Transforming War Into Art


Big Country by Heather C. Englehart. Camp Anaconda, Iraq

A NATIONAL EXHIBIT OF COMBAT-INSPIRED ART OPENED this week at the National Constitution Center in Phildelphia. Art of the American Soldier features over 200 paintings created by Army soldiers in the field, from World War I to the current conflicts in the Middle East.

This exhibit unveils the work of thousands of soldiers. The Army’s art program lacks a museum like the other branches of the miltary, so 15,000 paintings and sketches were kept in storage, and have never been on public view.

The exhibition’s website gives you a taste of the variety of materials and subject matters the soldiers captured while on-duty, and all without any sense of propaganda. It combines the truthful eye of photojournalism with personal interpretation. For example, “Movies,” by Paul Sample, shows a troop watching a movie on a crude outdoor projection scene on Canton Island in 1943. The movie features a romantic clinch, and could be happening at any drive-in, except for the moonlit night and the figures in uniform and helmets.

Each painting, no matter its subject or time, focuses on the human figure, and not just that of the soldiers.


Young Girls, by David Fairrington

There are portraits of the people the soldiers interacted with and confronted, including local men, women and children. The images from the Vietnam War are especially emotional and powerful.

You can view these and other paintings through a timeline of the works from 1910 to 2010, available at the National Constitution Center’s special online gallery.

And if this peaks your interest in more art by soldiers, check out the Combat Paper Project, a workshop based in Vermont creating art made directly from soldiers’ uniforms. Veterans learn hand papermaking, pulping the uniforms they wore in service and then using the material for sketching and painting.

The works created in this project take the combat experience one step further into catharsis, as a way for soldiers to understand and interpret their experiences. Here’s an example of a work by Drew Cameron, veteran and co-director of the Project:


We Are All Free Now © Drew Cameron, 2008 Iraq Currency on Combat Paper with abaca

Where to Find Citizen Reports Covering the Pakistan Floods



THE WORST FLOODS IN LIVING MEMORY in Pakistan is a news story quickly fading from mainstream headlines. South Asian regional expert Juan Cole, writing in, called it the worst disaster television didn’t cover.” Contrast that with coverage of the earthquakes in Haiti and Chile—and you see how the story in Pakistan disappeared, even though the disaster has so far affected 20 million people.

It’s up to citizen journalism to keep the ongoing crisis in the public eye, at least for those who get their news online. Here’s where to find citizen reports covering the Pakistan floods: collects texts from observers in the field, and uses an Ushahidi platform as a tool to create a dynamic map of the flood emergency. There were over 700 reports from the field as of this past weekend, ranging from calls for relief to short updates about where help is arriving.

Pakistan Eye

Pakistan Eye is the blogging team chapter of Citizens Eye, which has citizen reporters working in seven locations in Asia and London. The blog takes a look at all aspects of Pakistani society, but since the floods posts are focussed on the aftermath of the disaster. In addition to writing about the efforts of civil society for relief work, there’s also personal essays like Flooded Ramadan, by a teen reflecting on what this tragedy means in the larger picture.


While SeenReport is an open service anyone can post to, freelance journalists have created profiles on the site, giving it authenticity and news credibility. You can view photo essays including this series of flood photos taken by Abdul Majid.

Other resources to explore include PakPositive’s Pakistani Bloggers portal, and Global Voices Pakistan.

For more information on how to help flood victims in Pakistan, here is a list of organizations with relief operations.

Blogging Latin America: Three Sites To Stay In-The-Know

Map of Central and South America

Image ©

LATIN AMERICA IS IGNORED, by and large, in the mainstream news. You can, of course, count on big media to focus on “larger-than-life strongmen” (Chavez, Castro) or incendiary topics (drug cartels, immigration) but what if you’d like another, more real point-of-view about the Southern Hemisphere?

If you want to be in-the-know about political events and noticías, these three sites (each available in English) will keep you up-to-date and in-the-know:

IPS News Latin America focuses on civil society and the impact of globalization on the South. You’ll get news about a variety of topics like development and human rights, as well as a dedicated columnist section.

