Amnesty activism on Earth Day

By: Ishaan Chandok

On April 22nd, 2017, a day accompanied with beautiful weather, the group One Fire invited Amnesty activists from the Business & Human Rights/Indigenous Rights Team to join them for a concert at Christie Pits Park in Toronto. Under the message “We Are One”, artists came together in this collective movement to deliver music based on topics such as peace, love, and freedom. The focus of the event was Earth Day 2017, and between musical guests, Amnesty International volunteers were given time at the mic to speak to the audience. 

We explained that we were using Earth Day to draw attention to human rights defenders in Guatemala and Honduras who are trying to protect their water and land. Their efforts too often result in harassment, intimidation and death threats. We launched Amnesty’s two petitions into the crowd who signed as they listened to each set. In between performances, volunteers wearing Amnesty International bibs asked audience members to sign the petitions. While going around, we quickly noticed that the crowd had high diversity. Furthermore, on multiple occasions, audience members told volunteers that they were already receiving the regional newsletter and have been following the work of Amnesty International. It is interesting to notice the presence of AI within the community. 

We also invited the audience to add a message of solidarity to the blue river we were creating. Individuals of all ages came to the table to write messages such as Stay Strong and We support your efforts. We handed them colourful fabric markers and asked them to unleash their creative side. We invited each person to add a single letter to a larger message on the blue river. The message in Spanish translates as “We support your efforts to protect your land and water in Guatemala/Honduras”. The idea of having varying handwritings within one message is to point out that support is coming from various parties, rather than one group. 

The Amnesty volunteers collected 93 signatures on the Guatemala petition, and 60 on the Honduras petition. In order to draw the crowd of the concert to the table, several of us delivered wonderful statements in between sound checks. However, the action would not have been complete without the idea of creating a blue river of solidarity messages.

The One Fire performers included Toronto-based musicians such as Angela Saini, Jessica Speziale, Jungle Man Sam. One of our volunteers noted that the varying genres of the music outlined the pure talent of the performers. Since One Fire is a collective movement, different musicians were asked to play with one another. The concert was a strong method in advocating the message that peace is possible within a diverse community. 

Under the melodies of amazing musicians, people from varying ages and backgrounds came together to the park. In a world of social and political conflict, it is nice to come to an event where everyone is accepted. With open arms, the crowd welcomed Amnesty International volunteers to describe our cause. 

>> Ishaan engaging with the audience.

Photo credit: Robert Saxton