An activist's favorite tool

Monday, April 14, 2008

Midday last Wednesday the BVU community was surprised to find a strange display in front of the arch. Walking to class or lunch, one could not miss black hoods and orange T-shirts behind a shield of fence.

Each person stood in a different pose, with a cardboard sign representing a form of torture currently being used at Guantanamo Bay.

Throughout the week, the BVU chapter of Amnesty International (AI) sponsored activities to raise awareness about legal injustices happening in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Their main goal was to inform people about the use of torture as a means of interrogation under the U.S. government's authority. Events throughout the week included a Guantanamo discussion open to the public, a short film in Dows Grand Ballroom, an "orange day" where the BVU community was encouraged to wear any orange they had for an entire day to denounce torture, and finally, a demonstration in front of the BVU arch. All these activities were put on by AI members with the intention of sparking discussion about the injustice happening in Guantanamo under U.S. government officials' orders.

Comments made to the students as professors, students and other members of the BVU community walked by were a mixture of supportive and obstructive feedback. The most important thing for the AI group was that it was feedback; people were talking about it with others. Even those who were offended by the demonstration at least were drawing attention to the fact there is something to talk about here. Feedback continued to reach AI's ears the rest of the week.

This is how awareness starts: by sparking a discussion. While not all the people who saw the demonstration will take action and contact any political leaders, demanding something be done about the injustices occurring at Guantanamo, AI hoped that the spontaneity of the demonstration would impact others in a new way. Once someone observes eight people standing behind chicken wire, barefoot in the wet grass and no face to be seen, it is difficult for them to simply dismiss the experience. They may not agree with it or may not even care but they cannot un-see it or un-hear about it. When they hear "Guantanamo" on the T.V. or see its name in a magazine, they might remember the students posing as prisoners in the middle of campus and continue to learn about what is happening there right now.

It is essential that groups such as AI or other organizations continue to work toward building awareness of human rights issues because if a government is going to care about the issue its people have to care first. In the end, the BVU chapter of Amnesty International believes that social change comes about by educating others. If one person tells another person and they go on to tell five other people then a social movement in the name of justice can be born. For a small human rights group in the middle of rural Iowa, awareness is the best activist tool to have.