Why Did Esperanza Spalding Record a Song About Guantanamo?

Esperanza Spalding – We Are America from ESP Media on Vimeo.

Today, Grammy Award-winning musician Esperanza Spalding released We Are America, a new song and music video supporting President Obama’s decision to close Guantanamo and urging Congress to help get the job done.

The video features cameos by Stevie Wonder, Janelle Monáe, Harry Belafonte and Savion Glover. The timing couldn’t be better as Senators will soon vote on legislation that would help close the detention facility. You can urge your two Senators to vote the right way here: www.amnestyusa.org/ndaa.

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This is How You Fight Drones

Amnesty USA's Game of Drones action on the University of Texas- Austin campus.

Amnesty USA’s Game of Drones action on the University of Texas- Austin campus.

This post is part of a series written by Amnesty USA’s National Youth Program Coordinator Kalaya’an Mendoza from the road of the Game of Drones tour.Follow the tour on Tumblr and take action to prevent extrajudicial killings with drones and other weapons.

When I shut the classroom door, the only sound left was the buzzing of the dim fluorescent lights overhead. We could no longer hear the theater students practicing their monologues in the hallway, or the voices of the Amnesty members in the classroom next door frantically flipping through the report on drones in Pakistan as they made signs for our action the next day. “You’re sure you have time for this?” I asked Sahare, as I slid into the desk and took out my phone to record her message.

“Yes, of course,” Sahare said. Her sad eyes held mine, unwavering. “I need to do this as a tribute to my grandmother. Without her inspiration, I wouldn’t be here.”

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This Girl Traveled Over 7,000 Miles to Tell Her Story, 5 Members of Congress Showed Up

181713_display[1]This post is part of a series written by Amnesty USA’s National Youth Program Coordinator Kalaya’an Mendoza from the road of the Game of Drones tour. Follow the tour on Tumblr and take action to prevent extrajudicial killings with drones and other weapons.

It was just after midnight on the East Coast when the first news story came out. I’d been sitting on another edge of another bed in another bland hotel room for a few hours by then, typing up notes from our tour stop in Madison and planning the next day’s action in Minneapolis. At least that’s what I’d meant to do. Really, I was waiting for this very moment. The new Amnesty International report on drone strikes in Pakistan had finally been released.

My Twitter feed was soon full of chatter about drones, and about the civilian deaths outlined in the report. I clicked over to the Amnesty website to open the report, and saw the face of Nabeela Bibi, the eight-year-old girl who had watched her 68-year-old grandmother, Mamana, blown to pieces while she was picking vegetables in the family fields. My cell phone buzzed and I looked down at a text message from my friend, a fellow activist who has been working on this issue for years.

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The Power of Us

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As I write this, Amnesty International activists across the U.S. are preparing to come together for Regional Conferences. They are crafting booths for Ideas Fairs, writing curricula for workshops on effective advocacy, researching complex human rights issues around the globe. They are organizing their communities to come together and build a movement.

At Amnesty, I am continually struck by the Power of Us – the theme of this year’s Regional Conferences. Everywhere I look, Amnesty activists are building a larger and stronger “us” with even more grassroots power.

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Hit and Run: Congress Must Not Let CIA Get Away with Murder

By Naureen Shah, Advocacy Advisor at Amnesty International USA

A year ago almost to the day, on October 24, 2012, a U.S. drone strike killed a 68-year-old woman named Mamana Bibi. She was gathering vegetables in her family’s large, mostly vacant fields in north Waziristan, Pakistan. We don’t know whom the U.S. intended to target, but it is hard to imagine that a policy that allows the killing of this grandmother, who was blown to pieces before the eyes of her young grandchildren, is anything but a catastrophic failure on the part of the U.S. government.

The latest revelation from documents leaked by Edward Snowden, reported in the Washington Post, suggests the NSA cast a “surveillance blanket” over parts of northern Pakistan, feeding enormous amounts of data to the CIA’s secret lethal drone program. Even if the NSA didn’t pick up chatter after the killing of this grandmother, the U.S. government claims that it conducts post-strike assessments of who is killed. It knew, or should have known, that something went wrong.

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Time for the U.S. to End Its Drone Secrecy

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By Mustafa Qadri, Pakistan Research at Amnesty International

It was a sunny October afternoon last year when Mamana Bibi was blown to pieces before her grandchildren’s very eyes. The family matriarch, Mamana Bibi was picking vegetables in the family fields in northwestern Pakistan when a remotely piloted aircraft – or “drone” – used by the United States fired a missile directly toward her, killing Mamana instantly. A second volley of missiles was fired a few minutes later, injuring some of the children who ventured out to where their grandmother had been struck.

Almost a year to the day, the Bibi family’s lives have been torn apart. In a number of in-depth interviews over the last eight months, the family recounted to me how they sold ancestral lands to pay for their injured relatives’ steep medical bills. Mamana’s grief-stricken elderly husband, a respected retired local headmaster, rarely leaves the house. Their grandchildren, including 8-year-old Nabeela, now live in constant fear of the drones, which seem ever present in the skies.

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Drone Strikes: When Will the U.S. Wake Up?

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This post is part of a series written by Amnesty USA’s National Youth Program Coordinator Kalaya’an Mendoza from the road of the Game of Drones tour. Follow the tour on Tumblr and take action to prevent extrajudicial killings with drones and other weapons.

As the credits began to roll, the lights in the theater at the University of Cincinnati turned on. I took a deep breath. Seeing the images in Dirty Wars for the fourth time, I could feel the dull ache of my sadness, but there were no tears. I just don’t have them any more. I stood, turned to the crowd, and broke the silence.

“How do you all feel right now after watching the film?”

I looked out at a mix of blank faces, confused stares, and furrowed brows. We’ve all been there – you see something awful happening in the world, and you’re stunned for a moment, processing what you just saw. Wondering what to do next.

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Whatever It Takes: Ending the #GameOfDrones

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This post is part of a series written by Amnesty USA’s National Youth Program Coordinator Kalaya’an Mendoza from the road of the Game of Drones tour. Follow the tour on Tumblr and take action to prevent extrajudicial killings with drones and other weapons.

The rain falls hard in the north. In fact, it’s rained in every city we’ve visited. It poured all afternoon as we rode the long stretch of highway away from Ithaca and crossed the New York-Pennsylvania border. The rain finally stopped when we reached our motel for the night, and the supplies we have strapped to the roof of our car were soaked.

We checked in, and walked into our dark room, another room in another city. Across the darkness, I saw the red block numbers of the clock glaring at me. It was past midnight. We set to work unpacking, drying, and refolding hundreds of t-shirts. When I finally sat down hours later to work out the details of the next direct action training and finalize the next day’s agenda, I could feel the exhaustion of the road in my bones. Wearily, I looked at the clock. It was almost 3 a.m.

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