The diplomats who reached the outline of a deal with Iran yesterday had little concern for that country’s repeated and flagrant violations of human rights, but that doesn’t mean any of us need be so blithe. Thanks to an innovative site named Movements.org, dissidents chafing under repressive regimes, like the one in Tehran, can connect with people around the world who may have the skills to help them by providing legal counseling or disseminating factual and unbiased information to the international press.
Less than nine months old, the site has done to human rights—a phlegmatic field still largely governed by traditional practices like scholarly conferences, research papers, and wordy press releases—what Amazon did to shopping or Craigslist to ads. Movements was originally co-founded in 2008 by Jared Cohen, Google’s ideas man. Cohen had a good concept and the right technology; what he lacked was the man to run it, someone tenacious and brilliant who could, in the battered parlance of Silicon Valley, disrupt the human rights industry. David Keyes was the perfect candidate: in 2010, Keyes, who is nothing if not brilliant and tenacious, teamed up with the legendary founder of Human Rights Watch, Robert Bernstein, to found Advancing Human Rights, a new organization they had hoped would present a more innovative and less biased alternative to the original behemoth. Keyes was thrilled with the idea of bringing hi tech into the mix, and has recently relaunched Movements.org as an innovative crowdsourced platform, with seed funding provided by Google. The idea took off instantly, and before too long even Senators like Marco Rubio and Mark Kirk were logging on to Movements.org to connect with pro-democracy activists, including Iranian political prisoners.
Which, naturally, made Keyes very happy. Growing up in Los Angeles, he spent his life training for what he had hoped would be a career as a professional tennis player, training with Andre Agassi and competing in national championships. But as a student at UCLA, Keyes discovered that he felt much more passionate about promoting liberty than he did about serves and backhands. He traveled to Cairo and to Jerusalem, where he worked with Natan Sharansky, and began agitating for freedom anywhere from China to Saudi Arabia, in which he is well-known for being the engine behind the campaign to allow Saudi women to drive.
This commitment of his, Keyes said, has a lot to do with a particular Jewish genius for dissent, a spirit that has guided everyone from Abraham to Abraham Joshua Heschel. And at no time, he added, does this commitment burn brighter than at Passover.
“Today Jews are no longer in bondage, but think of all who are,” he said. “Thousands of Iranian lawyers, journalists, women’s rights activists, and bloggers languishing behind bars; atheists, gays, and religious minorities slaughtered throughout the Middle East; Chinese bloggers and a Nobel Prize winner sentenced to decades in prison for advocating democracy; innocent Syrian civilians butchered by Assad and beheaded by ISIS. These problems seem overwhelming and insurmountable. But I think average people around the world can do an enormous amount. Moral solidarity is tremendously empowering to human rights activists and tremendously threatening to dictators.”
There’s hardly a better way to follow up the Haggadah—that perennial tale of an oppressed people yearning to be free—than taking a moment and going to Movements.org. You may not be able to do much more than post a few kind words, but that, in these dark times, is a lot.