Podcast: The Coda
Poetry – the secret weapon that helped topple a regime
Suliman Baldo has been an advocate for human rights in Sudan for decades, working outside the country with organisations and citizen groups to support those standing up against the oppressive regime of Omar El Beshir. Engaging young activists and organisers of the uprising in 2018-19, he saw how musicians, artists and poets were playing a key role in expressing popular hope and seeding the language of protest. He shares a poem by the late Yousif El Badawi, and then quotes verses by Azhari Mohammed Ali that were chanted in the streets.
A 20th-century revolutionary poet offers solace and strength to a contemporary human rights activist and and campaigner
Kazi Nazrul Islam is the national poet of Bangladesh, writer of impassioned political verse and composer of songs encouraging his people to rebel against British rule and throw off the colonial yoke. Lifelong human rights campaigner and lawyer Adilur Rahman Khan grew up hearing Nazrul at home and continues to feel energized and inspired by his legacy.
A veteran activist in Israel on a poem she has come to cherish
Jessica Montell is a veteran human rights activist in Israel, where she leads HaMoked, an organization dedicated to supporting Palestinians in the occupied territories whose rights are being violated by Israeli government policies. She is a past leader of the human rights organization B’Tselem and of SISO, an Israel-Diaspora partnership against the occupation. She shared her reflections on a poem by Marge Piercy, called To be of Use.
“To be of use” by Marge Piercy Copyright ©1973, 1982 by Marge Piercy From CIRCLES ON THE WATER, Alfred A. Knopf. Used by permission of Robin Straus Agency, Inc.”
How a 1970 samba promised Brazilians a future beyond dictatorship
The song seemed straight-forward. The singer is fed up with his domineering partner and warns: in spite of you, things are going to be OK. The day will come when you will pay for the tears you have caused. But the lyrics of singer-songwriter Chico Buarque’s Apesar de Voce carried a dual meaning and Brazilians living under military dictatorship understood the true target of his critique. Activist Alessandra Orofino tells us the song is still inspiring her today.
A Mexican feminist speaks women’s truth to men’s power – 300 years ago
Juana Inés de la Cruz was born in the mid-seventeenth century in Mexico and – exceptionally for a woman in that time – grew up to be an intellectually brilliant and passionate philosopher, musical composer and poet. She was under pressure to marry but chose instead to enter a religious order where she continued to study and write and dazzle her intellectual community. South African human rights lawyer Kayum Ahmed came across a scorching poem – “A Philosophical Satire” – she wrote to denounce the contradictory attitudes of men towards women and he was stunned by the power of her fiercely independent feminist voice.
Afghan champion of human rights Shaharzad Akbar shares a poem by American 19th century poet Emily Dickinson
In our podcast’s first episode, Afghanistan Human Rights Commission chair Sharharzad Akbar said of daily life in her country, under a constant barrage of terrorist attacks, that “when you leave in the morning, you don’t know if you’ll come back in the evening, every single day.” She told us that she wanted to be able to offer her commissioners and staff encouragement even when she could not be certain there was a positive future ahead. In this episode’s Coda, she shares a poem that reminds her that hope is always within reach.
US civil rights activist Charles Cobb Jr shares a song commemorating the day that US civil rights activists met an African anti-colonial fighter in 1963
This episode’s Coda spotlights a brief but — to the participants — momentous encounter in 1963 between young black activists in the US civil rights struggle and a prominent African anti-colonial fighter. Kenya’s Oginga Odinga, shortly to become his country’s Vice-President, was on a tour of the United States at the invitation of the State Department when leaders of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, SNCC, got wind of his presence in Atlanta and asked for a meeting. Charles Cobb Jr, then a field organizer in Mississippi, was in the group that sat down with Odinga – a meeting commemorated in a song by the SNCC Freedom Singers.
Turkish human rights leader Murat Celikkan shares an Ariel Dorfman poem that evokes the pain and fierce determination of the “disappeared” and their loved ones
Veteran human rights defender Murat Celikkan has been in jail three times — he knows what it is like to be locked up for your beliefs. Formerly a senior journalist and editor whose solidarity with Kurdish journalists was the cause of his most recent incarceration, he now co-leads Hafiza Merkezi, or Truth, Justice and Memory Center, in Istanbul which works to uncover the fate of numerous individuals forcibly disappeared by the Turkish state in the late 90s and never seen again. For the Coda, Murat chose to share a poem by Ariel Dorfman that speaks intimately and powerfully to the issue of abduction and the anguish of those left without information or contact about their loved ones.
A reading of the Persian poet Hafez’s ‘10,000 Idiots’ by Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights
Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, in his role until 2018 as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, had the task of urging member states to meet their obligations under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and calling them out when they failed. The role required him to take a tough stance in defence of rights yet he came to acknowledge the limits of his role as a supporter of those fighting for their rights. In this episode’s Coda, Zeid shares a poem by 14th Century poet Hafez on the perils of arrogance