This list of people is not reserved for those that only came to prominence this year. There are some on this list who’s work dates back many years. Their place here is because it was in the last twelve months that I rediscovered their genius. The times where old gems are uncovered are just as important as the times when new gems emerge.
I was tempted to write a list of people that killed 2013, those that really made me question the humanity in the world. I decided not to do this because firstly I did not want to give those deplorable people any more publicity than they already have, and secondly because I do not want to focus on the negatives, it is better to look at the positive people, the people that are doing great things and working for change. The following are the people that have inspired me the most this year. So without any further ado, here are the people that made my 2013.
I first discovered this great man by doing research online. This encouraged me to look into published work relating to the man himself, and soon enough my nose was buried in between the pages of a book named The Essential Words and Writings of Clarence Darrow, kindly bought by my girlfriend. Clarence Darrow was an American lawyer who was active at the end of the 19th century until around the 1930’s. He was a charismatic, passionate orator, sometimes speaking for huge lengths of time, one closing argument lasting twelve hours, and a staunch defender of civil rights and liberties. Darrow appeared to be a pioneer in thought, his thinking, and beliefs, were well ahead of his time. No doubt shaped by his parents, Darrow was anti-slavery, an advocate of freedom from religion, supported the right to vote for women and believed in equality between the sexes. Darrow once stated “I am an agnostic; I do not pretend to know what many ignorant men are sure of”. He regularly defended highly controversial figures, including Anarchists, Murderers, Union members and former slaves. His intelligence, skill and passion won him many cases and admirers, and his firm stance in opposition to the death penalty meant that he saved many lives. Indeed, only one case, out of more than one hundred that he was involved in, resulted in an execution. One famous trial that Darrow was involved in resulted in the granting of the right of an American professor to teach evolution in the classroom. This right had previously been denied, as it went against the bible.
Before the time of celebrities and stars, it is clear that Clarence Darrow was just that. His moral, and ethical beliefs no doubt inspired many, and caused much debate and reform in America whilst he was alive. Modern day equivalents seem low in number, which is unfortunate because the world is always in need of more men like him.
“As long as the world shall last there will be wrongs, and if no man objected and no man rebelled, those wrongs would last forever”
I am sure most people are aware of this mans name by now. The latest in a long line of people standing up for truth and freedom. In the same sort of mould as Julian Assange, and later entrant on this list, Bradley Manning, Snowden disclosed classified information that shows, among other things, the true extent to which governments spy on their own people. He is a former CIA and NSA employee who released 1.5 million documents to various news agencies, in the process sparking international debate on mass surveillance, government secrecy and invasion of privacy. Earlier this month a federal judge ruled that the American governments decision to collect data on every phonecall within the United States almost certainly violated the constitution. Despite this there are large portions of America that see Snowden as a traitor and dissident. What is clear to me is that whenever a government accuses you of theft of government property and says you are a fugitive, you must be doing something right. Snowden has performed a heroic and unselfish act in leaking the documents to the various news agencies. The only thing that needs to be questioned here is the violations conducted by the American government, and the hypocrisy of their words. No doubt anyone that spoke out against Stalins secret police, or the Stasi in East Germany, were considered heroes, yet when an American does it to their own government, he is considered a traitor.
The US government has gone to great lengths to distance themselves from this public hero. Revoking his passport, attempting to capture him and take him back to the US and intercepting flights that he was meant to be on. It is truly the behaviour of a power hungry, spoilt brat. I hope Snowden continues to evade the US government, and I hope his actions have inspired others across the globe to speak out against injustices carried out in their name.
The Guardian named Snowden as their Person of the Year for 2013 and Time Magazine had him as their runner up.
