By Bhumika Thapa and Sujala Maharjan
Amnesty International, a grassroots activist organization, held its Southern Regional Conference in Decatur, GA on October 30 through November 1. The theme of this year’s conference was “Dignity: All Rights for All People.” We represented the Wesleyan College Chapter of Amnesty International and attended several breakout sessions, learning more about the Amnesty Movement and various issues such as the Death Penalty, Torture, Health Care, and Immigration.
The conference focused on Amnesty’s global campaign on poverty and human rights and marked the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The campaign is founded on the notion that the aspiration for a world free from want and fear will remain unrealized as long as millions of people living in poverty continue to be routinely denied many if not all of their human rights. In light of this fact, Amnesty’s dignity campaign works for the protection of a fundamental human right, the right to dignity and a decent life. There were several workshops that focused on various aspects of the dignity campaign. Among them, we participated in two workshops, one was “Jailed without Justice: Immigration Detention in the US” and the other was “Unraveling the Axis of Evil: Islamaphobia, Arabaphobia and the War on Terror”. While the first workshop presented various statistics and taught us to lobby as activists in cases regarding immigrant rights, the latter one helped us to reconsider our stereotypical views about how we perceive Islam and Arabs as a result of media influence and insignificant generalizations.
This year, the conference was hosted by Amnesty International Secretary General Irene Khan, who began the opening sessions of the conference with video screenings of her work as a representative of Amnesty International. Khan talked about how we are part of an influential force which believes in actions rather than mere words; how she as an activist believes that rather than just building schools, hospitals and shelters, we need to work for the change that we want to see in society, making sure that people actually go to school, that health care is available to people and that people are aware of their basic human rights and are able to exercise them. When questioned if she thought these changes were possible, Khan answered from her personal experience. Coming from a middle class family, Khan, whose mother had only studied up to the high school level, and whose grandmother had never even seen a school, is a graduate of Harvard Law School. Based on this personal experience, Khan concluded that, though it might take time, positive change is happening and will continue to happen.
It was an engaging and inspiring weekend that brought together people from different walks of life to address various human rights issues and ended in Atlanta’s 2009 Pride Parade. From this conference, we certainly came back with new level of confidence and ideas that will help us be better activists in future.