Real Change Comes From Within


The front page of the New York Times Monday had a photo of Venezuelans in line to vote. The photo was taken in one of the poorer neighborhoods of Caracas and the line is very long. I am as taken by the setting as I am by the fact that the vote – whether you agree with it or not – was a triumph of the will of the people over the ambition of their leaders. I immediately conjured up some of my favorite images – people in distant lanes waiting in the hot sun, people waiting in line for most of the day, people walking past armed guards to vote.

From the lawyers of Pakistan to the monks of Myanmar, it's been quite a year for the brave to stand up for the civil rights of the people. (You can harsh my buzz by mentioning the Russian vote this week – which is seemingly the will of the people to abdicate their rights – but why interrupt my revelry?)

You see where I'm going with this. Change must come from within. Okay, change can come from the CIA toppling a government but the results are really never good. Positive, constructive, lasting progress comes from within the society for the good of the society.

Take, for example, the status of women. Do men go around handing out opportunities to women in a society where women have no value beyond wife and mother? No, something fundamental has to change. The women have to decide that something much be different. I've referenced some shining examples in the past including Agnes Pareiyo, a Maasai woman from Kenya who believes that women should not be circumcised; Myriam Conejo Maldonaldo, a Quechua woman from Ecuador who believes that indigenous people have the same right to education and health care as everyone else; Gamilah Ghaleb Al-Sharie, a Yemeni woman and devout Muslim who does not believe that faith and family planning are mutually exclusive; and Ket Noeun, a Cambodian woman who believes that violence against women is unacceptable and that the State has a responsibility to hold its citizens to this truth.

These women have pushed their societies to change by pushing down one form of oppression against women. No matter which notion of women's inferiority they take on, the rest are bound to tumble down after. Stop genital mutilation of women and they are likely to stay in school, delay their marriage and space children, thereby increasing the family's economic stability.

These ideas – that women should crank out babies, that educating them is a waste, that violence toward wives is just the way things are – are deeply held in some places. But societies are not calcified. Societies are living, evolving entities just like the people who comprise them. And when one or a few decide to change things – if they are very passionate, persistent and, one might argue, extraordinary – societies do change.

But, to be fair, when you are powerless and you demand rights, it's huge. When you live in the West and are lucky to be amongst the majority that have a solid foundation of status and rights, the things we do to improve our lot are incremental. But that does not mean they aren't important.

We are entering the fray of a very long election year (I know, you were pretending that it's almost over). It is very important that our next President admire the bravery of women like Anges, Myriam and Ket. So please, involve yourself. Do all those little things that add up to big things. Starting with voting. It is very easy to be disenchanted with politics in this country so let me end with this:

BBC radio is celebrating their 75 anniversary by playing short segments of monumental events that the broadcast service covered over the last seven and an half decades. Last week, I was taken back to that fantastic party on top of the Berlin wall when the Germans (not Ronald Reagan) demanded that their government end the division of their people. A triumph of the human spirit over status quo.

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