To be in the presence of Thor Halvorssen is to see a figure from a different era. Halvorssen has the energy of the old titans of industry, constantly checking one of his myriad cell phones, or dashing off a quick email on a laptop or three, while holding a conversation with someone nearby, or running to a car for his next plane flight. He keeps the hours of the damned, up until three in the morning and then catching a red-eye across the country, working for the Human Rights Foundation, or for his film institute.
In the realm of human rights advocacy, there’s a traditional way of doing things: Hashtags and sad faces and sonorous speeches bewailing the horrific fates of political prisoners the world over. Everyone talks about awareness…but confrontation is reserved for those governments with representative governments, and a decided lack of secret police forces waiting to break down doors in the middle of the night.
According to Buzzfeed, Thor Halvorssen is far from traditional. From his first political prisoner freed–his father, when he was a college student–to the death of his grandmother and the wounds his mother took protesting Hugo Chavez, Thor Halvorssen has taken the mind numbing statistics, and the demurrals of the press, and confronted them. He accepts donations from all across the political spectrum, and he belittles awareness for awareness’ sake.
Thor feels the pain of the political dissident. And he acts on that pain, using his training in film and theater to give them a podium, to give them a spotlight and a stage to tell their stories. His Oslo Freedom Forum brings those who’ve risked life and limb (and not always successfully on the latter) to a public stage and gives them the chance to tell their stories. In his own words, Halvorssen says that they can dismantle a government’s position in five sentences, with greater effectiveness than a master’s thesis.
Halvorssen uses his own experiences as a motivational goad. He has seen the price of dictatorship and he cannot simply turn a blind eye to it because it happens seven time zones away. He will work on schemes to get forbidden materials to people living in the most despotic nations on earth; his most recent scheme is to send USB drives over the Korean DMZ into North Korea, after doing a television appearance tearing portraits of the Kim “dynasty.”
In a day of hashtag heroes, Halvorssen is abrupt, and full of action. We need more like him.
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