Write for Rights: Why I Write Letters to Strangers Once a Year
I LEARNED ABOUT WRITE FOR RIGHTS (W4R), the world’s largest letter-writing campaign, organized by Amnesty International (AI), a few years ago through social media (I was nicely surprised to find out a friend I used to race bikes with back in California ran this amazing program).
AI being a human rights organization, this campaign focuses on seeking justice in cases of human rights violations. AI chooses a number of specific cases (this year there are eleven cases, but one got resolved before the campaign started, so now, ten). AI provides you with a summary of the cases and what actions they are asking for, as well as sample letters and addresses for the people who have the power to make the actions happen, and contact information for the people, people’s families, or communities involved so that you can send a note of support and solidarity. AI also provides a guide for teachers who want to get their students involved.
I was drawn to the project for a number of reasons:
It’s something specific I can do to support a positive change in the world.
Speaking out against injustice and supporting someone who is fighting the good fight or is unfairly incarcerated or harassed: Yes, that is something I readily get behind and AI provides a simple, trustworthy, and direct path to transform my interest in social justice to action.
Through W4R, you often get to write directly to people, families, or communities that are suffering an injustice, most times a heartbreakingly horrific injustice, and let them know they’re not alone, and that people, strangers all over the world, see them and are reaching out on their behalf, and sending their support. This my favorite part of W4R, making that connection. Sometimes writing directly to the people involved isn’t possible, depending on the specifics of the case, but there’s always a way to express your solidarity.
You have the opportunity to write directly to people in charge, and ask for them to use their powers for good. I fully accept that the presidents of Kenya and South Africa and the Director General of Police in Chhattisgarh, India, are not going to personally read the letters I send, but I do know that I will add to the thousands of pieces of mail that are flooding in to them because of this campaign. My letter will stand with heaps of other letters to let them know we’re watching.
The cases are often about something larger than the person, people, or communities the action is about; through learning about a specific situation, I learn something about a broader issue I wasn’t aware of before. And I learn about the details of what someone in that situation experiences. It makes the realities of these hardships relatable. They aren’t a number or statistic. This is a person, leading a life, with family members, friends, a community, and here are the awful circumstances they are experiencing. That is powerful.
These cases dive into situations that are difficult to right. They deal with powerful government, business, or cultural entities that are violating the rights of people or communities that are in positions of little or no power. Commonly, cases center on issues around racism, sexism, land rights, and suppressing freedom of expression. Sometimes I read about what these people or groups are up against, and I feel that horrible feeling of hopelessness. But I write and send my letter–because it’s something. And something is better than nothing. And raising awareness is always valuable. And sometimes, it works!
And that lifts my spirit and I get choked up knowing that something good happened to someone in a a very bad situation, a situation they may have been in for years, and I got to be a very small part of that change for the better. I’m reminded that a collective voice is powerful, and sometimes things do change for the good when those voices unite.
It’s really, really easy!
AI makes this effort incredible easy. All you do is register, write and send your letters and messages (there are a number of social media and email options, in addition to physical addresses), and report your actions. If you’re pressed for time, you can literally print out the sample letters and the mailing addresses, put the letter in an envelope and the label on the outside, stick on a stamp, and mail it. However, AI does encourage people to write their own letters, as it’s more effective. To help, they provide tips on how to write an effective appeals letter.
You Have Until 31 January 2019
The campaign is ongoing until the end of the month, so you still have time to participate. Please join me and let me know about your W4R experience.