Tag Archives: Frederick Douglass

2015-04-21 I hate “Somebody” (The Korea Times)

No matter how long your to-do list may be, there is someone with an even longer one: “Somebody.” With the amount of work waiting for him or her, I don’t blame “Somebody” for hiding.

Whenever there is a problem, many people want Somebody to do something about it. Somebody needs to heal the sick, clothe the naked, feed the hungry, help the farmers, educate even the uninterested, pay $15 an hour to all, etc. Somebody never quite does assigned tasks. Unlike Big Foot getting spotted walking around lakes and forests, there aren’t any grainy photos of Somebody slacking off.

While Somebody is the would-be-fix-it-all-savior, there is a different figure causing trouble: “Society.” Whereas Somebody usually needs to do something, society gets blamed for causing trouble.

Society allows bad things to happen and doesn’t care; Somebody gets called to fix Society’s problems. I am starting to suspect this is a tag-team, like an arsonist partnering with a fire-fighter.

As part of Society, you are also to blame. You can’t say you were taking a nap or working overtime when Society caused climate change, homelessness or got teenage girls pregnant. You are guilty ― and Somebody needs to do something about that, too.

A collection of Somebodies called on to fix problems are politicians, although the government’s track record at solving problems is spotty, at best. Entrepreneurs who solve problems never quite live up to the dreamy Somebody who will one day cheerfully fix things for free.

I even occasionally get identified as somebody who can fix problems, but it is usually by people who, after praising what I do, will suggest I am still not doing enough.

For example, when South Koreans learn about my project connecting North Korean refugees with volunteer English tutors, I am often asked why I don’t provide similar opportunities for South Koreans. I am getting kinder and gentler as I age, so I’ve stopped telling such questioners that I’m not stopping them from doing what they’ve asked. Instead, I give them suggestions based on my own experience.

First, I recommend that they join the volunteer group Korea International Volunteers. It was founded by James Kim, I was the founding assistant organizer. He’s one of those good guys who always puts aside time to help others in need, such as organizing volunteers to serve hot meals to homeless people and to tutor low-income children at orphanages and community centers in South Korea. That’s a great starting point for getting involved.

Second, I tell them about HOPE (Helping Others Prosper Through English). Edward M. Robinson is the V.P. of Operations/Project Director, I’m the International Adviser. HOPE offers free tutoring for low-income children and also arranges special events. If you are looking for someone to host a Christmas, birthday or Halloween party, then contact Eddie, he was a professional party planner in the USA and has hosted some great events for children here in South Korea. HOPE is always seeking volunteers and donors, so it is possible to help build up a local organization providing free tutoring for South Korean youngsters.

Then, the big finale: I surprise questioners by informing them that my volunteer Teach North Korean Refugees (TNKR) project already includes South Koreans. The focus of TNKR is on the more than 150 North Korean refugees who have come through the project so far, but we have also connected almost 20 South Koreans (who work at North Korean related NGOs or volunteer in some other way) with free English tutors.

I suppose that I should take it as a compliment that people gently complain at me, for a few reasons. One, they flatter me, as 19th century American abolitionist Frederick Douglass said of Monday-morning quarterbacks in his day: “They compliment me in assuming that I should perform greater deeds than themselves.” Two, they apparently believe my volunteer project is so valuable that more people should benefit from it. Three, instead of pushing the government to do what my project does, they point to me, an American, with a small-scale volunteer project, as somebody who can get things done.

I have been saying it for years at staff and planning meetings: I hate Somebody. I learned long ago to eliminate Somebody from my activities, because Somebody turns out to be “Nobody” when it is time to move from idea to action.

After informing questioners about those activities as ways of helping South Koreans, I invite them to start their own projects. I promise to help my questioners if they get started.

I have yet to have any takers. Stealing a line from Rev. Jesse Jackson, I tell them, “You are Somebody!” You can get things done, you don’t need to wait for the President or me. But I am starting to suspect that “Somebody” in their minds means “Somebody Else.”

The writer is the Director for International Relations at Freedom Factory Co.in Seoul and the Asia Outreach Fellow with the Atlas Network in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at: CJL@post.harvard.edu.

http://koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/nation/2015/04/626_177488.html

American slavery then, N. Korea today (The Korea Times, 2/25/15) by Casey Lartigue, Jr.

American slavery then, N. Korea today

by Casey Lartigue, Jr.

Speaking on Feb. 14 in Washington, D.C., along with North Korean refugee Cherie Yang, I noted parallels between the “men stealers and women whippers” of American slavery yesteryear and North Korea today (the event was co-hosted by the Atlas Network and the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association).

