By MICHELLE SCHMIDT
Using film, book and theater, Marlowe works to build awareness of human rights issues ranging from conflicts in Sudan and the Middle East to the death penalty here in the United States. She is speaking at the University of Idaho this week and we connected with her to find out more about her and her work.
360: Your website bio describes you as a human rights advocate. How did you become passionate about these topics?
Marlowe: I’ve been passionate about social justice issues since I was in high school, if not earlier; it’s been a part of who I am for as long as I can remember myself. In terms of the specific topics that I am most deeply involved in, my involvement in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict began when I first traveled to the region on a yearlong fellowship. The more I saw and the more I learned, the more I knew I needed to get involved. The work I did there led me to other places and I began to realize the interconnectivity between all issues of human rights and social justice, and my focus expanded.
360: Your background was in theater. How has theater impacted your work as a human rights advocate?
Marlowe: Theater was a platform that I used for youth to tell stories about issues they were facing in their own lives. In my mind, that’s very connected to the work that I do now, where I am using video and writing as platforms for people resisting marginalization and oppression to tell their stories.
360: What role does storytelling play in advocacy?
Marlowe: Storytelling plays a very important role in activism/advocacy. Hearing someone’s story, in their own voice, in their own words, as much as possible, is one of the strongest tools I know of that help others connect to that person and to care about the human rights violations that this person may have experienced. Once someone has experienced the humanity of another (and storytelling does that), it becomes impossible to dismiss their struggles and their pain.
360: Your work covers some pretty heavy topics. Are there also playful aspects of your work?
Marlowe: A friend of mine once joked with me, “Your next book needs to be called ‘Sparky the Dog Saves Christmas.’ When I repeated that to another friend, she quipped, “Sparky would be a refugee.”
But, in more seriousness, though the subjects I delve into are definitely heavy, I do think there are playful aspects to my work — the human beings whose stories I am telling have playful sides to themselves and their lives.
Humor is a big part of humanity and dignity. If I am striving to expose the equal humanity that all of us possess, and the equal right to lives of dignity that we are due, I can only do that by showing people in their full humanity, which includes not only their victimization, but also their strength, their courage, and, of course, moments of joy, love, playfulness and humor.
360: What are some of the more difficult aspects of your work?
Marlowe: Witnessing (and immersing myself in) the intense pain that people I love are experiencing in situations where human beings are doing the worst to each other. But what comes along with that is also witnessing (and immersing myself in) people’s incredible resilience, and remarkable insistence on holding onto their humanity and dignity in situations where everything around them is striving to strip them of it. So along with the pain I absorb, I also take away profound inspiration.
360: Given your own experience, what advice would you give to those who want to make a difference in human rights issues around the world?
Marlowe: We need as many people as possible to take part in a global movement for human rights and human dignity. Your involvement matters. There are so many points of entry. Human rights work needs to happen in our own backyards and on the other side of the globe and it’s all interconnected. I think Troy Davis said it best, when he was on death row in Georgia for a crime that I believe he did not commit: “What’s most important — we have to stand together, educate each other, and don’t give up the fight!”
if you go
WHAT: Lecture by Jen Marlowe
WHEN: 8 p.m. Wednesday
WHERE: University of Idaho Student Union Building Ballroom, Moscow
You can follow Marlowe online at: Donkeysaddle Projects on Facebook, @donkeysaddleorg on Twitter and on her website, www.donkeysaddle.org.
Schmidt can be contacted at email@example.com or at (208) 305-4578.