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ten facts about social activism
Social activism is a purposeful action with the mission of bringing about lasting social change. Anyone with a cause that they feel passionate about can become a social activist if they work to create effective and positive change. Social activism generally refers to working to right the wrongs of unjust practices affecting humans, such as the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar or the separation of families at the United States and Mexico border by immigration officers. However, activists can work to create change with any cause, including environmental activism and animal activism. These 10 facts about social activism will provide information on the evolution of activism, as well as careers relating to social activism.

10 Facts About Social Activism

  1. The social services industry works to address the direct needs of individuals, while social activism deals with uncovering the root cause of a negative issue impacting a group of people. A social activist may use various techniques to bring light to an issue, either through advocacy campaigns to raise public awareness on an issue, or by coordinating help to aid an affected population. Social activism deals more heavily with bringing light and change to societal issues.
  2. Social activism has changed drastically with the rise of social media. For example, the civil rights movement had mostly peaceful demonstrations and protests and is still one of the most successful social activism campaigns. Nowadays, social media has become a key player in social activism. Hashtags such as #BlackLivesMatter and #MeToo have taken over the role of advocacy and are very successful in bringing light to social justice issues by providing accessible information across the world.
  3. A survey that the Pew Research Center carried out found that 69 percent of Americans believe that online platforms are essential for successful social activism campaigns. Americans believe that online platforms accomplish various political goals such as getting the attention of legislators and creating sustained movements for social change. There is a debate over slacktivism versus social media activism. Slacktivism is the belief that social media leads to passive activism.
  4. The same survey found that certain demographics of social media users – most notably African and Latino Americans – see these platforms as an essential tool for their own political expression and activism. Around half of all African American social media users state that these platforms are at least somewhat important for them to express their political views. Many minorities feel that social media allows them to be more active in speaking up for their own rights. Those views fall to about one-third of all white social media users.
  5. Organizations, corporations and government agencies are frequent targets for social activists aiming to influence society by altering established practices and policies. Activists may use techniques such as naming and shaming to bring about social change. Naming and shaming is when a group or organization calls out another group for unethical practices. An example of this is when the United States placed sanctions on South Africa for apartheid. The sanctions shamed South Africa and brought this issue to the attention of the international community.
  6. One can place activists into two categories depending on their relationship to an organization. Insider activists are employees of a targeted organization. They have certain benefits and challenges compared to outsider activists who are members of independent social activism movements. Insider activists are also called whistleblowers and they expose unethical practices happening within the organization they are a part of.
  7. Activists may use boycotts and protests to target businesses and get them to change their practices or behaviors. Boycotts are successful in targeting businesses as they cut them off from economical transactions and limit their profits. Businesses will often adhere to the demands of customers if the boycott is large enough to severely impact them. Therefore, boycotts are an effective way of getting businesses to change their business models to something more ethical that pleases their consumer base.
  8. Millennials are often socially active consumers as they consider the ethics of their products before purchasing. The shoe brand Toms promises to donate a pair of shoes to a child in need for every pair purchased. Paper straws have also become a popular environmental alternative to the traditional plastic straw. The clothing brand Reformation claims to be the most sustainable option in clothing second to being nude. Millennial consumption habits have created a whole market for sustainable and ethical products.
  9. There are many careers that incorporate some elements of social activism, with careers in law and public policy creating change through human rights law, lobbying and public interest law. Careers in government and international relations can bring one into agencies such as the State Department or the Environmental Protective Agency (EPA), as well as international organizations like the United Nations. Community organizers empower and develop local community leadership to enable them to meet community needs, ranging from clean water to better education. Careers in nonprofit organizations, like Save the Children or CARE, both of which provide humanitarian assistance to developing countries, are also great paths to go down.
  10. There are certain skills that make individuals qualified for a career in social activism. Individuals must be able to work with a diverse array of people, have excellent communication skills and be able to speak persuasively. Strong writing and critical analysis skills are also helpful, in order to strategize and envision an improved society.

These 10 facts about social activism show the evolution of activism with the rise of modern technology and social media. The form and pace of social activism will continue evolving to keep up with changing technologies. Technology and social media have sped up the exchange of information and knowledge, which largely contributes to the basis of many worldwide social activism campaigns.

Laura Phillips-Alvarez
Photo: Flickr

Ai WeiweiChinese artist Ai Weiwei is well-known for using his art to protest against human rights abuses committed by the Chinese government.

Ai’s concern, however, is not limited to his home country. He has lately made several efforts to support refugees and protest the conditions they find themselves living in.