The American South violated basic human rights; allowed people to be enslaved, tortured and killed at will; broke up families; and kept slaves isolated and ignorant. The main difference with North Korea is the American South imported its victims.

The North Korean regime is even worse than the slave-holding South. Slavery defenders could argue then they weren’t doing anything out of the norm of history; North Korea has no such defense, it would be like the Ku Klux Klan taking over a country today.

One person who helped change it so that slavery was no longer the norm was Frederick Douglass. Born into slavery sometime around 1818 (births of slaves weren’t recorded), he was destined to be a “slave for life.” Instead, he became a leading abolitionist. After failing in his first bid for freedom, Douglass escaped from “a den of lions” in 1838. He still had to worry about black spies reporting him and white slave hunters kidnapping him.

Likewise, even after escaping, North Korean refugees get hounded by North Korean agents and Chinese police to repatriate them. Rescuers on the Underground Railroad who help North Koreans flee through China get jailed, beaten, and in some cases, allegedly murdered for breaking the law to help runaways, as all happened in the Old South.

Despite the threats, Douglass began speaking out, saying at an 1842 gathering of the American Anti-Slavery Society, “I appear this evening as a thief and a robber. I stole this head, these limbs, this body from my master, and ran off with them.” He traveled around the world arguing against slavery, as some North Korean refugees bravely do today about North Korea (I’m pleased to have introduced some refugees to opportunities). As refugee speakers sometimes get criticized by other refugees, Douglass was criticized by other blacks “who thought very badly of my wisdom in thus exposing and degrading myself.”

Refugees today have every aspect of their lives questioned by word-parsers and investigative reporters; the pro-slavery press regularly denounced Douglass (in modern times, they slaveholders would be rabid bloggers posting YouTube “expose” videos and polluting Wikipedia). Douglass silenced many critics who are now deservedly forgotten by history with his 1845 book, “Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American slave.” Abolitionist Wendell Phillips, reading the proposed manuscript, said he would “throw it into the fire” if he were Douglass. Other abolitionists warned the book “would turn (Douglass) over to the tormentors.”

Douglass fled to England to evade those tormentors. North Koreans outside of North Korea are considered to be “traitors” to the Kim regime, which is one reason reporters and researchers need to use common sense when challenging refugees who have ongoing privacy concerns and security threats from a psychotic regime. Douglass rightly withheld many details well until after slavery ended.

Friends purchased Douglass’ freedom in 1846On the 10th anniversary of his escape from slavery, he published an open letter to his former slaveowner, saying: “In leaving you, I took nothing but what belonged to me, and in no way lessened your means for obtaining an honest living. Your faculties remained yours, and mine became useful to their rightful owner.” He concluded the letter: “I’m your fellow man, but not your slave.”

Critics denounced Douglass as an “abolition agitator” and “intermeddler” who was “petted and flattered and used and paid by certain abolitionists.” Today, refugee speakers, NGOs and the “human rights racket” are blamed for “provoking” North Korea and get denounced as “puppets” who are seeking “fame and profit.” (Even Harriet Beecher Stowe, author of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” was charged with trying to line her own pockets off the issue of slavery and there were more than 20 books, many by Southern women, quickly published as rebuttals).

Free states were denounced along with slave states, much as defenders of North Korea today highlight problems in the United States. Human rights advocates get criticized by professional talkers for not doing more to help North Koreans still in North Korea.

Douglass, the former slave who later became a “conductor” on the Underground Railroad, wrote: “True, as a means of destroying slavery, it was like an attempt to bail out the ocean with a teaspoon, but the thought that there was one less slave, and one more freeman ― having myself been a slave, and a fugitive slave ― brought to my heart unspeakable joy.”

A few weeks before his death in 1895, when asked by a young man for advice, Douglass replied simply: “Agitate! Agitate! Agitate!” Yet another parallel ― my colleagues pushing for human rights in North Korea would agree.

The writer is the Asia Outreach Fellow with the Atlas Network and a member of the Board of Trustees of the Frederick Douglass Memorial and Historical Association in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at  CJL@post.harvard.edu

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USA trip, Feb 2015 (Florida, North Carolina, District of Columbia)

North Korean refugee Cherie Yang and I spoke in three U.S. cities in the last week. We had a great time, the audiences were receptive, we definitely raised awareness about the violation of human rights in North Korea and the challenges of North Korean refugees resettling elsewhere.

Thanks to the Atlas Network, Florida Gulf Coast University, Foundation for Government Accountability, the John  Locke Foundation and the Frederick Douglass Memorial & Historical Association for hosting us.

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