Archive for July, 2010

We Can Change the World

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead

You’ve likely heard this quote before. Maybe one of your high school teachers had it on a sign hanging in his or her classroom, like some of my teachers. Maybe you read it on a pamphlet handed out by a non-profit organization. Or maybe you studied Margaret Mead at some point.

The reason this quote is so widely used is simple: It’s because it’s true.

If there’s anything I’ve learned in my years as an activist – and as a sociologist – it’s that a collective voice is such a strong thing. Now, there are certainly an endless amount of examples where collectives have been negative and led to human rights atrocities. Let’s focus on those “thoughtful, committed citizens” though.

In addition to the above quote, another phrase that I’ve heard over & over is “Amnesty works”. Indeed, it does!

Like so much of life, activism can be daunting. There are endless human rights violations and atrocities; there are countless numbers of people who are imprisoned unjustly; there are horrid government officials, political regimes, and military juntas. It can be difficult to look past these challenges to see how one person sitting down to write a letter can possibly make a difference. It might seem impossible that your voice would be heard, let alone taken seriously.

However, you can make a difference!

The reason that we are able to make a difference is that together, our voice is strong. When a government official’s office is flooded with letters, petitions, e-mails, phone calls and the like, they take notice. They know that the world is paying attention. And they know that whatever move they make next will be noticed as well.

So, the next time you’re asked to sign a petition, don’t just say “no” thinking that one signature more or less won’t make a difference. Find out what the petition is for* and if you agree, sign your name. You might not think that it will make a difference, but it will.

One of the many Amnesty victories I’ve seen is that of Ma Khin Khin Leh of Myanmar. You can read about her release here: http://blog.amnestyusa.org/iar/ma-khin-khin-leh-is-free/

Although the campaign for Ma Khin Khin Leh’s release was successful, Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar still remains under house arrest. I encourage you to learn more about her imprisonment, her work as a proponent of democracy in Myanmar (formerly Burma), and to write a letter on her behalf.

Short summary (from Amnesty International): http://www.amnestyusa.org/action/special/ASSK_casesheet.pdf

Case history (from Amnesty International): http://www.amnestyusa.org/action/special/ASSK_Action_Guide.pdf

Sample letter (from Amnesty International): http://www.amnestyusa.org/action/special/ASSK_letter.pdf

Please note that if you wish to send a domestic rather than international letter, there is an additional address listed at the bottom.

Although I mentioned that I’m looking for new volunteering opportunities, I will always lend my support to Amnesty International campaigns. Today, I will be writing a letter on behalf of Aung San Suu Kyi. Join me, won’t you? Together we can make a difference, we can change the world!

*Please don’t blindly sign petitions or letters! Take the time to read through what you’re signing to make sure that you agree with the position being taken and actions proposed. If you have questions, don’t be shy! Ask the person collecting signatures to make sure you understand. Some issues are complex and you might need more background than what has been provided in the letter. If that person is unable to answer your question (hey, it happens) find out if there is a website where you can find out more. In most cases, the person will be impressed that you want to educate yourself rather than be upset that you didn’t sign their petition. I speak from experience!

Time for a New Journey

For the past decade, I’ve identified myself as first an activist.

At twenty three years old, only a year out of college, I find myself working a job to pay the bills rather than pursue my passions. However, I’m still an activist at heart. With my most recent volunteer position coming to a close, I’m hoping to find a new way to channel my energy. I plan on using this blog to document my progress and maybe even encourage others to volunteer their time or lend a hand to a campaign or two.

I like to think that I was meant to be an activist. It was when I was in 8th grade that my history teacher sparked an interest in me. I studied the women’s rights movement both in school and on my own time. I worked with my history teacher on a project for an organization which was collecting information about local women’s rights activists around the 1850s.

Not only did she inspire me academically, but she also was the first person to introduce me to the world of lobbying. As a class project turned into a small organization, we lobbied, raised funds, and publicized to get a skate park build in my town. Although I myself was not and never have been a skateboarder, it was a wonderful learning experience which gave me skills that I have used in every subsequent volunteer experience.

From there I went on to join Amnesty International at my high school, then at college. During my high school and college days I also volunteered with the Northeast regional branch of Amnesty in two different positions. In part because of my volunteering, and in part because of my two high school advisors, I grew as an activist and realized that this is what I should be doing, it’s what I need to be doing.

For the past year and a half, I’ve been a volunteer rape crisis counselor. My standard line when people ask about it is: Yes, it’s challenging, but it’s rewarding. While the majority of my work in the human rights arena is broad and removed from those who need help, that is not the case with the sexual assault work I have done. I was on the hotline, which means that people (not just women, I’ve also spoken to men – and children) call in when they need to talk to someone. You hear the voice of the person who needs help and you hear them hopefully calm down. Volunteering with the rape crisis center, for me, has rounded out my experience a bit.

Unfortunately, now that I’m working a full time job during work hours, I’ve been unable to keep up with some of the requirements to remain in this volunteer position. Although I’m upset about having to give this up when I don’t feel ready to do so, I’m hoping it’s a blessing in disguise. Maybe it means that it’s time to move on and find something new.

So that’s what I’m going to try to do. There are so many ways to help and now it’s time to explore my options!

What volunteer work do you do? What have you done in the past?