How to Get to the 2014 Midwest Regional Conference

Amnesty International Midwest RegionalThis year’s Amnesty International Midwest Regional Conference, if you haven’t yet heard, is in St. Louis at the Sheraton St. Louis City Center. If you’re not from St. Louis, or familiar with the Gateway to the West, then that information just sounds nice. The upcoming event, although awesome, also sounds too far away or too expensive for many in the Midwest to attend.

However, that’s an assumption that simply isn’t true for this year’s regional conference. Fortunately, for Amnesty members and human rights activists, the venue for this year’s conference is RIGHT ACROSS THE STREET from a major mass transit center. So, getting to this year’s conference is easier than ever before, no matter the transportation option. Here’s how to get to the 2014 Midwest Regional Conference:

By Plane

Flying is the most expensive way to get to St. Louis, even if your flight is just an hour or two. But, if you choose to get to St. Louis by airplane, then getting to the Sheraton St. Louis City Center from the airport is very easy.

  1. From the airport terminal, follow the signs directing you to the nearest Metrolink station. Lambert International Airport has two terminals, but each terminal has its own station.
  2. Purchase a two-hour ticket to ride the Metrolink. A two-hour ticket costs from the airport costs $4.00 (it will cost half as much when you need to go back to the airport). The ticket machines do accept debit and credit cards, but they also only give you change in $1 coins.
  3. Make sure you validate your ticket at the red validation stands BEFORE getting on the train. The stands are either located next to the ticket machine or at the entrance to the station platform. Security guards do walk through the stations to check your tickets and aren’t very lenient to tourists. Those who ride with unvalidated tickets are fined, so don’t take your chances.
  4. The trip from the airport to the CIVIC CENTER metro station is about 45 minutes, so enjoy the ride until you come to the CIVIC CENTER station (pictured below). The station is right across the street from the Sheraton (you can’t miss it), so simply exit the train at this stop and walk across the street.
  5. Enjoy the Midwest Regional Conference!

Civic Center Regional Conference

By Amtrak

The Amtrak may only be convenient for a few people since St. Louis is directly serviced by three Amtrak routes: two from Chicago and one from Kansas City, Mo. Although Amtrak is one of the more affordable transportation options, many will have to take the train to Chicago or Kansas City first before getting on a direct route to St. Louis.

  1. Find a way to get to Chicago or Kansas City, whichever is closest to you.
  2. Take the right Amtrak route, which would be the Illinois Service (Chicago), Missouri River Runner (Kansas City), or the Texas Eagle (Chicago).
  3. Exit at the St. Louis Gateway Station, also known as Amtrak Station STL, which is pictured below.
  4. Make your way past the Metrolink station to reach 14th street. Cross 14th street to reach the Sheraton, which is pictured above.
  5. Enjoy the Midwest Regional Conference!

Civic Center Metro Station


By Greyhound

The Greyhound buses may have a bad reputation, but the bus is one of the more affordable and convenient ways to travel to the conference this year. The Greyhound station, just like the Amtrak and the Metrolink station, is right across the street from the conference hotel.

  1. Schedule your trip with Greyhound. Our research found that only four cities in the Midwest have direct, express routes to St. Louis: Chicago, Minneapolis, Milwaukee, and Champaign, Ill.
  2. You may have to leave Thursday or early Friday to make it to the conference on time. Those coming from Kansas, South Dakota, North Dakota, Nebraska, Ohio, Kentucky and Michigan will have to leave on Thursday or miss Friday’s activities.
  3. Those coming from Illinois, Iowa, Indiana and other parts of Missouri can leave early Friday morning and still make it on time.
  4. Those in Minnesota and Wisconsin can either choose the express route from Minneapolis or Milwaukee or can choose to leave Thursday if you are coming from another part of the state.
  5. Enjoy the train ride.
  6. Make your way past the Metrolink station to reach 14th street. Cross 14th street to reach the Sheraton, which is pictured above. The bus station and the train station are in the same building, although the loading areas are in two different spots.
  7. Enjoy the Midwest Regional Conference

Hope this Helps

Many Amnesty members may decide against attending this year’s regional conference because the St. Louis location is too prohibitive. Hopefully, our explanation of the various transportation options makes attendance less of a hassle since it’s easy to get to the Sheraton via Amtrak, Greyhound or airplane. None of these options requires city knowledge to navigate the streets. Mass transit will take you to the conference in one trip.

