By LENNY DESERIO
Amnesty International held their annual day of protest known as Get on the Bus on Friday, April 17, 2009. Organized by Amnesty activists from Somerville, Massachusetts, Get on the Bus is held in New York City each April with Amnesty groups from across the Northeast taking part in the protests. The protests started back in 1996 when approximately thirty Amnesty Activists descended on the steps of the Nigerian Embassy in New York to protest the execution of Nigerian Environmental Activist Ken Saro Wiwa. Now in its fourteenth year, the event draws nearly 1200 activists annually to protest for different human rights violations worldwide.
This year the group protested for the immediate and unconditional releases of Tibetan filmmaker Dhondup Wanchun and political prisoners in Burma.
Wanchun was arrested in March 2008 by the Chinese government for taking part in pro-democracy demonstrations. The conflict in Burma has been ongoing since 1988, when thousands of students and Buddhist monks were arrested or killed by the Burmese military for participating and organizing a pro-democracy uprising against the military junta.
Amnesty estimates there are currently 2,100 people imprisoned in Burma. This includes Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and National Democracy League leader Aung San Sui Kyi who has been under house arrest for the past nineteen years by the Burmese military government.
According to Get on the Bus Coordinator Deanna Marie, “The purpose of Get on the Bus is to create a forum for human rights education and activism.” Marie went on to say, “The goal is to bring injustices into the light and to stand together in solidarity to change the world. It truly is amazing what we can accomplish by raising our voices to empower those individuals who have been oppressed in any way.”
When asked why she felt people should care about these injustices, Marie said, “As Americans, we are in the enviable position of being part of one of the greatest nations on this planet; we have the power to force our leaders to bring about changes in other countries. I believe that because of this, we have an obligation to utilize our power to help those who may be without a voice. We need to ensure that the rules and rights we benefit from as Americans are made available to everyone. All human beings have certain inalienable rights.”
Jane Timm, an Amnesty member and student at NYU, expressed similar feelings when asked why she felt people should care about human rights abuses in far and distant places of the world and what we can do to help. “In this country, we take human rights for granted. You don’t have to fear imprisonment for writing a news story or protesting the government. In America, you don’t have to worry about being kidnapped for expressing an unpopular opinion. As Americans, we must stand up for those who do not have the freedom to stand up for themselves. We must fight for them because they cannot.”
Though the struggle for human rights is long and hard, Amnesty International has proven, over time, that the fight for global human rights is worth it, one step at a time, one human being at a time.