Global Voices Online – Americas is the Latin American/Caribbean section of Global Voices’ community of more than 300 bloggers and translators. Not only is the reporting and writing top notch, but you also get translated reports of bloggers working in their native Spanish.

Upside Down World covers activism and politics in Latin America. This online magazine was founded in 2003 and produces original reporting and publishes articles, news briefs and blogs. The site is completely reader-funded.

Five Places to Watch Social Change Documentaries & Videos

CAN FILM AND VIDEO change the world? Independent media by filmmakers, advocates, and citizen journalists must be heard and seen to affect social change—but where can you go to hear their message, and join the conversation?

Here are the best places to watch social change documentaries and videos—some are glossy productions while others are citizen-driven projects. All are working to make a difference:

1. Culture Unplugged


Culture Unplugged offers a variety of social issue films “by and for a global community of conscious storytellers.” You can search by genre, categories, popularity, and even duration. In addition, the site features its own online festivals: an upcoming theme is “Humanity Explored.”

WHAT TO WATCH: The Boy Who Plays on the Buddhas of Bamiyan, a story about Mir, the eight-year old who lives among the ruins of the religious statues that once stood in Afghanistan.



Witness is a pioneer in using video for social justice. They recently announced a new online strategy for their video platform, The Hub, which is morphing into an archive of over 3,000 videos.

WHAT TO WATCH: “Alien vs. Predator” is about the thousands of undocumented immigrants who graduate U.S. high school and are then targeted for recruitment by the military.


Created from the Canadian National Film Board of Canada (NFB) in 2004, CITIZENShift focuses on community-led documentary filmmaking (as well as photography, articles, blogs, and podcasts). You can contribute text, photos, audio and video to one of the site’s existing “dossiers,” or propose a new topic.

WHAT TO WATCH: The dossier feature “Five Centuries Later…” is about the difficult times facing the Indians of Guatemala and Bolivia, five centuries after the “discovery” of America by the Europeans.

4. Media That Matters

Media That Matters, now in its tenth year, presents an annual film festival of twelve new shorts. The films are distributed and broadcast nationally to educators and activists. You can stream all the films from the last ten years at the site.

WHAT TO WATCH: “Will I Be Next?” explores the issue of gun violence in Chicago. Winner of the Youth Voice Award in 2009.

5. Link TV

Broadcaster Link TV and its website,, focuses on stories and issues not usually covered by the mainstream U.S. media. The site features over 4,000 videos and programs for streaming.

WHAT TO WATCH: Earth Focus is the channel’s environmental news magazine. In this episode, it examines the growth of the Environmental Film Festival.

Landslides in Tibet: A Man-Made Disaster Created by China


©AP Photo/The Australian

The landslides in Tibet this week filled the news with headlines like “China Landslide Toll Passes 1,000” and “More Rain Forecast for Flood-Stricken China.” What’s truly unfortunate about his story—in addition to the toll of human life and suffering—is that this calamity is a man-made disaster created by China.

Although the headlines focus on China, in fact this is the second calamity to also befall the people of Tibet. In April a 7.1 earthquake struck the Tibetan area of Yushu, Kham, and killed 2,698, according to official estimates. Unlike that natural disaster, this latest tragedy affecting the town of Drugchu (in the south-east of Kanlho in Gansu) could have been avoided.

As reported by Global Voices, the Tibetan poet Woeser coordinated a grassroots investigation into the event, revealing that hydro-electric power plants, mining, and deforestation all contributed to the disaster. Government research showed decades ago that the area was vulnerable to landslides, but officials ignored the warnings.

The devastated area is expected to receive yet more rainfall and officials are warning of further mudslides.

