Podcast: The Coda

‘How storytelling revealed women’s role in Burma’s resistance history’

46. Kenya: The birth and resilience of a social movement    July 04, 2024

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Back in the ‘nineties although women had become deeply involved in Burma’s fight against military rule, their contributions were often invisible. Activist and advocate Debbie Stothard recalls that when she started paying attention, she discovered that “the auntie making our tea in the kitchen was a former resistance fighter.” She began getting women to write their stories, with remarkable results 

The human rights leader with a side-gig in films

45. South-East Asia: When does a hashtag become a movement?    May 20, 2024

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Sevan Doraisamy started writing film scripts when he was still a student and despite a career path that took him into over two decades of social justice activism and leadership, he never stopped. He explains why it’s important to him and how it helps him to avoid burn-out.


Music featured in the Coda:

Gemadah by Lagu-lagu Gambus from the Traditional Malay Music Festival 2022

The library that became a home for black Berlin

44. Colombia: The strategy that decriminalized abortion    April 27, 2024

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Racial justice activist Daniel Gyamerah celebrates the foresight of an Afro-German woman who over the course of her lifetime collected hundreds of books by black authors and bequeathed them to Berlin’s black and diaspora community to create the library that became EOTO – Each One Teach One.The crucial part,” he says, was the community-building that came with the youth. They took over the keys. They were laughing, they were cooking, they were dancing, they did workshops. They took over the space. 


Music featured in the Coda:

“Tchakare Kanyembe” by Tchakare Kanyembe from the album “Live at Sacred Bloom.”

‘What I most regretted were my silences. Of what had I been afraid?’

43. South Africa: Organizing – a superpower for the landless    April 06, 2024

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Eleanor Thompson, a Sierra Leonean human rights lawyer and social justice activist in Freetown,  returns to an essay by Audre Lorde in which she reflects on the ways we may avoid speaking our truth for fear we might incur anger  or rejection.  Facing her own mortality, Lorde realizes that she gains nothing from staying silent but gains connection from others when she uses her voice – inspiration for Eleanor, as she navigates feelings of both difference and belonging in her community

‘Learn to stop if you want to keep going’

42. US: The promise – and the challenge – of a coalition for rights    March 15, 2024

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Katrina Ffrench is an activist in constant motion, pursuing multiple projects in her area of expertise, racism in UK policing and the criminal justice system. But there came a moment when she realized she was close to burning out and decided to take avoiding action. It’s OK to be still, she says, there’s power in stillness. 

‘Letting go of a cherished illusion’

41. UK: When the police are the harm, not the cure    February 12, 2024

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For decades, Latin America’s reporters have treasured a celebration of their craft by one of their most beloved writers, the late Gabriel Garcia Marquez – a great novelist but also a passionate journalist. Jonathan Bock was, until recently, one of them. He runs an organization in Colombia that defend media freedom and he is having to face up to a harsh reality.  


‘Making art to mend what is broken’

40. USA: A Jewish group’s 30-year solidarity with Palestine    January 11, 2024

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Carmen Cheung Ka-Man’s day job is as an attorney who works with communities around the world to secure accountability for the crimes perpetrated against them. But she is also an artist for whom making is a metaphor – an effort to find solutions within the constraints of her tools and skills and a dialogue between her and the variables that are germane to her craft.  She sees printmaking is a restorative practice, reconnecting beauty with the struggle for truth and justice.  


‘When activism falls short, try a poem’

38. Bahrain: The power of direct action – and the cost    November 29, 2023

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Lissette Gonzalez leads the investigations and research team at PROVEA, a Venezuelan human rights organization. She knows the tools of human rights activism– the narrative change strategies, the reports and the campaign slogans. As important as that work is, she knows that those outside the world of activism don’t always find that messaging resonant. A poem on the other hand channels what people are feeling and can have greater impact. She makes her case with Rodilla en Tierra, by Oriette D’Angelo.  

‘The film inspiring a new generation of disability activists’

37. Uganda: Fighting to turn back a law – and anti-LGBT hatred    November 09, 2023

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In the early 1970s, a group of disabled American teens found themselves at a summer camp with new freedom to think for themselves. The selfhood, courage and joy they tapped into was to power a revolution in US culture and policy towards disability. The story of those activists is told in the documentary film Crip Camp, and Mexican disability activist Maryangel Garcia-Ramos explains how much it means to her.

‘Filled with music, filled with justice’

36. Zimbabwe: You can’t keep a good movement down    June 22, 2023

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Vince Warren is a renowned human rights lawyer and leader in racial justice who leads the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York. Like so many others, he found himself locked down during the pandemic. Disruptive and destabilizing though that period was, Vince was grateful to be able to take refuge in his lifelong passion for music. A drummer and performer over many years, he took the chance to write some new songs and has recently released them on an EP. He reflected on the connections between his human rights and musical identities.


Tracks from  Vince Warren’s EP  released on Spotify:

Saint Woke, Hard Feelings, Round to It Records released, May 25, 2023

“Dividing Line (Mr C’s Love Song)”

“New Day”

“Where were you?”

