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Fighting for justice isn’t easy, and we’re glad these people are doing it.

By OZY Editors

Changing the world ain’t easy. It’s not always popular, it usually doesn’t pay well and you have to sacrifice a lot. So on this Thanksgiving Day, we’re especially grateful for the idealists, visionaries and steadfast activists below. 

Political Firestarter: Beatriz Talegón

Meet the chain-smoking 30-year-old who’s lighting a fire under Europe’s left: Beatriz Talegón. Since February, when she stood up at a meeting of the International Socialist Council and denounced members for lack of transparency, limousine leftism and snubbing the youth, Talegón’s star had risen. She’s a hero in her home country, Spain, and popular the world over. Her message struck a particularly resonant chord with Spanish youth, something of a miracle in a country where the level of political distrust is 80 percent.

Changing the world ain’t easy. We’re especially grateful for these idealists, visionaries and steadfast activists.

Some rushed to call her “the hope of the left” and “the new face of socialism.” But to Talegón, what really matters is spurring others to action: “Many people got affiliated to the party as a result of my speech, but what made me even happier is that I got letters from people who had affiliated themselves to different parties!”

That is Talegón’s main message to her generation. Do you want to feel represented? Represent yourself. Do you know what others should do? Try doing it yourself. “Young people tell me, ’I don’t get involved in politics because it sucks.’ Well, I say politics suck because you don’t get involved.”

A Hero in Haiti: Mario Joseph

To know Mario Joseph is to wait for Mario Joseph. You will wait for him to return from a last-minute hearing, to stop barking into one of his two mobile phones, to wrap up a meeting that started an hour late. And you will wait because Joseph, managing attorney at the NGO Bureau des Avocats Internationaux, is the best human rights lawyer in Haiti, a country where human rights are honored mostly in the breach. From dawn till dusk, clients gather on his office’s bougainvillea-laced terrace: brave women going after rapists, homeless Haitians evicted from post-quake tent camps, cholera victims seeking reparations.

If fate had had its way, Joseph would have been like the millions of Haitians who never attend school, never see a doctor and live on less than $2 per day.

Joseph’s eyes are often red-rimmed from lack of sleep, but his suits are sharp, his ties are sumptuous and his shoes and fingernails are buffed till they shine. With his percussive Creole and typically stern countenance, Joseph can be intimidating. It’s easy to forget that he was raised in rural poverty by a single mother who couldn’t read, and that he managed to get a law degree only through a series of flukes and his own determination. If fate had had its way, Joseph would have been like the millions of Haitians who never attend school, never see a doctor and live on less than $2 per day.

Instead, he’s fighting two of Haiti’s most compelling human rights battles and the behemoths behind them: former dictator Jean Claude Duvalier (for war crimes) and the United Nations (for bringing cholera to Haiti). What’s more, he just might win. 

The Pragmatic Activist: Sarah Holewinski

”I sort of woke up one day and said I love armed conflict. I love war,” says Sarah Holewinski. “This is what I want to do: I want to do war.”

It’s an odd thing to hear from a human rights activist, especially a petite, Ivy-League-educated bibliophile with a thick mane of hair and a friendly smile. Though neither soldier nor military strategist, Holeswinski does indeed “do” war. Together with the organization she directs, the Center for Civilians in Conflict, based in Washington, D.C., Holewinski intends to “shift the entire way wars are waged.” That means lobbying policymakers, top brass and guerrilla leaders on behalf of people caught up in crossfire, as well as chemical weapons, drone strikes and errant bullets.

Once you engage in war, you have to be clear about civilian harm and responsibilities to civilians…

Unlike many humanitarian organizations, which explicitly oppose war, the Center skews to staunchly pragmatic. “We’re not out there saying ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to war — but instead, that once you engage in war, you have to be clear about civilian harm and responsibilities to civilians,” says Holewinski. In other words, it’s not a peacenik-y sort of place. It’s more about policy papers than leaflets. And as a result, the Center is one of the few organizations that war-makers actually listen to. It aims to help warring parties track civilian casualties, use methods that minimize harm, and make amends when people are hurt.

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