Metro station photo courtesy of NextStop STL.

Amtrak station photo courtesy of Count on Downtown.

How to Use Pinterest to Promote Human Rights

pinterest human rightsPinterest is the fourth largest traffic source and the third largest social network in the world, meaning that it’s a great to post content and to promote human rights in an effective, visual way. Pinning your favorite human rights pictures and infographics on the topics you’re most passionate about is a great way to start your board (or several). However, with a little more strategy, you can use Pinterest as an excellent way to promote your causes. Here’s how to use Pinterest to promote human rights.

Have More than Just the Big Issue Stuff

Yes, it’s important to pin powerful photos of the issues, whether you’re pinning the photos of victims, of war zones, or of those on the ground working to make a difference. But, pin something other than the big issues once in a while because the big stuff can be overwhelming. Part of building awareness for human rights violations is to make people feel they can do something about the issue, instead of just know about it. By pinning photos of your events, pictures that lead to petitions, and pictures relevant to success stories and to organizations that are making a difference, your Pinterest content accomplishes much more than making others feel sad or guilty about the issue.

Pin Vertically When Possible

Because of Pinterest’s layout, portrait pictures attract more eyes than landscape pictures. Another trick to attract more attention is to use dark borders or to add text to what you pin (and I mean text on the photo, not just text in the description). The latter characteristics are features of a meme photo, and I’m not suggesting that you turn human rights into a series of memes, but that style of presentation can attract attention even if your photos aren’t a meme or are covering a serious topic.

Consider the Interests of Your Audience

Many who are interested in human rights are also interested in other things, and people interested in other things or specific political issues are also interested in human rights. Pinterest just added a new “interests” feature to make it easier for users to find pins relevant to your interests. When promoting human rights, you can take advantage of this feature by creating boards and pinning pins on “interests” other than human rights. For example, if you know eating organic or eating healthy is an interest among those you know that like human rights (that’s at least the case with our chapter), then creating a board with organic recipes or pictures of healthy foods isn’t a bad idea. It engages those who may like human rights but haven’t heard you or your issue yet.

Pin as Well as Repin

Most pins on Pinterest are actually repins. Although repinning is important to this network because it showcases the great work of others and encourages them to follow you on Pinterest, creating original pins is critical to positioning yourself as the go-to person on human rights or your specific human rights issue. Granted, repinning helps to do that also, but you don’t want everything you pin to be repins.

Related Links:

How to Use Twitter to Promote Human Rights

4 Things That Need to Be On Your Amnesty Chapter Website

How to Use Blogging to Promote Human Rights

How to Track Relevant Human Rights Legislation

tracking human rights legislationAn important aspect of human rights activism is tracking relevant legislation as it moves through Congress. We need to know which bills are up for a vote on the floor or at a committee hearing, and who’s sponsoring, co-sponsoring, or supporting certain bills. We also need to know dates and times as soon as possible so we can speak to our representatives right away. The hard part about all this is getting the timing right, and knowing when things happen. Most people use the press or follow certain committees, but there’s actually a better way. Below are a few possible solutions you can use to track relevant human rights legislation:


What makes Trakbill (which is based in St. Louis) a great choice for tracking legislation is that the software comes with real-time notifications. So, if a vote is scheduled for an important bill, then you can choose to learn about it via text message, email, or push notification. The software also comes with a calendar feature, so you can put hearings on the calendar and plan what needs to be done to prepare for the hearing.

The only downside is that Trakbill’s free version only allows you to track five bills at a time, which seems small. The company told us that they are increasing the limit to 10 within the next few, which is a little bit better. The paid options aren’t bad, as $99/month (or $599 for the year) will allow you to track 50 bills at a time. The pricing and the number of bills allotted are both more reasonable for most human rights organizations.


Online advocacy software Votility is a very good solution for tracking both local and federal legislation, but is a solution that’s better for bigger organizations because of the pricing. A small chapter like our St. Louis Amnesty chapter wouldn’t be able to afford the $250/month to track relevant human rights legislation, and we certainly couldn’t afford the $350/month for the capabilities to increase member retention and acquire new members.

However, they do have a free version for individuals, which would be a good choice for activists who want to work on their own or if a small organization wants to dedicate one person to tracking legislation and planning necessary actions. This might be one that I’ll sign up for and try for a little while to see how it works. It doesn’t seem like their free version has a limit to the number of bills you can track.

