By Rachael Jennings
Over the last two years, Dublin School’s Amnesty International chapter has worked on the “My Body, My Rights” campaign, hosted school-wide write-a-thons—dubbed Write for Rights, furthered Dublin’s work on micro-lending through KIVA, and written numerous Urgent Action Letters. In short, the club has worked not just to fight for human rights but to educate and inform the school community.
Liam Kelly, student president of Amnesty International, says, “I think it’s important to be conscious that some people are not as fortunate as we are. We need to make a concerted effort to help make everyone’s lives as good as they can possibly be. I know that it’s not an easy thing to do, but every little bit helps.”
Sarah Doenmez, Faculty Advisor, explains that Amnesty International “provides a powerful vehicle for students to live out our mission: seeking truth and acting with courage.”
“We explore student questions about human rights broadly, but also in relation to individual cases,” she elaborates. “Many students encounter issues around human rights violations for the first time through Amnesty, but they also experience their power as active citizens: to choose whether or not to engage, to choose how to engage, and to feel the agency of carrying out an action based on their convictions. Amnesty builds community within the school and also with the wider world of human rights activists. Many alumni who joined Amnesty at Dublin remain engaged with their work.”
Liam, who wants to continue work with human rights in college, as well, says that a few major issues have had an impact on him and have elevated his investment and passion for supporting these and other human rights.
“I definitely view Women’s Rights and Religious Freedom as very important,” he says. “I am not religious myself, but I strongly believe that no one should be discriminated against for practicing their religion. It’s really unfortunate that people’s religions become tarnished by the actions of very few.”
When he joined Amnesty, he didn’t know much about the organization.
“I remember hearing about it during the first Clubs meeting, and I thought, ‘Hey, I like human rights,’” he says. “So I showed up.”
Since, he has learned a tremendous amount; however, he understands that everyone’s interactions with the organization should be genuine to them and inspire their own actions, activism, and investment.
“Why get involved? You don’t have to join the club to be involved. You could simply sign letters. I think the best way we can involve people is to spread the word about these issues, help inform people. We cannot be oblivious to what’s happening around us,” he says.
“Students join Amnesty with lots of questions and doubts about our world and their ability to affect problems that seem enormous and impersonal,” says Doenmez. “I hope they learn that their knowledge and work matter as much as anyone else's; the people who achieve victories in human rights are no different from themselves. I also hope they learn that they can impact human rights and improve people's lives with small actions within the scope of their daily lives as high school students in Dublin, New Hampshire. Every step they take matters.”
Traditionally, Amnesty campaigns have revolved around a classic letter-writing model.
Now, students are using electronic media; they tweet, email, and post. Additionally, they continue making phone calls and writing snail mail.
“We write on behalf of those who are unjustly imprisoned, political prisoners, and prisoners of conscience,” Liam explains. “For example, we wrote on behalf of Leonard Peltier. He is a Native American Rights activist unjustly sentenced for murder, and we were campaigning for his release. Prisoners of conscience are imprisoned for doing what they believed was right. For example, the trans woman who was given Amnesty before Obama left office—we were campaigning for her. Chelsea Manning. We wrote letters for her. We view freedom of information as a very important thing.”
Amnesty’s focus is both international and domestic.
“We write letters and send emails throughout the year to support human rights in other countries and governments,” says Liam. “We wrote to the Russian government to stop bombing Syrians. It is not necessarily that they read all of our letters; but the sheer volume makes an impact. We also write to Americans, such as Leonard Peltier’s case. Recently, we have been focusing on current American policies.”
Amnesty’s student group is small but dedicated, and they are always welcoming contributions from other students, faculty, and staff members who feel moved to get involved with different campaigns. This fluidity and inclusivity has inspired people to contribute when they are most urgently concerned, inspired, or fired up.
“There have been so many inspiring moments in our Amnesty work, from making calls to the Saudi Embassy to ask them to stop the flogging of blogger Raif Badawi, which succeeded, to seeing prisoners freed for whom we had worked. Au Sang Suu Ki is an example of a major victory. One year, three prisoners for whom we wrote were freed before Christmas,” says Doenmez.
“Our Get On The Bus trips have always been energizing, and three Dublin students' faces have been used by Amnesty in their recruiting material for Get on the Bus: Anne Sollinger, Aderinsola Aderonmu, and Kenny Navedo,” Doenmez continues. “But nothing can rival the winter and spring of 2010 and fall of 2011, when our group corresponded with Troy Davis, who was on death row in Georgia for a murder he did not commit. We wrote to him first as a part of the December write-a-thon, and he wrote cards back to several student; I still have the cards.”
“We joined a worldwide movement to fight for [Troy Davis’] exoneration,” she says. “He was put to death by the state of Georgia on September 21, 2011. While we did not succeed in freeing him, our students and our school were able to support the struggle of a man for justice and to help him face his fate. Those of us who were involved in this case still mourn the loss of Troy Davis. Those students' lives were changed by this experience, and many are now working in a field related to human rights, where they continue to fight for justice.”