7
Oct
2009

The Art of Caring

I am a worshipper at the temple of humour. I tried seriousness once and it gave me a mental illness. Now I build my life around amusement. It is wonderful to push the buttons of a stressed person and hear peals of laughter emerge.

I am, of course, aware that this is not a wonderful world and that the reason we need entertainment is because it distracts and relieves us from our ills. ‘But other people can deal with that’, I thought but always with a slight twinge of guilt.

When Kaya Eldridge made it clear, from the other side of the world, that she was starting a dialogue on behalf of all sexual assault victims, it was make or break time for my conscience.

And thus my shoulders welcomed the task of co-organising a march and petition calling for the enforcement of a law that protects sexual assault victims from having their moral character called into question during trial. A dense, mouthful of a task but with activism, one’s cause tends to have back-story.

Learning to speak in informative chunks was the first thing I learned about activism, the second thing I learned is that physical co-ordination is important.

Whilst sticking up posters, I bound some of the fingers shut with cellotape . The motion of trying to shake off the offending adhesive caused my laptop strap to shoot down my arm and lasso my hand shut. ‘Ahhh,’ I thought, as my friend dedicated all of her energy towards laughing, ‘there is still space for clowning during activism.’

The third thing I learned is that you repeat yourself all the time. The money part of paragraph four has become my mantra and almost any stimulus can trigger it.

The fourth thing I learned is that – in media terms – I thought I knew what makes a story but I don’t. Kaya’s mother assigned me the role of Press Officer before this march even existed and I immediately went to a journalist friend who said he couldn’t think of anyone who would be interested in her tale of courtroom humiliation. Yet within days, her story was all over the wires. Presumably as soon as one paper prints something, its news value skyrockets.

The fifth thing I learned about activism is that you have to be able to command attention. My co-organiser has an extraordinary gift of the gab and is going to make an amazing human rights lawyer one day. On the other end of the spectrum, my style of public speaking is shrill and involves a pained, lemon-sucking expression.

At  the School of Oriental and African Studies’ fresher’s fair, our first major drive to get signatures, I vented about this  communicative defect to Dougal Wallace, a linguistics student who happened to ask how I was. He gave me some simple but brilliant advice that has kept my spirits high ever since: it doesn’t matter if you speak at an alarming pitch; all you have to be as an activist is convinced by your cause.

And this idealism was borne out. SOAS may be the most fertile ground for any form of activism but I was nonetheless impressed by the number of people who responded to my petition-pushing with genuine interest and encouragement. I am not the only person who gives a damn about how sexual assault victims are treated. Of course I’m not. I could write a whole other post on why this cause needs our attention.

So that is how I realised that if you think you have a good cause, it doesn’t matter if you could give Patti LaBelle a run for her money or if you’ve never communicated anything more serious than a shopping list, everything except passion can be learned.

And there’s a place for light-heartedness as well. You should have heard our reworking of Sound Off for Monday’s march.

Our petition is still going

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