Do We Need To ‘Save MSF’?

by Jon Thompson on September 6, 2009

I really cannot let this one go. It is an issue that has been bothering me for some time and the recent flap over the MSF ‘Boy’ video was the icing in the cake.

I fear the radicals have taken the helm of over at MSF and are steering our beloved organization into the breakers. I once considered them a fringe element but now I see they’ve worked their way deeper into the system. I’ve seen them in the past shouting down others at meetings but more and more they now seem to pulling their stunts in public.

When I say ‘radical’ I mean the type of people who believe that words speak louder than actions and that if you just jump up and down, waving your arms and screaming at the top of your lungs loud and long enough you can save the entire world. I have never found that to be the case.

I am all for advocacy and if I thought screaming and yelling and making awful videos would save lives I would no longer have a voice. The reality is that the only way you really save a life is by actually going out and doing the work and not by wasting your time running fake and exploitive media campaigns.

This faction has a favorite term, it is called temoignage, and it means ‘to bear witness’ in French. They love to pepper their speeches with it because it is the ultimate get out jail free card. They slap it on everything, like Google does with the term Beta, so that whatever they say remains sufficiently vague and can always be reinterpreted.

When I first started at MSF several old timers actually sat me down and told me directly, “We don’t like this. This is not what we’re about.” When people like that start telling you this kind of stuff you know that something is wrong.

I love this organization, I really do. I’ve put may ass on the line more than a few times for them and that is why I am writing this. I don’t want to see an organization that I helped to build be man handled by a group of ‘visionaries’. While they are busy staring at the sun there are teams of people out there actually doing the work. I am sure that if you were to stop one of the field people and ask them what they thought of the rhetoric they would just stare at you blankly for a second and then say, “Hey man, I’m sorry but I can’t talk right now. I’m too busy doing my job.”

Note: I have included a vintage ’75 copy of Manfred Mann’s Earth Band covering Bruce Springsteens ‘Blinded by the Light’ in honor of all those zealots who believe that that burning orb in the sky is the ball they are supposed to be keeping their eyes on.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

George Darroch September 7, 2009 at 4:58 pm

I actually agree with this quite thoroughly.

I don’t have the time to say much more, and don’t know enough about MSF to comment on the specifics of how this relates to MSF’s operations. So I’ll simply add that a belief that simply “bearing witness” will change anything is naive at best. In specific circumstances, yes. But when those conditions do not exist, other forms of action are much more effective and useful. And then in many circumstances, “bearing witness” can cause great harm, by raising the costs of particular actions, and decreasing the costs of others.

I also find your criticisms of the ad more relevant. If it is seen as a fundraising ad, it isn’t so problematic. If it is seen as an advocacy tool, then much more so.

Sarah February 20, 2010 at 7:02 am

Temoignage is not advocacy – bearing witness is just that – talking about what you are seeing. Advocacy- however, can save lives – millions of them.

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