Last Wednesday I was in Boston to meet the new executive director of Amnesty International USA, Steven Hawkins. Hawkins is a lawyer with a lifetime worth of experience working for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund where he “represented African-American men facing the death penalty throughout the deep south.” From the NAACP he worked as the executive director of the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty before landing at AIUSA. When I met the man, he had been on the job for about six days, having already met people throughout the Amnesty International USA network in something like eight cities. He really hit the ground running.
The death penalty is not something we give much thought to here in Rhode Island, given our state’s proud history of having abolished the practice in 1852. Though our state had a death penalty statute “on the books” from 1872-1984, we haven’t executed anyone since 1845. Recently Governor Chafee took a stand against a federal death penalty case being brought against the murderer Jason Pleau, for which he faced some hard criticism. Occasionally some member of the General Assembly introduces a bill to bring the death penalty back, but the reality is that the death penalty is gone from Rhode Island, and in this way, as in others throughout our history, our state is a national leader.
Executive Director Hawkins was very direct about the challenges facing Amnesty International USA. The organization has gone through some hard times in recent years but it is hoped that new leadership can instill renewed vigor. Hawkins believes in AIUSA’s ability to fight for Human Rights both here in the United States and internationally, writing,
Amnesty International USA is uniquely positioned to connect discrimination against the LGBT community here in the United States to the discrimination and the LGBT community in Russia, Uganda, and Honduras experiences. We can connect police torture and illegal surveillance that occurs in the United States to similar abuses occurring in China, Egypt and elsewhere. We can connect a young woman in the U.S. fighting for reproductive freedom to women in El Salvador, Ireland and other countries who are fighting for the same rights.
I have been a proud supporter of Amnesty International for many years, and have participated in the annual Global Write-a-Thons, which take place in December, sponsored by the local Amnesty International Group 49 out of Providence, which was founded in 1976! This group has work tirelessly for the release and fair treatment of prisoners on conscience for over thirty-five years, with active members who have been there from the beginning.
In the meantime, consider spending $30 to participate in AIUSA’s Northeast Regional Conference, to be held at Boston University on November 9th.
Throughout the day you will learn about human rights violations taking place throughout the world and what we can do to stop these violations. Participants will learn new organizing skills, how to take actions and will ultimately be inspired by many of our featured speakers and workshops.
Some of this year’s focus will be on human tracking, human rights in Russia and what we can do in the lead up to the 2014 Olympics, and US Security Issues.