A Call to Action

The motivation that underlay the Resistance was outrage. We, the veterans of the Resistance movements and fighting forces of Free France, call on the younger generations to revive and carry forward the tradition of the Resistance and its ideas. We say to you: take over, keep going, get angry! Those in positions of political responsibility, economic power and intellectual authority, in fact our whole society, must not give up or let ourselves be overwhelmed by the current international dictatorship of the financial markets, which is such a threat to peace and democracy....

It is up to us, all of us together, to ensure that our society remains one to be proud of: not this society of undocumented workers and deportations…not the society where our retirement and other gains of social security are being called into question; not this society where the media are in the hands of the rich.

The worst possible outlook is indifference that says, “I can’t do anything about it: I’ll just get by.”

These are the words of Stephane Hessel in his powerful manifesto, Indignez-Vous, that was first published late last year in France as a short, stapled pamphlet. Indignez-Vous is a French term that literally means be indignant. I think of it more as a mandate to express your outrage, especially outrage against injustice.

It can now also be read in various English versions under the title Time for Outrage. Charles Glass, the London publisher of the book, writes that it was “a publishing sensation on its first appearance, and since then has provoked a heated debate about social justice, the power of protest and how to harness our common indignation.” The Guardian reported the essay topped the Christmas best-seller list in France last year.

No wonder: what could be more timely! Stephane Hessell is a remarkable person. He is almost 94, a hero of the French Resistance, captured by the Germans and sent to concentration camps where he was tortured, and was only able to avoid being hanged at the last moment. He finally managed to escape and soon thereafter met up with the advancing American army. After the war, he participated in drafting the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Late last month Hessell spoke to students at Columbia University about his book. The Columbia Spectator reported the book’s message is widely “applicable: Hessel’s book is a call to action.” You didn’t have to look far down the street to realize his message is being clearly heard and above all practiced.

During his talk to the students Hessel urged them to find their own personal outrage and then do something about it. “You will find something, and when you find it you must commit.” It is entirely too easy to do nothing. Hessel argues this is not a time for apathy, rather this is a time for outrage. “Never give up, never be indifferent.”

I write about Hessel because of my own failures to act at various times in my life. It isn’t that I’ve been indifferent. Rather it’s that my beliefs, my convictions even when they were strong, were never followed by actions.

Yes, I made my share of contributions to the organizations I believed in. But that was easy, too easy and I was never really able to break away from the work I thought I needed to do. Individuals, like Hessel, who have more courage, more commitment to their convictions than I do, forcefully remind me that while important, outrage is not enough. It is also necessary to act.