Amnesty International in DC – Igniting Hope (& Keeping Cool)

I survived Washington, D.C.!  I just don’t seem to travel well these days, and had a rough start for my first day and a half of last weekend’s Amnesty International Annual General Meeting

First, my flight was a little late, and it took longer getting into DC from Dulles then I thought it would.  Then I proceeded to get lost wandering around National (OK, I know it’s called Reagan now), thinking it would be an easy walk from the airport subway stop to the nearby conference hotel, the Hyatt Regency Crystal City (and later found it was the seemingly further Crystal City stop that was the walkable one.

So, I managed to miss not only the Town Hall Meeting and Welcoming Plenary (with Amnesty International Secretary General, Irene Khan as the featured speaker), but even the Welcoming Reception.  I did meet my Amnesty friends from Seattle and we had food and drinks.  It was warm, and my friends were happy to be away from chilly Seattle.  I don’t know, it just seemed smoggy to me, and I found I had forgotten just how badly I do with the heat.

Unfortunately, my hostel room was hot, and even though it brought to mind my experience at the Portland one on Hawthorne, following the Pearl Jam concert last summer; I was tired and just went to sleep.  In the morning, following a too early shower (hoping to make the 7:30 am breakfast with Irene Khan at the conference hotel) thought at first I had food poisoning (well, Julia did find a fly at the bottom of her beer where we ate) and went back to lie down a while longer.  Aaron was eating a hearty $2 breakfast downstairs when I made it down there, though.  So, shortly after, it dawned on me, that it was the heat again. 

I made it for the last half hour of the session on the China Olympics (fortunately, both Aaron and Larry were already there).  I liked the banners we can borrow advocating human rights in China.  In addition to our annual participation in the Tiananmen Square Massacre commemoration, we are thinking of doing an Olympics walk-a-thon around Green Lake locally.  What is kind of tricky about Amnesty’s position, is that, as usual, we can’t take part in boycotts (and that is not something we’re calling for, although other allies are).

Our focus plenary started with a film about one of Amnesty International’s freed former Prisoner of Conscience, General Gallardo from Mexico, and an intern from AI who was working tirelessly on his case and met him after he was freed.  Then Fatou Bensouda, Deputy Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, spoke.  This year’s Ginetta Sagan Award was then presented to Betty Makoni who founded the Girl Child Network in Zimbabwe to train girls to succeed in school and survive, or, hopefully, resist sexual abuse and rape.  We then heard via satellite, from former Guantanamo detainee Moazzam Begg, followed by Emi Maclean from the Center for Constitutional Rights on what’s happening at Guantanamo and efforts to close it.

I unfortunately was still feeling ill from the heat and skipped the local groups’ lunch, just sitting in a chair in the common area and drinking a lot of water. 

I made it to the second workshop session, most of it anyways (fortunately sitting near the door).  It was on waging “lawfare” in the war on terror (which is what the government has accused the lawyers fighting for human rights in the so called “war on terror” of doing).  Panelists included Lieutenant Commander William C. Kuebler from the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, counsel for Guantanamo prisoners; Ben Wizner, from the ACLU and Margaret Satterthwaite, Director of the Center for Human Rights and Global Justice.

I was still feeling ill from the heat, so I went back to my hostel to lie down awhile (and found the window was open and, mercifully, a cool breeze was blowing in).  After a few hours, when it cooled down, I went off, hoping to make the National Archives to see the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Bill of Rights before it closed.  Alas, my guidebook was wrong and it had already closed at 7 pm, not 9.

I headed down towards the Capitol.  Along the way I passed the Newseum and looked at the display of newspapers outside (one for each state).  I also checked out what appeared to be a country/gospel concert in the park near the Capitol, which I could hear all the way down the street.  Next I headed toward the White House.  When I finally found a place to view the front of the White House (from quite a distance these days); we had thunder and lightening, which seemed appropriate given the bunch in there (non-Amnesty comment).  Did I say I was missing the rain?  Actually, I was with the heat (I’m sure the only one in our group who was happy to see it).  The Pearl Jam version of The Who’s Love Reign O’er Me came to mind with Eddie wailing the lyrics, as I headed back to the hostel through rainy DC streets.