GovTrack is the only one of the three legislation-tracking tools that automatically starts on the federal level showing the big issues almost in real-time. This is a good tool to start with if you aren’t sure which bills you need to be watching, or if you want to watch everything on the federal level. They also have a browse bills by subject section, and although there isn’t a human rights section, their list of subjects is comprehensive enough to find something related to the specific human rights issues that you work on.

The downside to GovTrack is that it doesn’t seem to be as robust as the first two, where you can receive text message notifications or to use a built-in calendar. It also doesn’t seem like you can track a specific bill in one state, but can only either track the state or track a specific federal bill. However, it does seem there isn’t a limit to the number of bills or things you can track. You can also track by committee, by specific lawmaker, or by voting records, which is also a feature that TrakBill allows once you have an account (free or paid).

Overall, I’d recommend picking one or two tools to use to track relevant human rights legislation. It would put your organization in a position to do a little more lobbying, with more specific information on what your members could do to advocate for the issue.

How to Use Twitter to Promote Human Rights

Twitter human rightsTwitter may seem like a social network for the young kids, something that older human rights activists don’t participate in because there aren’t any older folks using Twitter. However, that’s a misconception, as the 55-64 age bracket is the fastest growing demographic on Twitter. That’s right, older folks are using Twitter, and you need to build their awareness about human rights issues. Hopefully, they’ll care and follow the trends the way you have, or at least spread the word and get others to care. Here’s how to use Twitter to promote human rights, no matter your age.

Completely Fill In Your Profile

There are two reasons that you want to fill in your profile completely. First, a full profile looks good. It looks like whoever is running that account is taking care of that account. It looks like whoever is tweeting cares about the things they tweet and those who follow the account. Second, a full profile is less likely to get flagged as span and to be seen as illegitimate. You take human rights seriously, but that’s not going to show on Twitter unless you take the social network seriously too. That means filling the profile and paying attention when people retweet your updates, follow you, and send you a direct message.

The following aspects of your Twitter profile should be filled in:

  • Biography – Something short, but descriptive. Doesn’t need to be too fancy.
  • Cover Photo – Unfortunately, Twitter doesn’t provide a few generic cover photos for you to use, so you do have to find one on your own. Yes, you need to have one. You also need to keep in mind the color of the text so that all of it is readable with the cover photo in the background. The plain black is boring and isn’t representative of human rights.
  • Background Photo – One of the generic ones Twitter has will suffice, but if you can create a customized background, that’s a lot better.
  • Link – Hopefully, your chapter has its own website that can be placed here. If you do have your own webpage, then it’s best to take this one step further and to create a Twitter landing page. A Twitter landing page is a specific page for people who find your Twitter account, and choose to visit your webpage through Twitter. The landing page provides additional information about your chapter, as well as your chapter’s policies on tweeting and following others.

Remember the 50/50 Rule

The 50/50 rule states that 50% of what you share on social media (Twitter, Facebook, or any other platform), should be your own content. The other 50% should be other people’s content. Yes, half of what you share on social media should be someone else’s article, tweet, picture, website etc. Twitter is not another bullhorn to use just to push your human rights messaging. You need to also interact with others, share the great things that they are doing, and not hog the spotlight.

For some chapters, the tough part might be fulfilling the ‘own content’ instead of the ‘other’s content’. To share your own content, there are a number of things you could do:

  1. Start Blogging – Once you write a blog post, share it on Twitter and share it multiple times throughout the day or week. You want to do this multiple times because if you only do it once, then not everyone will see it the one time you share it. The more times you share it (given that it’s space out over the course of a day, week, or month), then the more people that will see it.
  2. Find Facts, Figures & Demographics – Use Twitter to inform people about human rights by tweeting facts, figures, and demographics. If you can cite the source within your tweet, even if it’s just by adding their twitter handle (@humanrights as an example), then that’s even better. This gives people something to retweet and a good reason to follow you, as you inform them and provide insight into human rights issues and abuses.
  3. Start Conversations – It’s okay to tweet during the meeting, or to ask questions about human rights, or to provide comment on current news and issues. Everything you tweet doesn’t have to be a link. Simply sharing thoughts or encouraging others to share thoughts is great also.

