We found very interesting an article published in the section of Science, Education and Technology by El País, written by José L. Álvarez Cedena which highlights the initiative of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, better known as MIT, and specifically its Media Lab, to establish the Disobedience Award.
Alvarez gives us the context by reminding us of the time when Mahatma Gandhi, in 1930, took a handful of salt to his mouth in Dandi, shouting “with this salt I will make the foundations of the empire tremble”. He continues with John Ford, who in 1950, when speaking briefly at a meeting of the directors’ union organised by Cecil B. De Mille to expel Joseph Leo Mankiewicz as a communist, said: “My name is John Ford. I do westerns. There is no one in this room who knows what the American public wants and how to give it to Cecil B. De Mille. But I do not like you Cecil, I do not like what he represents and I do not like what he’s saying tonight. ” Also the case of Rosa Parks in Alabama, sitting on the side of the bus reserved for whites in 1955; a gesture that turned a humble woman into a symbol. And also Henry David Thoreau, and Leon Tolstoy, and Nelson Mandela. There are in history examples of rebels who with their attitude and their actions have managed to change things. Women and men who refused to obey the established order and, with nonviolence, could modify laws, organize movements and even face whole countries. Many of them – even getting out of their battles – have been repressed, ignored, isolated or punished for their attitude. But now MIT, one of the most prestigious educational centres in the world, wants to recognize their contributions with a prize.
The Disobedience Award, whose first edition was held this year, wants to recognize the audacious, those who promote a positive change in human history by facing any institution (be they governments, courts, laboratories, universities or businesses). Joi Ito, director of the MIT Media Lab, believes that “institutions can be very hierarchical and based on obedience. But some systems get stronger the more you attack them. The prize we have created tries to amplify the message of those people who disobey, who take risks”. In an article published by MIT, Ito himself said that when they opened the registration period for the prize (endowed with the not insignificant amount of $250,000) they did not know what to expect. But, in a very few weeks, they received almost 8,000 proposals from candidates around the world.
The winners of this first edition were Mona Hanna-Attisha and Marc Edwards, scientists and activists who confronted the authorities in the water crisis in Flint, Michigan. For years, the water consumed by the inhabitants of the area was contaminated by levels of lead that could become deadly. Hanna-Attisha and Edwars risked their academic prestige, were ridiculed and punished for taking the side of Flint’s neighbors, until they were able to prove that they were right and forced to correct the rulers. “When you face power, it has consequences. I’m going to pay a price for this for the rest of my career”, Edwards said, but he does not regret the decisions he made. He does not do so because, as Joi Ito assures, these disobedient people who fight to change things deserve to be recognized for a task – and that is a greater reward than any economic reward – guided by a “higher purpose and ethics”.
We know of so many non-violent rebels, whom in Pressenza we interview and whose struggles we continue, giving them dissemination with our journalism. We know the effort of so many people with a good heart to modify favourably the living conditions of the people, of entire communities, of countries and of the eco-system, according to how far each one’s influence radius reaches. These awards undoubtedly stimulate, by giving value and recognition to that rebellion against the imposed conditions and the option of not resorting to violence but to more coherent ways to overcome them.