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Saturday 08 April 2017

Advocacy and Activism: Charlotte Shade

Posted in: People
By - 28th December 2016



What does advocacy and/or activism mean to you?

For me, advocacy is simply standing up for what you believe in. However, despite being simple, standing up is neither easy nor uncomplicated as it involves an interrogation of what it means to be a good human being living on this planet and the actioning of that meaning. This will often mean pushing against the status quo and asserting what is right in the face of considerable opposition. It will often mean harnessing the power inherent in your position of privilege to enable and empower those who to whom that privilege does not apply. It will often mean making sacrifices and stepping aside where necessary, and it will always mean being firm and clear and consistent.

How did you first become involved in advocacy and/or activism and what kind of work do you do?

I wanted to become a legal advocate (i.e. a lawyer) from my early teens. Being brought up in a religious environment meant that I had my attention drawn to inequality and injustice from a young age. The Jesus from my childhood and teenage years was a revolutionary figure – a Jesus of the poor and the disempowered and the disenfranchised – and while I no longer consider myself religious, I still hold true to many of the values that I absorbed in those early years.

I studied law, political science and international relations at Victoria University of Wellington. I have also been fortunate enough to travel extensively to places rife with human rights abuses including Iraq, Palestine, Uganda, Nicaragua and Burma. Through my studies and travels I developed a passion for human rights law at home and abroad and it is a dream for me to be able to one day practice in a field where I can exercise this passion. For the most part though my advocacy and activism is done in small everyday ways, through making concerted decisions about what I eat, what I buy, what I share on Facebook, how I interact with others, and in what situations I challenge norms and how I challenge them. I am though involved in Amnesty International and JustSpeak, a non-partisan organisation aimed at reformation of New Zealand's criminal justice system for a more just Aotearoa, and I recently ran a campaign for a Ugandan friend who is part of the persecuted LGBTI community in Uganda and wants to become a lawyer.

What issues are you most passionate about?

It's difficult for me to say which issues I am most passionate about because I see structural inequality and discrimination of different groups as being very much intertwined, and that often liberation efforts for one group will mean good things for another. But the voices that I speak the loudest with are those that belong to me - as a woman, as part of the LGBTI community, and as a human living on a very fragile planet.

How do you see these issues being addressed - what needs to change?

Collective action led by passionate individuals is in my experience an effective method of grass roots change, and information and education is at the core of mobilising groups of people to action. The thing with rights like human rights is that we consider them innate, and therefore any person should be able to connect with a cause if they are led to a place of understanding where they can put themselves in the shoes of the oppressed group or person.

How do you think activism has changed over the years and what does it look like today?

One word – the internet.

What is one thing that you have learned from your activism or advocacy work?

The best way to combat injustice is through peace, love and compassion.Anger has its placein activism. Angry people are motivated and angry people are powerful. Oppressive regimes and laws can topple on the back of anger, but I strongly believe that lasting change in a community only happens when people learn to understand each other and respect each other, and this requires a patient and compassionate approach.

Who inspires you to keep going?

The people I'm inspired by are those around me and throughout the world who have made themselves aware of the world's issues, and despite their awareness still work ceaselessly, and still carry hope with them.

What would you say to anyone who is wanting to make a difference in their community but doesn’t know where to start?

If you don't know where to start, then start small – look at the immediate issues around you and try to combat them first. Don't get caught in your bubble – meet and speak with people who think differently from you, find out why they behave in certain ways and try to understand where they are coming from. After this you have the freedom to suggest or demonstrate that there may be different ways of doing things that show greater respect for human dignity or the environment. Your words and your actions are the greatest tools you have and they are very powerful.

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- 28th December 2016