“We live in a society of victimization, where people are much more comfortable being victimized than actually standing up for themselves.” ― Marilyn Manson
In the 21st century different forms of activism – regardless of whether it’s photojournalism, social-media movements or even outdoor protests – receive a lot of criticism due to a rather popular opinion that all of these are a substitute for action. As many people tend to argue, writing a post on Facebook, sharing hashtags and changing the profile pictures, doesn’t make any good if not supported with donations and actual help. However, does it mean that raising awareness and providing the marginalized with a voice makes no difference? In the age of the globe being divided into parts, where people are given a chance to speak out in oppose to ones where silence is encouraged by the government, it is important to understand why documenting war, starting online rallies and talking about various issues is more than just lip service.
For decades conflict journalism has been the only way for people to discover what other nations have to go through. In 2016 Nolan Peterson, The Daily Signal’s foreign correspondent, spent eight days embedded with the Ukrainian army, covering the situation in Ukraine. During his time there, Peterson had only one thought rushing through his mind: “Why does this war feel like a secret?” In the age of severe propaganda and marginalisation, it‘s as significant as never before to tell people the truth about what‘s happening in the conflict zones. As Peterson states, the most shocking thing he had to encounter was locals’ amuse that someone outside of their country – as far as in the United States of America – cares or even knows about their struggles. This clearly demonstrates how easy it is to pretend something isn‘t happening just because it doesn‘t affect you. Horrible situations in Ukraine, Iraq, Syria all seem to be mythical enough to convince ourselves that the peaceful, rather stable world we live in is something everyone gets a fair chance to experience. War journalists aren’t putting their life on the line to take a shocking morbid photo, which will make you uncomfortably flinch – they are there to make sure that people won’t turn their backs to strife, meaningless deaths and suffering. They are there to make sure we remember what our peace costs us. And as long as we remember, we still have a chance to make changes, speak out and find a solution.
“And unless brave men and women venture into war to tell us the truth about what is happening there, both the ugly and the beautiful parts of it, then the people who suffer and fight in wars will have no voice”. – Nolan Peterson
In the age of the modern technology, raising awareness is taking new forms – on a daily basis people use Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter as a chance to discuss struggles that, in reality, affect each one of us. The new movement #MeToo appeared on the social media in response to the post by the actress Alyssa Milano, who suggested that if everyone, who has ever been a victim of the sexual harassment, posted a status #MeToo, people would finally start appreciating the scale of the problem. Initially, it was inspired by the numerous allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein but was prolonged with a huge amount of posts sharing similar but more personal stories. Even though this movement is most associated with feminism and gender struggles, the importance of it goes way beyond that. The victims of the sexual assaults often decide to remain silent because they’re embarrassed, confused and scared that all blame will be put on them – “it’s your fault because you were not supposed to be at that time, at that place with that person.” You might argue that sharing a story doesn’t have any other connotation to it, but such movements as #MeToo, #NotOkay, #YesAllWomen and others are already making a difference. In the century, when the most empowered men and women are convinced that they can get away with anything because “when you’re a star, they let you do it”, it’s crucial to understand that you have a voice. Thinking that there is nothing you can do about it means that you’ve already lost your battle.
Raising awareness is major not only in the fields of war, crimes, and violence, but also in health. On the 10th of October, the world celebrated the Mental Health Day, giving the opportunity to bring attention to the mental health issues and share the ideas of what else could be potentially done to make this topic a concern of more than one suffering person. Since 1992, we continue talking about what life holds for people, who did not get lucky enough in their genetic lottery. Even though it’s government’s responsibility to provide its citizens with a proper health care and qualified therapists, the reality is not so bright. For example, as Miroslava Janoušková from the National Institute of Mental Health shares, “in the Czech Republic there are 12 psychiatrists per 100,000 inhabitants. And we have feedback from both psychiatrists and patients that they do not have enough time for therapy.” She also suggests that there is a certain stigma associated with the mentally ill people in the Czech Republic, which leads to “people being afraid to speak openly about their problem and seek help.” The situation doesn’t differ much in other countries – according to the British journalist Richard Carlton-Crabtree, „one in four adults will experience a mental illness at some point each year in the UK. And we only expect to help 15 per cent of them.“ In this case, it‘s becoming each citizen‘s responsibility to provide all of these alienated, often discriminated and deprived of the basic kind of assistance people with the voice. Raising this kind of issue is not only a chance to supply aid, but also appeal to the government by talking about their failures in social policies. It’s also a way for the cultural shift to appear, making people all around the globe appreciate that there is no shame in experiencing mental issues, and there is nothing that should stop us from talking about it, and, of course, acting on it.
At the end of the day, raising awareness comes down to action, but there is no way to overestimate the importance of it. If there is no one out there taking war photos, sharing sexual assault stories, documenting adversity and misery, then no one will ever know about these matters. No one will ever talk about them. No one will cry over them. People will remain silent, scared and angry – and we saw the outcome of this way too many times. Surely, sobbing about someone else‘s tragedy doesn‘t resolve the problem, but it brings us closer to it. It evokes compassion, unites the nations and reduces the tensions by making us understand that, in reality, there is something common that we all share – being human. And this is the first step towards working on finding a solution, and this is why raising awareness is so principal. The main purpose behind these inspiring photos and movements, which sometimes make you sick to your stomach, is in one crucial truth: you have a voice. You can speak out or remain silent. The choice is yours.