“There can be no faith in our government if our highest offices are excused from scrutiny – they should be setting the example of transparency”
Pussy Riot are a female punk collective based in Russia who stage guerilla performances in public locations. They are advocates of left wing and Anarchist theories, LGBT rights and gender equality, and oppose the leadership of Putin in Russia, who they see as a dictator. They face fierce criticism based on many of their beliefs, in particular the advocacy and active support of gay rights. In Russia Gay Pride marches have been banned, public acts promoting homosexuality are outlawed and discrimination against homosexuals faces no punishment. The three featured in the above picture are their most famous members because of their arrest and imprisonment in 2012. From left to right, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, Yekaterina Samutsevich and Maria Alyokina. After staging a performance in a cathedral in Moscow the three were convicted of “hooliganism motivated by religious hatred”, meaning each could have faced up to seven years in prison. The trial attracted worldwide attention and Amnesty International adopted the case and fought for the rights of the imprisoned women. Amnesty said that the women were prisoners of conscience, which means someone imprisoned purely because of their race, religion or political view. Artists, musicians and organisations around the world voiced their support for the group. Though all members of Pussy Riot have now been released, their struggle is set to continue. 2014 will no doubt be another eventful year for these activists.
“And I hope everyone remembers what the Jews said to Jesus: “We’re stoning you not for any good work, but for blasphemy.” And finally it would be well worth remembering this description of Christ: “He is possessed of a demon and out of his mind.”
Ric O’Barry is the main character featured in the 2009 documentary The Cove, this is how I discovered him and I am very glad I did. His work centres around dolphin conservation and highlighting not only their terrible existence when in captivity but also the brutal mass slaughter of dolphins in Japan. O’Barry has been working with dolphins almost his entire life after starting to capture and train dolphins in the 1960’s. From his intimate workings and experience with dolphins O’Barry soon came to realise that these creatures were far more intelligent, emotional and self aware than anyone had previously predicted. This realisation, and the connection he had with these animals, led him to condemn his former actions and those within the industry. Since coming to this conclusion he has worked tirelessly to educate the ignorant people that support and work in the industry, and to free the captive dolphins from their miserable lives. The captivity of any animal should not be accepted, and it certainly should not be encouraged in order to provide entertainment for people. The whaling industry and the slaughter of dolphins are also topics which need immediate reform. O’Barry is just one of a number of fantastic people and groups doing wonderful work in the field of animal welfare and conservation. I urge you to watch The Cove, as well as to look into The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, and the documentary entitled Blackfish. Zoo’s and circuses are also guilty of poor animal treatment and captivity, and until these institutions are abolished the fight for their welfare continues.
As Ric O’Barry is a man of action, having been arrested countless times over the last forty years, I shall leave you with a quote from William Inge, “We have enslaved the rest of the animal creation, and have treated our distant cousins in fur and feathers so badly that beyond doubt, if they were able to formulate a religion, they would depict the Devil in human form”
Clive Stafford Smith
It was whilst travelling to and from Turkey, on the recent failed DoWhatYouCan trip to Syria, that I was reading Clive Stafford Smith’s Bad Men. It is a poignant and infuriating account of the lives of some of the detainees held illegally at Guantanamo Bay. Though this book is a phenomenal read, Smith is no author. Smith started his career as an attorney and lawyer, defending those who had received death sentences in America. I have such great admiration for this man and the values he holds. He is such an inspiration and a great reminder that there are people who do strive for justice and truth in this world. His work on capital punishment in America led to a position at the UK non-profit Reprieve, and from there he volunteered his services to the detainees within Guantanamo. His work at Guantanamo is truly remarkable considering everything that could possibly disrupt or prevent him helping his clients, is imposed by the US government. Almost all of his clients have had their human rights violated, many have been kidnapped, threatened and tortured. At the time of writing Smith has secured the release of over sixty five prisoners from the notorious camp in Cuba.
Smith’s incredible work has been recognised by many people and organisations. His book, Bad Men, was shortlisted for the Orwell Prize. He has been awarded an OBE for “humanitarian services in the legal field”, he won the Gandhi International Peace Award in 2005 as well as many other honours. A brilliant, beautiful man, setting an example for us all to follow.
