Visiting AI Sections Across Europe
by: Helen Jack (AIUSA Member Leader)
Ghent, Belgium is an inspiration. The Flemish city of 250,000 inhabitants has ten AI Belgium local groups and three student groups, which must be some sort of world record for AI groups per capita. While Ghent displayed the ideal of AI’s global presence, AI Turkey was equally surprising and inspiring, highlighting the courage of activists and reminding me how much work we still have to do to guarantee fundamental freedoms. In Turkey, AI can do no advocacy in schools or with youth because they risk their government accusing youth members of engaging in terrorist activities.
A long-time AIUSA student activist, I am currently studying at Oxford University. Instead of returning to the US for the holidays, I spent much of my vacation making the most of discount airlines to travel around continental Europe. In five countries, I drank coffee and wandered cities with or slept on the couches of AI members, many of whom I met when I volunteered at AI’s International Council Meeting in the Netherlands during summer 2011.
Wrapped up in my work for AIUSA, I often forget that AI has activists in over sixty countries. We will strengthen our movement if we can learn from each other’s perspectives on organizing and campaigning.
- Student and local groups in AI Italy regularly go into primary and secondary schools to lead courses on the meaning of human rights
- Rather than working in schools, AI Turkey focuses its human rights education on explaining human rights concepts to imams and government officials and empowering them to use them in their work.
- AI Germany recently developed a Youth Commission to advise the board and is pushing for greater youth participation in governance.
- During the summer, AI Italy holds week long human rights summer camp for AI youth activists at the Monte Sole Peace School.
- Hands up for the Arms Trade Treaty! Activists from AI Switzerland sent hand prints to the key countries in the ATT negotiations.
My European AI friends gave me a new outlook on the importance of AIUSA. Many of them regularly direct actions toward the US government and are frustrated by how little their countries’ governments can do on global human rights issues, such as the Arms Trade Treaty. As Americans, we have privileged access to one of the world’s most powerful governments, which gives us greater leverage to campaign for human rights.