The Road to the AGM

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March 24, 2016 – AGM Road Trip Playlist 1

The road to Amnesty International USA’s Annual General Meeting and Human Rights Conference technically began in April of 2015, when the AIUSA Board of Directors chose Miami as the host city for our 2016 conference. The literal road trip to the conference began on March 24, when events staff and interns packed the boxes of materials and equipment that we will need to pull off a successful AGM. SEE THE REST OF THIS POST

The Roar of A Thousand Activists

By Ann Burroughs, Amnesty International USA board chair, and Steven W. Hawkins, Amnesty International USA executive director

Last week, over 1,100 human rights activists gathered in Brooklyn, New York. What for? Amnesty International USA’s Annual General Meeting, appropriately themed this year “From Moment to Movement.” Braving rain and snow, people who have been members for decades –perhaps having joined as a result of the Human Rights Concerts of the 1980s—joined with those new to Amnesty– together reflecting on the spark of change that can begin in an instant and reverberate for years.

So that’s the ‘what’ – but why? What happens when you gather this powerhouse of activism in one place for one weekend? The answers say a lot about what it means to turn a moment into a movement.


Come One, Come All to Amnesty’s AGM

(Photo Credit: Amnesty International UK)

Amnesty hosts its AGMs all over the world, including the UK, where this picture of youth activists was taken in April 2012 (Photo Credit: Amnesty International UK).

By Rocio Diaz, Director of Events

We are only 17 days away from Amnesty International’s Annual General Meeting (AGM). The human rights conference of the year will be in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia this year and Amnesty wants to see you there!

Register now. Time is running out!

Amnesty’s AGM brings activists together from all over the world. It promises to ignite your passion for human rights and renew your energy for the year to come. From taking action in support of the Arms Trade Treaty to learning how you can effectively campaign to stop human rights abuses, you will be Using Your Power alongside fellow activists and prominent human rights defenders during this three-day long conference.


Laying the Groundwork, Changing the World

The closing plenary of our 50th anniversary conference was packed with activists who were treated to a bit of organizational history by two Amnesty International veterans, Ellen Dorsey and Paul Hoffman. Ellen told the hundreds of predominantly young activists in the ballroom that she joined Amnesty International as a teenager 30 years ago “because I couldn’t learn about the world in my classes in the way that Amnesty would teach me about the world,” she said. “Amnesty has given back every step of the way and invested in me.”

When Assistant Secretary of State Michael Posner took the stage, Dorsey seized the opportunity to ask him: “Will you please tell President Obama to close Guantánamo?” Her question brought a raucous cheer from the audience, and several hundred people rose to their feet. When the audience finally sat down, Posner, the former executive director of Human Rights First, said, “I will and have and will continue to tell anyone I can find in the administration that we have to take our word seriously. The challenge is that we are confronted by the political reality in this country. We hear all the time from people on the other side but don’t hear enough from people telling us to close Guantánamo now.” Amnesty International Secretary-General Salil Shetty reminded us that in order for Posner and other like-minded officials within the Obama administration to have influence, they need the backing of grassroots pressure from activists like us.


Aung San Suu Kyi Speaks to Amnesty International Activists

There is an antidote to the weariness, cynicism and paralysis perpetuated by the heartless churn of our 24-hour news cycle: Just listen to the voices of those who walk the razor’s edge each day as they fight to change the world. Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi addressed Amnesty activists by phone at the end of Day 2 of our 50th anniversary conference, graciously acknowledging the role of grassroots activism in her release after 15 years of detention by the military junta and encouraging us not to forget the 2,000-plus political prisoners who remain locked up in Burma.

Her brief address was followed by a riveting speech by Jenni Williams, co-founder of Women of Zimbabwe Arise, a group of women who have been jailed, tortured and persecuted for their non-violent demonstrations to demand social justice. Williams recalled one August night when police abducted seven WOZA members. “The phone calls started at 3 a.m. We heard our members had been arrested in suburbs, so we called Amnesty International. By 12 noon, all seven members were delivered back to their homes by the same police officers who had abducted them,” said Williams.

Earlier in the day, I spotted New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof listening to similarly harrowing tales at the well-attended panel discussion, “Muzzling the Watchdogs,” featuring Mexican journalist Lydia Cacho, Sri Lankan journalist J.S. Tissainayagam and Iranian American journalist Roxana Saberi. All three had been arrested, imprisoned and persecuted for their work to expose injustice, and each was the subject of Amnesty International urgent actions and/or international letter campaigns demanding their freedom.


