RH: So tell me what’s going on here tonight, and what are the issues that prompted this event?
Julia Greenfield, Rutland
Tonight we are having a dinner that is Supper with the Superintendent, which is sponsored by the Amnesty International Club, and tonight we will be having people come and eat a potluck dinner and we will be writing letters, basically to free political prisoners. Amnesty International is the largest human rights grass-roots organization, and they do a campaign every December to write letters to governments and to people who are being wrongfully imprisoned on human rights violations. So our goal is write letters and to send those out to those people and the governments. ... Specifically, this year there is a big emphasis on women’s rights and gender equality rights and that sort of thing. That’s definitely an issue that I want to see changed and that I try and focus on, and this event is also in correlation with the Feminism Club, so all the cases are about women this year, so that’s really cool, and that’s the main issue that we’re focusing on.
Greta Solsaa, Rutland
Amnesty covers pretty much every human rights issue that is outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but this year’s Write for Rights cases are focused on female human rights defenders around the world who have been imprisoned, they’ve been murdered, they have been tortured, or they have been harassed by the government or different groups because of their human rights actions — blogging or defending human rights, starting organizations for whatever it is, LGBTQ people or free press, or to stand up against abusive governments. Amnesty is taking a stand for human rights by defending human rights defenders.
Emma Pilz, Chittenden
These issues are, they’re women across the globe who are in prison because of something that isn’t an actual law. Their governments are keeping them against their human rights. So say a government is imprisoning them because of their sexuality or because of religion or something like that. Under the Declaration of Human Rights, that is a violation, and if that country is a member of the United Nations, that government shouldn’t be doing this, so what we’re doing is, we’re raising awareness for what these governments are doing. We’re hoping to show these countries, or these governments or these people, that we are watching, and we’ll show these women that people are here, that people are trying to help and show these governments that we’re looking out, and say to these government that we know what you are doing and it’s not good. In certain religions it’s thought that women are less than men, and it’s kind of snowballed out of control because people take what they see in their religious texts and they take it word for word instead of interpreting it. And I think that’s a big part of the problem as well that globally it’s turned into this big thing, and people are just following in the steps of what they see.
Marsha Cassel, Rutland
We are highlighting 10 cases this year of women human rights defenders around the world who have either been unjustly imprisoned or who have been targets of human rights abuses. So the letter-writing campaign, which is an annual event, often at the end can celebrate a success of a woman, or in other cases, a candidate, being released by a government. So it’s important to let governments and these human rights defenders know that people care and that we’re watching, and that we will not tolerate human rights abuses. Today (Dec. 10) is the 70th anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The signing countries agreed that there were 30 undeniable human rights that they would promise to uphold, and when that isn’t happening people have to care. And we have to speak for the people who can’t speak for themselves and who have less power. So that’s what we’re asking people to do tonight. It’s happening between — well, it’s been going for awhile, but through January, and then we post all the letters to the government or to the human rights defenders to encourage them to keep up the good work. There’s a woman who’s been tortured for standing up for LGBTQ rights. There’s a woman in South Africa who is trying to defend her native land from a mining company. Unfortunately, one of the cases was resolved through the killing of one of the women. Usually, there’s a celebration where shining a light on these human rights abuses will influence a country to release the person or lessen their abuse or torture, but every now and then there’s a sadness to report that it wasn’t enough, early enough or soon enough.
Pam Reed, Rutland
Tonight is a night to advocate, to come together as a community and advocate for human rights activists who are inappropriately being treated and housed, and held, and to try to move and make a difference with the folks in their various countries to look at and advocate for their investigation and their freedom. ... We have an Amnesty International group here at Rutland High School. And so they are part of the group that’s leading the effort tonight. ... There are 10 women (represented here) who are improperly imprisoned so we are writing letters on their behalf and urging their government to look into their imprisonment and a thorough investigation of those being held, and — and/or — you could write a letter to the advocates that are working on their behalf, to just give them encouragement to keep the fight.
Carol Wright, Rutland
I came to support the young people, to meet our new superintendent and welcome him to the community, and also I’m part of a group called Castleton Indivisible, and I hope to connect with some of the young people as far as whether we can support them transportation-wise for the Jan. 19 Women’s March in Montpelier.
RH: What are some of the issues still facing women on the march toward full equality?
CW: Equal job access, wages, racial-social justice — those are issues that I’m particularly interested in, and writing letters for activists in other countries that are imprisoned just so we can support women worldwide.
Bill Olsen, RHS principal, Rutland
If you are educating kids, this is what they should be doing — you’re educating them to use that education and go out into the world and do something with it. These guys are getting started early. They’re really good at trying to apply their learning and try to use it for good. Whichever way you want to go in the political system, that’s fine, but you should be doing something with the education you’re getting.
Isabella LaFemina, Rutland
I think it’s important for youth to become involved in these situations because we’re going to inherit them, and I think that fixing problems at their source is going to help us there.
Visit bit.ly/1215Write4Rights to see this week’s video.