On the Greek island of Lesbos, Ai recently set up a studio to highlight the plight of refugees. “The island has been the main point of entry into the EU for hundreds of thousands of refugees over the past year and the studio would produce several projects with themes related to the refugee crisis from him and his students, Ai told reporters,” said a January 2016 article in the Guardian.

Ai noted the lack of awareness of the situation and willingness to act in Europe and the rest of the world. “The border is not in Lesbos, it really [is] in our minds and in our hearts,” Ai said.

In Copenhagen, Ai closed down his exhibition in response to new laws and reforms. These laws aim to discourage refugees from seeking asylum by delaying family reunification and by allowing Danish authorities to seize refugee’s valuables. “The law has provoked international outrage, with many human rights activists criticizing the delay for family reunification as a breach of international conventions,” as reported by the Guardian.

“The way I can protest is that I can withdraw my works from that country. It is very simple, very symbolic – I cannot co-exist, I cannot stand in front of these people, and see these policies. It is a personal act, very simple; an artist trying not just to watch events but to act, and I made this decision spontaneously,” Ai told the Associated Press.

Perhaps most publicized and controversial of his recent efforts was a reenacted photo of deceased Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi. In this photo, Ai posed in the position of Kurdi’s dead body. Ai described to CNN his emotional experience of posing for the photograph: “I was standing there and I could feel my body shaking with the wind – you feel death in the wind. You are taken by some kind of emotions that you can only have when you are there. So for me to be in the same position [as Kurdi], is to suggest our condition can be so far from human concerns in today’s politics.”

Ai continued to express his frustration with the lack of action and compassion for refugees: “…you see all those politicians that are not really helping, and trying to find all kind of excuses. To refuse and to even put these refugees in more tragic situations.”

For this effort in particular, Ai Weiwei received significant criticism. Various news publications and art critics derided the photo. For instance, a headline in the Spectator labeled it “crude, thoughtless and egoistical,” and an article in the Guardian discussed the danger of the photo having a “very real possibility of diluting a worthy cause.”

While the criticism may be valid, to expect Ai Weiwei to stop trying may be very mistaken. He plans to continue to raise awareness and support for the refugees. “As an artist, I have to relate to humanity’s struggles…I never separate these situations from my art.”

– Anton Li

Sources: CNN, The Spectator, The Guardian 1, The Guardian 2, The Guardian 3
Photo: Washington Times

chinese_migrant_workers
Every year, around the Chinese New Year, China experiences the world’s largest human migration. About 700 million people gather at boat landings, train stations and airports to return home; during this holiday period, 2,265 trains per day will carry this plethora of people across the country.

A majority of these travelers are in fact migrant workers who are returning home after working in China’s crowded but economically thriving cities. For many of these laborers, this will be their only visit home before they have to return to their place of employment for the rest of the year.

Traditionally, life for these millions of migratory workers has not been easy. While many leave their rural hometowns for greater economic opportunities in China’s booming metropolises, they often find more than they bargain for.

A study conducted by Cheng Yu at Sun Yat-sen University in Guangzhou surveyed the mental health of 807 migrant workers from Shenzhen and also saw Cheng discussing personal experiences with 60 of them. The study found that 58.8 percent of participants suffered from depression. Another 17 percent experienced anxiety, while around 4.6 percent had considered suicide.

The issue of mental health among Chinese migrant workers became widely apparent in 2010 after a series of suicides at a Foxconn manufacturing facility in Shenzhen. The company had assembled components for Apple products.

For migrant workers who must transition from rural life to city living without the support of their families, the chance of developing mental illnesses are much greater. They also face greater inequality through China’s hukou system.

The hukou essentially serves as a domestic passport which distinguishes between those of rural backgrounds and urban backgrounds. Unfortunately, migrant workers have to pay more for social services such as healthcare and education, which they could expect for little expense in their rural hometowns. They will frequently experience wage disparities and discrimination.

In 2008, a study found that urban workers earned around 1,000 yuan per month, while their migrant counterparts earned only 850 yuan. Most were expected to work around 11 hours per day for 26 days a month. Another study found that migrant laborers worked 50 percent more hours than their urban counterparts, yet in turn received 60 percent less in pay.

In order to improve their working conditions, laborers have recently taken to the streets in protest. In 2011 the country experienced 185 labor protests, and things have only escalated since then: last year, 1,300 labor protests took place.

