Tuesday, April 15, 2003

The World Is Watching

Yesterday, I spent the day demonstrating in New York City. It was part of "Get On The Bus," an event organized by the incomparable Amnesty Group 133.

Group 133 nominally draws from Amnesty members in Somerville and Arlington in Massachusetts. However, in reality, the group is not geographically-based; it is more a state of mind. Although I live in Jamaica Plain, I've adopted Group 133 as my Amnesty chapter. Many other human rights activists throughout the Boston-area have similarly joined attracted by Group 133's can-do attitude, commitment to pushing the boundaries of human rights activism, and general sense of fun.

According to the official website history of the event, the first Get on the Bus trip to New York City took place on April 19, 1996. Members of Group 133 "thought it would be good to take a day trip down to New York City to visit the United Nations....Of course, human rights activists can never pass up the chance to have a demonstration, especially when spending the day near so many foreign consulates."

Demonstrations are the keynote of the day-long event. This year, we demonstrated outside the Chinese and Russian consulates as well as the United States Mission to the United Nations. We delivered postcards and shouted slogans in support of imprisoned Tibetan nuns and "disappeared" Chechen citizens. We highlighted the American government's mistreatment of immigrants and asylum seekers.

What struck me the most about the demonstrations were the chants. The Russian and Chinese consulates echoed with the same slogans very similar to those recently shouted at peace rallies and anti-corporate globalization demonstrations throughout the world.

"No justice, no peace!"

"Tell me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like!"

"Hey hey. Ho ho. Disappearances have got to go!"

"Russia. Russia. The world is watching you!"

The crowd of activists was young. By far, the most were of high school and college age. Many carried backpacks emblazoned with peace and anti-corporate symbols. It was clear to me that this group of young people decried all human rights abuses. This is a generation and a group unafraid to tackle any human rights abuses regardless of which government or corporation is responsible. To them human rights are indeed universal.

Commentators have labeled this outpouring of activism, this movement - whether it be for peace or human rights - to be a new world superpower. Yesterday, I felt that power so strongly and so directly, it often moved me to tears. I marvelled at the freed political prisoners, from China and Tibet, who described with gratitude to the crowd that, a few years ago, they were in prison.

I felt proud. I felt joy. I felt optimism.

Indeed the world is not only watching. It is taking effective action.

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