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 “University of London”

Emma McCune

Last week, I posted about Emmanuel Jal, who was forced to become a child soldier in South Sudan and has gone on to become a famous hip-hop singer and tireless social activist.

Jal was rescued by Emma McCune, who I discovered was a remarkable woman. Emma was born in India in 1964, but brought up in the UK where she graduated from the University of London. In 1985, at the age of 21, Emma flew to Australia and back in a single-engine, light aircraft with a friend.

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Two years later, she went to Sudan, then in a civil war to volunteer for the British organization Volunteer Services Overseas. She was forced to return to England the following year but by 1989 she managed to return, this time working for Street Kids International, which founded or re-opened more than 100 village schools in South Sudan.

She met and married Riek Machar, one of two leading South Sudan guerrilla commanders, and worked to promote his organization after Street Kids International fired her. She died in a car crash, pregnant, in 1992. Emma’s mother, Maggie C, published her story in Till the Sun Grows Cold, and journalist Deborah Scroggins wrote an unauthorized biography of her called Emma’s War.

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Emma is seen as a controversial figure because of her marriage, but she unequivocably worked to save more than 150 war children in Sudan including hip hop artist Emmanuel Jal. At the APF conference that I attended, he performed his tribute to an incredibly brave woman: “Emma McCune” was recorded for his 2008 album Warchild.

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Alon Shalev writes social justice-themed novels and YA epic fantasy. He swears there is a connection. His latest books include: Unwanted Heroes and At The Walls Of Galbrieth. Alon tweets at @alonshalevsf and @elfwriter.  

Accusing From Afar

Living in England, you learn that the British Empire was something positive. It brought roads, education, medicine, and culture to the masses. You see movies of the aristocratic class in India, Africa, and just about everywhere else. “The sun never set of the British Empire,” was said as an expression of pride, if not wistfulness, as I grew up.

One of the biggest shocks to my social conscience occurred when I began studying sociology at London University. I had been political as a teenager, advocating for human rights in the Soviet Union, Tibet and South Africa. I was about to receive a rude awakening.

I arrived late to university as the semester opened on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. The class was discussing a book, A Savage Culture, by Remi Kapo. A black, English sociologist was describing how many of the violent, classist, and racist facets of British society, were entrenched as part of the psyche of the British Empire, even though the British Empire was now a largely inactive Commonwealth.

I thought I was just missing something. I raised my hand and asked whether his premise was that the British Empire was wrong and evil. You could have cut the tension with a chainsaw.

The professor looked at me for a moment trying to decide, I imagine, whether I was being a smartass. Seeing that I was trying to disappear from embarrassment, he took pity and explained everything, feeding off my willingness to be honest about what I had learned growing up.

I remember wanting to tell him and the other students how I considered myself a political activist and brag about the campaigns I had participated in. This was a group of very politically aware students and it was a while before they accepted me as a friend.

It is easy and convenient to see evils from afar and confer rapid judgment on what others are doing. Here on the Left Coast we are especially good at doing this. However, are we doing this to feel good with ourselves because we are unable to solve the injustices in our own backyard? Does it not feel more righteous to accuse others (usually well-deserving), rather than admit when we fail to achieve the values and ideologies that we preach?

The age of the Internet has made it possible to help others in any part of the world. My novel,  The Accidental Activist, tells this very story, highlighting how the Internet was utilized by a small group of activists to fight a multinational corporation in court (It is based on the McDonald’s libel trial in England in the 1990’s).

But while today there is no excuse for being uninformed about world events, it also makes it easier to avoid injustice on our own doorstep. It is simply more convenient to go online than onto the streets.

When I look at the inequalities here in California and the potential that we have to correct them, I wonder whether we can perhaps teach the greatest lesson by being the greatest example. ——————————————————————————————————-

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 www.alonshalev.com

 

 

 

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