Next morning, I took it easy, much as I would have liked to have gone to the 7:30 Board Candidates Breakfast Forum, I really didn’t have the energy to get by on that little sleep and made the $2 breakfast downstairs in the hostel instead.  I made it in time for the Resolutions Voting Plenary (which actually finished in time, even a little early, in spite of there even being an emergency resolution).  I had time to hit the group sales room, and bought a hat before lobby day training started.  Since I was new to this, I went to one of the Lobbying 101 break out sessions.  Then back to the ballroom where the session ended with more inspiration from Ginetta Sagan Award winner Betty Makoni and AIUSA Director Larry Cox.

One final chance to catch some of the sights of DC that evening, so I toured the monuments by dark.  Starting with the Washington Monument by twilight.  Next was the WWII Memorial at one end of the Reflecting Pool (unfortunately, too late at night to really see the pool).  I wandered a long way in the dark after that, hoping to find the Vietnam Memorial, which I realized once I got near the Lincoln Memorial and saw buses of high school students heading over to it, was off the path I had taken.  I decided to go to see Lincoln first (who was very impressive).

Heading back to the Vietnam Memorial, I came across the statue of the three war weary soldiers first.  I couldn’t help thinking when I saw another group of high school students gathered around it on the way back, that they were about the age of those who were sent off to Vietnam (and some still, to Iraq, yet another senseless war, though at least there’s no longer a draft).  It was too dark to see the actual memorial, although I finally thought to photograph the roses and other items left, and could see parts of the monument in the flash.  So many roses.  A song about the senselessness of the fighting in Northern Ireland came to mind – There Were Roses by Tommy Sands (I have the version from the album of the same name by Mick Maloney, Robbie O’Connell, Jimmy Keane and Liz Carroll on record and cd – available for download on E-Music):

There were roses, roses
There were roses
And the tears of the people
Ran together

While the situation is different, the part about the orders isn’t:

I don’t know where the moral is or where this song should end,
But I wondered just how many wars are fought between good friends.
And those who give the orders are not the ones to die.
It’s Bell and O’Malley and the likes of you and I.

Now we have all the chicken-hawks, draft dodgers in their own, respectable way, from the “W” Bush administration sending off another group of young men and women to kill and die.

Across on the other side of the Lincoln Memorial is the Korean War Memorial, a ghostly battalion of troops (especially at night, although my camera could not do them justice).  Very moving and disturbing, especially as one reminded me of a Veteran for Peace friend who served in Vietnam

After that, I headed off around the tidal basin, to what I thought would be my last memorial of the evening, the Jefferson Monument.  I walked around the circle until I came to: FDR in a wheelchair?!  I found the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, a series of alcoves and waterfalls and quotes, and statues – of a man listening to a fireside chat on the radio, a soup line, FDR with his little dog, and Eleanor as the first American delegate to the UN.  All about the Great Depression and WWII, what times he led this country though; and what times my parents (both gone now) lived through.  It gives me hope if we made it through all of that, we can make it through our current, scary era.  Of course, a President who’s a real leader would be helpful. . .

Finally, it there was the Jefferson Monument, with Jefferson, larger than life, and quotes.  The one about slavery seemed a little ironic, though, as he never freed all his own slaves. 

Then, I went back to the hostel and ironed my dress, to get ready for the next day, which was lobby day.

We were told if it rained on lobby day we would meet at the Amnesty International DC office, so Aaron, Larry and I hopped the subway and got there – early, it turned out, they were just setting up. Julia met us there.  We had breakfast and more instruction. A group photo was taken in the round, to be stitched together (the non-rainy day plan was the Capitol steps).

It turned out there weren’t enough buses planned for people who had 10:30 appointments (it being after 10 by the time we got back out – and having just been warned to never be late) and those of us from Seattle and Olympia were trying to figure out how to hail a cab in time.  Larry Cox actually stopped by, concerned about what was going on.  They decided to let us ride in the aisle of the bus (it being a short trip anyways, time being the real issue, not distance).

We got off the bus and Leanne, our Washington State Legislative Coordinator from Olympia, showed us the way to Jim McDermott’s office before going off on her own visit to Representative Baird’s.  We met with Anne Grady, one of McDermott’s Senior Assistants; who asked us a lot of questions about the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA)we were asking for him to support and co-sponsor (once it got to the house).  We also asked him to sign on to a “Dear Colleague” letter calling on Mexican authorities to take action against police officers who raped Barbara Italia Mendez and others who were arrested for taking part in a demonstration in support of street children.   We got news last week that Rep. McDermott has signed the “Dear Colleague” letter; and today that IVAWA has been introduced in the house, within 48 hours of the lobby day visits.

