Letter from ALBA: Legacies of Activism

August 26, 2019
A raft with112 African drifs out of control in Mediterranean Sea some 36 nautical miles off the Libyan coast

Òscar Camps, founder of ProActiva Open Arms, winner of the 2017 ALBA/Puffin Award for Human Rights Activism

Dear Friends:

It’s late summer, a time when news used to be slow. It no longer is. On the Mediterranean, the fearless life-saving professionals of ProActiva Open Arms, led by the visionary Òscar Camps, are battling narrow-minded, xenophobic European governments for the right to help drowning African migrants safely reach the shores of Italy and Spain. In Brazil, revelations of government corruption by The Intercept—founded by muckraking journalists Glenn Greenwald and Jeremy Scahill—have prompted a backlash of repression from the Bolsonaro administration. Meanwhile, in southern Mexico, Lydia Cacho, one of the country’s most prominent investigative reporters, had her house burglarized in what the Committee to Protect Journalists characterized as a “blatant and outrageous attack.” 

In the United States, the crisis on the southern border shows no sign of letting up. To the contrary, it has expanded into all 50 states, as ICE conducts massive raids and the situation of those held in detention continues to be appalling. The Immigration Justice Campaign’s thousands of volunteer lawyers are busy providing legal help where none would otherwise be available.

The Dreamers, young Americans who arrived in the country at a young age and remain undocumented, are protesting the termination of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), rescinded by the Trump administration in 2017. This November, the Supreme Court will hear arguments on whether that action was legal.

January will see the premiere of Just Mercy, the film based on Bryan Stevenson’s bestselling book of the same title. Both tell the story of Walter McMillian’s wrongful conviction and eventual exoneration by a criminal justice system heavily burdened by the legacies of slavery. Stevenson’s organization, the Equal Justice Initiative, is also featured in a new HBO film, True Justice. The organization has been making international headlines with its groundbreaking Legacy Museum and National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Alabama.

Besides their creativity and bravery, Camps, Scahill, Cacho, the Immigration Justice Campaign, the Dreamers, and Bryan Stevenson have something else in common. They are all recipients of the ALBA/Puffin Award for Human Rights Activism, which next year will celebrate its ten-year anniversary. In the face of the unrelenting wave of worrisome news, nothing is more inspiring than seeing these individuals and organizations, along with the five other award winners from past years, continue to fight for what they believe in: human rights, equality, progressive values, press freedom, internationalism, and social justice. They are an inspiration.

As Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha explains in her column, to keep activism alive, focused, and effective, it’s crucial to see it as part of a longstanding legacy. A sense of lineage is important, of course; but so are practical examples of the ways in which regular people have been able to organize, stand up for what they believe in, fight injustice against all odds—and, yes, sometimes attain victory, even if it takes a while. As Robert Coale explains, the Spanish loyalists who started fighting fascism in 1936 were still there in 1944, liberating Paris. Or as Giles Tremlett put it, when asked about his forthcoming book about the International Brigades: “Yes, the Brigades lose the war in Spain. But they go on to win World War II. In other words: they were right. As antifascists, they were right.”

This is the principle that drives our work at ALBA: remembering the past—studying it, learning from it, finding inspiration in it—in order to change the present. This fall, once again, we are going on the road to bring these lessons to hundreds of high school teachers and, through them, thousands of students across the United States.

We are always aware that we can’t do this without your continued support. Thanks for everything that you do.


Peter N. Carroll & Sebastiaan Faber, editors

P.S. Please remember to make a monetary contribution to support ALBA’s educational mission!