A piece on a society written by its President can certainly appear biased, but I aim to convey to you a true portrait Amnesty St Andrews at this particular moment.
Starting with the present, we are running our Week of Activism this week. For seven days, Amnesty is presenting seven human rights causes that have made headlines over the long summer. They are as follows: The Refugee Crisis, Black Lives Matter, Solidarity with Hong Kong, Trans & Non-binary positivity, the Uyghur Crisis, Domestic Violence, and victims of COVID-19. Most of these are longstanding issues. Yet, they only capture our attention for a certain period after which the news cycle would run on to the next issues often without a resolution in sight. As such, we wanted to take this week, the first week of class, to remind ourselves, and the St Andrews community of those ongoing struggles.
This week is also an experiment in raising awareness during pandemic times. We were asking ourselves, ‘what kind of action would be most appropriate and accessible for everyone to participate in, by themselves or with their household?’ We decided on asking people to do two small tasks each day, one symbolic and one practical. Symbolic actions take advantage of our coastal town, like drawing umbrellas on the beach in solidarity with Hong Kong or floating a paper boat down the tidal pool in Castle Sands. The latter includes petitions, letters to Members of Parliament, donation points that we think would make the most impact.
The symbolic action for Day 1: The Refugee Crisis – a paper boat of remembrance
Of course these selections are not made solely by ourselves. For each cause, we have reached out to the relevant groups within the university for collaboration, approval, and advice: Refugee Action (RASA) is involved with the refugee action day; BAME Student Network with Black Lives Matter; LGBTSaints with Trans & Non-binary Positivity; Uyghur Initiative; Feminist Society. Reaching out seems obvious to us and perhaps it is in our ethos to do so, having won the second most collaborative society last year. Amnesty St Andrews is interested in community building and we hope this week serves to foster relationships that will lead to better activism and mobilization all around.
We believe we have made significant strides in this regard last year with another experiment: our weekly discussion. Reframing the climate crisis as a human rights issue, we wanted to tackle the underexplored sides of the crisis, understand how its effects have arrived already to the ex-colonies, the poor, the marginalized. Our discussion nights were a venue to do that. Its objectives were clear. We would invite different groups to come to talk with us. Together, we examine the variegated dimensions of the problem and think of nuanced solutions. That is what discussion usually achieves. But, we also wanted to create a space for activists to come together in a relaxed setting and have fun while talking to other like-minded people. The discussion is going virtual this semester but its goals remain the same.
At an Amnesty discussion night last year about the Kenly Windfarm
We also have a new theme: The Right to Health. The COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light and accentuated a myriad of issues regarding the healthcare system within the United Kingdom and the world at large. Reflecting on our surroundings, we wished to highlight the importance of the right to health enshrined in the Universal Declaration and subsequent important treaties on our rights. The right to health never stands alone but works in conjunction with a lot of other rights like good, fair work, and privacy. Their interplay has resulted in the limited cessation of some rights to protect others. It is both complex and nuanced. Yet, at the same time, health in both personal and communal forms is an extremely urgent and obvious matter for traditionally marginalized sectors of society.
So what can Amnesty do in our capacity as a student society in St Andrews to promote this cause and contribute to building a future where access to healthcare essential to a good life is available to all? In our context, this means educating future policymakers, creating a space for crucial discussions and community, raising funds for humanitarian issues, and aiding Amnesty International in their efforts to tackle human rights issues in the aftermath of COVID-19.
We are looking forward to this semester, no matter how many challenges it is posing.