John Greyson speaks at Toronto Write for Rights event

“Write for Rights, Toronto!” successfully concluded on December 5th, 2015. We will discover the number of messages penned when all the letters and cards are sorted. But more important was the number of people participating.


Watch coverage of the event on CityTV News

This year’s event was incredible because of the record attendance. We had to squeeze in three more tables. We ran out of paper and food! Our organizers were pleasantly shocked at having to make runs to nearby stores for more snacks and writing supplies. Amnesty International is made strong through the support and enthusiasm of its supporters and activists and this event was a testimony to that strength!

The room was organized around a small stage area. Each of the featured Write for Rights cases was marked by a large poster hanging above “their” table, a lantern sporting their photo, and writing elements relevant to their case. We encouraged guests to move from table to table. However, many chose to stay at their initial table and fetch casesheets as they completed letters. Organizers will now need to verify, for example, that no one wrote a card to Waleed Abu al-Khair that bears Amnesty International’s name.

A mock-up Canada Post mailbox stood quietly waiting at the back for the letters to be written and fed into its box. Beside it we placed a donation jar for postage costs.

Throughout the day, Marilyn McKim introduced speakers or gave compelling reasons for the power of letter writing. When asked, “Does letter writing work?” Marilyn confidently replied, “Yes, it does. Not only does it put pressure on the authorities to do the right thing, but sometimes receiving these letters of support is the only thing that keeps these people experiencing injustice going.”

Our speakers, Margaret John & John Greyson

The first speaker was Margaret John, Amnesty Canada’s volunteer with expertise on Malaysia and Singapore. She spoke about the crackdown on freedom of expression in Malaysia, about Zunar’s case, and about her personal experiences that are testimony to the power of Amnesty International.

The second and last speaker, John Greyson, was previously incarcerated in Cairo without charge in a cell with 38 other people. He told us of the only time his prison guards allowed a small letter in. It was from two nieces to reach him. In it were hand drawn pictures of penguin that represented him and Tarek Loubani. He told the rapt audience, some watching with pens frozen in their hands, that receiving that letter gave him, but also his 38 cellmates the strength to keep going. “Sometimes the letters you write not only give hope to the recipient, but also to those around him.”

At the end of the day, bolstered by the shared feeling of success, the volunteers, organizers, and remaining letter writers were visibly tired but rallied for a group picture. In it, many wore a yellow Write for Rights t-shirts. Above our heads, hung the faces of those awaiting support. We, in our unrelenting dedication and passion, delivered it.