Advocacy lessons from Christian crusaders of the 1930s

Advocacy can be defined as raising awareness of an issue of concern in a given area to influence the mindset, resources and policy in solving the identified issue. 
 
Like behavioural change, advocacy is a process. 
 
The issue of concern must be well understood in terms of its manifestation, effects to its victims, how widespread it is, past interventions and even spectrum of allies around the issue in the affected area.
 
This must be done through a deliberate study of the issue and informing the affected because they have a dog in the fight and are best placed to lead in solving the problem.
 
Human rights activists are advocates of the society.
 
They, like Christian crusaders of the past, must learn the art of public speaking, using words to paint pictures of the past, present and the future.
 
Use of artistic words, songs and other literary works is key. 
 
Activists must show the victims of the inhumane system a portrait of a greener land across the river, where plenty is within its borders, where justice is their shield and defender, and where peace and unity are practised.
 
This must be done by appealing to the victim’s mindset which is mostly full of blank spaces, beliefs, false narratives, fear, blind obedience, feeling of helplessness, and in some cases, resignation to the status quo. 
 
Church crusaders and small pox in 1930
 
Sometime in mid-19th century, there lived a medicine man at the slopes of Mount Kenya. 
 
The medicine man was revered because his concoctions would cure all known and unknown ailments. He was known across the slopes and beyond.
 
During his prime time, a strange disease invaded the land and his wizardry was called upon to save his community.
 
The disease would manifest itself through small rashes all over the victim’s body, which would later develop into small wounds. 
 
Neither the medicine man nor the people knew that the disease was Small Pox. 
 
They called it the ‘scratching disease’, a descriptive word because victims would use anything to scratch their bodies. 
 
The scratching, which was meant to stop the itchiness, only ended up peeling the rashes, worsening the problem.
 
The medicine man came up with a concoction of assorted herbs and wood ash. He would apply the ‘magical’ mixture all over the victim’s body.
 
The victims would emerge from the shrine tired, beaten, sad, and forsaken, looking like ghosts. 
 
Some had instructions to go back to the medicine man after some time. Some died, other survived.
 
This ghostly look made the victims prime targets of community stigma and discrimination. 
 
Conversely, the victims became potential candidates for Christian converters who had literally pitched tent at the mouth of the medicine man’s shrine.
 
 
Lesson 1 - Target
 
The Christian converters would blame the deaths and victims’ ghostly looks on the medicine man, other than the disease.
 
This was deliberate to demobilize community faith from the medicine man. 
 
The Christian converters knew the victims needed a real solution, which was conventional medicine. 
 
Lesson 2 - Audience
 
The victims were then taken through a comparative journey of their past (when they did not have the disease), the present (when they had the disease) and the future, which they would have should they accept salvation after which Jesus Christ would cure and offer them everlasting life.
 
Here, the aim was to capture the victims’ audience and attention, and the community thinking, engaging them both at individual and community level. 
 
Lesson 3 - Creating a new story
 
The victims were isolated, fed and clothed. All this while, they were taken through Bible studies mixed with song, dance and creed to indoctrinate them into Christianity.
 
This was meant to create a new narrative loaded with hope. Each victim was given a duty according to the new narrative.
 
The purpose was to change the constructed story of the medicine man and create a new story of the Most High.
 
Lesson 4 - Logic
 
Small pox was used as an entry point into individual and social minds to introduce a whole new narrative of Christianity.
 
The use of the then current problem to administer cure and create a long term narrative of ‘living happily ever after with the Most High’ worked very well.
 
The medicine man was projected as the devil himself. A song was composed using the medicine man's name to this effect and to date 99 percent of the people from the slopes interchange the medicine man's official name with that of Lucifer.
 
 
Lesson 5 - Action
 
The victims, once healed, would be tasked to go out and be part of the physical testimony, and mobilize others to go for pluralistic healing. 
 
The action was very clear and logical in the context of small pox.
 
Lesson 6 - Value of action and spectrum of allies
 
The small pox victims’ healing and rehabilitation gave both physical and spiritual value. 
 
Their new looks, language, mindset and testimonies were meant to help mobilize passive allies, neutralize passive opponents, and hopefully convert medicine men.
 
 
Lesson 7 – Building capacity of victims
 
The cure of the Christian converters was not only conventional and physical, but also appealed to individual and collective soul and psyche, unlike that of the medicine man which was traditional and only applied to the physical body.
 
The converters were looking for continuity – heal the body and create an advocate of good news.
 
Lesson 8 - Point of intervention
 
The Christian crusaders’ point of intervention was pluralistic and systematic.
 
First the physical look, then the healing of the wounds, moving on to the mental aspect of the victim and finally to the spiritual, which, again, was in two aspects – first, the horizontal relationship with fellow human beings and second, and most important, the vertical one with the Most High. 
 
 
The lessons above attest to the success of the mobilization done by Christians, Muslims, Hindus and all other religions. 
 
Activists can learn from where they are and from the history of any religion. 
 
Past and present crusaders of the Most High have consistently used the same method to recruit. 
 
From the story, activists can learn the 7-point Action Plan that can be applied in their course of duty:
 
  • 1. Identify the target audience.
  • 2. Get it right when identifying your audience.
  • 3. Create a real story on a problem from the target audience.
  • 4. Take deliberate action – plan pluralistic series of actions which run concurrently. These may include leaflets, friendly letters, protests, mob flash, court action, naming and shaming, posters, graffiti, radio and TV shows, etc.
  • 5. Identify the spectrum of allies. Do not leave anyone out (traditionalists, atheists, medicine men, pagans, LGBTQs, commercial sex workers). These could be the ones with the biggest dog in the fight.
  • 6. Build the capacity of all, including victims and allies. Share the narratives ad let them know tactics and methods of non-violent action. 
  • 7. Get it right when identifying your point of intervention.
 
Kenya is infested with different small poxes in her body politic including bad leadership, corruption, failed systems, oppressive tax regimes and many more. 
 
It is about time activists are called upon to bend backward and look into the different narratives and help identify ones to keep and ones to discard.
 
These narratives include ones that made Kenya proud as a country, ones that left Kenyans feeling helpless, false narratives that have been constructed to make Kenyans behave the way they do and inspiring narratives that Kenyans must keep telling and developing through active participation.
 
The positive narratives must then be handed over as inheritance to those who should be entrusted with the land - the younger generation.
 
BY SK Wandimi
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