Related Links:

How to Use Blogging to Promote Human Rights

4 Things that Need to Be on Your Amnesty Chapter Website

How to Use Facebook to Promote Human Rights

How to Use Blogging to Promote Human Rights

blogging human rightsIn today’s digital era, everyone is a publisher, especially non-profits and activists. If you aren’t going to take the time to tell your story and to discuss the issues that are important to you and your organization, then who will take the time? Chasing newspapers and magazines to cover your upcoming event or to publish your op-ed is not the only strategy anymore. Besides, blogging is a much more effective strategy if your goal is to build awareness and to get attention. Here’s how to use blogging to promote human rights:

Blog Regularly

The more often you can blog (without sacrificing quality), the better. Ideally, you want to blog at least twice a week, but I understand that not everyone can fit that level of commitment into their scheduled. If you need to do it less often, say once a week or every other week, then you need to stick to that schedule as much as possible. Although you’ll build an audience faster if you blog more often, you’re not going to build an audience at all if your schedule is all over the place. No one wants to follow a blog that write three posts this week, and then only write one post over the next three weeks. It’s too inconsistent to keep people coming back. Before you write your first blog post, figure out your level of commitment to the blog, and well, commit to it.

Don’t Just Talk about Yourself

This is the biggest mistake people, and organizations, make when starting to blog. They only talk about themselves! This is fine if the blog is a personal blog, but if you’re writing for your Amnesty chapter or for chapter members, then you need to write about topics that are important to members and to the chapter. That audience don’t necessarily want to hear about chapter events all the time, especially since they probably already know about all the chapter events coming up. Instead, write about the issues and/or write about ways they can be better human rights activist and make a bigger difference. Be a helpful resource, not a bullhorn. You don’t get others to care about you if all you do is talk about yourself. No one likes someone who talks about themselves at a party, so don’t do it on your blog. Talk about the things that interest others to get them to listen and to like your content.

Posts 300 words or Less Aren’t Going to Cut It

This is the second biggest mistake new bloggers make; their blog posts are way too short to offer any value. As you may have noticed, this blog post is already over 400 words, and it’s not done covering the topic of how to use blogging to promote human rights. If this post ended at 300 or 250 words, it wouldn’t be nearly as helpful. This mistake stems from the misconception that search engines like shorter posts, but that’s no longer true. Search engines prefer content that goes into great deal about the topic and offers something of value to the reader. Short posts are okay from time to time, but make sure that with every blog post, the reader feels that reading that post was worth while and provided some benefit to his/her life. If it takes 2000 words to provide this value, then go for it. If 2000 words is way too daunting, then shoot for 600-800 words with every post. This goal is a good balance between giving yourself enough room to go into depth without overwhelming the reader with something that will take too long to read.

Related Articles:

45 Human Rights Blog Ideas You Can Use Right Now

How to Use Facebook to Promote Human Rights

4 Effective Ways to Engage Your Amnesty Members

3 Things to Keep in Mind when Lobbying For Human Rights

lobby weekOur biannual Amnesty International Lobby Week is about two weeks away, so now is the time to prepare for those meetings. Preparation is much more than setting a meeting date and encouraging people to attend. It’s also about making a good impression and not coming off as crazy human rights activists. Here are three things to keep in mind when lobbying for human rights so that these issues are treated as seriously as the issues pushed by big money and big companies.

Dress Appropriately

No, you don’t have to do formal business attire, and it might be best that you don’t since you don’t want to appear like a lobbyist from a big corporation or industry association. Instead, you should wear business casual or something that you would wear out to a restaurant. This way, you are still dress tastefully, but you also come across like someone from a grassroots organization. You know, like someone who isn’t paid to be there but is there on their own free will to encourage a few changes. This may not seem serious, but it does mean something when ordinary people take to time to talk to their politicians about the things they care about.

Prepare Your Talking Points

Yes, you want to think about what you want to say and to do your research, but you can take it one step further by memorizing and practicing your pitch as well. This is so that the issues appear polished and that you appear knowledgeably. You don’t want to read from a piece of paper or look like you’re worrying about getting things right or making a good impression. You can take your practice one step further by thinking about questions that might be asked, and preparing answers to those questions as well. Again, you don’t want to come across as someone who doesn’t know what they are talking about, or someone who can’t stray from their prepared notes.