We met up again with Leanne to debrief after our meetings and then went back down in front of McDermott’s office to take a Seattle delegation group photo. 

After that, we went back out into the rain to deliver IVAWA petitions I had gathered at an Ani DiFranco concert I tabled for AI just before the conference.  After a side trip up the steps of the Supreme Court, we stopped by Senator Cantwell’s office first, then headed over to Senator Murray’s.  We didn’t have an appointment with their staff, as visits to their office weren’t on the official AI agenda (turns out we were targeting specific, mostly Republican, Senators to co-sponsor the bill for the greatest chance of bi-partisan support); but their staffs were friendly and let us leave information on IVAWA along with the petitions.

As we had a member of Representative Reichert’s district who signed up, but couldn’t make it to lobby day; Leanne was going and asked us if we wanted to go along.  Aaron, Julia and I decided to go with her.  It especially seemed like worth trying, given the violence against women issues, as he was the one who caught the Green River Killer and is has worked to help on domestic violence issues at a local and national level.  We met with Lindsay Manson, from his legislative staff, who seemed receptive and also asked us a lot of questions (though not quite the grilling we got in McDermott’s office; maybe the difference between meeting with Senior staff and a younger staff member).

We then ate at the house cafeteria, before heading back to the Amnesty International office by cab (and got an Eritrean cab driver, probably one his few fares who actually knew where his country was; sadly because, as he mentioned, they persecute journalists and in fact, I had just had a petition out at Ani’s concert for one of them).  We debriefed and everyone talked about their experience.  One interesting fact from one delegation was that there was a “shadow” letter for Barbara Italia Mendez from some of the Republican’s.  Just my private speculation, not AI’s, but it can’t hurt to have the Mexican authorities hear concerns from both US parties, even if they can’t all agree to sign on to one letter.

I was worried about getting to my flight in time, having read online something about luggage not being checked for Southwest Airlines at Dulles Airport if you weren’t there 45 minutes before the flight (or at least, that’s what I thought it said); which would have meant losing most of my toiletries (I never used to check my luggage until the liquids rules).

I headed out into a downpour, back to the DC hostel, to the lockers for my luggage (and snuck back upstairs to change, not wanting to travel in a dress).  I thought I was making good time and headed off to where I thought the 5A to Dulles stopped downtown, not realizing I had mixed up NW and SW and found myself lost, with little time left.  I went to the subways to try to find the stop for a train to the Rosslyn station where I could transfer.  Got totally lost with the first instructions and asked again in the next station I ended up in.  I wasn’t going to make it within the 45 minutes, by the looks of it (although, at least I did have time at the transfer point to track down a cup of coffee; actually, a Starbucks, which I never go to in Seattle).

I was, in fact, late, with my luggage at Dulles.  It turns out, though, only that they couldn’t guarantee it would get there when I did, and I might have to go back to Sea-Tac Airport the next day to pick it up.  I got to my flight and it didn’t look like they were boarding yet; but turned out they had already boarded. 

After getting in to Midway Airport in Chicago, I found I had a call from a member of the Eastside (King County) AI group about tabling with me, if we got to do the Los Lobos concert on that Wednesday, which was still, well, up in the air (having only just gotten permission to table their shows, it was kind of last minute for getting permission from the venue).  Fortunately, I got through (as it would be after 11 pm by the time I would be able to call again).  Fortunately as well, maybe, our flight was delayed, and I actually got to eat.    I got into Seattle around 11:30 (and found my luggage had arrived as well), took a getting scarier all the time late night run of the 174 into downtown (I will be relieve when we get light rail out to the airport), and the bus home (nodding off every stop as I got closer).  Fortunately, I had the next day off as well (although the Los Lobos concert wasn’t to finalize until the next day, just hours before the show).

Seattle Delegation:


For more photos, see my DC photo album, or the subset of the AGM (without all the tourist photos).

More information on our local group, Amnesty International Group 4 at:

If your in Seattle, consider stopping by one of our events or meetings. 

If you live somewhere else or are a student, you can check out online if there’s a group near you in the US or around the world.