14 December 2010
In July, New Internationalist published The Rax Active Citizenship Toolkit
. It is aimed primarily at teachers and students of Citizenship Studies in UK schools but in fact it can be used by anyone seeking to engage more actively in the world around them.The Toolkit is a landmark in textbook innovation, graphic style, approach to content and attitudes to learning. It also contains exclusive interviews with a range of voices, from popstars and politicians to young active citizens. Over the coming weeks we will be posting the full text of the Rax interviews.
is the media director of Survival International, a global organization that was started in 1969 after an article in The Sunday Times raised awareness about the massacres of and land grabs from the Amazonian Indians. Today, they defend the rights of indigenous peoples worldwide. The Rax team caught up with Johnny in March 2010.
What issues do you think are most important for young people to address today?
I'd say the biggest issue is the same it's always been – the fact that a few people in the world have a lot, and most people have very little. It's all too easy for us to lose sight of how lucky we are – even those of us in the West who don't consider ourselves rich!
What kind of work does Survival International do?
We campaign for tribal peoples' rights around the world – especially those who are more isolated, like Amazon Indians or Kalahari Bushmen. These people usually get ignored by politicians, who often want things on top of or underneath their land, like timber, coal, diamonds or oil. What makes it even worse is that tribal people usually live very healthy and happy lives – if only they'd be left alone. Actually, they're generally much better off than most poor people in the 'Third World', who usually live in slums and can't earn enough money to feed themselves.
What kind of campaigning actions and events have you taken part in?
We've climbed Nelson's Column to hang a banner from the top about Canadian Indians (I didn't climb it myself!); we've done loads of demos and vigils; we replaced a giant poster of a supermodel on the front of De Beers's new diamond shop with a poster of a Bushman woman with the slogan "The Bushmen aren't forever" (De Beers was looking for diamonds on the Bushmen's land); and we've brought many tribal people to Europe so that they can actually speak for themselves to the world's press.
As a dedicated campaigner, has there been one moment which has stayed with you where you realized the impact that your campaigning has had?
Probably a recent demo we did outside the Paraguayan embassy in London, to draw attention to the invasion of uncontacted Indians' territory in Paraguay by cattle ranchers. Turned out it was the Ambasasador's first day in the job, and he was a bit startled to find a large demo outside his front door when he turned up! He invited us in, listened to us outline the issue, which he hadn't been aware of, and has promised to take action.
What key pieces of advice would you give to young people who are seeking to take informed and responsible action to bring about change in their world?
That nothing worth fighting for has ever been achieved without a fight! Young people have always been the drivers of change – if we just accept the world as it is, for most people, that means continuing to have pretty miserable lives.
For a young person growing up today, the world can appear scary when you consider global warming, the depletion of our natural resources, war, recession, pandemics, global poverty and rising unemployment. What can you say to young readers to give them an authentic sense of hope?
Well, it may sound trite, but compared to pretty much any time in the past, things are much better now! And there's absolutely no reason why they shouldn't continue to improve – for some reason, right from the time of Noah's Ark, humans have always thought catastrophe was just around the corner. But humanity's still here, and I'm sure will be around for a lot longer...