Why Activism Is Not A Solitary Vocation (And Can Be Quite A Laugh)

By Martin, Glasgow University Amnesty Student Group

There are days when being a passionate human rights advocate can seem like a solitary vocation, but 9 February was not one of them.

It was the day Glasgow University Amnesty Student Group hosted our biggest event of the year, the culmination of almost twelve month’s hard work and planning – The Secret Policeman’s Ball.

The main event was a comedy show modelled on the ones made famous by Monty Python et al, but the day took in much more than just the show. We also hosted the second ever Scottish Student Conference, raised well over £2000 and launched our Conflict Free Campus campaign video all in the same hectic 24 hours.

We're not superheroes

Our group aren’t superheroes, we’re not professional activists, we’re not expert organisers, but by stepping out of our comfort zone, by approaching people, telling them why they should support our cause and what they can do to help we put together a whole amazing day of campaigning, fundraising and action.

The conference drew delegates from all over Scotland and showed me how truly incredible it is to play your part as an Amnesty International activist. We had representatives from Edinburgh and Stirling, Dundee and Aberdeen. It was a great display of the strength of the Amnesty International Student movement in Scotland to see so many people packing out our room in the Queen Margaret Union exchanging ideas, sharing stories, debating issues and tactics.

Speakers from far afield

Speakers were drawn both from our home city and from much further afield. We heard Jess Smith telling us about the persecution she and her fellow Scottish Gypsy Travellers face every day. We heard Yuyu Williamson talk about the shocking treatment of Falun Gong practitioners in China – a story of human rights abuse which is too often glossed over as the People’s Republic emerges as a superpower. We heard from the Congo Scots and Bennett from the Conflict Free Campus Initiative about the conflict minerals which go into so much of what we use every day.

For the Ball itself our audience filled the biggest room on campus and roared with laughter. Billy Kirkwood was irrepressible as ever in his fifth year as our compere. The comedians varied in style but all had leapt at the chance to lend their time and talent to the cause. And when the lights went up, the evening wasn’t over, as many guests filed out and on to a club night we were hosting to raise even more money for Amnesty.

Coming together to light a candle

It was a day that reminded me of how much can be achieved by a relatively small group of committed activists. It was a day when we inspired politicians, DJs, graphic designers, comedians, sound technicians, three hundred or so students and many others to come together to light a candle instead of cursing the darkness.

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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.
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