'Get on the Bus' Fights For Rights

 

By Taulant Kastrati ‘15 

In the 19th annual ‘Get on the Bus’ (GOTB) event, Amnesty International club members from throughout the Northeast met to protest against human rights violations.

“GOTB is a community building exercise,” said Mr. Eugene V. Resnick, Coordinator for Amnesty International. “We humans tend to go about our activities alone and we forget that there are others just like us. So when our students see other schools participating, they get inspired to work harder and provide justice for all.”

Midwood’s Amnesty Club was one of several that attended lectures at Cooper Union. There, representatives of people that have lost their basic rights described the issues at hand. The topics of interest in this GOTB were the oppressive governments of China, Burma and Sri Lanka, as well as the reckless corporation DOW Chemical.

China was featured in this year’s GOTB action because its government ordered the arrest of Tibetan filmmaker Dhondup Wangchen, who many believe to be a ‘prisoner of conscience’ (Amnesty jargon for a person who is persecuted for his/her nonviolent expression of belief). Mr. Wangchen’s documentary that criticized the Chinese government’s policy of assimilation of Tibetan citizens may have contributed to his prison sentence. He has been a subject of GOTB for several years.

After presenting Mr. Wangchen’s case, Ms. Tenzin Dolkar, the Executive Director for Students for a Free Tibet, addressed the audience, “For every letter each of you have sent to Chinese officials, you have helped apply international pressure onto China- not only for Dhondup Wangchen’s case but that of Tibet.”

In her address, Ms. Dolkar is referring to Amnesty International’s practice of writing letters to governments and companies in order to make changes in the world (urgent actions). Urgent actions pressure these powerful entities to free ‘prisoners of conscience.’

A representative for Burma held a small tea ceremony with the audience. For the first ten minutes, she did not speak: she dressed up in a traditional outfit, applied make-up that she made right there, and set up snacks on the cloth she sat on. After that, she walked to a few audience members and gave each roses, tea, or snacks, all in an effort to show kindness. She wanted to show how necessary kindness and compassion was to society. She concluded her presentation by saying that the remaining prisoners of conscience in Burma should be released because they deserve to enjoy their lives.

The representatives from Sri Lanka and India wanted to punish those responsible for their human rights violations. The Trinco 5 were five Tamil Sri Lankan high school students who were shot dead as they played at a beach. The perpetrators were never found which only elevated tensions between the Tami (a Sri Lankan minority group) and the Sinhalese. This is slightly different from the involvement of DOW Chemical in the Bhopal gas disaster as the perpetrators in this case were known-DOW Chemical. In 1984, a gas leak, by the U.S. chemical company instantly killed thousands of people (the presenter was orphaned by that disaster) and as well as cause genetic mutations to those who survived.

After the lectures ended and the students were up-to-date with the urgent actions, Midwood’s Amnesty club picked up some posters and joined others to protest across Manhattan.

Elizabeth Lewis ’14 said, “I enjoyed meeting Amnesty members from other schools and chapters and seeing their enthusiasm.”

Hundreds of Amnesty members stood side-by-side behind the police barricades and chanted in unison what they had learned from the lecture, “Sri Lanka, Sri Lanka, the world is watching you! The people united will never be defeated! This is what democracy looks like!”

The effect: cars honking for the release of Tibetan film-maker Dhondup Wangchen, crowds cheering for giving human rights to victims of the 1984 Bhopal gas disaster, and regular people joining in the chant for bringing the suspects of the Trinco Five killings to justice.

“Amnesty International for me has always been about educating whoever is willing to listen about what’s going on in the world,” said Elizabeth ’14. “Participation in GOTB is significant because it shows Midwood members, including myself, that there is a larger effort behind the Urgent Action letters that they write weekly.”

Fatima Tariq ’15 said, “I plan to go again next year because I enjoy being a part of the human rights cause. I earnestly believe that ‘it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness (the motto for Amnesty International).’”

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