I can’t really explain why social and environmental justice has such a high importance in my life but I can try. I recently found an old certificate I had received for raising funds for a local animal shelter. This was back in 2004 when I was 10 years old. So I guess I started young.
I think one of the main influences has been my family history. I grew up in Germany in a multicultural family. I celebrated Eid, watched movies in languages I didn’t understand and spent summer holidays in Algeria. 50 years earlier this would have been unthinkable. Although efforts have been made to process the inflictions of Germany’s Nazi past, racism is still present in our everyday life. When my parents married, a friend of my grandmother’s gave her her condolences because her daughter had married a foreigner (she is no longer her friend). When I was in 5th or 6th grade a man ran through my school screaming "Deutschland den Deutschen'' (Germany for Germans) and tried to hide from the police. It scared me to think about racism, it still does. And it is far from the only injustice that scares and angers me.
First encounter with activism
When I was around 17 I got involved in a local protest against a school reform that would have made access to higher education harder for students with learning difficulties. The theatre group I was in at the time created street theatre performances that we would perform to raise awareness in cities around the province. In one of these cities we came across a human chain against the use of nuclear energy and swiftly joined. We were close to an area being used as a radioactive waste repository although deemed unsuitable by geologists. Through my subsequent involvement in anti-nukes protests I stumbled across Greenpeace, an environmental organisation I have been volunteering with since.
I joined the local youth group where we were given all the resources needed to inform ourselves about the different campaigns as well as the freedom to express our frustrations with environmental injustices in whichever form we wanted. It felt good to be a part of such a large group trying to make another world possible. So during my last year of high school I would bike 30 km and spent every Friday night talking about nuclear energy, the climate crisis and the impacts of industrial agriculture and what to do against it. After graduating high school I went to do an internship with Greenpeace in the Philippines where I saw the impacts of climate change, the scars left behind by colonialism and the beauty of resilience. In 2019 Global Witness reported the Philippines as the deadliest country for land and environmental defenders. Yet the people I met weren’t afraid but rather uplifted by the importance of their work. I spent six months being inspired by working alongside them and discovering this beautiful country and its culture.
Growing into activist communities
After returning to start University in Austria I continued getting involved in political protests. I moved into a shared flat with fellow activists and soon spent most of my time at the local Greenpeace office participating in team meetings and training, preparing for different activities and painting banners.
The people I met through Greenpeace inspired me to join other movements and I started volunteering for an organisation offering tutoring to refugees, for the children’s university, which is trying to make higher education more attractive and accessible to a wider range of students, I joined Amnesty International’s yearly campaign “Write for Rights” and women’s marches. I went to climate camps, human chains and blockades.
One of the most formative aspects of my activist journey has been learning about civil disobedience. It is a form of activism that has been used in movements from women’s suffrage to the protests for India’s independence and from the civil rights movement in the USA to the fight against apartheid in South Africa. History shows us the effect civil disobedience can have in bringing about change and change is what we need in today’s world. It isn’t always easy to stay motivated. I have had people throw stones at me, police men smirking at me and telling me I was just a little girl who doesn’t know what she is doing and of course had my fair share of people calling me a hypocrite.
To some extent I can even understand these reactions. In a world where your worth is measured by how much you earn it is easy to stoke people’s fear of change. And if you are privileged enough to be able to ignore conflicts, protesters might just seem like unnecessary rebels.
So why do I care?
But to me the fear of keeping the status quo far outweighs the fear of the unknown. The more I immersed myself in different campaigns the more I could see the interconnection. There is no social justice without an end to environmental destruction. There can be no true gender equality without the end of racism. And there can be no climate justice without systemic change.
Coming back to why volunteering and activism has such high importance to me. Over the years I have noticed that I’m most comfortable and content in activist contexts. I’m very sensitive to global issues and just can’t understand how people can ignore the horrors they see in the news. I need to surround myself with people who get out and do something no matter how small, who talk about issues instead of ignoring them and who understand. Sometimes I feel like my activism is actually really selfish. It is what I need to do to stay positive and hopeful and be at peace with myself. But is that really so bad? Isn’t it better to be active for what you believe in, no matter the motivation than doing nothing out of fear for having the wrong motivation?
I think so. I found a way to turn my fear and anger about injustices into actions. For me this is the only way to deal with the world.
Post by: Dalia Kellou
We encourage all of our volunteers to submit a blog post, on any topic, whilst they are with us.