‘Stop Burning this Country to the Ground’

34. Hungary: Learning useful lessons from your enemies    May 11, 2023

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In recent months, a sustained uprising in Iran, led by women, has inspired admiration and support across the world. It is by no means the first time in over 40 years of fundamentalist Islamic rule – there have been repeated waves of courageous protest since 1979. The poem in this episode’s Coda is by the late yet still beloved Iranian poet Simi Behbahani, and was written during a moment of rebellion in 2009 when citizens came out to reject election results they believed had been rigged. Human rights activists Farnoosh Hashemian reflects on what the poem – and its author – mean to her.


Music: “Morgh e Sahar” (Bird of the Dawn) by Ostad Morteza Naydavoud, performed by Kayhan Kalhor (Kamancheh or Spiked Fiddle) and Yo-Yo Ma (Cello).

‘When we go to the Ministry of Defense, we start with poetry.’

33. Strategy: The pain of charting a new course– and the gain    April 20, 2023

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Human rights advocate Dilrabo Samadova marvels at the way poems show up in absolutely every aspect of life in her country, Tajikistan. She says solidarity, justice, and equality feature in Persian poetry as far back as the sixth and seventh centuries, proving these are not “foreign values.”

‘These young artistes are fearless!’

32. South Africa: The challenge of offering solidarity without strings    March 29, 2023

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For Tutu Alicante, human rights lawyer and longtime activist against dictatorship and corruption in Equatorial Guinea, it has sometimes felt like a long and uphill struggle. But there are some new kids on the block – young artistes who are using their music to condemn the illegitimate wealth of the president and his family, and the shocking poverty of the country’s people. “It gives me a lot of hope,” says Tutu, “it’s become very clear to me that we need other avenues to combat autocracy, to combat kleptocracy, high level corruption. And music is a universal language.”

Music featured in the Coda:

Negro Bey “Carta al Presidente” from the album “Reliquia”

Russo Nnangdong  “Cuestión de Libertad” from the album “Kuestiones”




The liberating power of an Audre Lorde metaphor

30. Egypt: The price of defeat, the power of conviction    January 31, 2023

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Two years ago, Nigerian environmental rights campaigner, Ken Henshaw, had never heard of black lesbian feminist, Audre Lorde or her lecture, The Master’s Tools Will Never Dismantle the Master’s House. But when someone gave him a copy of Lorde’s fiery take-down of white feminist academics for avoiding discomfort and hanging on to their privileged connection with the white patriarchy, Ken was transfixed. Could he apply the ‘Master’s Tools’ metaphor to his own activism? Had he really been challenging the oil companies and the government, or was he working within limits they prescribed?


‘It’s about finding our own way towards freedom’

29. Human Rights: A tension at the heart of the United Nations    January 11, 2023

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Seamus Heaney’s poem Casualty, written amid the troubles in Northern Ireland, circles around themes of violence, complicity and freedom. It turns on an event that followed Bloody Sunday, the day in 1972 when British soldiers shot dead 13 unarmed civilians in Derry as they were protesting internment without trial.  Criminal defense lawyer Chris Stone reads the poem about a friend of Heaney’s who refused to abide by a curfew called by the IRA, and reflects on its brilliance, and the profound impact it had on him.

‘We always fall. But you keep trying until you reach the top’

28. Guatemala: The digital spark that ignited a protest movement    December 20, 2022

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Johnson Ching-Yin Yeung, a social justice and rights activist in Hong Kong, knows that setbacks in his work are inevitable, but rock climbing teaches him an important lesson. Climbing with ropes requires you to trust your fellow climbers.   You will certainly fall from time to time but their support, a determination to succeed, and the prospect of a magnificent view from the top – keeps you going. 

When dancing Salsa is good for human rights

27. Palestine: Refusing to be a second-class citizen    December 08, 2022

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Vivian Newman Pont is a human rights advocate and researcher at Dejusticia in Colombia.  The work exposes her and her colleagues to the impact of war and impunity and inevitably takes a toll. When things get too much, Vivian fires up some music and gets out on the dance floor.

Waywardness – how targeted minorities refuse oppression

25. Europe: Building solidarity with Migrants and Refugees    June 22, 2022

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For minority communities it can be exhausting to sustain morale and self-confidence in the face of exclusion and stereotyping. Raheel Mohammed, director of Maslaha, a London-based organization dedicated to defending and supporting muslim communities, has been moved and inspired by the writings of Saidiya Hartman on waywardness – as a strategy to refuse oppression, even when you are  incarcerated.

Staying hopeful in dark times

24. Afghanistan: Can the Taliban tame the hunger for rights?    June 06, 2022

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Last month, Ferdinand Marcos Junior was elected president of the Philippines, thirty-six years after his father was chased from office by the People Power revolution in 1986. For activists like Mary Jane Real, this is grim news, bringing back memories of brutal rule, torture and impunity. But an essay by Rebecca Solnit has given her a surprising insight.

