Dignity & Dancing – AI Conference in San Francisco

Amnesty International USA’s Western Regional Conference in San Francisco two weeks ago started Friday night with a program at the Glide Memorial United Methodist Church near the Tenderloin.

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Larry Cox listens to Rev. Cecil Williams

A fitting place, given AI’s new Dignity Campaign focusing on poverty as a human rights issue, and the work Glide does in the impoverished community surrounding them.  Each time I go to San Francisco, the plight of the homeless just gets worse and worse as the gap between rich and poor widens.

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Local hotel union members speak

In addition to hearing from Rev. Cecil Williams and other members of Glide Church and AIUSA Executive Director Larry Cox, members from the local hotel union who I had seen picketing in front of the Hyatt from my cable car ride (and were in negotiations with the Hilton, where the AI conference was held) spoke.

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After that we had music and dance from a world music group composed of teachers from East Bay area teachers, who went down into the audience and got the whole Amnesty International crew dancing!

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AIUSA Executive Director Larry Cox

Then we all came back Saturday, across the street at the Hilton, for a long day of workshops, panels and voting.  Nearly everything was squeezed into Saturday’s schedule this year, except for the opener at Glide on Friday and the final voting Sunday morning.

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Esha Momeni is presented a Free Esha t-shirt.

We opened with another speech by Larry Cox at 9 am, followed by a panel on the human rights crisis in Iran, including two generations of Iranian women activists, Elahe Amani and Esha Momeni, who’s case, as you can see by the t-shirt presented to her, AI members have worked on.

After that, I went to a grassroots feedback workshop, followed by one of the lunch & resolutions working parties, and then the local group caucus. 

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Counter Terror with Justice panel

Then it was time for a Counter Terror with Justice panel on closing Guantanamo and the need for accountability for the torture that has already taken place.  Panelists, including AIUSA policy director Tom Parker; John McCary, a former military interrogator; and Bob Baer, a former CIA operative, once again refuted claims that torture yields any useful intelligence (the ticking time bomb theory popularized by tv shows), as well as the immorality and real damage torture does both to the victims and our safety here in the US.

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Immigration Panel

After that, an immigration panel, which included a discussion of the Mayor’s attempt to eliminate San Francisco’s sanctuary policy, by SF Board of Supervisors member David Campos, who invited us all to the then upcoming board meeting to over-ride the Mayor’s veto. One of the ideas being that for police to get involved in checking people’s immigration status is bad policy as witnesses to crimes will not come forward if they or their families may be in danger.

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Debra Bingham speaks about maternal mortality in California

Our final panel of the day, running form 5:45 – 6:45 pm, was on maternal mortality (women dying during childbirth), one of the focuses of AI’s new Dignity Campaign.  What we learned was that, sadly, the US has one of the highest rates of maternal mortality, 41st in the world. Maternal mortality is higher than anytime since the 1970s, and is rising.  Maternal mortality is way higher for African-American women than other races (see racial disparity chart for California at http://www.cmqcc.org/maternal_mortality). 

Debra Bingham from the California Maternal Quality Care Collaborative talked about the rates and efforts in California to end preventable maternal deaths. Obstetric (OB) hemorrhage is the leading cause of pregnancy related deaths, and her program is working on protocols for best standards to prevent hemorrhaging.

I missed a number of possible workshops running at the same time as the panels, as we always have too many options to choose from at these conferences.  Came back on Sunday morning for the final vote on resolutions, and fortunately had scheduled a couple extra days at the hostel on my own dime to see some more of San Francisco. Our local AI cluster covered air fare and my first two nights for the conference.

More on my latest San Francisco trip to come!

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