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Friday, August 16, 2002

From the Outside Looking In


By Alexa Llewellyn




Powerless Power Plays

Don’t say yes till I finish talking.

– Darryl F. Zanuck, Hollywood producer

Have you ever wondered how change takes place? All it takes is the desire and belief that you can change one portion of your world.

A recent example would be the 2,000 Nigerian women who occupied a major Chevron-Texaco oil facility in Escravos last month. Their political act? They sat down. They simply sat on the facility’s airstrips, helicopter pads, and docks to demand jobs for their husbands and sons. They demanded the roads, water service, and electricity that had been promised to them for mining the oil beneath their homes – but were never given to them.

Day after day the women sat, unarmed, deliberately slowing down the work of one of the world’s largest companies. No doubt they told each other story after story to keep up their courage. They must have told stories about their children, stories about men, stories about their childhood, and stories about their dreams for the future in order to keep each other strong. In the end, who won? The power of 2,000 women can move mountains – and multinational oil companies.

There is also the case of the Mothers of the Plazo de Mayo. During the early 1980s, the military in Argentina killed thousands and thousands of people. Tortured and killed them; buried them in mass graves. The disappeared included children who were rounded up along with their parents. And children born to women soon to be killed in more than 200 secret detention centers throughout the country. Many of the new orphans were given to childless couples in good standing with the military junta.

But these children did not truly disappear. Someone gave their names to the world at large. Someone could not and would not forget them – their grandparents, who longed to hold their grandchildren again and see their lost children in their grandchildren’s eyes. So one day a week at noon, the grandmothers would dress in black and go to the Plaza de Mayo in Buenos Aires, where they walked in silent protest for news and records about their children and grandchildren. Their powerful statement was heard across the world.

Finally, there is the story of an American prisoner named Clarendon Gideon, who felt that he was unjustly convicted of burglary. Gideon had requested an attorney to represent him at his trial. But in the 1950s, the law only allowed those who were illiterate and/or charged with a capital crime to be assigned an attorney. Gideon embarked on a mission. On his own, he wrote brief after brief, and his tenacity won for all of us the right to have a public defender when we are charged with a felony. In 1963, when Clarence Gideon finally got his retrial, it turned out that he was right. His state-appointed attorney was able to prove to the jury that he was innocent after all.

Do you feel that you are too insignificant to alter the course of human events? Remember that the truly powerless could and did change the world