Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) held its 50th Annual General Meeting, themed “From Moment to Movement,” at the New York Marriott at the Brooklyn Bridge this past weekend. It hosted plenaries and workshops with speakers such as Harry Belafonte, Annie Lennox and others to celebrate 50 years of gathering human rights activists from around the country.
“Amnesty International finally got it right. After 50 years, you have finally found your way to Brooklyn,” Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said. “Welcome to Brooklyn. We consider this place the center of the universe.”
Adams presented Ann Burroughs, the chair of the AIUSA board of directors, with a proclamation. AIUSA also received proclamations from the governor, the state Assembly, Assemblymember Peter Lopez and the City Council. Borough Hall flew an AIUSA flag throughout the conference.
While the conference was held at Brooklyn’s Marriott, it began with a march. Protesters marched from the hotel to the Brooklyn Bridge, where they held four minutes of silence to honor Shereese Francis, Eric Garner and Akai Gurley, as well as Michael Brown.
“The reason that we chose Shereese Francis, Eric Garner and Akai Gurley as three cases we’re focusing on is because it’s right here in New York City,” Amnesty International’s Noor Mir said. “They were all unarmed, they were all black, and they were all … between the ages of 20 and 40. And in all three instances, they were violent deaths. So we’re asking for some response; we’re asking for some accountability.”
AIUSA is concerned that state laws concerning the use of lethal force by police do not meet international standards and is calling on all states, including New York, to revise their use of lethal force statutes. AIUSA has also called upon President Barack Obama to establish and fund a national commission that would require a comprehensive review and reforms to the U.S. criminal justice system to adhere to international human rights standards.
More than 20 different programs, meetings and workshops took place throughout the weekend. Attendees heard from experts, policymakers, celebrities and activists who discussed shaping policies.
The opening plenary session took place Friday afternoon. It was hosted by civil rights activist and Brooklyn native Linda Sarsour, and guests included Luz Marcela Villalobos, Mabel Au, Kayla Reed and Darnell Moore. They discussed how struggles between people in different cities across the globe are interconnected and how people backing different causes can help each other.
“We are in a movement, sisters and brothers, not just here in New York City, but in Ferguson, Oakland, Mexico, Brazil, Palestine and Hong Kong,” Linda Sarsour said. “We are all connected. Our struggles are connected, our movements are connected and our power is connected.”
On Saturday, AIUSA held an “Art for Amnesty” plenary, where artists from around the country told stories of how they have used their artwork to shape and push their movements.
MSNBC host Ari Melber hosted a panel with Harry Belafonte, Annie Lennox, Nusrat Durrani, Estelle, Piper Kerman, Laura Poitras and Jesse Williams.
“I was not an artist who became an activist; I was an activist who became an artist,” Belafonte said in front of the more than 1,000 guests in attendance. “The thing that the world of the arts did for me … was to provide me an environment where people would come together, as thinkers, as creators, as inspiration, to apply themselves as human beings into a world that tried to describe the world in which we should live in.
“I thought that anybody who took on that kind of responsibility had to be a person of value, and I wanted to be a person of value,” Belafonte continued. “So I became involved in the arts, which provided me a daily opportunity to use those gifts at my disposal to mold, help and interpret the better part of human existence.”