Civil Rights / Culture / Death Penalty / Education / Environment / Human Rights / Labor / Politics / Revolution / War

Open Letter to All My Brothers and Sisters in the Fight for Justice: 

I didn’t come into this fight because of one moment. There was no great epiphany where I suddenly realized that I needed to work to change the world and fight for truth and justice. Inspiration often comes through slowly, almost imperceptively. It is a soft sensation – a gradual awakening of the mind and spirit. I have had many such awakenings. I was 13 when the World Trade Centers were hit by two planes. There was confusion and utter devastation to imagine so many lives snuffed out in an instant. There was grief. And then, with time, there were so many questions. Why do humans hurt their brothers and sisters like no other species on earth? What could have brought us to this place – this place of mass destruction; of invasions and bombings, of violence and torture, of civilian casualties on both sides and on such a mass scale? It was here, at 13, where I first began investigating US wars abroad and the history of fighting in the Middle East. It was here where I first discovered terms like “imperialism” and “blowback” and “hegemony.” This terrible tragedy was my first awakening. I was 15 when I first read the works of great activists like Aung San Suu Kyi, Cornel West, and Arundhati Roy. That same year, I discovered journalists like Amy Goodman and Chris Hedges and intellectuals like Noam Chomsky and Howard Zinn. It was here that my intellectual curiosities blossomed along with my desire to effect change like these people had. I was learning how to think critically, how to communicate and write effectively, and how to always speak truth to power and fight for justice, no matter what the circumstances. I was 21 when the Arab Spring first erupted. Glued to the TV for days, I found myself elated and inspired by what humans can do to fight oppression if only they just unite together. Men and women, mothers, fathers, grandmothers, children – all flooded the streets to fight for their human rights and their dignity. Regimes toppled and people-power took control. With goose bumps, I hung on every word of the revolutionaries speaking on TV and in the paper. Here, I learned the power we have to effect change. Here, I learned what can be accomplished in solidarity and cooperation. Of course, sometimes inspiration does arrive with a vengeance – jolting the spirit and altering the mind permanently. I was 22 when I began working for an advocacy group, Pennsylvanians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, and 23 when Troy Anthony Davis was killed by the state of Georgia, despite so much doubt surrounding his case. I remember the feeling of complete desolation. My heart was broken. All of the work and dedication of myself and other activists was for naught – or so I initially imagined. And yet, only moments after hearing the news, I sat down at my computer and began composing blogs about the death penalty, writing letters to media outlets and Congressmen, and making impassioned pleas online for others to join the cause. I was spurred on by Davis’s last words, asking friends, family, and supporters to continue on in this fight. I was hooked on the world of social justice, human rights, and peace-building for good. Today, I am still inspired by events and by activists and writers all over the world. Whistleblower Chelsea Manning released information documenting tens of thousands of previously unreported civilian casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan and exposed torture and gross abuses of power. She did this despite the great personal risk in order to “lift the fog of war” and expose the bloody truths that many people never see about the imperial wars abroad fought by the United States. Edward Snowden risked his job and his life to bring to light the overreach of the NSA and its mass surveillance program on the American people and on world leaders abroad. Malala Yousafzai literally put her life on the line to stand up for the rights of young girls to attend school without fear. Every day, I am reinvigorated in my own quest for peace by these and other inspiring figures. Every day, I witness fearlessness and resolve in the face of oppression, war, and inequality. This is why I work for peace and justice. That I am not alone is encouragement enough for me to continue. Peace and Solidarity. ~Alyssa

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