Government Relations

Educate, Motivate and Advocate: Amnesty International USA Holds Annual General Meeting

May 8, 2024 |USA

Amnesty International USA 2024 Annual General Meeting
(Lauren Murphy/Amnesty International USA)

Amnesty International USA hosted its 2024 Annual General Meeting (AGM) at the Washington Hilton from February 23 to 25, 2024, with 427 attending in person and another 115 joining virtually.

The gathering provided activists ways to connect, recharge and reflect on our human rights work, standing united to tackle the challenges ahead.

AIUSA Board Chair Alexandra Durbak lit a white candle with Executive Director Paul O’Brien
(Lauren Murphy/Amnesty International USA)

It started with a candle

AIUSA Board Chair Alexandra Durbak lit a white candle as Executive Director Paul O’Brien said our motto, “Better to light a candle than curse the darkness,” to mark the start of the first plenary.

“We know that human rights are denied or protected, one life at a time, and some of those living in greatest risk because of their human rights work, see our candle as the light that keeps hope burning.” – Paul O’Brien, Executive Director

O’Brien started the day with 2023’s wins:

“Because of activists like you and our allies, nine states have now banned military-style assault rifles, Minnesota has a red flag law, Michigan has universal background checks, Connecticut prohibits open carry. In the fight for abortion rights, because of students and grassroots activists like you in Ohio, abortion access is now a constitutional right.”

After Paul energized the crowd with last year’s successes, the activists were eager to learn about what lies ahead in the human rights space.

Connect, learn and engage

AGM provided plenty of content to educate and motivate activists with two plenaries, 20 workshop sessions, five fireside chats and two caucuses, peppered with informal meetups throughout the weekend.


1. U.S. Election 2024 – Vote Like Our Human Rights Depend on It

2. Shifting Power Nationally and Globally, All at Once – Where Do Human Rights Fit In?

Spotlight plenary: Election 2024

The first plenary delved into what’s at stake in the 2024 U.S. elections and our role as AIUSA. Nadia Daar, AIUSA’s Chief Strategy and Impact Officer, stressed the importance of inspiring and mobilizing people to vote like our human rights depend on it.

Erika Guevara-Rosas, Senior Director for Research, Advocacy and Policy at Amnesty International
(Lauren Murphy/Amnesty International USA)

Erika Guevara-Rosas, Senior Director for Research, Advocacy and Policy at Amnesty International, said that more than half the world’s population will have elections this year, and confidence in democracy is declining.

Mike Zamore, National Director of Policy & Government Affairs, ACLU
(Lauren Murphy/Amnesty International USA)

Mike Zamore, National Director of Policy & Government Affairs, ACLU, stressed that “we must decide what is our vision of this country” and the importance of engaging in elections at all levels from local to state to national.

Jordan, a Youth Leadership in Activism Peer Trainer at AIUSA
(Lauren Murphy/Amnesty International USA)

Jordan, a Youth Leadership in Activism Peer Trainer at AIUSA, made the case that four issues are likely to motivate the youth vote: reproductive rights, gun violence, cost of living, and climate change.

You can pledge to put human rights on the ballot and receive our 2024 Election Toolkit.


The sessions covered the gamut of human rights, from defending abortion rights to welcoming refugees, and even a session on caring for oneself doing this difficult work.

  • The Conflict in Sudan: The Need for Justice and Accountability
  • Governance 101
  • Wanted for War Crimes: 2 years of Russia’s War Against Ukraine
  • Taking Action for Human Rights*
  • Attacks on Queer and Trans Rights: Action & Allyship*
  • Did Your Action Translate to Impact? Exploring the Sri Lanka Campaign Review Process and other human rights issue examples
  • The Ongoing Apartheid Against Palestinians & the Conflict in Gaza
  • Casualties of War: Conflict-related Violence Against Women and Girls
  • How to: Activism in Hostile Environments*
  • Compassion Fatigue
  • Get out the Vote for the Amnesty’s Board!
  • Lives will never be the same…We Must End Gun Violence
  • China’s Mass Internment, Torture and Persecution of Muslims in Xinjiang
  • Knowing Your Rights as a Student Activist*
  • Welcoming Local Refugees*
  • Deep Dive into Human Rights & the 2024 U.S. Elections: What’s Our Plan?!!!
  • Talking About Abortion*
  • Do You Agree? Perspectives on Backyard Activism through Storytelling*
  • If You Build it, They Will Come: Recruitment & Retention Strategies for Activists*

* Denotes youth-led and or facilitated

Fireside chats

These were more casual talks in front of a digital fire (perhaps evoking the Amnesty flame?)

