The Power of Ideas: People and Peace at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum

Published on March 15, 2013 | Written by

How are youth directly involved in political change?  At the Nobel Peace Prize Forum at Augsburg College on March 10th, I had the chance to answer this question first-hand. If you are a young person involved in Arab Spring uprisings in the Middle East, you are playing a vital role.  The time was ripe for these protests because of high unemployment, food price inflation, corruption, lack of freedom of speech and poor living conditions.  Protests across the region shared techniques of mostly civil disobedience involving strikes, demonstrations, marches, and rallies, as well as the effective use of social media.

In 2010, political change ignited in Tunisia when a young street vendor set himself on fire as a deep expression of helplessness in the face of lack of opportunity.  The shocking image was spread online and generated unrest.  As protests spread, people poured into the streets and began to organize themselves with cell phones and Facebook. Social media sped up the process of organizing and let the rest of the world watch and offer support.  It provided new sources of information repressive regimes could not easily control and was crucial in shaping how citizens made individual decisions about participating in protests.

In addition to the technological revolution in mobilizing people, a significant reason for the success of these uprisings was the huge participation of women.  Young girls, mothers and grandmothers flocked to rallies wearing veils, jeans, and miniskirts.  Throughout the region, women emerged as change agents.

A powerful example of one woman’s leadership is Tawakkol Karman, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate from Yemen. She was the closing speaker of the Forum.  She has been called by Yemenis the “Iron Woman” and “Mother of the Revolution.” She is the first Yemeni, the first Arab woman, and the second Muslim woman to win a Nobel Prize and is the youngest Nobel Peace Laureate to date.

Karman is a Yemeni journalist, politician and human rights activist who heads the group “Women Journalists Without Chains,” which she co-founded in 2005. She gained prominence in her country when she led protests for press freedom and later expanded weekly protests to include issues for political reform.

There were six major messages in her address to the Forum participants.  1) If you suffer, don’t sit and wait.    2)  Get yourself some strong ideas.  3)  Freedom of expression is our #1 human right.  4)  Peaceful struggle is the only way to lead. Confront bullets with roses. 5)  It is the youth who have dreamed of a state of equal citizenship, a state that guarantees freedom and dignity of life. 6)  Together we will achieve all our dreams.

Robin Wright, opening keynote on Global Day at the Forum, is a Senior Fellow at the U.S. Institute of Peace, a journalist, author and foreign policy analyst whose book, Rock the Casbah: Rage and Rebellion across the Islamic World, won the 2012 Overseas Press Club award for best book on international affairs.  She described spoken and visual arts such as song, poetry, comedy, and even comic books fueling and nourishing change in the Middle East.

Rap became the rhythm of resistance.  As uprisings began, many sang a song a rapper had put on his Facebook page.  Lines from poetry became chants as protesters streamed into the streets.  A series of superhero comic books, The 99, became very popular having been translated into 12 languages.  Each superhero possesses a different superpower and is from a different country, and the heroes are equally divided between being male or female.  New young Muslim comedians emerged, bridging Western and Muslim worlds, one group calling itself the Axis of Evil Comedy tour.

At least 500 songs were created by artists in Yemen’s protest movement. After musicians perform them live during protests, the songs instantly reappear as mobile phone ring tones or as mixes on YouTube.

The process of political change is echoed throughout our lives wherever elders teach young people to stand up to injustice and youth are empowered to freely express their visions and truth, unite through discussion and action, and are given equal voice in creating solutions to injustice.


”Political changes are coming

Close ranks for the great day forward

One heart beats, one voice shouts.”

-Liz Brekke


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