Joan Baez, Steve Earle, Chad Stokes, Saul Hernandez Kick Off AGM

Tears are an occupational hazard of working a large human rights conference, perhaps never more so than Amnesty International USA’s 50th anniversary annual general meeting. More than 1,000 activists from around the United States have gathered in San Francisco this week for three days of intensive organizing, as well as the opportunity to hear from several of the courageous human rights defenders whom we work to protect and support.

I spent the most of today interviewing people who reminded me in stark terms how grassroots activism saves lives. Thanks to the gracious efforts of documentary director Joe Gantz (of HBO’s The Defenders), who had volunteered to cover the conference with his incredible crew, we began the day by recording the testimonies of Jenni Williams and Magodonga Mahlangu, co-founders of Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA). They, along with the other founding members of WOZA, first took to the streets in 2003 to demand social justice—and as a result they have endured years of arbitrary detentions, police beatings, death threats, harassment and harsh conditions in jail.

During a recent arrest, they said, fellow WOZA members jumped into the police van in solidarity. Soon the van was packed with women.  “The police decided not to take us to the main jail, since the last time they took us there,” said Jenni, “the jail had received so many faxes, emails and phone calls from Amnesty activists.” They took the women to another jail outside of town but were again turned away by jailers who did not want the international attention. By the end of the day, they had been turned away from four jails because authorities did not want to be in Amnesty International’s spotlight.


Amnesty's 50th Anniversary Meeting Kicks Off!

Our 50th anniversary Annual General Meeting kicks off tonight in San Francisco!  Over 1,400 Amnesty International activists from across the country (and across the sea!) have already registered, making this the biggest annual meeting we’ve had yet.

At tonight’s opening ceremony we’ll be honoring one of Amnesty USA’s founding members, the fabulous Joan Baez for a lifetime of human rights activism and solidarity.

We’ll also be celebrating our 50th anniversary – that’s 50 years of hard work by you, our members and activists, in shining a light on human rights — in addition to a packed agenda with panels to help us strategize for our continued fight for human rights everywhere.

We look forward to seeing you there! If you can’t make it, check in on this blog where we’ll be posting updates throughout the event.  You can also follow the AGM Twitter feed @AmnestyAGM for updates from the conference or hashtag #agm11 to join the conversation.

High Tech #Activism: New Technologies in the Fight For Human Rights

Yes, I’m worried about tomorrow. Which is exactly why I am going – we cannot, will not let them scare us. #jan25

This statement, posted on January 24, 2011, and referring to the first day of protests in Egypt, was one of the early tweets using the hashtag #jan25. One dictator later, it has become the global short code to follow the uprising across the Middle East and North Africa.

Can a tweet bring fundamental human rights change? I don’t think so. However, after the events of the last few weeks in the Middle East, nobody will dispute the power of social media for organizing and for the advancement of freedom of speech. Social media is only one of many new tools human rights advocates use to bring about change. Other new areas are the emerging field of crisismapping, the use of remote sensing such as satellite images and systematic data analysis.

If you are interested to learn more about some of these new trends and how they are used by human rights advocates, join our event on “High Tech #Activism” (pdf) at Amnesty International USA’s upcoming Annual Meeting in San Francisco.

From sophisticated satellite imaging techniques and “crowd-mapping” to Facebook and Twitter, the new technological reality is dramatically shaping the human rights landscape in places such as Egypt, Haiti, Sudan and Sri Lanka. Experts from Amnesty are joining leaders in other fields to explore the potential and limitations of new technologies and scientific progress for human rights work:

What: A discussion with Patrick Meier, Director of Crisis Mapping and New Media at Ushahidi, Jim Fruchterman, Founder and CEO of Benetech, Scott Edwards, Director of AIUSA’s Science for Human Rights Program and Juliette Rousselot, International Justice Advocacy Staff at AIUSA.
When: Saturday, March 19th, 2011 @ 10:40 AM
Where: The Fairmont Hotel (Terrace Room), 950 Mason Street, San Francisco, California

Libya Crisis Map

I am sure you did not see this coming, but you can follow the panel discussion on March 18 in San Francisco online by following #agm11 on Twitter.