This weekend, Torontonians from all walks of life gathered in the Centre for Social Innovation, hunched over tables writing letter after letter.
Collectively, they wrote over 1000 messages. Some insisted that governments free prisoners of conscience and protect human rights defenders.. Others conveyed messages of hope and solidarity to people under attack.
Write for Rights is the the world’s biggest human rights event. People in over 180 countries participate.
They tweet, email, and sign petitions, creating a tidal wave of action that puts pressure on governments.
Kathy Price, Al Canada’s Honduras campaigner, tells the audience intimate details about her experience on the ground with MILPAH, an indigenous movement that are risking their lives to save their land.
After it is over, local performers continue playing live music and letter writers are left to absorb what they just heard and channel their emotion into the written word.
“The presentation just now proved that these letters do make a difference. The people in Honduras…they feel supported by groups like us”, says Mary Macrae, a retired high school teacher.
Every year Amnesty International picks 10 cases they believe need that final push to receive justice.
When asked if any cases stuck out to her, 15-year-old Claire Shepard picked out Sakris Kupila’s case from a pile of papers. Kupila is fighting to reform gender recognition laws in Finland which violate the rights of individuals to be free from cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment.
“Living in Toronto, we’re really accepting of the LGBTQI community. It’s not acceptable when other countries don’t accept people who want to be who they are:, says Claire.
Carol Macfarland has been volunteering with Amnesty for 35 years. She makes it a priority to come out to Write for Rights every December.
“I work in the office and it’s a small group of people I see every week. But here, there are all ages, all nationalities”, says McFarland “It gives you a shot in the arm, fresh resolve to continue on with your activism. Because you realize you’re not working alone.”
John Alves, a 25-year-old member of Amnesty’s Young Professional Network, writes for three hours. When he’s done, I ask him what drives his fight for human rights.
“It’s very easy to forget that people’s rights are being taken away in the midst of our own wellbeing”, says Alves, “But I think respecting human rights is mandatory to actually respect ourselves.”
Write for Rights is about individuals helping individuals. It showcases the power of uniting thousands of voices from around the world. Last year, more than 4.6 million messages were sent.
World leaders may be able to stifle one voice, but together we are a force to be reckoned with.
And it’s not too late. You can play your part for International Human Rights day by heading over to writeathon.ca and taking part any time before the end of the year. Show them the world is watching.
Written by: Sareema Husain
Published in Now Magazine December 15, 2017