We’re exploring the deep reasons that drive people to protest in support of important social and political issues, and highlighting those that do. Here, Raymond Johansen talks to Sarah about his personal motivations for working as an activist, and why he believes civil disobedience is a duty for every able-bodied citizen.
Ray sits on the Board of Directors of Pirate Parties International, and is International Coordinator of the Pirate Party of Norway.
What led you to become an activist?
In 2002 I was kidnapped by representatives of an international organised crime group that shall remain unnamed. To get me to give them money they sadistically tortured me for around eight hours and threatened my children’s lives. I did not give them one cent of my hard-earned money.
It changed me and my whole life. I lost all my friends and family and I learnt what torture does to a person. I made activists, hacktivists and human rights defenders across the world my new family. All that I do has a very specific function in my life apart from supporting causes. It keeps the PTSD I suffer today at bay – if I focus and work hard enough to help others.
All of this has made me focus much of my time combatting state-sanctioned torture around the world. Misery and pain made me who I am today. I think this is true for many of my fellow activists, from Qatif in Saudi Arabia to Moscow in Russia.
Why do you think the freedom to protest is important?
It is the cornerstone of any healthy society. The powers that be will always protect themselves in such a way that getting through to criminal governments is made impossible. The freedom to assemble, free speech and enforcing transparency – hacking, leaking, journalism and whistle-blowing – are the only tools left for us. Civil disobedience is a duty for every able-bodied citizen. Without it we would not have any human rights today.
These human rights are being eroded as we speak because the last two generations have been extremely lazy. Not enough people have laced their boots and fought for our collective rights in the streets.
Do you protest in support of a particular issue/s?
Apart from fighting state-sanctioned torture I work on a range of human rights issues, many of which are causes found at the heart of the Pirate Party movement. Free speech, transparency and privacy are of course chief among them.
Have you been involved in any protests/movements that have lead to significant change?
As well as the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and the PROTECT IP Act (PIPA) I have taken part in fighting trade agreements like TPP, CETA, CISA and TTIP. Our days of action saw boots on the ground in at least 865 cities across the globe.
On a personal level, smaller and more narrow protests have made actual impact in many cases. Like protests outside Saudi embassies in support of Raif Badawi every week across the globe since his flogging.
Are there any examples of protests that have really made an impact on you personally?
Well, you could say letting myself be flogged in support of Raif Badawi in Trafalgar Square in London actually made a real impact on me. Both figuratively and literally. However, I work on prisoner support and what touches me every day are the tears of mothers and the agony of families of the jailed and persecuted. They are not protests, but I feel these activities are the most important. Supporting those that have been brave enough to actually risk their own freedom by protesting in one form or another.
The Pirate Party movement is considered controversial by a lot of people. Why do you think the PP voice is important?
You could say it started as a protest movement and then progressed quickly into a political party. Now it is a home for both activists and politicians. So, being both on the streets and inside the system makes PP special and also important. At the core of everything we do you will find the love for people power and the wish to take back democracy from the power-hungry and their corporate rulers.
Those parties that have already taken a position of power have always conformed to the rules in the halls of power. The Pirate Party never will. If I get elected to our parliament this fall I will start each and every morning by choosing a seat I am not supposed to sit in. I think that serves as a good example of who we want to be.
Who are some activists and/or protest movements that you respect?
There are so many, listing them would be futile. I have heroes like Manning, Snowden, Barrett Brown and the likes. I work with countless activists day in and day out, and I respect the hell out of my brothers and sisters in Anonymous UK who have dared to lace their boots in places people would not go. Like in front of the GCHQ headquarters at Cheltenham. Acts like that amaze me.
I know a lot of people that never stop going to protests and I respect them all. The Standing Rock #NoDAPL protests stand out in recent times. Lastly I cannot stress how I deeply respect all those directly involved in #OpFerguson. That was truly an amazing time to be an activist.
Raymond Johansen sits on the Board of Directors of Pirate Parties International, and is International Coordinator of the Pirate Party of Norway. Find him at www.hacktivistculture.com and follow him on Twitter.
Sarah Illingworth is a freelance journalist and Editor at Impolitikal. She has an MSc in Poverty & Development from the University of Manchester. Read more by Sarah.