Amnesty International USA (AIUSA) held its Annual General Meeting (AGM) on March 18-20, 2011 in San Francisco. Aside from the typical AGM fanfare of plenaries and sessions, it was also a celebration of Amnesty International’s 50th anniversary.
The first evening was kicked off with a bang through a musical celebration to honor Joan Baez for her lifelong activism in human rights and her work to establish Amnesty International on the West Coast of the US. The celebration came alive when AIUSA presented her the Joan Baez Award for Outstanding, Inspirational Service in the Global Fight for Human Rights.
After performing individually prior to the award presentation, musicians Chad Stokes Urmston, Saúl Hernández and Steve Earle returned on stage to play several Joan Baez’s classics with the star of the night. The quartet capped off the evening playing John Lennon’s Imagine. Taking cues from Joan, everyone in the room sang along. It was a moment few would forget.
The next morning started with a long list of speakers including a video message from former President Jimmy Carter. There was no lack of energy in the room, however. The speakers frequently referred to the uprising in the Middle East and paid remembrance to those who lost their lives in the massive earthquake in Japan. AI Secretary General, Salil Shetty gave the keynote address and led the audience in a chant of human rights in his native language of Kannada.
The morning festivities concluded with the presentation of three leadership awards. One of them was the Ladis Kristof Memorial Fellowship for Organizing and Activism. Group 48 founding member, Jane Kristof, her son Nicholas and granddaughter Caroline traveled to the AGM for this special occasion.
After a full afternoon of program sessions featuring human rights defenders, journalists, experts, and activists from around the world, the crowd came back together to explore the history of AI and put a spot light on the organization’s work on individuals at risks. One such individual was Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma. The Nobel Peace Prize Laureate had a phone conversation with the audience at the AGM (click here to read the transcript).
On the third day, the AGM ended with a lively panel discussion featuring AI’s Salil Shetty, civil and human rights attorney Paul Hoffman, and Michael Posner, Assistant Secretary for the US State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.
This was likely to be the largest AGM hosted by AIUSA. It was also the most energizing AGM. Many in the audience will no doubt, carry on the message and knowledge shared by all the speakers to further the work of AI and advocate for human rights.