On this note, make sure that everyone who attends the meeting has a role. You don’t want only one or two people talking if six people are going to be there. If six people are going to be there, then give every person something to say and a reason why they are at the meeting.

Know What You Want to Accomplish

You aren’t just there to talk to your Senator, Representative, or staff member. You want this person to do something, such as vote for/against a bill, to co-sponsor a bill, or to create legislation around a certain issue. Know what you want to accomplish before you go, and before you start preparing your talking points. As you are also aware of your goals and talking points, you should also be aware of what is negotiable and what isn’t negotiable. You don’t want to push for something that can’t be changed or won’t be changed.

Give reasons why that particular Senator or Representative should do whatever it is your advocating. This could include bringing up a previous bill that s/he supported, or a vote s/he made, or a statistic relevant to his/her constituents. It’s not enough to say that something’s great or important, because every issue is great or important to everyone who lobbies. You need to make the issue of human rights relevant to who your lobbying by showing why it’s great and important to that person.

Overall, think of your lobbying meeting as a conversation where you are trying to convince someone to see your side of things. There’s no reason to be nervous just because the person is an elected official or works with an elected official. Be firm and confident in the human rights you believe in! It’s the only way the people you are lobbying are going to believe in these concepts and ideals too.

4 Things That Need to Be On Your Amnesty Chapter Website

Amnesty chapter website According to marketing software provider HubSpot, 51% of Millennials have visited a nonprofit’s website and connected with them on social media, while 46% have read a blog post on a nonprofit’s site. Of course, most non-profits like Amnesty International want to reach more than millennials, but they are a crucial demographic since it will be millennials advocating for causes, running chapters, and leading your non-profit in the coming years. You need to reach millennials now so that they’ll be a part of the organization when it’s time for them to take the reins. Here are four things that need to be on your Amnesty chapter website:

Easy Connections

Your Amnesty chapter website should make it very easy for someone to connect with you, whether that’s link to your social media page, to contact someone via phone or email, or to give a donation. These options should be clearly marked and easy to find. It’s okay if you only have one or two social media presences. Just make sure that those icons are above the fold (no scrolling or clicking is needed to find the icons. They are at or near the top of the home page).

A Clear Description of What Your Organization Does

Just like the social media icons and the contact information, your mission statement also needs to be front and center, as well as clear. People are finding out about you online, and if you don’t have that information for them to find, then you’re going to have a hard time educating people and recruiting members. They aren’t going to stick around on your website hunting for it.

When presenting this information, you also need to think beyond your organization name and the specific cause, but also words and issues related to those two things. This is so your website can show up in search engine rankings for those other terms. This also attracts those who want to work on maternal health, or women’s rights, or the death penalty, but may not realize that Amnesty International and your chapter have opportunities to work on those issues.

Regular Updates

Seventy-five percent of millennials said the biggest turnoff of a website is when its information hasn’t been updated recently, and this problem is likely to be a turnoff to all people, not just the 20-somethings. This doesn’t mean that you need to update your website every day, as just once or twice a week will suffice, but having a static website that showcases no changes at all won’t cut it. All you really need to update regularly is a blog, or a new announcement on the home page every other week, or an events page that changes regularly. You don’t need a new layout and you don’t need a link to the Twitter feed.

Reasons to Give and to Be Involved

Millennials are likely to give and to be involved, but they aren’t going to do it because you tell them to or because it will make them feel warm and fuzzy inside. They want to know that their $25 donation will have an impact and will make a difference, and they want to know that volunteering will make an impact and will make a difference. Therefore, make those reasons clear with success stories, testimonials, and statistics on what $25 can do for whatever cause your non-profit works on. Animal House Fund in St. Louis does a good job of this by outlining the different donation levels, and what each donation level can provide for their organization.

Related Links:

How to Recruit Members to Your Amnesty Chapter

What to Do for Your First Amnesty International Meeting

How to Use Facebook to Promote Human Rights

How to Use Facebook to Promote Human Rights

promote human rights facebookIf you want to use social media to promote human rights, then you need to be using Facebook. With over a billion members, other human rights activists, promoters, and concerned citizens are also on Facebook, and they are ready to receive your message. Here’s how human rights activists can use Facebook to promote human rights:

Share Links

This is the most obvious way to promote human rights: share links to articles, videos, and blog posts about human rights. They can either be your own or someone else’s, and you can share links either on your own page or on the page of another sympathetic group or publication. Make sure you don’t go overboard i.e. sharing 20 links about maternal health in Africa in one day. Don’t do too much in a single day, and try to vary the issue so you don’t come across as a crazed evangelist.

