How Seattle Celebrated Human Rights Day/Week

This being Seattle, we couldn’t just hold one event to celebrate the 60th Anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  I attended four last week, and missed at least three others.

One I missed, that I found out about at the last minute, was the showing of Amnesty International’s new video, The Price of Silence at the Experience Music Project on December 10 (during daytime hours, so I couldn’t make it, but I would have liked to have posted it to our AI Group 4 website).

The Price of Silence video (below)starts with a poem read by Laurence Fishbourne and brings together musicians from around the world including Stephen Marley, Natalie Merchant, Angelique Kidjo and Hugh Masekela, performing before the United Nation’s General Assembly. Wow!

I did make Seattle’s 60th Anniversary of the UDHR Concert at Neumos, a benefit for Amnesty International. I was one of our local group’s volunteer tablers, collecting names on human rights petitions and giving out literature all night.

Gina Sala, a Hindu Indian singer with a hauntingly beautiful voice, and a new addition to their line up since I posted it before the show, opened the night.  The video below will give you some idea.

Most of the evening alternated between jazz (Barrett Martin and the Wayward Shamans, featuring Dave Carter; Tuatara) and world music (Gina Sala; Rahim Alhaj, a Grammy nominated Iraqi musician; Thione Diop and Yeke Yeke, Senagalese Wolof Drummers), with The Minus 5 closing out the night with a rocking set.

Thione Diop did indeed get a Seattle crowd to dance (as shown in the video I used for the preview), and Rahim Alhaj got us to keep time with his music clapping (well, whether he actually got us to keep time is another matter, but he was gracious about it).

As for our local Amnesty International group, we sold one t-shirt and got a few donations (the door went to AIUSA, as you would expect for a major concert); and. . .collected 215 signatures on petitions for human rights cases including freeing Shi Tao in China, Ma Khin Khin Leh in Myanamar/Burma, Petros Solomon in Eritrea, Muhammad el Gharani from Guantanamo, a number of monks and nuns from Drapchi Prison in Tibet, and justice for Barbara Italia Mendez in Mexico.

We also gathered more letters for AI to send to President Obama when he’s in office for the 100 days campaign, calling for the closure of Guantanamo, end of torture and accountability by those in charge in the U.S. government who perpetrated the abuses.

Special thanks to Barrett Martin for putting the concert together and letting us use up so much table space, crowding their cd sales!

So, the next night I should be relaxing, right?  Well, unfortunately I did relax a bit too much (or actually, answered to much Amnesty e-mail) and got to the city’s Seattle Human Rights Day event at Town Hall late and missed most of the awards ceremony.  Even more embarrassing, talking to Merri Ann from our AI group (who’s also a Seattle Human Rights Commissioner) afterwards, it turned out our name was read as a runner up for an award, and neither I nor anyone else was there to stand up for AI Group 4!

Dr. Robert Bullard, author of Confronting Environmental Racism, was the guest speaker for the city’s Human Rights Day event.  That so many  poor and minority communities are near sources of pollution is no surprise, but the extent of it is, and especially what the children have to deal with.  Also, even controlling for other factors like income and education, race comes up as the leading factor for the location of environmental toxins (like a park built over a sewage treatment plant in a mostly black middle class neighborhood).

Where do the children play? 

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I did get to relax a little Friday (after buying supplies for our write-a-thon) before our double bill on Saturday – a march and the write-a-thon.  We gathered outside the Convention Center for the International Human Rights Day march on a rather cold day (when everyone was panicking, as they still are, that we may have a few snow flakes).  At least it wasn’t just Don and I holding the Amnesty banner this time.  Well, actually it was, but we had a small contingent from the Bush School AI group who marched with one of our other banners.  Where was everyone who thought having the march and write-a-thon on the same day was a good idea?

Oh, well.  It was a good march, going right through Pike Place Market, though a little tricky for going under the AI banner as most of the chants were generic anti-war or other issues AI does not have a stance on, with little specific on human rights.    The rally did cover more, though, from the Philippines, to gay rights, to a GI coffeehouse at Fort Lewis set up by the Iraq Veterans Against the War, to Nickelsville. There was folk music, rap and poetry as well.

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There was just enough time after the rally to get to the Victrola Roastery for the write-a-thon and to get warmed up with some well deserved coffee.  We wrote letters by hand on cases from around the world, some of them the same ones I had petitions out for the concert.  Writing by hand and figuring out what to say, however, leaves you really thinking about the cases in a way you don’t when you just sign a petition. It brings it back to the reality and importance of what we’re trying to do – freeing political prisoners, stopping torture and executions, calling for justice for those who have undergone abuse.

You think of the whole idea of Amnesty International, how it started, the idea that a bunch of people writing letters to free prisoners of conscience would somehow work, let alone grow into an organization of over 2.2 million members in 150 countries worldwide. All working to try to make the rights enumerated in the UDHR 60 years ago reality.  What a concept, and what a great organization to be part of.

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