  • To be or not to be…an LC
  • Being Black in the UK
  • Demystifying Organizing and Digital Activism
  • AIUSA & the New Racial Justice Program
  • Lumen Conversation
Amanda Klasing, National Director of Advocacy and Government Relations, AIUSA
(Adeel Hassan)

“WANTED for War Crimes: 2 years of Russia’s War Against Ukraine,” co-presented by Amanda Klasing, National Director of Advocacy and Government Relations, AIUSA

“Fireside Chat: Being Black in the UK,” presented by Craig Pinkney, CEO of SOLVE
(Adeel Hassan)

“Fireside Chat: Being Black in the UK,” presented by Craig Pinkney, CEO of SOLVE: The Centre for Youth Violence and Conflict. He also co-presented “Lives will never be the same…We Must End Gun Violence.”

Femina Ajayi-Hackworth, Sr. IDEA Director, AIUSA
(Adeel Hassan)

“Compassion Fatigue,” presented by Femina Ajayi-Hackworth, Sr. IDEA Director, AIUSA

Spotlight session: “The Ongoing Apartheid Against Palestinians & the Conflict in Gaza”

This session outlined the legal case for describing the system of Israeli government apartheid against Palestinians. The workshop organizers also provided an impactful interactive dimension. As stated in the workshop description, “There is one activity in particular meant to represent an Israeli checkpoint. Upon entry, you will be assigned an ID card that represents one of the five IDs the Israeli Ministry of Interior issues.” The cards were created for educational and informational use only and differed from real IDs.

“The pre-introduction into the session room of the checkpoints and distribution of the passports was riveting, thought-provoking, and extremely real…it was the most comprehensive and informative workshop I have been to.” – Sana Fathima, Student Activist Coordinator for the Youth Leadership in Activism Program, Rutgers University

“The activities we developed are not intended to tell people what apartheid is, but rather to provide opportunities to confront its realities, of which checkpoints and the Israeli ID-system are manifestations.” – Selene from the Middle East Coordination Group

The future is in great hands

Almost a quarter of our attendees were youth activists, and many commented on their joyous energy.

“It was inspiring to see so many young folks at the AGM so full of interest and vitality. It’s good that us older members have someone to whom we may pass the baton.”

David Rendell, AIUSA New Jersey Area Coordinator
Youth Caucus

The Youth Caucus met early Saturday morning with Karla G. Gonzales Garcia, AIUSA’s Director of Gender, Sexuality & Identity, to gear up for National Week of Student Action (NWSA) from April 1-5, 2024. This year’s NWSA centers around protecting and defending abortion as a fundamental human right.

Amnesty International USA AGM participants holding abortion is a human right bandana
(Lauren Murphy/Amnesty International USA)

“My favorite moment was being in the session with the youth leaders being led by Karla as they shouted and cheered to infuse energy into their human rights work that it could be felt through the walls and other sessions…I was pleasantly surprised to not only see but feel the immense commitment of the AIUSA youth leaders! It was incredibly inspiring and encouraging to know our future is in great hands.”

– Lisa Bacon, Director, Individuals at Risk Member Engagement

Youth-led sessions

Eight of the 19 sessions were youth-led or facilitated, as denoted with asterisks in the session list above. Several attendees expressed how impressive the sessions were and enjoyed the multigenerational representation among facilitators and speakers.

Bhavna Bangalore, Youth Collective Member from New Jersey, co-presented “How to: Activism in Hostile Environments
Bhavna Bangalore, Youth Collective Member from New Jersey, co-presented “How to: Activism in Hostile Environments,” alongside Divya Tadanki, Youth Collective Member from Georgia (Adeel Hassan)

Terrance Sullivan, AIUSA’s Director of Racial Justice, raved about the “How to: Activism in Hostile Environments” session, saying the two presenters were “INCREDIBLE and it was their first time facilitating or leading a presentation like that.”

