Yesterday a few Amnesty volunteers and I took to the streets of Chicago to collect petition signatures calling for justice for war crimes in Sri Lanka. My fellow intern stopped a woman on the street to ask for her signature:
Intern: “Would you have a moment to sign a petition for war victims in Sri Lanka? I’m from Amnesty International.”
Woman: “What is that?”
Intern: “Amnesty International is an international NGO that focuses on human –“
Woman: “No, the petition. What is it for? Sri what?”
Intern: “Sri Lanka—we are asking Secretary Clinton to pressure the UN to launch an investigation about the abuses that occurred during their
1626-year-long civil war.”
Woman: “I’ve never heard of it. Did you just make that up?”
Intern: “No. It’s a real place. It’s off the coast of—“
“Is it in Africa?”
A few minutes later, the woman walked away having signed the petition, with educational materials in hand about Amnesty International, the situation in Sri Lanka, and where she can reach us for more information or to volunteer.
This exchange is an example of why I stood out in the March wind in the heart of Chicago. Dozens of people walked past us without signing our petition. Amnesty is asking the U.S. government to support an international investigation into war crimes and other abuses committed by both the government security forces and the rebel group fighting for independence during the
16 26 year civil war in Sri Lanka.
Many people passing by said they were too busy to stop. Some of them said they didn’t believe in our mission. Most of them actively looked away or at the ground hoping that it would make them invisible.
But it mattered. It mattered because one person walked away today knowing more about the atrocities that occurred in Sri Lanka; one more person will be able to go back to her community and share what she learned.
We had a group of students from the Amnesty International USA chapter at Lawrence University help us out with the petition signing. They said the experience was valuable to them because it connected what they do on campus to the broader mission of Amnesty International. Even though I’ve been interning here for a few months and am very familiar and dedicated to everything Amnesty does, at times I can feel a little distant from the impact we make on the world. Amnesty has achieved so much, but it’s hard to feel like I’ve played any part in it.
Yesterday I felt better about our impact—a team of ten volunteers got almost 250 people in one hour to take action on this pressing issue, to help initiate justice for the victims of human rights abuses in Sri Lanka. We made a difference. And we will continue to do so.