Anita Sharda Teekah

New York Legislative Coordinator, Co-Organizer of the NYC-Young Professionals of Amnesty International, Member of the North Jersey Local Group
New York, New York

Why did you become an activist?

I became an activist because I was tired of not being part of the solution. I grew up believing that I had the power to direct my own life and speak up for myself and my rights. Clearly, not everyone has that experience and I felt it necessary to fight not only for, but with those who have been silenced. I firmly believe that being an activist means working in partnership with those who have been disenfranchised, and being a real ally. I’ve been able to use my education and my legal degree to help others understand that they have human rights, what they are and how to fight for and protect them.

What skills has Amnesty International provided you in fighting for human rights?

AIUSA has certainly improved my advocacy skills! Legislative advocacy for human rights has always been challenging but never more so than right now. Human rights are inherently non-partisan, but many of the issues we advocate for have become deeply politicized, to the extent that AIUSA has taught me to be particularly adept in navigating the political nuances of various arguments and adopting the points of view that will work best on whomever I am lobbying. AIUSA also encourages deep collaboration, which is critical when working on so many issues simultaneously.

What has inspired you to become a part of the human rights movement?

I was raised as a privileged woman of color in the West. I always had a voice and the ability to use it. Throughout my childhood, I realized that many women of color were not so lucky and I felt that it was my obligation to join the human rights movement to fight for them, and with them. My first exposure to human rights violations was watching an episode of Oprah in the 1990s, when she interviewed women who had undergone female genital mutilation and I thought, this should never happen to any woman, anywhere. We are all obligated to use our skills, our gifts and our privileges to protect the rights of others. We are all connected in this world and what happens to one of us happens to all of us.

Why is important now to continue to fight for human rights?

Human rights have never been so imperiled as they are right now. We are seeing a return to a deeply nationalist ideology across the globe, while ongoing human rights violations continue to persist. The breadth of danger to human rights protection demands that we all do what we can, right now, without giving in to the fear that this is hopeless. We have the highest rates of refugees ever in history. Women and children are disproportionately affected by conflict and violence. Black individuals are killed indiscriminately. Muslims are targeted on the basis of faith. Youth and the mentally ill are placed into solitary confinement under conditions that amount to torture. Human rights defenders are persecuted in their home countries. Guantanamo remains open. If WE don’t fight for human rights NOW, there will be no one left who can.

What are you doing to stop policies like the Muslim Ban?

As the New York Legislative Coordinator for AIUSA, I am both personally lobbying and supporting my New York activists to lobby on behalf of H.R. 1503 and S. 608, which nullify and defund the Muslim Ban. We are targeting every single Member of Congress in New York, across the aisle. The Muslim Ban is a grave violation of human rights and will directly contribute to the deaths of thousands of refugees globally if it is not defeated. We have an obligation to abide by international human rights law, which requires the United States to accept refugees, who by definition are subjected to violence in their home countries.As an individual, I am working to dispel the myths surrounding the Muslim Ban and refugee resettlement. All refugees under consideration for resettlement in the United States are extensively vetted by both international (UN) and domestic federal agencies. People tend to support policies like the Muslim Ban out of fear of the unknown, and as an activist, I can counter this ignorance with accurate information to educate my community on the harm caused by the Ban and the need to oppose it.