Tuesday, May 12, 2009

The Power of One

Contrary to popular Western beliefs, Western-style justice is not altogether unheard of in faraway places like Iran; it’s just a little slow to catch on.

To make my point, I offer into evidence quotes from two e-letters that arrived in my inbox yesterday:

“When Roxana Saberi, a 32-year-old American journalist was sentenced to eight years in prison on trumped-up charges of espionage, you and thousands of other Amnesty supporters immediately responded by sending over 26,000 letters to the Iranian government in less than 24 hours.

“Your letters worked! Roxana was just released from prison today after an appeal court in Tehran reduced her sentence to two-years, which was then suspended.”

—Amnesty International

“Ms. Saberi appealed her conviction on charges of espionage, and thanks to international pressure on the Iranian government including the almost 28,000 activists who signed our petition, she appeared in court to have her appeal heard yesterday and her charges were reduced. She walked out of prison in Iran today and was reunited with her parents.”

—Rebecca Young, Care2 Action Alerts

I can’t begin to tell you how gratifying it is when a letter I’ve written or a petition I’ve signed actually helps persuade someone in a position of authority to change his or her mind. Of course, not all petitions and letters bring about the desired results, but even those that fail send a powerful message—a message that can’t be ignored—to the powers that be: Not all of the unwashed masses are sound asleep; some of us are awake, and we’re watching you.

Some bloggers are of the opinion that signing petitions and writing letters are largely a waste of time; based on my experience, I respectfully but wholeheartedly disagree. While I lack the resources, as an individual, to buy a lobbyist or sway a politician, what I can do is add my voice to the voices of thousands of like-minded citizens; speaking as one we make ourselves heard.

Would Roxana Saberi still be in prison if no one had spoken out on her behalf? Almost certainly she would be. Would journalists in Iran be more immune to false imprisonment if no one had been paying attention? Almost certainly they would not. Do petitions and letters influence political decisions, and do they make a difference? Obviously, they do.

Why, then, do some people suggest that online activists are only wasting their time? Is it because online activism really doesn’t work, or is it because they are part of an entrenched order that adheres to the status quo and fervently hopes that you won’t exercise what little political power you have?

Okay, now it’s your turn; ask the next question.

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