This post is part of a series written by Amnesty USA’s National Youth Program Coordinator Kalaya’an Mendoza from the road of the Game of Drones tour. Follow the tour on Tumblr and take action to prevent extrajudicial killings with drones and other weapons.
As a young activist, I stood up for the first time when I was in middle school at a school board meeting on racial profiling. I was so nervous as I walked up to the microphone; sweat was beaded on my forehead and my heart was pounding in my chest. Though my voice was shaking, I found the courage to speak, but within a few sentences, I knew the board wasn’t listening.
My eyes passed over these people who were supposed to be our leaders, and I saw one of them nodding off. In a flash of anger, I decided that I would not be silenced. I turned to the crowd of people who had come with me that day and shouted, “What do we want?”
“Justice!” they screamed.
“When do we want it?”
[pullquote text=”There’s so much more we don’t know; the U.S. government won’t even tell us who is dying in these drone strikes, despite strong allegations of unlawful killings.”]The chants lasted only a few moments, but we certainly woke the board up. Just days later, they convened a community meeting, during which we created school policies that would end the racial profiling we had been experiencing. That’s when I first felt the power of organizing.
Two nights ago, I felt that power again after watching the closing scenes of Dirty Wars at Middlebury College. I listened to the students talk about seeing the faces of the people in the film who are most directly impacted by the U.S. government’s drone policy. I saw their anger about what the U.S. government is doing in our names behind their shadowy “global war” theory. I saw them make the choice to stand up and be a part of the movement that is fighting back.
We all know what it’s like to be moved to action, and I am no different. I also make that choice, and I’m committed to making it daily. I am a human rights activist, and I am Filipino. My parents fled the Philippines during the height of the Marcos dictatorship, leaving everything we knew and held dear behind. We left a homeland that was hot, humid and green, and filled with the warmth of relatives and friends, and arrived to the cold shores of a foreign land, and to new and reluctant neighbors speaking a language we did not yet know.
Shortly after my family arrived in the United States, we heard news from the Philippines that something huge was happening. I huddled around the television with the rest of my family and watched as hundreds of thousands of people marched in the streets, rising up nonviolently in protest. Our phone kept ringing with news from our relatives and friends, and for the first time, I felt the power of nonviolent resistance. Even at 6 years old, I felt the gravity of those moments. And I felt something else. I felt hope. I felt powerful. I understood that we could change the world with our actions.
I started out as a young activist at my own school and in my own community, but I soon realized that my community extends beyond the borders of towns, cities, states and countries. I am Filipino, but I am also American. And the America I believe does not destroy a Yemeni village with internationally banned cluster munitions and kill 41 people, including 21 women and 14 children. The America I believe in is one whose foundations are anchored in dignity, justice and a respect for fundamental human rights for all people.
When it comes to human rights, no one is neutral. That’s why I make this choice. That’s why I organize for human rights, and why committing to that fight is something that we have to do daily by arming ourselves with the skills and knowledge to make a difference.
When I first learned about the U.S. drone program, I went to the Amnesty International USA website and searched for reports on Yemen and Pakistan, and read blogs by Amnesty’s experts on Security with Human Rights. I spoke with friends and colleagues, and listened to youth activists with the same passion for a better world. I’ve learned that some 4,700 people have been killed by drone strikes over the last decade, according to Senator Lindsey Graham. But there’s so much more we don’t know; the U.S. government won’t even tell us who is dying in these drone strikes, despite strong allegations of unlawful killings.
I am no longer willing to stand idly by and let a policy that allows such grave violations continue in my name. I’m honored now to be taking my energy on the road, training people on each new campus in the art of effective nonviolent direct action, and building momentum to call on President Obama to end the #GameOfDrones.
I’m asking you to stand with me, and to turn your own anger into action. Help me demand the names of the victims of U.S. drone strikes. Share this blog with a friend who hasn’t yet joined the Amnesty International movement. Sign and share the petition to stop unlawful drone strikes. Follow the #GameOfDrones tour, and organize your own events and die-ins.
After all these years, I still want the same thing. Justice. Will you join me to fight for it now?