Diving Headfirst into Human Rights Activism: A CANVAS Intern Perspective by Emma Christman (A’23)

by tuftsigl
Jul 12

After being selected as an Oslo Scholar through the Institute for Global Leadership (IGL), I began interning in June at the Center for Applied Nonviolent Action and Strategies (CANVAS) under Serbian human rights activist Srdja Popovich. Because of COVID-19 travel restrictions put in place by Tufts, I am completing my internship virtually this summer from Massachusetts rather than CANVAS’ home city of Belgrade, Serbia. My study of International Relations at Tufts has allowed me to explore my interests in issues of human rights and democracy around the world, and I feel lucky to be pursuing these interests in a professional setting at CANVAS.

From the beginning, work at CANVAS has been both challenging and engaging. My first assignment was to collaborate with other interns to create a weekly news report summarizing important international events. Each week, I monitor news stories from Belarus, Indonesia and the United States for information that is relevant to the political and human rights situation in each country. By following stories in Belarus and Indonesia, my understanding of the history and current situation in each country has increased greatly. The weekly newsletter is a rewarding project and every time I work on it, I know that activists around the world will receive it in their inbox.

I have especially enjoyed attending sessions of the CANVAS Summer Academy, a free webinar series featuring incredible activists, journalists, and professionals from around the world. Last week, I participated in sessions called “Democracy Under Siege” and “Bleak Present, Greener Future,” both moderated by Popovich. During these Zoom sessions, I learned about threats to global democracy, the rise of leaderless protest movements, democracy activism in Myanmar and the plight of the Global South on climate change. This week, I listened to presentations on how autocracies have capitalized on the pandemic to limit civil freedoms and to spread disinformation. I look forward to the next CANVAS summer academy session, and I applaud the organizers of the event for such a compelling and thoughtful program.

My two remaining months at CANVAS will be busy and exciting. I am participating in a research project on creative protest tactics and nonviolent civil resistance strategies, investigating the efficacy of political satire against authoritarian governments. I am excited to become more involved in the project as the internship continues. In addition, I am looking forward to attending CANVAS trainings over Zoom to meet activists and to learn about grassroots human rights movements.

I am incredibly excited to have an internship that allows me to develop my writing and research skills while working on critical human rights issues. After only three weeks at the organization, I already feel confident that the professional skills and personal connections I am building at CANVAS will continue to be meaningful after the internship is over. And when the pandemic eases and travel becomes safer, I look forward to visiting Belgrade to see the home city of CANVAS and to meet my Serbian colleagues in person.