The power of our choices – Human rights take centre stage for protest song winner
Last month, Edinburgh School of Music student Isla Ratcliff scored the top prize for Lyrics in Amnesty International UK’s Power of Our Voices protest song competition.
Amid a hectic exam schedule, Isla gave us a quick rundown of what life has been like since she won the prestigious award.
Naturally, confidence in her song-writing abilities has skyrocketed.
“I knew that I wanted to do music and there was always the possibility that I might incorporate my interest in politics and human rights into that. When I won this competition, it confirmed for me that I really want to do that because I now know that it’s possible and that I can.”
Isla’s moving entry “Death Row” examined the life and death of American prisoner Troy Davis who was executed in Georgia in 2011 despite significant doubts over the safety of his original conviction, and more than a million petition signatures in a high-profile Amnesty campaign.
Though she has always been opposed to the death penalty, it was not until Davis’ tragic execution coincided with a school assignment that Isla decided to dedicate her schoolwork to revealing the injustice of the death penalty.
“I wrote the piece for my Higher English composition… The week that I thought up the melody the news came out that Troy Davis had been executed. So, I thought I want this song to have some meaning and some kind of story”
But Isla hasn’t stopped at the death penalty. She wrote an exam piece about the continuing environmental devastation faced by Nigerians as foreign oil companies poison their land and water.
Attending an awards ceremony packed with similarly motivated young people was inspiring, but Isla admits she does not really know many young people who are outspoken about human rights. This may be about to change:
“Visiting the (Amnesty London) headquarters, I learned about Amnesty Youth Groups, so I’ve spoken to a teacher at my school and I’m going to set one up after the holidays. That will encourage everyone in the school to get involved in human rights.”
The Power of Our Voices competition has clearly achieved its desired effect. Isla, for one, plans on making her protest song writing a definite priority.
“Violin’s my main instrument, so I am hoping to study that at Music College. I don’t know where yet. I’ve been visiting some places, but I do want to keep my song writing going while I do that, which will probably affect where I go”
Wherever Isla ends up, we wish her continued success and hope her success inspires other talented young people to stand or sing up for human rights across the UK and beyond.
Our blogs are written by Amnesty International staff, volunteers and other interested individuals, to encourage debate around human rights issues. They do not necessarily represent the views of Amnesty International.