18 November 2015

Meeting minutes for November 2015

Meeting minutes for Wednesday, 18 November 2015

In attendance: Barbara, Bob, Dalin, Michele, Kara, Marsha, Brendan, Tilo

Welcome and Introductions

Treasurer's Report 

Tilo reported that we have about $515 in our checking account and about $181 in cash. The checking account balance is close to the $500 minimum required to avoid fees, but we expect our balance to increase after next month's fundraising event.


Organizer's Report
  • Reminder for everyone to complete the online AIUSA strategic planning survey. The survey closes on Monday, 23 November.
  • Report on Write for Rights teleconference (20 October).
  • Report on the Bars, Barriers, or Justice Expo (31 October). [See detailed report here.]
    • Barbara said that Ron from the AI Philly group would like to hold a similar event at the Ethical Society. Do we want to participate in this?
    • Summary of group discussion: we might be interested in helping but do not want to organize. Barb will suggest to Ron that he talk to Bill Lockard (the BBJ Expo organizer) around either "redoing" this event in Philly or using Bill's contacts/research to plan a new one.
  • AIUSA wants to know if we want another case file for our group. One (or two or more) group members would need to responsible for it, and no one at the meeting wanted to take on that job right now. This question is therefore tabled until a future meeting.

New Business

2015 Write for Rights Event

We will be at Ten Thousand Villages (Exton) on Saturday, 12 December, from 2 p.m. until 6 p.m. [Note different time from past years.]

Barbara and Bob will bring/prepare cards, pens, AI banner to hang in front of the table, information on the case files, and AI literature.

Marsha will put the giant poster onto cardboard or other backing for easier display. She will also try to find a clear plastic literature holder to display our group info on the tabletop.

Marsha will revise the info flyer about our group and send it to Michele for copying. 

2015 AIUSA Mid-Atlantic Regional Conference (Baltimore, 13-15 November)

Barbara and Bob attended the conference and reported on their experiences there. See their extensive notes appended below.

Possible guest speaker

One topic discussed at 2015 MARO was AI's new position to decriminalize sex work. At MARO Barbara met someone who might speak to our group about this policy this winter/spring.

Upcoming Events

12 December 2015, 2 p.m. to 6 p.m.: Write for Rights and Community Shopping Event (fundraiser for our group) at Ten Thousand Villages, Exton, PA

16 December 2015, 7:30 p.m.: December meeting at the cafe in Wegmans, Malvern, PA



Bob's report

Plenary speech by Steven Hawkins

  • Impact: Aung San Suu Kyi released, now head of party;-Shaker Aamer released from Guantanamo
  • Growth: 500+ at conference; AI has 1.1 million followers on Twitter
  • Diversity: 50% of conference attendees were high-school or college age; recruit baby boomers from assisted living facilities
  • Visibility: Glock has 67% of sales in the USA but cannot sell in Austria

Panel discussion: Ron Hampton (former police officer, founder of Black Policeman's Association); Makayla Gilliam Price (high-school student, student organizer, founder of City Bloc, niece of Tyron Gilliam); Paromita Shah (immigration lawyer)

Session: "Your Activism Saved My Life"

  • J. S. (Tissan) Tissainayagam and his wife, Ronnate Asirwatham 
  • Tissan is a journalist who has written about Sri Lankan politics since 1987.  He got in trouble with the TID (Terrorism Investigation Division) because of an article he wrote about child soldiers in the Sri Lankan uprising. He was imprisoned for six months,where he suffered and witnessed torture. AI took up his case almost immediately. When he heard that AI was writing to government officials (a guard mentioned something to him) his spirits were immediately bolstered.
  • He and his wife voluntarily travel to Amnesty events to share their experience and encourage letter writing. He believes he was released only because of pressure that Amnesty put on government officials.
  • Ronnate told the story from her point of view. Tissan's illegal arrest affects the friends and family of arrestee. She first had to find out if her husband had, in fact, been arrested. When she could not contact him, and the TID denied having him, she knew they had him. She had to move from their apartment immediately and live with sympathetic friends. She was forced to move every three days to avoid harassment by government. She was contacted immediately by an AI caseworker in London. The caseworker gave her hope and told her how Amnesty would work to get her husband free. 
  • AI did not claim credit for Tissan's release. They just thanked the government for his release. This is Amnesty's policy (to avoid embarrassing repressive governments).

