By Julia Kassem, Staff Writer
For Amnesty Dearborn, distance was certainly not a factor in the club’s one and a half hour aerial voyage to Brooklyn, New York to the 2015 Amnesty International National Human Rights Conference.
This was the groups third conference, this time embarking by plane. The previous intra-national excursion involved a road trip to St. Louis taken just two months after Ferguson in August.
Attendees at the conference from the University of Michigan-Dearborn were President Afifah Latif, treasurer Josh Joy, and members Yousuf Ali and Julia Kassem, attending a conference that transcended national borders as well as state lines.
Joining over a thousand human rights activists from around the world in a joint event, the club participated in march in protest, attended plenaries, and engaged in hands-on human rights workshops during the weekend of a lifetime.
Panels on solidarity were led by activists from the inner cities of the United States to Hong Kong. Marchers and volunteers ranged from high school students to retirees. And panel speakers at the plenaries were no less authentic and pressing than the issues they represented. Foreign activists, community organizers, and families of notable victims all led each of the many panel discussions and presentations during preliminary session blocs.
The representation in the conference was very diverse. “I was impressed by the sheer diversity of human rights issues that were covered at the conference,” commented freshman and attendee Yousuf Ali. “For me, the opening panel captured it. To see a Palestinian-American woman moderate a panel with participants from Hong Kong, Mexico, and the inner cities was nothing like I have experienced before.”
When students and activists alike weren’t taking in captivating narratives or absorbing the vital information presented in panels, they took action through volunteer work and action based workshops. Myriad visuals, petitions, and photos detailing the different human rights campaigns and issues that Amnesty International characterized the action based workshops, also providing the framework for how student groups and local activists could present global issues in a local context.
This year’s Write for Right’s campaign, a big focus in the action-based workshop as well as in one of the preliminary sessions, was centered on blogger Raif Badawi.
Badawi, arrested two years ago on a charge of insulting Islam through a blog that was otherwise critical of Saudi Arabia’s senior religious figures. Amnesty International, in declaring Badawi a prisoner of conscience, has contributed to the pressures on the government that had postponed Badawi’s flogging 11 weeks in a row.
President Afifah Latif, involved in the nationwide organization from age 11, expressed interest in bringing Raif’s campaign to campus.
Despite the differences in experiences, issues, geography, and personal history, the role of storytelling and exchanging views was a factor for discussion leaders and activists alike. Narrative allowed for accountability and a sense of agency amongst those with the awareness and audacity to share their experiences and findings at the conference. The nuanced experiences only enhanced the sense of solidarity.
“The fact that they were able to view their own struggles as part of a larger struggle for human rights shows that Amnesty International is, truly, international,” said Ali.