The 12-member Walla Walla University chapter of Amnesty International has big dreams of ridding the world of inequality. They work to achieve this goal through their partnership with the global nonprofit.
Every two months Amnesty International sends its chapters a list of three to five different projects to work on and local chapters choose assignments that they'd like to address. According to Amnesty International’s website, the organization works toward protecting people “wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied” and claims the title of the world’s “largest grassroots human rights organization.”
Last quarter WWU’s Amnesty International group focused attention on a woman under arrest in China because of her efforts to stand up for workers’ rights. The small group banded together to write 200 letters to the President of China to lend their support of her release.
Early in 2015, the local chapter shifted its focus to racial inequalities.
“I think some people forgot that racial inequality is still very real in the United States,” said Mason Neil, the club’s public relations officer. “In light of everything that has been happening lately, I think people are finally realizing we aren’t as far along in having equality as we thought we were.”
The 19-year-old Neil referred to the well-publicized instances of racial profiling and police brutality that have occurred recently across the nation, specifically the incidents of violence that occurred with 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO and 43-year-old Eric Garner in Staten Island, N.Y.
In an attempt to promote peace and equality, the group organized several events over Martin Luther King Jr. weekend that gave students the opportunity to get involved in fighting inequality and raising awareness.
The Peacemaking Weekend kicked off on January 16 after WWU’s weekly Friday night vespers program. Approximately 20 students gathered on campus to begin the candlelight vigil. The group started at the "Jesus Among Us" statue near the center of campus and carried their candles in the darkness as they made their way down 4th street toward College Avenue, ending at the Student Association Center. They sang This Little Light of Mine as they marched.
Ricky Barbosa, editor of Walla Walla University’s The Collegian, remembers the events the Friday night vigil:
“We stood in a circle next to the Jesus statue on campus and lit each other’s candles, ignoring the cold.”
Brooklynn Larson, president of the WWU’s chapter of Amnesty International, spoke a few words to the group: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall inherit the earth,” said Larson, reading from the Beatitudes.
“The vigil was brief, but unexpectedly heartfelt and beautiful,” said Barbosa. “I look forward to seeing WWU become involved in similar ways in the future.”
On January 17 the Peacekeeping Weekend continued with a panel discussion during the “Sabbath Seminar” The group explored ways to promote peace and eliminate racial profiling. One person described their own experience of being racially profiled.
The final event of the weekend took place on January 19 when Walla Walla Unveristy partnered with Whitman College and Walla Walla Community College to participate in a peace march. The march occurred in downtown Walla Walla and ended on the Whitman College campus, where WWU students were invited to a refreshment reception.
The group took a dry-erase board to the march and offered participants the opportunity to write what Martin Luther King Jr. inspired them to do. Marchers wrote phrases like “speak up,” “overcome,” or “take action.”
Larson spoke on the importance of peacemaking events in a Collegian article promoting the Peacemaking Weekend: “First, it’s a statement of remembrance and appreciation for all the progress we have made towards racial equality and the people who made that progress happen. [It] is a great way to remind yourself how far we’ve come. Secondly, participating in a march is also a statement of solidarity towards those who still fight for their basic rights – right here at home and around the world. Marching for peace is a physical way to say ‘I value peace and I value progress.’”
As the school year continues, the group plans to keep raising awareness and to fight for human rights equality.
Rachel Logan is a writing intern for Spectrum Magazine.
This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/6618