Get on the Bus for Human Rights

April 16, 2010

Chances are, if we’ve met, you’ve heard me talk about Get On The Bus for Human Rights (GOTB)! I’ve got several versions under my belt — the PowerPoint presentation, the 5 minute DVD, and a Twitter-friendly elevator pitch, but basically:

“We are the largest grassroots event organized by Amnesty International USA members. Take action with us on the third Friday in April – that’s today! Speakers a.m. Rallies p.m.”

The idea was simple: Take your activism to the next level. Members of local AIUSA chapter Group 133 from Somerville, MA were working on the case of Ken Saro-Wiwa, who is best remembered as an environmental defender. He was among the leaders of peaceful protests against the environmental exploitation by oil companies and physical abuse by security forces in the Niger Delta region.

According to GOTB historians, one group member wanted to hop on a bus down to New York City to visit the Nigerian Consulate. After all, why not hand deliver our letters and call attention to our concerns in person?

Thirty people rode down to NYC that first year in support of human rights. Since New York City is relatively close to Boston and hosts diplomatic offices for practically every nation in the world, it’s been easy to continue our annual human rights pilgrimage. We now estimate around 1,000 people participate, taking peaceful action on behalf of three or more cases in one day.

As we approach our 15th anniversary, we can celebrate many successes including: calling attention to femicides in Guatemala, highlighting the failure of Guatemalan authorities to adequately investigate murders of over 1,900 young women; helping to secure the release of Professor Mesfin Woldemariam, Ethopia’s most prominent human rights defender; and successfully lobbying TIAA CREF to adopt socially responsible investment policies.

Here’s the line-up of what we’ll be supporting today during GOTB 2010:

  1. Calling for the release of Sri Lankan journalist, J.S. Tissainayagam who was recently sentenced to 20 years of hard labor for commentary that was often critical of the Sri Lankan government; one of the last columns published before his arrest was titled “Child soldiers: What the govt. report did not report.”
  2. Keeping the pressure on the Myanmar government to release Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and all Burmese political prisoners. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has spent 13 of the past 20 years, in detention or under house arrest. She continues to be held under house arrest without charge or trial.
  3. Demanding that Tibetan filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen be released from prison immediately.  He was handed a 6-year prison term after a secret trial that found him guilty of ‘subversion’ for producing a documentary giving voice to Tibetan grievances under Chinese rule.
  4. Calling upon the Democratic Republic of Congo to support women’s rights defenders who have come under severe threat.

Visit our Twitter page and our website, where you’ll find all the updates on today’s events.