Using popular culture to sensitize and mobilize youth around human rights issues

Rassemblement Action-Jeunesse (RAJ) used pop culture to involve Algerian youth in human rights issues. Although youth in Algeria represented 75% of the population, a history of government repression had led to a lack of youth participation in political life. RAJ hoped to change this by combining something youth already were involved in, pop culture, with human rights organizing.

RAJ pursued this goal through various means. For example, they booked concerts, created comics, made documentary films, and hosted art exhibits. On each of these fronts they were met with government repression. In fact, in response to their first major success, a hip hop concert attended by 10,000 youth, the government denied them permits to hold events 25 times over the next four years.

When considering how to put on a pop culture event for youth involving human rights, RAJ emphasizes several aspects. First, widespread youth participation in an event requires that other charismatic youth host the event. It is important then, that the leadership of the organization come from within the youth community. Unfortunately, this necessity creates two severe obstacles: youth tend to lack both the management skills and resources necessary for hosting many large pop culture events. In addition to the management challenges, many of the institutional ties useful to confront government repression were not developed, or possibly would have been ineffective anyway. Nonetheless, the events RAJ organized raised awareness about human rights and effectively taught many Algerians that human rights are part of their own culture and experience.

The impact the events had occurred in the NGO community, the government, and cultural life of Algerian youth. Many of the RAJ organizers went on to work on human rights for other NGO organizations. The government was made aware of the political power of youth. More importantly, the youth began to their assert influence over democratic process. In the 1999 presidential elections, the youth both monitored the elections to ensure fairness and encouraged youth to vote. With regard to the cultural life of Algerian youth, the music group that performed at the initial concert went on be very successful. Although they have moved to France, they continue to be involved in the struggle for human rights in Algeria.


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