Even though the Chinese government guarantees workers’ rights under a 1995 labor agreement, workers must seek approval for strikes through the All-China Federation of Trade Unions, a government entity. If they don’t coordinate through the federation, they can face arrest.

Yet these arrests are usually only based on disorderly conduct and not for the actual strikes themselves. Wu Gaijin, a worker representative from Shenzhen, was detained for an entire year without a conviction. The government charged him with disrupting traffic.

However, life for laborers has been gradually improving. China has recently worked towards loosening restrictions on the hukou system in an attempt to lessen the disparity between urban and rural workers. Furthermore, individuals such as Cheng have advocated for required mental health testing at work facilities and for providing employees with a mental health support line to mitigate suicides and depression.

As China grows larger and its cities expand, changes such as these will have to be made in order to make its labor force sustainable and healthy.

Andrew Logan

Sources: Business Insider, CNN 1, CNN 2, ILO, NPR, PBS
Photo: CNN

Protests_in_Honduras
For the fifth consecutive Friday, thousands of protesters in the Honduran Capital have marched, torches in hand, calling for their President and other leaders to resign on charges of corruption. In fact, their demands go beyond what many see as simply political theater in having high ranking officials resign. The protesters are seeking systemic change by having an international observing and prosecuting body investigate and fight corruption and impunity in the struggling Central American Nation.

This international commission, which exists only as an idea, is coming to be called CICIH, the International Commission Against Impunity in Honduras. The inspiration for such a sagacious demand by protesters seems to be the success of the CICIG, the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, in enforcing the rule of law and subverting corruption in Honduras’s neighboring state.

The CICIG’s recently renewed mandate to operate in Guatemala was welcomed by the State Department and presented as an effective model for curbing violence, unlocking growth and reducing poverty in the Northern Triangle countries of Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras, in an earlier Borgen Blog post.

The grievances behind the recent protests in Honduras serve as a great example of how corruption undermines growth. An estimated $120 million was “fraudulently misspent” by the Honduran Social Security Institute, a large proportion of which went to fund President Juan Orlando Hernandéz’s 2013 campaign. Mismanagement of public funds, not to mention poor investment climates and the struggles of doing business, are some ways in which corruption impedes poverty reduction. In 2005, corruption was estimated to cost the world $1 trillion.

Leading the world in murders per capita, and Latin America in income inequality, life is difficult in Honduras.

At least 32.6 percent of Hondurans live in extreme poverty, reports the World Bank, and the the number of people below the national poverty line continues to climb. Rocked by a drug war, hyperactive and omnipresent gang activity and intense violence from law enforcement, the symptoms of corrupt and unstable institutions consistently make headlines in what The Economist warned was fast becoming a “failed state.”

The issues facing Honduras are not entirely endogenous and are incredibly complex. For starters, their geographic location is favored by narco-traffickers aiming to get products to markets in the U.S. They are still reeling from a 2009 coup. Impunity among state security forces is rampant, something that has been blamed for their out of control killings and targeted assassinations.

Among the many things that Honduras needs, are dependable and capable institutions, which are difficult to cultivate in the environment in which Honduras finds itself. Thankfully, the unique model provided by the work of CICIG in Guatemala lends itself perfectly to their situation, and the people of Honduras are ready for it.

– John Wachter

Sources: Al Jazeera, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace , CNN Español, The Economist, The Guardian, Huffington Post, La Prensa, Tico Times 1, Tico Times 2, World Bank 1, World Bank 2
Photo: Flickr

hong-kong
At the end of June, 787,000 people in the semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong voted in a nonbinding referendum that pushed for more democracy. The votes were cast in order to decide the means for allowing Hong Kong residents to nominate candidates for the city’s chief executive. The unexpectedly high turnout shows that citizens of Hong Kong do not like the Chinese government’s plans to reform.

In 1997, when Hong Kong was handed back to China from Britain, China agreed to handle the city under the thought of “one country, two systems,” where Hong Kong had a lot of autonomy, but China still has comprehensive jurisdiction over the city.

Because of this, the city has its own legal system and protection over its freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. The referendum became Hong Kong’s way of showing its frustration with the amount of freedom and autonomy it is hoping for in the future.

The winning proposal from the referendum was proposed by the Alliance for True Democracy, and allows candidates to be nominated by 35,000 registered voters, or by any political party that had secured at least 5 percent of the vote in the last election for Hong King’s legislative committee.

The ballot also had the option to vote that the legislature should veto any proposal that “cannot satisfy international standards allowing genuine choices by electors,” which more than 87 percent of voters agreed to. The ballot also proposed that the public, a nominating committee and political parties could name candidates for the chief executive position.