“I think you should use whatever power you have to try to help people who need your help. Then we’d all be happy. Instead there’s this bizarre notion the government propounds that we should all run around selfishly acquiring money. I just dont understand that”
and the No More Page 3 campaign
In Brighton in the summer of 2012, just as I was leaving the city to go to Ankara, Turkey for 6 months, a campaign was started by Lucy-Anne Holmes. She seems to be a very modest character and stays well away from fame and the limelight, the campaign she started however, is clearly in the public eye. The No More Page 3 campaign, as its name suggests, is a campaign to stop The Sun from printing pictures of topless females on page 3 of their “newspaper”. I noticed the birth and steady rise of this movement whilst I was in Brighton, I bought a tee-shirt from their site, like the one pictured above, and I followed their updates online. It wasn’t until I got back to the UK in early 2013 that I saw how far the campaign had come. In a matter of months it had grown into a national campaign and was attracting worldwide attention. The support for this movement seems to be ever increasing, with the online petition racking up over 130,000 signatures, and many movements and organisations showing support, including the National Assembly for Wales, UK Girlguiding, the National Union of Teachers, and many others. Caroline Lucas, the brilliant MP for Brighton, is just one of over 140 MP’s who back the campaign and, to date, 25 British Universities have chosen to boycott The Sun until page 3 is removed. This movement not only shows the attitude towards the objectification of women in the media, it also shows the power of what one person is able to achieve. An inspiration to anyone wanting to make a difference, a source of pride for the wonderful people of Brighton and a step in the direction towards a more equal and less objectified role of women in society.
The following is a statement made by the Girls’ Brigade: “We dream of living in a culture where girls and women are not objectified – where a woman’s worth and value is not solely measured by her sexual attractiveness but instead acknowledges her gifting, personality and talents”.
Another face and name you are bound to recognise due to the media coverage this year, Jose Mujica is the current President of Uruguay. As if it was not possible to love this man any more his actions this year have been almost revolutionary. Mujica is an atheist and former Guerrilla fighter and Marxist, he currently donates 90% of his monthly salary to charities, spent two years of his fourteen year prison sentence at the bottom of a well, and has been shot six times. Mujica is very much a president of the people, being a somewhat populist leader. Although left wing in terms of politics, he is becoming more pragmatic with his policies. Under him Uruguay became only the second South American country to legalise abortion, and one of a number of countries worldwide to approve gay marriage. His personal life is remarkable as well, he turned down the offer to live in the Presidential Palace and utilise its staff, instead he lives on a farm with his wife where they grow flowers, which they sell. He drives to work in a Volkswagen Beetle and this year he legalised, the growth, sale and distribution of marijuana. His work as President is attracting admirers worldwide, and this year The Economist named Uruguay as their country of the year.
To have the strength to stand up to the entire world and their War on Drugs, and take the decision to not only decriminalise, not only legalise, but actively distribute marijuana, is not only a huge step forward but an incredibly brave one. I am putting my name, and future reputation/career, on the line here, but I am willing to say that it is the correct move, and it is the only way forward. I doubt it will be too long until other nations begin to implement similar policies. Mujica is not only a pioneer in terms of some policies introductions he is also one of the humblest people ever to hold national office. If only all politicians were as modest, and as accountable to the people as he is. I dont expect this will be the last time Mujica will feature on this blog. I have been wanting to do a piece on him for quite some time.
“”If we lived within our means – by being prudent – the 7 billion people in the world could have everything they needed… Global politics should be moving in that direction.”
