Photos by Eli Bartz Photography
“Is your activism grounded in anger?” my friend asked. We sat around in the dimly lit restaurant after a day of workshops, panels, and planning at the Midwest Regional Conference vigorously discussing and debating this question. Our conversation went on for hours, drowning out time and the waning voices of our fellow diners. It had been a long, energizing day, and our minds were racing.
We finally came to agree that, for many of us, anger sparked our involvement with Amnesty. We were angry at the world. Outraged by some atrocity that we learned about, or saw, or that we experience firsthand. Anger made us into activists. Amnesty provided us the tools to resist.
But anger isn’t sustainable. It’s not what keeps us with Amnesty. It’s not what brought more than 250 activists from across the Midwest to Minneapolis last weekend. Anger may have sparked our activism, but there’s something else that keeps us going. “But what is that thing?” another friend asked.
For me, it’s love; a love for myself and the people around me. For folks oppressed and at the margins of society, the abuses we experience and that we can empathize with, define our real, everyday life. Yes, I’m angry – I’m very angry – but that’s not all I feel. It may have been anger that sparked my activism years ago, but it’s for the beautiful things I experience in the world that I continue my work. My fight for human rights is a fight for survival, and this fight is my every day lived experience. If I were to only focus on the things that make me angry, I wouldn’t want to survive. I want to live in a society rooted in loving acceptance, and for that, I fight from a place of love.
I’ve been attending Amnesty human rights conferences since my third year of high school, now six years ago. Outside of the tremendous learning and (un)learning that happens in the planned workshops spaces and through conversation with social justice experts, it’s truly the conversations with fellow activists that keeps me coming back. There’s something magical, something energizing and healing, about being in a space filled with other humans driven by a passion for a better, more just, more equitable world.
That night at dinner, I made new friends and strengthened the bonds with the friends I already knew. I left the table with a racing mind and heart, having learned more about myself and the world I live in; things I didn’t realize I hadn’t known. For six years of Amnesty conferences, this has been my experience. Every time.
In my new role as Amnesty’s Young Leaders Fellow, now a professional activist, I’m afforded this tremendous privilege. I get to have these conversations on a regular basis and have them shape who I am and how I interact with the world around me. I encourage you to join the conversation. Attend one of AIUSA’s regional conferences in the coming weeks. Make new friends. Ask provoking questions. Engage and (un)learn.