Activism and survival in our times

BY NEIL SARDANA

Published November 8, 2007

We have experienced a great deal of uncertainty recently as to where our lives and world are going. We lived through Sept. 11, continuing conflicts in the Middle East and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. We're facing the consequences of global warming, an oil crisis, and widespread poverty and hunger throughout the developing world. At home we are seeing major unemployment and economic hardship, a flawed health care system, and our cultural and political systems are rampant with discrimination.

Historically, social activism has been an effective way to address these problems and to make our society a more respectable place. Toward that end, American society made progress during the movement for desegregation and civil rights, as well as the movement for equal rights for women. We are currently fighting for progress across the globe for ending various forms of inequality, oppression and conflict.

In today's world, these struggles have not only become more difficult but also more crucial to the survival of our communities and world as a whole. We know of the moral and ethical reasons for activism, but now all of our lives and futures depend on it. We are seeing that we can no longer engage in conflict and warfare because it entails great human and environmental costs while also fueling terrorism. We are finding that when workers are employed in sweatshop-like conditions, it allows companies to unfairly compete in markets, driving down wages and working conditions. This causes the loss of thousands of jobs and has destructive effects on economies. We now see that ignoring the causes of global warming has allowed major disasters like the 2004 tsunami and Hurricane Katrina to occur, causing the loss of thousands of lives.

This is the reality of our world. These actions and their effects are placing our world at risk. That's why it is so urgent and important that we begin to stand up to these injustices as a human community. We must join or form groups and networks to challenge this unnatural decline. Our campus and its surrounding communities offer numerous opportunities for us to become engaged and active on issues that impact us deeply.

One of many crucial issues relevant to the University is holding The Coca-Cola Company accountable for its severe injustices in allowing its bottlers in Colombia to have collaborated for many years with paramilitary death squads in the systematic intimidation, kidnapping, torture and murder of union leaders and activists.

Coca-Cola is also responsible for causing severe water shortages in extremely drought-prone communities in India, making thousands go thirsty and allowing the contamination of water and soil in several poor farming villages. Coca-Cola has sought control of water resources throughout the world and plays a crucial role in controlling our global access to water as this vital resource becomes scarce.

Our University has been directly involved in this issue by ordering the investigation of Coca-Cola's operations in Columbia and India. However, in several steps along the process, the University administration has looked the other way on Coke's violations and has helped the company hide its crimes by creating an "investigation process" that has not even started yet. It is important for the University community to stand up to these injustices and to speak out against the University's involvement in them. The University of Michigan Stop Killer Coke Coalition formed to challenge the administration on this issue and is working to unite the campus to finally put an end to this stain on our University's image. This is, in the end, about challenging the power of Coca-Cola and making the company recognize that it cannot continue to operate in such a disgraceful manner without consequences.

This is just one of many different outlets for activism in our community; there are hundreds of issues we all can work on. It is imperative that we all find whatever issue strikes us and find a way to work on it. Because there are so many social issues to deal with, it is important for us all to recognize the intersections of our work and to support one another in the hopes of building a strong, interconnected movement addressing all the challenges to our human rights and our survival on this planet.

-Neil Sardana is a Public Health graduate student and a member of the Stop Killer Coke Coalition.