China’s State Cabinet released a statement degrading the referendum as illegal and invalid, saying those who organized it were breaching the rule of law and holding back the process of universal suffrage. The statement also said that the chief executive for Hong Kong must be someone who loves Hong Kong as well as China.

The citizens of Hong Kong fear that the nominating committee will be a way that China can weed out whoever they disapprove of for the position, and people of Hong Kong want a process where candidates not perceived as loyal to the Chinese government can still stand a chance in the election process.

The 10-day referendum was organized by a group called Occupy Central with Peace and Love, and it proposed planning sit-ins and other nonviolent protests if the election rules don’t meet what it considers “international standards.”

Chen Jianmin, one of the founders of Occupy Central, believes the protests could soon turn violent. Speaking of this possibility, he said: “We have been witnessing more and more physical confrontation during protests and I believe that more young people are willing to go to jail or even to confront the police and the government with their own bodies.”

July 1, 2014 marked the 17th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover back to China, and this day each year tens of thousands of people march the streets of Hong Kong for the annual pro-democracy rally.

Protesters marched the street, criticizing the leadership of Hong Kong’s current chief executive, CY Leung, seeing him as a “Beijing loyalist.” The city is planning on reaching a full democracy by 2017.

One protestor states: “I am here to fight for democracy and freedom. If Hong Kong people did not come out to fight for our freedom, we would lose it in the future.”

Some marchers even held up Hong Kong’s colonial flag, used before 1997 when Hong Kong was a British colony, in order to show their anti-China beliefs.

Occupy Central has stated that if the Hong Kong government does not come up with a proposal for the 2017 election that meets the international standards for democracy, the group will get 10,000 people for a sit-in protest in Hong Kong’s financial district. A protest like this could harm the economic development of Hong Kong, as well as mainland China, making it a legitimate threat.

— Courtney Prentice

Sources: LA Times, BBC 1, BBC 2,
Photo: BBC

Since February 2014, Venezuelan protests against the government have been flaring throughout the country. Two Venezuelan politicians, Daniel Ceballos of San Cristobal and Enzo Scarano of San Diego, were placed in jail due to these protests and their clear defiance of President Nicolas Maduro. A State Department official stated that the arrests of these men solely based on their opposition exemplifies that Maduro’s government “continues to persecute political opponents.”

Maduro won the Presidential election in April 2013, but by a very narrow marigin, seeing as Venezuela is notoriously divided into those in favor of the late Hugo Chavez, whose policies are closely followed by Maduro, and those who strongly oppose him.

The new president has been running the country with the same socialist style that Chavez did, but with an increasingly high inflation rate, power cuts and lack of certain staple foods. As a result, defiance against Maduro and his government have been increasing.

Although the President is attempting to keep the opposition down, the wives of the imprisoned mayors continued the fight by running as mayors in their husbands’ places. On May 25, they both won in a landslide, making their constituents’ support clear.

Daniel Ceballos, former mayor of San Cristobal where the protests began, was given a 12-month sentence for civil rebellion and conspiracy after he did not follow an order to halt the protests going on in the city. His wife, Patricia Gutierrez de Ceballos, won the election for mayor with 73 percent of the votes. About the election, the newly elected mayor states:

“They have converted me into mayor and ratified Daniel Ceballos as mayor. And today, San Cristobal has the privilege of having two mayors governing its city.”

She also said that each ballot cast for her represented a sentence of justice and freedom, as well as a blow against “the dictatorship” of Venezuela.

The other imprisoned politician, Enzo Scarano, was placed in jail for a 10-month sentence for his failure to comply with a previous order from the Supreme Tribunal of Justice to take down the barricades in San Diego, in the state Carabobo. Rosa Brandonisio de Scarano, wife of Scarano and former City Council Member of San Diego, won about 88 percent of the votes on May 25.

“The people will remain peacefully in the streets, making people listen, so that it echoes throughout the world that Venezuela right now is going through a very difficult time, economically, socially, morally and politically,” she stated after the election.

On the bright side, the fact that these women were clearly a part of the opposition and won with an overwhelming majority of the votes shows that the elections can be impartial and fair.

The concerning portion of all of this is President Maduro’s possible reaction if the protests continue. He has described the protesters as “fascists and extreme-right thugs” who are attempting to destabilize the government for a coup. As far as future action, he states, “If they go crazy and start burning the municipality again, the authorities will act … and elections will be called every three months, until there is peace.”