Steven D. Marshall and Susette Ternent Cooke, two investigators who put together “TIBET: Outside the TAR,” for Tibet Environmental Watch, an independent site that reports on Tibetan environmental concerns, also made a prescient analysis of the danger to human settlements:

Drugchu’s forests are not visible in the county town region, despite hints of a formerly heavier forest cover even in that district in the occasional patches of trees still standing isolated on high mountain ridges. The presence of an extensive Forestry Office compound in the town confirms the importance of the lumber industry here. This may be the biggest official unit compound in the town, consisting of several large modem buildings, transport space and residential accommodation, and recently awarded an imposing new gate. Clearly the county intends to invest what finances it has into this industry, one of its only potential sources of revenue.

China’s “economic miracle” is coming at a very high price. It is fairly guaranteed that any so-called “act of God” in the region will have an element of human culpability contributing to loss of life and property.

The collapse of schools in the Sichuan earthquake of 2008 did not spur the government to investigate or improve construction standards—instead they jailed the investigator who tried to gather information behind the childrens’ deaths. As this latest tragedy continues to unfold and affect thousands, can we hope China’s reaction to be any different?

Social Documentary Photography: 3 Sites Bringing Awareness and Change

Social documentary photography, unlike news photography, strives to bring attention to social causes. The work of these photographers might anger, shock, or inspire action—they are voices speaking through images.

Here are 3 sites where you can see the work of photographers practicing activism through photography:


© Marielle van Uitert/ is a member organization for photographers, NGOs, students, photo editors, and the general public. The site currently features over 200 exhibits, and you can view photos by country or photographer. The works featured are as diverse as the Tea Party in America to urban horses.


The PhotoPhilanthropy‘s tagline is “we champion social change, one photo at a time.” In addition to galleries, the organization hosts programs and provides grants to photographers and nonprofits.

Collective Lens

Collective Lens is a site for individuals and nonprofits to upload their photos and promote a cause or bring awareness to an issue. The site is also developing a gallery of student work and is reaching out to classrooms to promote photojournalism and social change.



Press Freedom Threatened In South Africa

press freedom threatened in South Africa

CONCERN FOR PRESS FREEDOM in South Africa is growing as controversial legislation comes before Parliament. The Protection of Information Bill will classify documents and “sensitive information” while the ANC-proposed Media Appeals Tribunal aims to discourage misleading and “sensationalist” reporting.

But opponents say what these two measures are actually about is threatening press freedom in South Africa.

There is strong opposition to the bill, with the Democratic Alliance (DA) last week requesting a meeting with President Zuma to discuss the legislation. DA leader and Western Cape Premier Helen Zille called the bill “a perpetuation of apartheid-era government secrecy.”

The Law Society of South Africa said in a statement the bill “has the potential seriously to erode transparency, accountability by public officials, and the public’s right of access to information and media freedom.”

Meanwhile, Sunday Times journalist Mzilikazi wa Afrika was arrested in what his paper called a “flagrant abuse of power” from Pretoria. Wa Afrika is an investigative reporter who’s written about police corruption at the highest levels.

After the case was dropped on Friday and he was released, Wa Afrika did not mince words, comparing the situation to that of Zimbabwe.

In their annual World Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders noted that South Africa moved up in 2009, ranking 33rd (out of 175) for overall press freedom. This seems all the more ironic considering these latest events.

Wa Afrika’s arrest could obviously be seen as a warning that government aims to muzzle the media, and isn’t afraid to put force behind its intentions. This is a very tense situation between the fourth estate and government, especially at a time when South Africa enjoyed its “arrival” by staging a successful World Cup. For South Africa to foster its hard-fought democracy, however, it must have a press that is free to investigate and question authority. Otherwise its democracy is in very real trouble.

Top Tweets for Activists (Week Ending August 5)

Welcome to Top Tweets for Activists: a selection of tweets, blog posts, media, and news stories.

If you’d like to suggest a topic or news story, please leave a link in the Comments.