Attacks on Queer and Trans Rights: Action & Allyship panel: Anna Neubauer, Cathryn Oakley, and Ty Kitchen (Adeel Hassan)
Attacks on Queer and Trans Rights: Action & Allyship panel: Anna Neubauer, Cathryn Oakley, and Ty Kitchen (Adeel Hassan)

“As a first-time session organizer and facilitator, I was ecstatic to begin the process of building a session from the ground up…One of my favorite parts of facilitating a session was being able to witness how each panelist grew their individual passion into one collective effort to craft a powerful session. I will always cherish the privilege of having a platform to speak up about such an important issue and the power of my panel to start conversation and action.”

Anna Neubauer, Youth Collective Member, Pennsylvania

Taking action

When you gather a group of activists, you can expect some action to occur, and the conference provided several ways to get involved.

Action Alley

“Action Alley” is an annual showcase of member activism. AGM attendees have the opportunity to interact with member booths, learning more about issue areas central to the Amnesty movement. Booths were available throughout the conference, providing educational and activism content on Human Rights Defenders at home and abroad, issues central to AIUSA’s Human Rights Platform for the 2024 U.S. Elections, and ways to make an impact with your local community.

Flame of Solidarity

Rick Roth, a Local Group 133 Cambridge, Somerville MA, AIUSA member for 42 years, described the vigil occurring at the Lincoln Memorial Friday evening:

“During the AGM, we participated in a Flame of Solidarity action at the same time activists from Ukraine, Germany, the country of Georgia and all over Poland were lighting bonfires. This project was planned by Witek Hebanowski, who started what is now Write for Rights when he was in a local chapter of AI in Warsaw, Poland. The flames were to commemorate the time of the Russian invasion February 24, 2020, at 5 am [in Ukraine] which was February 23rd, 10 pm ET in the USA.”

Amnesty International protesters in front of Lincoln Memorial
(Ulana Moroz Senenko/Amnesty International)

“I planned to go by myself to the Lincoln Memorial at 10 pm to at least show my solidarity, and I hoped maybe one or two people might join me…Well, to my amazement in fact almost 50 people showed up at the Lincoln Memorial and we had a candlelight vigil. I was heartened by this, and it really gave a boost to our friends in Europe to see us standing there with them as all the groups connected by Zoom. It was also inspiring for us to see the folks in Europe, including one group that carried their fire across the border into Ukraine.” – Rick Roth

White House Demonstration

Over 250 people headed to the White House to mark the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and to call for a ceasefire in Gaza. AIUSA members were joined by Amnesty Section Directors from around the world as well as the Amnesty movement’s Secretary General, Agnès Callamard, as we called for consistency on human rights. It was a compelling display of people power, and of the united Amnesty International movement. Read more about the White House demonstration.

People Power Awards

The “People Power: Activist Awards Ceremony and Dinner” was the highlight for many attendees, serving as a reminder of the activists in our community, those who strengthen our grassroots movement in the fight for human rights.

Nicholas Kristof and mother
(Photo courtesy of the Kristof family)

The Kristof family was recognized for their 50 years of commitment to advancing human rights and inspiring generations of young activists. Their son, New York Times columnist, Nicholas, spoke via Zoom.

Terry McCaffrey
(David Rendell, AIUSA New Jersey Area Coordinator)

The Lifetime Activism Award was awarded to CA State Death Penalty Abolition Coordinator Terry McCaffrey, who has dedicated more than four decades to the pursuit of death penalty abolition.

Amnesty International USA Local group 270
(Photo courtesy of Local group 270)

The Hironaka Award recognizes one local group, and this year’s went to Local Group 270 of Bellingham, WA.

Sarah Milburn
(David Rendell, AIUSA New Jersey Area Coordinator)

The Asylum Casework Award for Cogroups went to AIUSA Chad Country Specialist Sarah Milburn.

