Sue Rissberger

Local Group Coordinator
Brooklyn, NY

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

Aside from my introduction to human rights work and Amnesty International in Dublin, I moved to Southeast Asia a couple years after leaving Ireland, where I worked with refugees from Burma. It was here that my interest in a specific human rights issue–refugee and migrant rights–developed which drove me to rediscover Amnesty when I returned to the US and look at how they were addressing these matters. In 1997, Aung San Suu Kyi said, “Please use your liberty to promote ours”, and this quote continuously motivates me.

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

If we don’t, who will? I don’t think we have a choice. Now, living in America, I feel a greater urgency to address what’s happening domestically. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of issues to support: whether it’s mass incarceration or our current administration’s policies related to the Muslim Ban and reducing the number of refugees that are admitted, people’s lives are at stake. Whether we’re lobbying our local representatives to support H.R. 1503 which rules against the Muslim Ban or organizing a film screening where Brooklyn communities can learn about human rights issues via short films, I think it all connects to the larger picture that human rights is not just for an individual or a group, but when we fight for human rights, we must fight for all.

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

My group, Amnesty Brooklyn, recently held a No Ban / No Wall Vigil at Borough Hall in Brooklyn. We had about 100 people and 6 speakers, 5 of them representing the affected countries identified in the Executive Order issued on March 6th. The idea for our vigil was to lift up and amplify the voices of the 180,000,000 people (the total population of the 6 affected countries) by having representative of those countries speak. We need to continue to send a message to Congress that policies like this are discriminatory, so we had petitions for representatives who haven’t cosigned H.R. 1503, as well as postcards to our Senators to thank them for cosponsoring. 

How can we combat hate and xenophobia in our local communities?

Education. Coalition building. Honest conversations. I think about my students in high school and how distrust or anger breeds within them. After we have a candid conversation, the source of the problem is usually the result of assumptions being made, or a misunderstanding or misinterpretation. Also, as adults, we have to model behaviors that support strong communities: I think this is where the coalition building comes in. We all have a lot we can learn from each other.