by Katie Fleeman
For some, Egypt seems far away. Besides the physical distance, the protests seem like another world. But many Bay Area students have brought the fight for freedom home through their participation in Amnesty International.
Amnesty International is an international nongovernmental organization that was founded in 1961 when lawyer Peter Benenson learned about two students arrested for drinking a toast to freedom. Since then, the organization has grown to encompass several continents, focusing on political prisoners and human rights advocacy. Amnesty International encourages high school and university campuses to host their own chapters—and UC Berkeley is proud to host their own.
The UC Berkeley chapter of Amnesty International has helped sponsor many events in support of the protests in Egypt, including demonstrations, a teach-in and a candlelight vigil. These demonstrations also allowed for collaboration with other clubs on campus.
“This has really been an opportunity for us to team up with other student groups,” says Elana Eden, co-director of Advocacy for the UC Berkeley chapter, ”which is really nice—nice to see everyone get really active about something.”
Amnesty West—the general chapter for the west coast—also co-sponsored a demonstration in San Francisco on February 12, the International Day of Solidarity with Egypt. Held in front of the Civic Center, this event attracted students from many universities.
“It shows them that we want to help you, that we’re supporting your cause of promoting democracy,” says Leila Ghaffari, a freshman at San Francisco State, which is restarting their Amnesty chapter. “I think that the more support they have, the more it boosts their morale.”
“I actually know that people in Tahrir Square were very energized when they saw evidence of international support,” agrees Eden. “And it also really helped just to give a better image of Americans in a way, because [Egyptians] were really disheartened by Obama’s reaction.”
Besides support, these students hope that their actions here will influence the United States government to help the cause of democracy in Egypt. “We can show the United States government that we do care about this, and we do want the rights of the Egyptian people to be respected,” says Anabel Cassady, a University of San Francisco student and intern at Amnesty West. “It’s so important for us to mobilize and put pressure on governments to create change.”
Despite recent successes, the UC Berkeley chapter has no Egypt-related events currently planned, though this does not mean they are going inactive. “We are still keeping an eye on it because it’s such a delicate situation,” says Eden.
Besides the demonstrations in support of Egypt, the UC Berkeley Amnesty chapter holds several events a year to advocate human rights and raise awareness about violations. This has included a panel featuring a former Guantanamo prisoner, and on March 11, there will be a Human Rights and Poetry Slam[nesty] showcase.
“I could give a really touchy speech about how injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere but I think that people honestly do realize that,” Eden says. “I don’t think most people are saying I don’t care; they think they don’t have time, or it won’t make a difference. I think it’s important to realize that it does make a difference.”
To get involved with UC Berkeley’s Amnesty chapter, attend a general meeting Wednesday 7-8 in 189 Dwinelle.