Session: "Organizing on Syrian Refugees and Resettlement"

  • This session was very, very crowded (mostly with students).
  • Sanjeev Berry gave a brief history of the Syrian Civil war. He claimed at this point there were over 1,500 armed groups in the conflict. Half population has fled their homes. There are over 4 million refugees outside of the country, mostly in Lebanon, Jordon, Turkey, Iraq, and Egypt.
  • Daryl Grisgraber explained the UN process for resettling refugees. First it starts with an interview to assess the needs of the individual/family according to preset criteria. If they are truly refugees (in danger if they returned) and not migrants (seeking better economic status) the UN recommends a destination country. Then the destination country starts its process. In the case of the USA, the prospective refugees need to be interviewed; however, in Lebanon no interviews are taking place, because Beirut is considered too dangerous for U.S. personnel.
  • The USA has accepted less than 2,000 Syrian refugees to date. (Germany has accepted over 100,000 refugees.) Obama has proposed raising the overall refugee limit in order to accept more Syrian refugees. He hopes to allow 10,000 Syrian refugees in the next year.
  • What can you do?
    • Write your Congressional representative and request allowing more Syrian refugees into the country
    • Petition your town council to support the relocation of a Syrian refugee family in your town
    • Find out what local resettlement agencies are doing and volunteer to help

Session: "40 Years in Solitary, Albert Woodfox and the Crisis of Mass Incarceration"

  • Jasmine Heiss went from the specific to the general outlining the basics of
  • The Albert Woodfox story
    • Insolitary confinement (CCR) for 43 years
    • Founder of Black Panthers Party in prison
    • No direct evidence of crime (killing a correctional officer)
    • Conviction overturned 3x
    • Federal judge ordered release this year
    • Retrial scheduled for spring 2016
  • Use of solitary confinement in the USA
    • 80,000 to 100,000 on any given day (not tracked at any level)
    • 50% of all successful suicides committed by inmates in solitary
    • 7x10 foot cell (size of parking space)
    • 22+ hours per day
  • Level of mass incarceration in the USA
    • USA has 5% of world's population, 25% of world's prison inmates
    • 1 in 3 black men will go to jail or prison
    • USA has convicted thousands of children (<18 years old) to life without parole
  • Hope comes from a federal report called Solitary Confinement Study and Reform Act of 2015, which is in the House judiciary committee and may be voted on by the end of the year.
Final thoughts

  • The conference was well organized and fairly inexpensive (hotel room around $150 per night, conference registration included lunch at $15). Otherwise there were no frills (no coffee during sessions, no free WIFI in conference rooms, frigid temperatures).
  • It was a great opportunity to meet people on Amnesty's staff and to network with like-minded people. We complained to several staffers about the lack of visibility of Amnesty Group #342.
Barbara's report

(Live-tweeted the conference from the Group 342 Twitter account.)

Opening plenary (theme: coalesce, find solidarity in experiences of shared oppression in various countries, communities)

  • Immigration situation: "administrative detention" family facilities (San Antonio, TX) run by GEO Group look a lot like prison-industrial complex
  • We're all practitioners of a system not yet created"—we have a common struggle. Makayla Gilliam Price
  • Intersections of Black Lives Matter and human rights movements. How do we capture that energy?
  • "Stop being an ally and become instead a co-conspirator." Don’t fetishize (= get sense of self-satisfaction from educating yourself about suffering of minorities but never actually doing anything)
  • Don't depend on a charismatic leader. Everyone must speak for human rights.

AIUSA governance overview

  • Purpose of governing structure: to safeguard the organization so that it survives and grows
    • 18 board members (resolution passed at MARO to reduce number to 15)
    • each serves for 3 years
    • 3 elected each year (rolling schedule)
    • elected from applicants
  • Board responsibilities: approve budget, make policy, advocacy decisions, elect executive director
  • Executive director: proposes policies (for example, code of conduct)
  • Members: propose resolutions  
  • Current AIUSA annual budget: $32-33 million (was about $40 million—hit hard by 2008 economic crisis)
  • AI does not do civil disobedience, does not call for overthrow of governments

International Council Meeting (ICM)

  • Next one: 7-11 August 2015, Dublin (see planning document here)
  • Meets every 2 yrs to set strategic goals; however, there’s a proposal to hold an annual governance meeting instead
  • 60 member (national) sections. 
  • Only 10 sections (including AIUSA) pay annual “assessment” 
  • AIUSA has been having trouble paying its assessment since 2008
  • Regional offices to be organized around the world. Office in Mexico City will be closest to us.
  • Most sections have 4 votes. AIUSA has 6 votes
  • At 2015 ICM: determine 4 human rights goals, 1 organizational goal (see p. 42 of topics document)

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