Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

Archive for the tag “demonstrations”

Your Letter Counts!

This post has been inspired by some great news I received about someone imprisoned by his oppressive government. I can’t wait to share the news, but have been asked to wait.

Often you feel powerless when a government arrests a person seeking freedom, democracy, education for women (or even the right to drive). It might be a tribe or people denied clean water or medicine, or any one of a thousand values that we take for granted every day.

We throw up our arms and give in. We get burnt out and buried in the stress of our own lives. But what if we each took 20 minutes a week or a month and wrote a letter to a political prisoner. Would it work?


When I was a teenager, I lost my political virginity campaigning to free Nelson Mandela and Anatoly Sharansky. I wrote letters, asked people to sign petitions, and went to demonstrations. Neither of these great men are free because of an English teenager’s attempts, but maybe I was a snowflake in the avalanche.

Bu Dongwei thinks so. He believes it worked for him. If nothing else take 2mins 21sec and listen to his story.

And Morgan Freeman agrees.

Amnesty International offers a list of prisoners and there are other organizations like PEN who advocate for writers who are jailed for standing up for freedom of speech in their own countries.

So how about it? Let’s all commit to just one letter a week/month. Put it in your calendar and let’s make a start.  


Alon Shalev is the author of the 2013 Eric Hoffer YA Book Award winner, At The Walls of Galbrieth, The First Decree, and Ashbar – Wycaan Master Book 3, all released by Tourmaline Books. Shalev is also the author of three social justice-themed novels including Unwanted Heroes. He swears there is a connection. More athttp://www.alonshalev.com and onTwitter (@elfwriter).

Don’t Let The Extremists Control The Agenda

I recently shared my optimism that with the various demonstrations and upheavals in the Middle East, and specifically in Gaza and the West Bank, we were nearing a stage whereby the moderate Palestinians and Israelis were moving closer towards a shared agenda of a sustainable peace treaty.

Tragically, terrorist attacks in Jerusalem and Itamar, multiple launches of bombs from Gaza towards populated areas of Israel and the anticipated military response of Israel, suddenly makes my blog post look, at best, wildly optimistic.

Anti-missile protection deployed for the city of Beersheva

But this is where we need to step back and gain perspective. Why did Palestinian extremists decide to up the ante now? Did they think the world wasn’t distracted enough by the upheaval in the Middle East, or the natural and nuclear catastrophe in Japan? Hardly makes any sense.

Perhaps they actually felt threatened by the peaceful demonstrations in their own backyard? Faced with the possibility that the majority of people, Palestinian and Israeli, were calling for a diplomatic solution, these extremists decided that the best way to prevent such progress was to blow it up in their faces – literally. They could count on cooperation from the Israeli right, who would immediately demand revenge and retribution.

It is easier to destroy than build bridges of peace and trust. It takes a single spark to ignite the powder keg that is the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Many say that when there is violence, we should be strong and not talk peace. I admit that I have felt this way in the past. But however painful it is when we see the pictures of victims, this is precisely the time to understand that there can only be one sustainable solution to the conflict. This must be the assertion of the moderates on both sides – that they will not tolerate their leaders straying from paths that will bring us closer to a permanent peace.

Egypt & Israel sign a peace treaty

Now more than ever, we need to be out in the streets, banging the drums of peace.



Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist (now available on Kindle) and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/and on Twitter (#alonshalevsf).


Movies That Matter – Invictus

One of my defining episodes as a teenager exploring social activism was the anti-apartheid movement. I attended my first demonstration with them, asked people to sign petitions, and had a Free Nelson Mandela sticker on my pencil case. When people were asked to play their favorite song at the local youth center, I offered up Biko by Peter Gabriel.

I always get excited for the soccer World Cup. This year was different. It was not just for the once-every-four-years’ festival of my favorite sport, but the recognition of how far South Africa has come. In a world of hate, corruption, violence and extremism, South Africa is a beacon of what can be achieved.

The overthrow of a brutal, racist system did not spiral into the bloodshed and vengeance that so many feared. The brave and difficult decision to heal memories and move on are a tribute not only to Nelson Mandela, but to every South African who committed themselves to this part.

Invictus was a landmark movie. It is a fictionalized the true story of South Africa hosting the rugby World Cup, as they exited the dark ages of apartheid. In the year leading up to the tournament, the team comes together to be an example of unity that trickles down through society. In an interesting parallel, Mandela needs to deal with integrating his personal security detail with the South African police detail.

I am not usually much of an actor/actress observer, but both Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon are awesome in their roles. I was skeptical that anyone could possibly ‘play’ a man who is truly a living icon, a larger-than-life inspiration for me. But Morgan Freeman is terrific.

It might be a sign of age, but there is something urgent in wanting to share a historical period of time that you lived through and ensure that generations to come will never forget it. I feel this sense of urgency when I talk with Holocaust survivors.

Invictus helps to fill this role. I will buy the DVD, and will sit my sons down to watch it. They will enjoy the movie, as it is a great movie. And then I will share my own story with them, and try to pass on my memory to the next generation.

Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at www.alonshalev.com

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