Tip: Add something to the link, instead of just sharing the URL. A question, a quick thought, or a fact or quote from the article will work well. This gives people a reason to click the link and to engage with whatever content you shared.

Tip 2: You can actually schedule your posts, so if you want to make sure you don’t go overboard, you can share on immediately and space out the others at two-hour intervals. Even though the scheduling featuring has been there for almost two years, many people don’t realize that this is possible.

Announce Events

The second most obvious way to promote human rights is to announce events, whether your own or someone else’s. Facebook’s event tool is invaluable in promoting the event and encouraging people to attend. However, promoting events on Facebook (and inviting people to attend) works better if you have a large or strong network of activists and supporters. If your network is small, or if your network doesn’t have many human rights activists and supporters in it, then announcing and promoting events will only get you so far. A good thing to do here is to promote these events on the groups and pages of others, where your target audience may be found.

Have a Presence

Besides your personal presence, your Amnesty International chapter should have a group page or a Facebook page as well. This is a great way to engage more passive members i.e. those who don’t come to meetings or events but care deeply about the issues. Since it’s a great way to engage people who don’t show up in person, the Facebook presence is then a great platform for sharing chapter news and events, encouraging volunteers for future events, sharing links, and keeping everyone up-to-date with what the organization is doing.

Run an Ad

If you can afford it (and if you already have a presence), then you can run an Facebook ad as a way to increase membership and/or fans on your Facebook page. If you choose to do this, make sure to follow tips such as linking to a Facebook page or a landing page, as simply linking to your chapter website doesn’t take the most advantage of anyone who clicks your ad. For $50, you can actually run a successful campaign for just one month, but $50 is a lot for individuals and some chapters. However, this is about the cheapest it takes to run a campaign, as it allows enough time for the campaign to run while keeping the cost per-click rate low enough to account for enough success.

Related Links:

4 Major Lessons I’ve Learned from All This Human Rights Work

How to Recruit Members to Your Amnesty Chapter

4 Effective Ways to Engage Amnesty Members

What to Do for Your First Amnesty International Meeting

first Amnesty International meetingCollege starts in just another week or two, if it hasn’t started already. Once time has passed to get everyone settled in and to adjust to the dorms and the new classes, it’s time to start thinking about that first Amnesty International meeting of the year. It’s one of the most important meetings, since it will be the first impression for potential new members, and you want people to be part of your group versus other groups competing for their attention and time (whether related or not). Here’s what you need to do and to think about for that first meeting:

What You Want to Do for the Year

Have some plan for something to do i.e. an event or an issue, but leave it open-ended as well. You want new members to have some say and to feel like they can participate, instead of feeling like they have to do what the group leaders do. However, these are also new, shy, freshmen and sophomores who might want to test the waters and might not have ideas right away. Initially, you don’t want to rely on them entirely for ideas and risk looking like you’re not an organized chapter.

Tip: If you don’t have ideas, then present the possibility of attending your regional conference. The regional conference is an excellent event to create synergy in the group and to engage new members in the issues.

How You Present the Leadership Team

Or, executive committee, or group leaders, or whatever you call them. Presentation of the group leaders as well as the old members is critical, as you don’t want to come across as a clique or as something that isn’t open to everyone. You also want to come across as people interested in doing something about human rights, instead of a group of friends who are meeting to hang out. The latter will just drive away those who actually want to do something and don’t want to take the time to fit in and to play the social game.

Tip: A good way to present the leadership team is to make sure that they are part of the meeting, instead of at the front of the room or all together in one section of the room. This ensure that you folks are a part of the entire team instead of just the decision makers or the one who ultimately choose what issues you work and what events you attend/host.

Introduce Your Chapter and the Organization

Of course, there will be people attending this meeting who don’t know anything about Amnesty International as an organization. They also won’t know anything about your chapter, so you need to be prepared to explain both. This includes knowing the history of the organization, its mission, as well as a bit of history on what your chapter has done in the past (events, issues, even what typically happens at meetings). Most of the people attending may have heard of Amnesty International, or may just be interested in human rights, or may even just be interested in one or two human rights issues. This may seem boring, but it’s necessary because people won’t want to be part of something they don’t know anything about or that doesn’t align with their values or what they want to accomplish.