This advocacy video by @icsdp makes good use of info graphics + data visualization to tell a story about the “war on drugs”:


The link between human rights and the rule of law. @SusanneUre

Prop 8 Out, Equality In @amnesty

COLOMBIA Former Prisoners Of Conscience Take Protest To Military Base In Colombia @RayBeckerman via @SOAWatch

CHILE Mapuche on Hunger Strike over Chile’s Militancy @RayBeckerman


UN official stresses the importance of human rights in overcoming poverty @jnascim

Heavy rains expected in Pakistan for the rest of week @povertynewsblog


IMMIGRATION The 1868 debate over the 14th Amendment actually DID mention immigrants, thank you very much @MotherJones

FREEDOM OF SPEECH Vietnam: Writers Honored for Commitment to Free Speech: (New York) – Six Vietnamese writers are among a diverse gr… @HRW

CPJ welcomes arrests in Mexican journalists’ abductions @pressfreedom

PEACE Noam Chomsky’s Recorded Address to the United National Peace Conference @commondreams via @MADREspeaks

CONGO/CONFLICT MINERALS Listen to @NPR’s @OnPointRadio interview w/ @LisaJShannon & @EnoughProject on #Congo conflict minerals @jonhutson

KENYA Kenyan constitution: History in the making @pambazuka via @firozem

Top Tweets for Activists (Week Ending July 23)

Welcome to a weekly feature here at The Activist Writer: a round-up of the week’s best blog posts and articles for activism and social change.

If there’s a great post or tweet you’d like mentioned, please leave it in the Comments section.

Human Rights Cases/Law

Human rights news and case-law roundup (23 July 2010)


Change Mudança, a smart new magazine about sustainable agriculture in Africa.

Environment/Sustainable Living

Top 20 Organic, Sustainable, and Just Plain Tasty Food and Recipe Blogs

Challenging Obama’s commitment to sustainable agriculture

Ask a lawyer: do farmers have the same protection as big beef?

Freedom of the Press/Expression

India – Violence, arrests and censorship in all four corners of India: Reporters Without Borders @RSF_RWB

Journalists under attack in Somalia as government steps up media crackdown

Aid & Activism
Art and activism (Responses to Copenhagen) @kueprints

How to make an ever-expanding humanitarian sector more professional? Is a certification system the answer?

Indigenous People’s Issues

Five Key Indigenous People’s Issues – Peru, Australia, Malaysia, Botswana, … @indigenousissue via @RayBeckerman

Five Ways You Can Change the World Today

Photo © NASA

Write a letter. In this gadget-and-screen oriented world we live in, handwritten messages have been forgotten, but the power of the pen is as strong, and vital, as ever. This blog is about human rights, so my destination for change is Amnesty’s Freedom Writers Network which highlights active appeal cases and even supplies me with a sample letter I can mail.

Whatever it is you are passionate about—animal rights, the environment, housing—there’s a group or individual out there who can make a difference. Find out whose attention you need and then get writing.

Meditate. Meditation is a wonderful practice to clear the mind and bring awareness. With mindfulness, we’re better able to meet what life brings us. We can be more creative and compassionate. And best of all, you already know how to meditate, because you already know how to breathe.

Here’s how: pick a quiet spot, set a timer (10 or 15 minutes to start), then focus on each inhale and exhale. Observe the thoughts that come up, but stay focused on the breathing. Note each thought (e.g., “I am thinking about my job”) and then let it go. Come back to your breathing.

It’s like a power nap, except you’re awake in the here and now.

Stop driving. In his post “How You Can Actually Help With the Gulf Oil Spill“, Everett Bogue advocates giving up your car. Now.

Can’t give it up just yet? How about taking public transport for one day, or biking to work or to the store. Take a car break for a week. Then a whole month. It’s a big change, but especially today, completely necessary.

Don’t buy anything. Here’s a few ways: bring your lunch to work. Have coffee from the machine at the office or make it at home and thermos-it. Don’t forget to pack the apple or peanut butter so you can have a day off from the vending machines.

And skip the online shopping.

Suddenly your wallet got a little fatter and you might even be healthier, too.

Share your knowledge. What are you good at? Math whiz? English major? Hockey? Knitting? There’s someone, or many someones, who can benefit from your skills. Volunteer and share. There’s no greater rush than helping others.

What ways will you practice changing the world today?