– Courtney Prentice

Sources: CNN, Huffington Post, BBC
Photo: Panorama

Chile_Education_reform_protests
The nation of Chile underwent significant change during the 1970s. At the time, General Augusto Pinochet established a military coup d’état (overthrow of the state) aimed at dismantling the Salvador Allende regime. By means of violence, warfare and eradicating opposition, Pinochet was able to come to power and eventually appoint himself as the President of Chile in 1974. Pinochet was a free market fundamentalist policy permeated throughout much of Chilean society.

In 1981, Pinochet privatized the educational system of Chile by slashing government support for public schools. Fearing that government funded schools were inciting social activism and communist ideals, schools became private under the contemporary military regime. Because of Pinochet’s private education policy, the educational system of Chile suffered greatly. Schools became for-profit institutions with extremely high tuition costs that people were unable to afford. Those who were able to afford private education were often forced to paying off years of debt.

The education policies stemming back to Pinochet’s authoritative rule are still largely in effect today, which has recently sparked a significant amount of civil unrest. Preceding the Chilean elections in November of 2013, tens of thousands of students took to the streets of Santiago to voice their protest against the current education system. Ultimately, about 80,000 people took part in the protest to call for progressive education reform in Chile that would make it both affordable and universal.

Popular polls indicate that the demands of the students protesting are supported by roughly 85% of Chileans and the current administration has certainly taken notice. Although they have been criticized for not making any considerable strides in education reform, former Head of State Michelle Bachelet stated that she would make college education free within six years. Many continue to be skeptical, but hope that Bachelet will follow through with her promises of education reform in Chile.

In December of 2013, Michelle Bachelet won the election to solidify her second term as the President of Chile and exclaimed in her victory speech that she would work to improve education and establish equality through her policies. As a nation with poor framework that perpetuates economic discrimination in education, Bachelet will have to address the pressing issues presented by the thousands of students protesting. On an international scale, nations are moving towards establishing systems that allow for affordable and universal education—and with Chile lagging far behind, the people hope to see significant changes made.

– Jugal Patel

Sources: CNN, BBC, Global Post, Merco Press
Photo: SuleKha

protesters_push_for_bangkok_shutdown
Anti-government protesters are trying to shut down the capital city of Bangkok in order to stop next month’s election. While the protesters have not yet shut down the city of 10 million people they had succeeded in shutting down many intersections and plan to make government offices inaccessible and take over the homes of top government officials where they plan to shut down water and electricity supplies.

Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra is set to win the upcoming election on February 2.

Protesters used double-decker buses, pick up trucks and sandbags to block roads. The police have been taken over by protesters in the streets and government has called in 8,000 military personal to help tackle chaos and destruction.

Businesses, tourist groups and some of the countries top scholars are worried that Thailand is at risk of becoming increasingly violent and are pleading with protesters to cease their protests and allow the election to go ahead. Government supports in the North and Northeast have also lashed out at the protesters and asked for more support from the military.

The protest movement is being led by educated middle and upper class citizens who are highly motivated and idealistic, these individuals reside predominantly in Bangkok and southern Thailand. Protestors are acting out on hatred of Ms. Yingluck and her brother, Thaksin Shinawatra, a billionaire and former president who has left the country but hold significant influence over the country.

Human rights activists and others are requesting that protesters, police and the government respect human rights and avoid violence during these demonstrations in Bangkok.

The protests have been predominately peaceful with raising Thai flags, blowing whistles and spreading tents and picnic blankets across seven major intersections. However, authorities say 8 people have died and 470 people have been injured since the protests began in November.

Amnesty International has recognized that violence could erupt and asked officials to allow the citizens their right to peaceful process, but also warned protesters not to commit human rights abuses either.

U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon spoke over the telephone to both Ms. Shinawatra and the opposition leader Abhisit Vejjajiv in attempts to bring a peaceful end to the protests and help them to reconcile their differences. Ms. Shinawatra has already made an attempt to calm the tensions; in December she arranged the February 2nd re-election. This move has not eased protestors who are asking Ms. Shinawatra to step down and allow an unelected “people’s council” to take over and put in place political reform.

A travel advisory has been put in effect for the region and the U.S. Embassy has warned America’s to avoid travel to Bangkok until the situation becomes more stable.

Elizabeth Brown

Sources: CNN, New York Times, CBC News
Photo: Daily Mail

isreali_migrant_laws_displace_refugees
A group of 20,000 people gathered in Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, Israel on January 5 to protest Israeli migrant laws. Most, if not all, of the protesters are African refugees attempting to draw attention to their desire for asylum and end the laws that could put them in detention or erase their right to work.

