Activism is Art in that the best activism, like much of Great Art, is grounded in honest storytelling by artists/activists.
Reading “The Migration Diary of Hala Almasi” by Amit Majmudar posted by JNaz prompted me to write about a recent experience I had as good friends were frantic to get their team out of Afghanistan. Sam and Laurie head up a PSU organization they founded called World in Conversation. Sam teaches a sociology class on race and ethnicity at PSU to about 800 students—all in one room! Sam called and suggested I watch his class via the computer right after the Kabul attack on the airport. He zoomed in four guests (friends) to his live class of 800 students—two men instrumental in getting folks out of Afghanistan, a young woman who heads up one of Sam and Laurie’s international World in Conversation teams (the young woman is not in Afghanistan) and who is also a dear friend and colleague of the fourth guest, a young husband and father of two young children who opted to stay in Afghanistan to care for his mother even though he and his family are in danger (the rest of the World In Conversation Team got out). The man who stayed teaches computer science to women, and the school has been shut down by the Taliban. Sam’s class was very moving. Sam and all the guests were near tears several times—as was I. They all talked about the horrors of folks trying to get to the airport for flights and the moral dilemma of choosing. A young family with two infants and a 70 year old parent that one of the guests is still trying to help had to leave the East Gate because they were shot at and in a ditch hiding for hours. They managed to get back to the gate and were wading through sewage water, but finally the children had to be taken somewhere safe—they were too exhausted to stay. They are in hiding now. If they would have stayed in the crowd they would have been where the bombs went off. I don’t know the family’s fate.
I also met Basim and Azmat Kahn in Sam’s class; Basim was featured in a Sunday NYT Magazine cover story by Azmat Kahn (https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2017/11/16/magazine/uncounted-civilian-casualties-iraq-airstrikes.html). His home was accidentally bombed in Iraq due to inaccurate U.S. intelligence. Sam also brought Basim to my home, and I met him personally. He is an extraordinary person.
My friendship with Sam and Laurie and the personal stories I heard firsthand from their friends created connections that make the headlines very real to me, as does Amit Majmudar’s powerful and personal poem. Both the poem and the stories take mental, emotional, and spiritual energy to process. I found I had to respond and discovered two groups to support: World Without War and No One Left Behind.
Here are links to replays of the above classes and a link to a Ford Foundation conversation with Azmat and Basim.
Basim and Azmat Kahn in a Ford Foundation conversation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-2mtfSeLcxE
Moving Art and Activist Movements for Peace and Justice are soul mates at their common core.
2 comments on “Activism As Art; Art As Activism”
Barbara, thank you for sharing these experiences with us. I am moved toward tears just reading what you have written. The choices these people are faced with are just unfathomable – to risk one’s life staying? to risk one’s life going? Thank you for bringing it home to me here, in my safe, comfortable home. I am going to try and carve out a corner today or tomorrow to watch Sam’s classes.
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Thanks for bringing this here, Barbara — I will have to watch as well.