#Onlineactivism: More Than Tweets the Eye

New technologies and social media are enhancing social activism (Photo credit: Bay Ismoyo/AFP/Getty Images).

New technologies and social media are enhancing social activism (Photo credit: Bay Ismoyo/AFP/Getty Images).

By Natalie Butz, Communications Assistant at Amnesty International USA

It’s the phenomenon that’s spawned a thousand names and of course, its own hashtag. And ever since Malcolm Gladwell argued that “social media can’t provide what social change has always needed,” online activism has been critiqued as replacing on-the-ground grassroots organizing while offering only a fraction of the impact.

I thought about that argument last week as I stood with over 60 activists shouting chants and hoisting signs during Amnesty International USA (AIUSA)’s annual Get on the Bus event. Started in 1996 by a local AIUSA chapter in Somerville, Massachusetts, Get on the Bus is an annual day of human rights education and on-the-ground activism. The event’s name stems from its history; participants gather together on buses to rally at strategic locations on behalf of those whom governments would silence. Since its inception, Get on the Bus has spread to Amnesty International groups across the country, including New York City and Washington, D.C.

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Investigate War Crimes In Sri Lanka!

This week marks the second anniversary of the end of Sri Lanka’s 26-year civil war, between government forces and the opposition Tamil Tigers.  The Tigers were seeking an independent state for the Tamil minority on the island.  As documented by Amnesty International and a recent U.N. panel report, there are credible reports that both sides committed gross abuses of human rights and international humanitarian law, including war crimes.  Yet no one has been held accountable for these crimes.

We know that the Sri Lankan government won’t effectively investigate these abuses.

So Amnesty International has been campaigning for an international war crimes investigation in Sri Lanka.  On March 15, we took to the streets in Chicago to demand justice in Sri Lanka.  In New York City, Amnesty International activists gathered outside the Sri Lankan Mission to the U.N. on April 8 as part of “Get on the Bus – New York.”  On April 15, we demonstrated outside the Sri Lankan Embassy in Washington as part of “Get on the Bus – DC.”  More recently, as shown in the photos above, Amnesty members in other parts of the U.S. have joined in calling on the U.N. to hold an international investigation on war crimes in Sri Lanka.

It would be a great help if we can get the U.S. government to publicly support our call for an international war crimes investigation in Sri Lanka.  Please write the U.S. government today, so that the victims and their families can finally receive truth and justice.

Activists Rally In DC For Human Rights

By Dana Watters, Amnesty Get On The Bus Volunteer

Even at nine in the morning on a Friday, when most of us would normally be counting down to the weekend, the energy in the Foundry in Washington, DC is phenomenal. In the sunshine outside, groups color flags in support of Filep Karma, while inside roses and key actions are passed around for signatures. Larry Cox hasn’t even arrived yet, and everyone is already buzzing with excitement.

By the time everyone has settled inside for the opening speeches, the count is well over one hundred Amnesty International activists. The various speakers infect the crowd with even more passion and anticipation, reaching a pinnacle when Larry announces that he has decided that joining us for Get on the Bus is more important than going home to meet with the IRS.

The group splits, half heading to demonstrate for the Women of Zimbabwe (WoZA) at the Zimbabwe Embassy and half for Walid Yunis Ahmad at the Iraqi Consulate. We march in long ovals, chanting and holding our signs, the very picture of peaceful protest. At the Iraqi Consulate, faces peer out from the windows and passers by stop to watch.

SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

Get on the Bus for Human Rights

Chances are, if we’ve met, you’ve heard me talk about Get On The Bus for Human Rights (GOTB)! I’ve got several versions under my belt — the PowerPoint presentation, the 5 minute DVD, and a Twitter-friendly elevator pitch, but basically:

“We are the largest grassroots event organized by Amnesty International USA members. Take action with us on the third Friday in April – that’s today! Speakers a.m. Rallies p.m.”

The idea was simple: Take your activism to the next level. Members of local AIUSA chapter Group 133 from Somerville, MA were working on the case of Ken Saro-Wiwa, who is best remembered as an environmental defender. He was among the leaders of peaceful protests against the environmental exploitation by oil companies and physical abuse by security forces in the Niger Delta region.

According to GOTB historians, one group member wanted to hop on a bus down to New York City to visit the Nigerian Consulate. After all, why not hand deliver our letters and call attention to our concerns in person?

Thirty people rode down to NYC that first year in support of human rights. Since New York City is relatively close to Boston and hosts diplomatic offices for practically every nation in the world, it’s been easy to continue our annual human rights pilgrimage. We now estimate around 1,000 people participate, taking peaceful action on behalf of three or more cases in one day.

As we approach our 15th anniversary, we can celebrate many successes including: calling attention to femicides in Guatemala, highlighting the failure of Guatemalan authorities to adequately investigate murders of over 1,900 young women; helping to secure the release of Professor Mesfin Woldemariam, Ethopia’s most prominent human rights defender; and successfully lobbying TIAA CREF to adopt socially responsible investment policies.

Here’s the line-up of what we’ll be supporting today during GOTB 2010:

  1. Calling for the release of Sri Lankan journalist, J.S. Tissainayagam who was recently sentenced to 20 years of hard labor for commentary that was often critical of the Sri Lankan government; one of the last columns published before his arrest was titled “Child soldiers: What the govt. report did not report.”
  2. Keeping the pressure on the Myanmar government to release Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and all Burmese political prisoners. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has spent 13 of the past 20 years, in detention or under house arrest. She continues to be held under house arrest without charge or trial.
  3. Demanding that Tibetan filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen be released from prison immediately.  He was handed a 6-year prison term after a secret trial that found him guilty of ‘subversion’ for producing a documentary giving voice to Tibetan grievances under Chinese rule.
  4. Calling upon the Democratic Republic of Congo to support women’s rights defenders who have come under severe threat.

Visit our Twitter page and our website, where you’ll find all the updates on today’s events.

Extend truce now in Sri Lanka

Last Sunday, President Rajapaksa of Sri Lanka announced a two-day pause in offensive operations against the opposition Tamil Tigers, in observance of the Sinhala/Tamil New Year.  Over 150,000 Tamil civilians are trapped with the Tigers in a government-declared “safe zone” – a small pocket of coastal land in northeastern Sri Lanka which is the only remaining territory controlled by the Tigers.  The Tigers won’t let the civilians leave and have shot and killed those trying to flee the area.  Both the Sri Lankan army and the Tigers have shelled the civilians; hundreds have died since the start of this year.  The two-day truce called by President Rajapaksa is a welcome step but more is needed.  Both sides must agree to a sufficient pause to allow the civilians to leave the area safely and to allow in humanitarian aid for those unable or unwilling to leave.  The Tigers in particular must allow the civilians under their control the ability to choose to stay in the area or to leave without being harmed.

As part of AIUSA’s annual “Get on the Bus” event, AIUSA members and supporters will be gathering outside the Sri Lankan Mission to the U.N. in New York City this coming Friday, April 17.  We will be asking the Sri Lankan government and the Tigers to stop attacking civilians, to allow them to leave the conflict area safely and to allow in aid for those unable or unwilling to leave.  Please consider joining us and raising your voice for the suffering civilians trapped in the crossfire.