Preparing for the first meeting of the school year may seem like a lot, but it is the one meeting of the year that will be different from all the others. It’s the pitch to the new members so they return to the next meeting. It’s the meeting that will determine whether or not someone joins your group or decides to be part of a different activist group or in a different extracurricular entirely. It’s not a meeting that you want run extemporaneously.

Related Links:

How to Run an Amnesty International Meeting

What Amnesty International is All About

How Does Amnesty International Ensure its Impartiality?

4 Major Lessons I’ve Learned from All This Human Rights Work

lessons learned human rights workI’ve been involved in Amnesty International for almost seven years (I make seven in September), three of them with the local St. Louis chapter and four of them with the Saint Louis University chapter. It’s not actually all that common in Amnesty for students to transition to a local group, partly because the resources aren’t exactly there to aid the transition and partly because life can get in the way once college gets out the way. But, I digress.

In these seven years, I’ve learned a lot about human rights work and what it takes to make things happen. Events are never easy to host and to plan, and it’s even harder to bring people to them. There are 1001 human rights issues to work on, and you can’t work on all of them. You have to pick on or two. Besides those, here are four major lessons that I’ve learned from all that human rights work.

You Need Different Avenues for Engagement

Not everyone is going to attend every single meeting, but this doesn’t mean that those who don’t attend meetings aren’t engaged or interested in human rights. It might mean they can’t make those meetings, or that they don’t have the time for meetings. To increase engagement, you need a variety of ways for folks to engage with the issues and with your group. This can include a website, social media, email, a newsletter, online actions. Having options for more passive engagement, such as social media or email, allows people to interact on their terms and when they do have the time.

Besides, some people might not want to jump into a meeting or into events with a new group right away. These passive engagement opportunities can allow those people to become more accustomed to the group and/or the issues before finally showing their face at a meeting or event.

Phone Calls and Handwritten Letters Have a Lot of Impact

I’ve heard it said more than once that handwritten letters and phone calls don’t work. People won’t read them, or listen, or care that you care about this or that. Not only is that not true, but these naysayers often don’t have good solutions of their own to accompany their criticisms. I like to think that those are just excuses for them not to do something, not to care, and not to worry about these issues at all.

In fact, phone calls and handwritten letters can have an immense impact, and they did have an immense impact in Burma’s release of its political prisoners in early 2012. No, it wasn’t just one phone call or a handful of letters. It was a lot of calls and letters over a long period of time. The point with these is simply to take actions, to show concern, and to put pressure. One doesn’t put any pressure. But, once there are hundreds and thousands of them in reference to one issue, it’s understood what everyone is communicating and what it will take to make it all stop.

You Have to Make it Relevant to Them

When our chapter was focusing on the three Generation 88 students in Burma who were sentenced to fifty, sixty years in prison for protesting the gas prices. While gathering signatures for our petition, a young woman asked what this had to do with her and the United States. Honestly, not a lot when you consider the circumstances with the situation in Burma, but if you don’t try to make it relevant, we won’t get this person and many others on our side.

You do have to be creative with relevancy, and in this particular instance, the best way to show relevancy might be to say that s/he could have a direct impact on helping these people. But, with today’s information overload and with everyone vying for everyone else’s attention, you really need to show how the issue is pertinent to the person you are talking to and how it’s worth their time to sign the petition (or donate money, or whatever the specific action is).

You’re Not Going to Get Everyone to Care

Once, when I was gathering signatures for a Troy Davis petition (petitions are a big part of Amnesty’s work, if you haven’t noticed), an older woman declined because she believed that pedophiles deserved it. Although pedophiles can never ever receive the death penalty, unless they happen to kill the children, this woman was no longer willing to listen to us even though our petition had nothing to do with repealing capital punishment (just repealing it for Troy Davis).

The point is, not everyone is going to care about the issues or about human rights, even if the she is misinformed as to when the death penalty is applicable. Yes, it’s important to try to change those attitudes, but you also need to pick your battles and to change attitudes with the right methods. Obviously, an argument stemming from a signature request isn’t the best place or way to have the discussion.

Related Links:

How to Recruit Members to Your Amnesty Chapter

9 Cool TED Talks about Human Rights

How to Set Up a Tabling Event