By Casey Lartigue, Jr.
In the 1988 song "Man in the Mirror," the late Michael Jackson encouraged people who want to make a change in the world to start by changing themselves. Nice thought, but the reality is that most people prefer to use a magnifying glass to examine others. This is especially true of my fellow social activists imploring people to "wake up."
A handful of activists will rally in a circle, but hundreds of fun-loving people show up, with very little notice, to join a snowball fight or mud wrestling festival. Fans fill up huge sports stadiums to support their teams. Two million people, mostly from South Korea, rushed to sign a petition denouncing the judging of an Olympic figure skating competition involving Kim Yu-na. Shaking their heads, regardless of ideology or issue, many activists ask: "Why don't more people care about (fill-in-the-blank important issue)?"
My answer? They may care, but have other priorities and that's fine. There is nothing wrong with free people minding their own business to raise children, work, study _ or to join snowball fights. In business, the customer is always right. For many social activists, people who haven't joined our particular causes allegedly don't care.
I am deeply involved in advocacy for the human rights of North Korean victims of the Kim dynasty, so I often hear complaints from fellow activists about allegedly apathetic South Koreans. I heard the point made forcefully by a respected Korean-American activist at a gathering I attended in late March in the United States. In an ongoing special interview series with North Korean refugees by the website NKNews, one refugee unequivocally stated that "South Koreans are, in fact, apathetic to North Korean human rights." She cited UN-COI commissioner Judge Michael Kirby as saying that South Koreans are apathetic to human rights issues in the North.
Some South Koreans defensively try to explain the apathy, but my advice to activists: Let's focus on the people who have already joined us. As I often say: "If you organize a planning meeting for 100 people, but only three people show up, then you know what? You've got three people to work with. Get started with them, don't focus the meeting on the 97 people who aren't there." There are probably at least 50 NGOs with operations in South Korea helping North Korean refugees, that is a great place to start by forming new alliances and strategies.
Most say they agree, but as Winston Churchill once said; "Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened."
A few people collaborating can get something practical done to attract others. I am co-founder and co-director of the Teach North Korean Refugees project hosted by the Mulmangcho Human Rights Center. We have directly matched 97 North Korean refugees with about 130 volunteer English teachers in the last year. There are almost 50 million people in South Korea. Does it matter that 99.9 percent of them are apathetic about our particular cause and will never hear about us? Koreans as a population may not care, but I found some people who do.
Co-director Lee Eun-koo (South Korean), academic advisers Han Yeon-hee (South Korean) and Victoria Oh (Korean-American), external coordinator Cho Joo-yeon (Korean-American), ambassador Park Yeon-mi (North Korean refugee) and I (American) hold a monthly session matching North Korean refugees with volunteer English teachers. To steal from another Michael Jackson song: We are not alone. We couldn't do it without the volunteers of various nationalities who have joined our project.
The point is: We focus on what we can do rather than brow-beating or guilt-tripping those who haven't joined our ranks. If we can't attract people to our particular causes, then we should reflect on our tactics, message, focus and funding strategy. The fault, to borrow from Shakespeare's Cassius, is often in ourselves, not external factors. Even after that kind of strategic self-assessment, it could still be that people won't be interested. That's life. But that doesn't mean others are apathetic, that there is anything wrong with them minding their own business or that they deserve to be criticized for not joining.
When I hear complaints that people don't care about a particular cause, I ask the advocate to explain what it is he or she is doing to attract newcomers. In most cases, they will admit: Nothing. For those who say they have tried, then what was Plan B or C when Plan A didn't work? That approach may be more challenging, requiring them to think more deeply or plan differently. Activists who truly want to make a positive change in the world should reflect more on the man in the mirror rather than turning a magnifying glass on society.
Man in the mirror, not the magnifying glass (The Korea Times, April 22, 2014) by Casey Lartigue, Jr.
By Casey Lartigue, Jr.
Greetings! You are tuned to the "Casey Lartigue Show with YeonMi Park," a new TV talk show online at JKJ TV. I am delighted to welcome you to our lovely bi-weekly show that will focus on North Korea and North Korean refugee issues.
My name is Casey Lartigue and I am the main host of the show, but the success of the show will depend on my co-host, YeonMi Park, a North Korean refugee who has lived in South Korea for five years.
As far as we know, this is the first regular podcast or talk show featuring a North Korean refugee speaking English.
YeonMi, a junior concentrating in Criminal Justice at Dongguk University, will be our guide. When she isn't studying like her life depends on it, she is doing everything else like her life depends on it.
She is a regular guest on a weekly Korean cable TV show that features female North Korean refugees. She is ambassador of the Teach North Korean Refugees project that I launched early last year along with my co-director, Lee Eunkoo.
Additionally, YeonMi recently joined me as the Media Fellow at Freedom Factory.
We are both busy people, but we will find the time to do this show. Hours after we recorded the first show on March 17, YeonMi flew to Sydney to be a featured guest on a TV show in Australia. Three days later, I flew to America to do a mini-speaking tour across New Orleans, New York City, Chicago and Washington, D.C.
To begin our first show, I ignored YeonMi, announcing that I was the sole host of the show. YeonMi interrupted quickly, asking, "Am I invisible?" It set the proper tone for the show." She will be no shrinking violet.
I then joked that I had done a worldwide search to find the perfect co-host, but that I failed to find one. Of course, that wasn't true. I chose YeonMi and was delighted when she accepted.
It will take an enthusiastic, energetic and brave lady like her to co-host such a show. Some North Korean experts will scoff at us because we won't be solving geopolitical problems related to North Korea. There are sure to be the usual internet jokes about the hosts of a show.
As you can imagine, YeonMi was really nervous ― she was physically shaking as we prepared to record the first show. Once the cameras were pointing at us and we were recording, we both stumbled a bit.
My stumbles will be less excusable to viewers. I was formerly host of the Casey Lartigue Show on XM 169 in America; I have been a guest on numerous TV and radio shows; given speeches around the world; oh, and the show is in English.
Yeon-Mi is seven years removed from living in North Korea; the show is in English, a language she has been learning for just a few years; and she is dealing with a co-host who loves to improvise, even when he promises he won't. Her stumbles will be excusable to most people ― but not to herself.
After a bit of banter on our first show, we got to a serious topic: "Juche dies, markets rise."
I outlined the way the North Korean economy stagnated starting from the 1970s, then careened into famines during 1995-96 after the Soviet Union imploded in 1991.
The spontaneous order arose as North Koreans began to feed themselves. The North Korean regime fluctuates between tolerating and cracking down on markets.
We looked at photos of North Koreans engaged in market activity in North Korea, with YeonMi discussing the things she saw and had experienced.
YeonMi will use her English ability to speak for those refugees who can't do so and for those still trapped in North Korea. She wants to talk about the "real North Korea," not the caricatures in newspaper headlines.
As we debriefed a week later, I told her that our main problem is that we were in charge but not in control. We looked too much to our producer for guidance. We will take charge and be in control from the second show.
We concluded the first show with what I hope will be a fun segment: "Ask YeonMi." Friends and colleagues know that I am a wanna-be-rap star. Naturally, my first question was: "Do they have karaoke in North Korea?"
After this, it will be up to the viewers to send in sensible and/or fun questions for YeonMi to answer about North Korea.
Despite some serious topics, we will have fun, borrowing a line attributed to socialist activist Emma Goldman: "If I can't dance then I don't want to join your revolution."
The writer is the director for international relations at Freedom Factory Co. Ltd. in Seoul and the Asia Outreach Fellow with the Atlas Network in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.