“It is a mistake to think that power comes from above, when it comes from within the hearts of the masses”
Such was my fascination with this man, that it has led to “Epicurus” being the leading choice for any future child I may have. I discovered him whilst reading a book entitled The Book of Dead Philosophers, a wonderful introduction to many of the geniuses who have come and gone. Having made a note of his name for future research, I was promptly bought The Art of Happiness. Once again my girlfriend fuelling my desire to discover. Epicurus was unlike many of the other philosophers at the time, he was a pioneer in many ways and regularly caused controversy. He was a vegetarian and, incredibly rare for that time, an atheist. His followers, and those he taught, met in his garden, slaves and women were accepted as a rule, which was unheard of at the time. His main beliefs were on the topics of living well, living a good life, which for him involved pleasure and happiness. The key to happiness is to minimise harm for yourself, and harm for others. Rather than involving himself in politics he advocated seclusion. It was best to live a humble, happy life away from the trouble and torment of daily political activities. Once again I would say that this man was ahead of his time. Many of his ideas and concepts pre-dated those that we take for granted now. Epicurus insisted on a rational, logical, scientific method in order to acquire truth. Unless something could be tested scientifically through measurement and observation, it should not be believed. This no doubt played a large role in why he did not believe in the existence of a god. Epicurus has been commonly misunderstood as nothing but a hedonist, only seeking pleasure and not caring for anything outside of this. This hedonistic view though, is incorrect. He regularly spoke of the dangers of overindulgence, and greed. His teachings look to remove pain and suffering, avoid the fear of death and promote the belief that we should not concern ourselves with the vengeance of any god. Epicurus’ belief that we should not fear death is based on the logical, and scientific, reason that once we die we no longer exist, and so cannot feel pain or sadness. The Epicurean doctrine “I was not, I was, I am not, I do not care” is regularly used at humanist funerals today. One of the lesser known Greek philosophers but certainly one of the best. His belief in truth only through evidence, his treatment of women, slaves and animals, his atheism and his pioneering thought means that, for me, Epicurus deserves far more attention than he currently receives. What a figure.
“Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for”
“Nothing is enough for the man to whom enough is too little”
All Groups, Organisations and Personnel who are doing wonderful work
to help those that are suffering in Syria
Syria is a topic which is very close to my heart, as those that know me are fully aware. I have my reasons, but this is not about me. This is about everyone, and I mean everyone, that in any way works towards alleviating some of the suffering of those affected by the civil war. In 2014 it is expected that the number or refugees will hit 4 million. The death toll has already surpassed 100,000 and the conflict shows no signs of stopping. We are not in a position to halt the conflict, but we are in a position to help those that are affected by it. I know of many people who work tirelessly to aid those that are suffering. Donations, aid, fundraising, medical help, medical supplies, volunteer work, blankets, food, the list goes on. Syria is the biggest humanitarian crisis in over two decades and rightfully so, all the major charities have Syria appeals and projects. As well as these there are grassroots and small volunteer organisations that are also doing fantastic work. I know, I have seen it. This is both a thank you to them and encouragement to those that still remain inactive. Please be a part of something. Do something positive.
This is for Dont Forget Syria, Human Care Syria, Syria Relief, Help For Syria, Aid For Syria. It is for Aid Syria Convoy, the Mosaic Initiative, Syria Relief Charity, Hand In Hand For Syria and so many more.
The task is daunting and a huge uphill struggle but it is one that all of us should be committed to participating in.
In the words of Martin Luther King “whatever affects one directly, affects us all indirectly”.
Honourable mentions have to go to the following,
who have narrowly missed out on a place inside the chosen 9.
The Pope – his stance on gay marriage, violence and capitalism are a breath of fresh air in an institution which has for so long demonised and incited hate. If recent quotes had not have been attributed to him then you would be forgiven for thinking they had come from a more liberal and progressive source.
Ken Loach – helped found Left Unity, a new left wing political party in Britain, called for Margaret Thatchers funeral to be privatized, gave his support to the Peoples Assembly and supports the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel. What more can you ask for?
Chelsea Manning – The American whistleblower who formally went by the name Bradley. Convicted this year by a US army judge. First came to the media’s attention when leaking large amounts of military data to Wikileaks. The most infamous is a video entitled “Collateral Murder” which shows the depravity and inhumanity of certain military personnel. Its a sickening video but one that everyone should watch. Like Edward Snowden, who featured earlier on this list, Manning’s bravery and honesty is something to be both applauded and followed.
This year also saw the tragic passing of two wonderful figures.
Long may their memories and legacies continue.
Each did wonderful things for their people, and I hope that with the groundwork in place, people can continue what was started. Hugo Chavez and Nelson Mandela.
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