Al Jazeera reports that this is the largest such rally by migrants in Israel’s history. The rally transpired after a mass walk-out from a detention facility in December by hundreds of asylum seekers from Africa. These people had been detained there for a night and the following day were banned from work.

The Voice of America News states that, “Israel’s parliament passed a new law last month allowing authorities to indefinitely detain migrants who lack valid documents and ban them from jobs.” Most of the African protesters have come from Eritrea and Sudan and are seeking asylum because of poverty, violence and political chaos.

Haaretz quotes one of the protesters explaining that, “We didn’t come here to stay our whole lives; we want to return to our home countries once the situation improves.” Eli Yishai, former Interior Minister of Israel advised that the Jewish people should be sympathetic to the suffering of others as long as it would not put the state in danger. This is because he firmly believes that the African refugees want to change Israel, despite their claims against his belief.

There are currently 38,000 refugees from Eritrea and 15,000 refugees from Sudan living in Israel. In total 60,000 migrants have, according to Israeli authorities, crossed into Israeli territory from the border they share with Egypt since 2006.

Due to the sheer volume of people entering the country, Israel spent $377 million dollars on a border fence to stem the flow of immigrants in 2013, reports Al Jazeera. This fence evidently did its job because though 10,000 people crossed the border in 2012, only 36 were able to enter in 2013.

Legislation was passed on December 10 allowing authorities to detain illegal immigrants entering the country for up to a year without trial. This did not go over well with the Association for Civil Rights in Israel (ACRI) as they, as well as other groups have already filed petitions against the new law. Despite all of the issues, the new bill had passed by 30 votes in favor and only 15 against out of the 120-member Knesset.

– Lindsey Lerner

Sources: VOA, Times of Israel, Al Jazeera
Photo: Al Jazeera

mongolia
It is no secret that the concerns and rights of ethnic minorities in China fall to the wayside in favor of the Han, the ethnicity with the majority in the country. Inner Mongolia serves as an example of the cultural and economic strife caused by marginalizing one group over another. The result is what the Mongol minority believes is outright economic exclusion and the watering down of their culture.

One of the key issues within the region is the migration of the indigenous nomads from their native grasslands to the cities. The Chinese government waves off the migration as a move into modernity for the nomads. A removal from what Chinese authorities refer to as a “backward” culture, but as Nick Holdstock of the U.K. Independent points out, the natives have no say whatsoever when it comes to moving to the cities. This outflow of ethnic Mongolians to urban centers has raised fears among Mongolians that their culture, language and lifestyle are being threatened.

Another point of tension lies in the regional mining of rare-earth metals. Various mining companies have entered the region to take advantage of the lucrative prospects, especially since the value of these metals is demonstrated in their ubiquity among high-tech electronics. However, the mining has been accompanied by a degradation of the surrounding environment as well as the health of the nomads.

For example, the town of Baotou, a major mining hub, has seen its groundwater polluted to toxic levels, their crops ruined and much of their livestock destroyed. Moreover, the use of underground water sources, essential to the removal of impurities from the coal, has lessened the water available to crops and livestock. Many farmers, unable to deal with destruction of their livelihood, have moved away. The Guardian points out that the population within the surrounding villages of the Baotou plants has decreased dramatically. Those that have remained in the area are plagued by severe illness.

All of these factors have coalesced, creating serious economic problems for the ethnic minority. Environmental devastation of their grasslands has degraded some of the main forms of their economic livelihood; the mining industry in the region tends to hire workers from other provinces, excluding the nomads from many of the economic benefits the industry might bring.  Furthermore, those who have migrated to urban areas have discovered cultural barriers to finding gainful employment, namely an inability to speak passable Mandarin.

Tensions have, moreover, reached the point of violence in some instances. In 2011, a herder was killed by a passing coal truck when he attempted to prevent coal trucks from crossing into his land during his protest against the mining industry. Several days later another protester was killed by a forklift driver. Tensions finally boiled over and several thousand Mongolians went out to voice their opposition toward the mining activities.

Unfortunately, the case of Inner Mongolia is a harsh reminder among ethnic minorities in China of their second-class citizen status. Perhaps in time, the Chinese government will listen to the voices of protest among the disenfranchised minority groups that populate many rural areas throughout China. Until then, Mongolians and other ethnicities face major economic and cultural challenges.

Zack Lindberg

Sources: The Independent, The Guardian
Fabio Ghioni