Keeping faith with your country – from exile

22. Part 1 – A high stakes struggle to secure rights and justice for Libya    April 21, 2022

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For the human rights defender forced to leave their home country to get away from threats of violence or detention, there is a strange life ahead – of dislocation and adaption to a new culture, while remaining umbilically connected to their place of origin. Guatemalan activist Gabriel Wer shares a poem by celebrated Argentinian poet Juan Gelman who lived much of his life in exile.

Valuing friction in the work of advancing rights

21. Myanmar’s citizens battle military rule – alone    March 31, 2022

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Denise Levertov’s poem, Making Peace, says that we bring peace into the world by speaking it, and for Ryan Figueiredo, there’s special meaning here for the social justice activist. Fighting to make rights and justice a reality inevitably causes in friction but that’s not a negative, Ryan says, it polishes us in the work that we do. Perhaps we are – as the poem has it – “facets of the forming crystal” we hope to grow.

Real activism happens IRL (in real life)

19. Social movement or professional NGO? Can it be both?    February 28, 2022

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In recent years, human rights lawyer and racial justice activist Nani Jansen Reventlow has been helping to build a vibrant digital rights field. But as important as online spaces are for advancing rights, she’s worried about people forgetting that real change only happens in the real world and she’s calling on Gil Scott Heron – the late but still much beloved poet, musician and social critic – to help her make the point. 

“The Revolution will not be televised” by Gil Scott-Heron was featured on the album Pieces of a Man released on the Flying Dutchman label in 1971 

Stop scrolling and read!

18. An epic struggle against military rule in Sudan    February 12, 2022

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Irish human rights leader Liam Herrick doesn’t know exactly how it happened, but one day he realized he had stopped reading literature and history even though he had always loved books. Inspired by his kids’ love of stories, he set out to regain the reading habit.

Being Queer in Malaysia: ‘A little bit out but – still not out’

17. Aim high! A Victory for New York’s Undocumented Workers      January 20, 2022

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Queer rights activist Henry Koh reflects that in their home country Malaysia, the only space where queer people are acknowledged is on screen  in flamboyant characters played for laughs. They reflects on growing up gay in a society that expects you to stay in the closet. 

Finding inner calm by swimming in turbulent waters

15. Pushing back against xenophobia in South Korea    August 26, 2021

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When Mike Davis, CEO of Global Witness, wants to take a break from calling out states’ harm to the environment or corporate corruption, he dons a wetsuit and heads out into the waves. 

A song from Argentina that evokes community and creativity

14. Protecting the mental health of human rights workers    August 11, 2021

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Economic and social justice campaigner Ignacio Saiz tells us about a song that means a great deal to him – Balderrama, by the great Mercedes Sosa. It celebrates a famous bar in Argentina’s far northern town of Salta, whose musicians and regulars cherish the community that gathers there. 

Getting into good trouble in Zimbabwe

12. Building activist movements for the long haul    July 13, 2021

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Inspired by the late US Congressman John Lewis, young activist Namatai Kwekweza reflects on the difference between bad trouble and good trouble and explains why she’s determined to keep making a noise about injustice: I personally believe that if the noise didn’t really achieve anything, then they wouldn’t be telling us to keep quiet. 

Being the light of the world… an activist on the demands of her faith

11. What’s so great about a feminist manager?    June 30, 2021

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Yemi Adamolekun is inspired by the Gospel of Matthew which calls on Christians to project their values and shine so that all can see their faith in action. But on the reluctance of Nigerian churches to take a stand on issues like corruption, she comments: “I’ve come to realize that being light and being salt will make you unpopular. It’s much safer not to be seen as anti-government.”   

Lessons in courage from a Salvadoran Archbishop

10. Mexico: In search of trust – beyond privilege and exclusion    June 17, 2021

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When Jim Goldston arrived El Salvador as an early career lawyer in 1987, he was appalled by the rightwing junta’s violence against its own citizens. He quickly joined local efforts to document the atrocities perpetrated by El Salvador’s state-instigated death squads. While there, Jim constantly encountered the story of Archbishop Oscar Romero – a Salvadoran religious leader who was assassinated in 1980 for speaking out against state repression. Romero’s words, and memories of his leadership, were still fresh in the minds of Jim’s colleagues and he quickly found himself renewing his commitments to a career in rights.

Poetry – the secret weapon that helped topple a regime

9. Nigeria: Driving Police Reform Through Mass Protest    June 03, 2021

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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

8. When does the language of rights have power?    March 30, 2021

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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

7. What do human rights leaders need?    March 19, 2021

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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

6. Argentina: A stunning victory for women    March 04, 2021

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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

5. Hong Kong: Winning support abroad for the struggle at home    February 12, 2021

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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 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

4. China: Securing local funding for rights    January 28, 2021

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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

3. Has the human rights framework outlived its purpose?    January 05, 2021

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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

2. South Africa: Rebuilding a movement’s culture after crisis    January 05, 2021

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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

1. Afghanistan: Daring to believe in human rights    January 05, 2021

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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