Virginia Tech AIUSA group
(Photo courtesy of Virginia Tech AIUSA group)

The Leading Change! Student Group of the Year Award was given to Virginia Tech.

Special guests

Fourteen Amnesty International (AI) Section Directors and leaders from around the world, as well as AI Secretary General Agnès Callamard, and Senior Director of Global Research, Advocacy and Policy Erika Guevara-Rosas joined AIUSA’s Annual General Meeting. They gathered for five days to connect with each other, AIUSA staff and members, and join workshops and roundtables around key issues. Read more about their visit.

“I was very happy to connect with leaders from AI South Africa, AI Kenya, as well as Mr. Ntambue from the DRC and Ms. Akali from Cameroon. Elevating and facilitating the participation of attendees from the Global South increases hope and confidence that their voices are valued and are heard.” – Afaf Bernani, AI-SFC student group

Amnesty International’s Secretary General Agnès Callamard
(Lauren Murphy/Amnesty International USA)

Amnesty International’s Secretary General Agnès Callamard spoke in a plenary session titled, “Shifting Power Nationally and Globally, All at Once: Where Do Human Rights Fit In?” She explained that with current challenges, including growing authoritarian practices, Amnesty will need to drive change and “cannot adopt a posture of resistance only. We also must adopt a posture of radical transformation we want to see.”

Anees, Palestinian-American musician and activist

We were thrilled to welcome Palestinian-American musician and activist, Anees, to speak and close out the Awards ceremony. Isra Chaker, AIUSA’s Senior Campaign Manager, interviewed Anees and explained he was invited to speak to “center an artist who could humanize the Palestinian story and narrative and speak to what it means to being a Palestinian in this moment right now…also describing how to use art for impact.”

Anees, Palestinian-American musician and activist, and Isra Chaker
(Lauren Murphy/Amnesty International USA)

“The last 6 months have made us question, ‘What is our purpose as it pertains to the world?’…Now that I feel more connected to the suffering of people…what will I do with that? So, for me as an artist, the answer has been very clear. I just need to lift my voice.”

Anees, musician and activist

“It was remarkable to attend the interview session with musician/activist, Anees, and to hear his perspective on how he views his role as an artist who speaks out for change…It is a great reminder on how human rights work and activism can take many shapes, and everyone can have their own unique journey and contribution for participation.”

Matt Vogel, AIUSA’s Director of Arts and Creative Partnerships
Meet the Board

On the final day of the AGM, AIUSA’s Board of Directors held the annual town hall meeting on the state of AIUSA. Members were introduced to the Board and heard reports on AIUSA business and financial health from the Board Chair and Treasurer. The Board answered questions posed by members, including plans for in-person regional conferences and how the Board is consulting with members.


The AGM culminated with the annual plenary on resolutions for members to vote on. Anyone who’s been a member for at least 50 days is eligible, and encouraged, to vote.

This year, there was just one resolution, “Confirming the Number of Petition Signatures Needed for Board Candidates,” which called for the minimum number of member signatures for petition candidates to be raised from 100 to 200.

The resolution passed 55.6% to 44.4%.

Amnesty International is a grassroots organization, and our members shape our goals and policies, vote on resolutions, vote for candidates for the Board of Directors, and participate in a variety of governance roles.

We encourage you to get involved in the critical governance process. Please email [email protected] for more information.


The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. These quotes from a staff member, long-time AIUSA member and Youth Collective Member say it all:

Isra Chaker, AIUSA’s Senior Campaign Manager said, “I was blown away by the presentations, the speakers, the vibe. It didn’t feel like a conference. It felt like a community gathering.”

David Rendell, Area Coordinator in New Jersey said, “I attended my first AGM in 1987 and have attended most since then. This could have been one of the best.”

Abby Niquette, Youth Collective Member, Vermont said, “Being at the AGM is like standing at the crossroads of inspiration for an activist. Not only is it a unique opportunity as a youth to meet professionals in human rights activism, but it is an immersive educational experience. The speakers were outstanding, the people were empowering, and its impact will last.”

Want to join us at the next Annual General Meeting? Become an AIUSA member today!