Amnesty York Writes for Rights!

By Cassandra DeFreitas

The York University Community was eagerly waiting for the most anticipated event of the year; Write for Rights.

The executive team had been brainstorming, taking notes, and discussing how to make Write for Rights ‘Bigger and Better’. The team went through the post-event notes last year, discussed what could be improved and how to improve them. The biggest challenge was getting more students to be aware and be engaged in addressing human rights abuses or issues and actively advocating for the rights of human rights defenders. 

The entire team decided on the game plan, from promotions to outreach, booking tablings to preparing the incentives for the event. We had agreed on November 21st to be the date of our Write for Rights event. We had contacted our Student Community and Leadership Development coordinator to reserve the entire ‘Bear Pit’ as we were aiming for a high turn out this year. We were able to secure the maximum amount of tables and space as the whole from 10-4pm.

Once we got our location confirmed, we assured that we promoted the event as much as possible. This year, we decided to promote through related departments, colleges, and other ally clubs. Most put us on their listserv and posted on their social media. Some executives talked to their professors if they had class during the event and had groups come from classes to take part in the global movement. On Facebook, a week before the event, many Amnesty members also added the Write for Rights banner and event information to their profile picture further promoting the event.

For the third year in a row, Amnesty International at York facilitated “12 Days of Human Rights” leading up for Write for Rights on our social media channels. Each day on social media leading up to our event, we released the details of one case we would be focusing on along with a picture. The 12th day was the Write for Rights event, and we promoted with live videos, boomerangs, photos of the team, and photos of the incentives.

To entice students, we offered free food, coffee, tea, and swag for those who wrote letters. We also brought back an Amnesty York favourite; Krispie Kreme donuts through their fundraising program. We were also able to provide fresh scones from Cobb’s Bread, thanks to one of our directors.

Thank you to the musical talents of Zain Campbell, one of the directors’ partners, we were able to create the coffee house feeling that we had hoped. We wanted to get students away from their busy exam schedule for a few minutes, get them engaged in human rights advocacy, offer them food and drinks for free, a yellow photo booth to spruce up their social media pages, and a comfortable environment to have important and productive conversations. Zain played beautifully on his keyboard and without complaints for the 6 hour event. The keyboard brought in many students who wrote letters, but also students who wanted to learn more about Amnesty and the cases before writing a letter.

Knowing the success that Write for Rights has been internationally, Amnesty York was very excited to host this event to allow all students, not just those who are a part of Amnesty, to have a voice to make a difference and to be heard.

Although challenging to hang, we were lucky to secure the Write for Rights banner from AITO.  We also had the honour of showcasing the hand-stitched “Women’s Rights are Human Rights” banner made by an ANWHR member. We felt as though it was important to not only acknowledge that we were advertising for the event but also specifically for those we are advocating for and one of the factors as to why they are being persecuted in the first place; for being a woman.  Each year that Amnesty York co-hosts Refugees Awareness Week, we always make a banner alongside other students, community members, clubs, and faculty. We also brought out last years banner from the week that stated, “Refugee Rights are Human Rights” as some of the women part of Write for Rights were either refugees or advocating on behalf of refugees.

Amnesty York ensures that it acknowledges the land in which we are gathering on and advocating on as stolen land. As a result, instead of periodically making a land claim, we brought our printed Land Acknowledgement and hung it beside the entrance of the space, so it was clearly visible to remind students where and how we are gathering.

A really successful element of this year’s Write for Rights event was the photo booth. Because we had the entire space booked out, we were able to keep the photo booth on the side of the space, facing the rotunda where students are frequently passing by. We were lucky to receive our new stand up banner from the student union in time for the event to serve as a colourful backdrop. In the meeting prior to the event, members brought their creativity to the table by painting, designing, and drawing to make different signs to hold up in pictures. These signs were also eye-catching to students who were walking by and was Amnesty’s signature yellow colour. Signs read; ‘love is not a crime,’ ‘united against injustice,’ ‘human rights defender,’ ‘stop torture,’ ‘respect my existence or expect resistance,’ ‘activist,’ and also had social media hashtags and contact information. We also purchased a “Human Rights Defender” cape and borrowed another from AITO for photos and boomerangs which was really popular. When there were available spots, members would put on the cape and walk around the halls. Upon wearing a big yellow cape in the hallways during exams, many people came up to members asking what they are doing and how they could help the cause. Pictures with these signs and in these capes flooded our social media and news feeds for many days after the event.

We are very proud to say that we ran out of tables and chairs and had people writing on benches and against walls to aid in the fight for human rights. This is something that has never happened before!  It was really a sight to see dedicated yet busy students take time out of their day to help someone they have never met before. We have made a note for the next executive team to request additional tables to ensure comfort and heightened accessibility.

Walking around the space, students were talking to members, and other students and faculty about what they thought about human rights, women’s rights, and the cases. Many amazing and empowering conversations and ideas were being brought up. As a result, we got many new sign-ups and petition signatures during our event. Not only this, many students and new Amnesty members were able to understand the importance and impact of Amnesty internationally truly. Many folks did not know that they were taking part in an international movement and were shocked and excited to be participating.

During our last meeting of the year, we stamped, sealed, and mailed all 147 letters, breaking an Amnesty York record! Write for Rights is one of the most highly anticipated events of the year by members who have been with Amnesty all four of their years at university, those who have recently joined, and allies of Amnesty York. It is always an exciting and empowering event for those who partake and is always a pleasure and honour as a team to host such an important and unique international event.