Truman scholar, a Rhodes recipient and a United Nations consultant. Tenzin Seldon’s crowning accomplishment, though? She’s buds with the Dalai Lama. Few people can boast such tight connections with His Holiness, but the peace-loving refugee is an emerging torchbearer for the Tibetan diaspora that sweeps from Dharamsala to Minneapolis. Like her spiritual leader, her bedrock is nonviolence: She refuses to step foot in a Tibet that’s embroiled in conflict and censorship. Nonetheless, you can find the diplomat-to-be quietly presiding as the fresh face of Tibet all around the world — in documentaries, at delegations and in dialogue with people about the fate of Tibet’s precarious future.
His long list of clients includes raped women, homeless Haitians and cholera victims. All in a day’s work for the premiere human-rights lawyer of Haiti. Lest you think it’s all island paradise and sunny beaches, it’s fairly common for activists like Mario Joseph to receive death threats, to be kidnapped or to be slapped with arrest warrants. But Joseph doesn’t bow down to the vitriol. Perhaps it’s the rags-to-riches story that adds fuel to his fire: He was raised by an illiterate mother in the poverty of Haiti but came out on top with a law degree in tow. Maybe it’s the guts that come with sticking it to the man, which, in this case, is the United Nations and its hand in the cholera epidemic. But what keeps him going is probably his dogged pursuit of democracy in a country where impunity is the norm and the villains go unpunished. “Justice is never going to come unless you fight for it,” he says.
Fiji isn’t just a honeymoon destination. It’s rife with sexism and poverty, says Roshika Deo, a spunky politician and activist who was named the International Woman of Courage in 2014. She would know: She’s suffered from gender violence and is a tireless advocate for the countless women in Fiji who experience physical or sexual violence. Her homegrown movement, “Be the Change,” made some headway into laying down the roots of feminism, human rights and disability rights in Fiji. And despite the rampant online harassment, she acts as the political voice for the marginalized who live at the bottom rungs of Fiji’s society. It’s a tall order for a young, penniless woman whose nation lags terribly in political participation rates among women. Nonetheless, she’s always motivated by her childhood dream: One day, she hopes to be calling the shots as Fiji’s first female prime minister.
Colombian senator Claudia López calls them as she sees them — lamenting her “country of hypocrites” steeped in corruption and strife. In 2006, López single-handedly exposed the electoral-fraud conspiracy parapolitica, or paramilitary politics, which spurred an investigation into more than a third of all congressional members. Now, the activist turned politician continues to uphold the rule of law in Colombia as a member of the Green Alliance Party. Of course, it all came at a cost: She’s surrounded by a team of bodyguards and armored cars to keep her safe from the bigwigs who thirst for revenge. But, as López says, it’s a small price to pay for a future free of drug money and armed conflict in Colombia.
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