One Letter Can Change a Life. Millions Can Start a Human Rights Movement

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By Maya Delany, Amnesty USA Student Activist Coordinator for Western Massachusetts

Last December, I arrived at my student group’s annual Write for Rights AmnesTEA event and was greeted by dim lighting, steaming beverages, and our group members sitting in a circle writing letters. I poured myself some tea, read summaries of each case, and started writing a letter to the King of Saudi Arabia about Raif Badawi, a Saudi Arabian blogger who has been sentenced to 10 years in jail and 1,000 lashes for simply expressing his opinions.

Last year’s Write for Rights, with hundreds of thousands of people worldwide writing a record-breaking 3 million letters and email actions

  • Played a part in making sure that Raif was not flogged
  • Contributed to Chicago passing a historic law to ensure reparations for torture survivors
  • Helped Prisoner of Conscience Liu Ping see her daughter again
  • Aided in freeing Prisoner of Conscience Murad Shtewi
  • Helped convince El Salvador to pardon Carmen Guadalupe Vásquez Aldana 23 years before the end of her sentence under the country’s total ban on abortion
  • and helped free torture survivor Moses Akatugba from death row in Nigeria.

Moses, like many other people we work to free and support, has promised to continue to build the human rights movement—helping create a better world for all of us. Other former prisoners and survivors go on to lead or join human rights movements in their countries, passing laws, changing policies, demanding accountability and working to bring justice for all.

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Last year’s AmnesTEA was my introduction to Amnesty International’s annual Write for Rights campaign. Because I truly experienced global solidarity, fostered through the collective condemnation of human rights abuses and demand for justice, I’ve been looking forward to it again all year.

Write for Rights gives all of us an opportunity to collaborate and campaign on 12 strategically chosen cases from around the world and here in the United States.

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At times, it can feel like our individual and student groups’ efforts are small and isolated, but every December, Write for Rights events remind us that our groups are part of a larger community that transcends borders.

This year, I am intent on writing letters to Louisiana’s Attorney General about Albert Woodfox, who has spent over four decades in solitary confinement in Louisiana for a murder that he maintains he did not commit. There is no physical evidence linking him to the crime, his conviction has been overturned three times, and a judge has ordered his unconditional release. Yet, the Louisiana authorities continue to block his release. Freedom for Albert Woodfox is long overdue, and with Write for Rights letters from around the world, Louisiana’s Attorney General will know that the world is expecting an end to Woodfox’s cruel and inhuman treatment.

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To build an even more powerful movement, this year Amnesty International USA is doing more. Last summer, I worked with the Individuals at Risk team to contact high school and college teachers around the United States. Right now, we’re reaching out to educators around the country, offering our Educator’s Guide to engage in discourse around human rights and to encourage their students to take action on this year’s cases. With increased student and educator involvement, not only is our youth movement growing, but even more actions will be taken this year than ever before.

By increasing the number of letters we generate exponentially, the targeted authorities will have no choice but to address Amnesty International’s demands. 

Honoring where my Write for Rights journey began, I will be attending Mount Holyoke College’s annual AmnesTEA event. I’m also meeting new activists by joining Local Group 128’s annual Human Rights Day event on December 10th, which the UN General Assembly designated “to bring to the attention of the peoples of the world the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.”

Join me and thousands of other individuals for Amnesty International’s largest grassroots action by hosting a Write for Rights event, and our letters will have the collective power to influence government officials, pushing for justice around the world.

 

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