Amnesty’s Spring 2017 Visits at Oklahoma Legislative Offices Highlighted by Student Advocates from Tulsa

On Thursday, April  13, 2017, members of Amnesty OKC and students from Booker T. Washington High School in Tulsa visited the offices of Oklahoma Senators Inhofe and Lankford, and Congressman Russell, who represents the 5th Congressional District.

Several of the participants wrote their accounts of or reactions to the visits, and the topics we covered. See below for each statement.

One of the participants, Dr. Nyla Ali Khan, is also a correspondent for Red Dirt Report, and excellent independent online news outlet. Her story is entitled “Fervor, passion of millennials gives me hope: An afternoon with Amnesty International OKC“.

Focusing on the students, who were making their first legislative visit, Dr. Khan said:

I was greatly impressed by the eloquence, political awareness, and humanitarian concerns of the three young students from Booker T. Washington High School in Tulsa who had accompanied the group to the local offices of these federal and congressional representatives. So, for the purposes of this article, I chose to ask the three of them about their perspective on lobbying, supremacy of human rights, and the importance of standing up and being counted. I take the liberty of reproducing their e-mails to me verbatim, because I do not want to undermine the authenticity of their convictions by paraphrasing their comments/ convictions.

Rena Guay, Group #238 Coordinator

Each Spring and Fall, Amnesty International #238 in OKC organizes legislative visits at the local offices of our federal congressional delegation to discuss pending legislation and/or policy matters pertaining to human rights. Our meetings are arranged by our chapter’s Legislative Coordinator, John Walters. Amnesty USA selects our topics and provides issue briefs and talking points. The visits are usually with staff members, and we are always welcomed cordially and treated with respect.

For our Spring 2017 visits, we talked with our reps about President Trump’s executive order on immigration, often called Muslim Ban 2.0, and S. 329 /H.B. 901 or “The Mercy Act” which seeks to end the solitary confinement of juveniles in Federal detention, along with other related reforms.

Today’s visit was most notable to me because we were joined by three students from Booker T. Washington High School in Tulsa, who are starting a student chapter of Amnesty International. I was blown away by how well informed and prepared these young people were, and the quality of the questions they asked the staff members we met with.

But another remarkable factor today was that The Mercy Act was introduced and sponsored by Oklahoma’s Senator Lankford, who joined with the Democratic Senator from New Jersey, Cory Booker, to write this important piece of legislation. It isn’t often that Amnesty OKC gets to advocate on behalf of a bill that is under the name of our own legislator!

I asked Sen. Lankford’s staff to convey our deepest gratitude to the Senator on our behalf, and to ask him to reach out to the rest of the Oklahoma delegation to become co-sponsors. When we spoke today to the staff of Rep. Russell and Sen. Inhofe, we encouraged them to join their colleague to write a serious wrong.

I urge all Oklahomans who care about human rights to contact their representatives in DC on these issues, and on any others where human rights are involved.

Anyone in the OKC metro area is invited to join us for our monthly meetings on the first Monday of each Month at Church of the Open Arms, 3131 N. Penn at 6:30 pm. Follow us on Facebook at facebook.com/amnestyokc.

Our next legislative visits will be in the Fall of 2017, but in the meantime, each month we will write letters to officials around the world on behalf of human rights. On May 30, we celebrate our first annual Human Rights Defenders Awards recipients. For nomination information, visit our Facebook page under Events, or email amnestyokc@gmail.com.

April Gore, Junior at Booker T Washington High School:

I wanted to lobby today, because if something as simple as having a conversation can affect a policy that has changed so many people’s lives, I feel that it is our responsibility to do so. I really believe that our representatives are rational people with good intentions, and that is why conversation is so important and so effective. I have a hard time keeping my opinions to myself, and I figure it is best to voice them to those who need to hear them the most. Specifically with regards to the issues that were discussed today, my Japanese-American grandparents were interned during WW2 and released after the Supreme Court ruled against racial discrimination on any grounds. It is important to me that their legacy not go to waste.

Nate Ijams, another student at Booker T Washington High School in Tulsa:

Today a small delegation from my school visited the offices of Representative Russell, Senator Inhofe, and Senator Lankford to discuss some of the issues that we, as students and humans, are concerned about. The three of us are members of our school’s newly founded Amnesty International Club. In conjunction with some members of the Oklahoma City chapter of Amnesty, we scheduled these visits in order to address some of Donald Trump’s executive orders including the ‘Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Entry Into The United States by Foreign Nationalists,’ ‘Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements,’ and ‘Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,’ all of which deal with immigration, refugees, and border enforcement. As concerned human rights advocates in our local community, we hoped to take it to the next level by meeting with these influential congressmen to encourage legislative action against these cruel, divisive, and inhumane executive orders which further ostracize those affected. Regardless of the actual motivation behind President Trump’s orders (which I personally believe to be bigotry), the national security of the United States is not being threatened by these refugees who go through 18-24 months of extreme vetting. In fact, as a group of 134 former national security and foreign policy officials said, the second order will ‘weaken U.S. security and undermine global leadership.’ These orders are impractical, violate the human rights of those affected, and tarnish the reputation of the United States. Although I believe that many of our pleas will fall on deaf ears, it is important and critical to the future of our nation that we let every elected and appointed official know what we, as constituents, know to be true. I hope to continue to work with Amnesty International to ensure that every abuse of human rights, no matter how small, is brought to the attention of the world to create an environment where everyone, regardless of their inclinations, religious, political, or otherwise, is accepted by humanity. We stand for peace, and peace we shall have.

Another topic we engaged with the Congressmen about is that of ‘The Mercy Act.’ The Mercy Act (S. 329, H.R. 901) is a bipartisan effort to limit the use of solitary confinement with juveniles in Federal prisons. Although there are few who would be directly impacted by the bill, it will set an example for the States of the U.S. to end this human rights disaster. The use of solitary confinement to punish children is prohibited by international human rights standards on the grounds that such confinement is cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment that can compromise a child’s physical and mental health. The Mercy Act would ban the use of ‘room confinement’ in juvenile facilities except as a temporary measure (no more than three hours) to respond to behavioral issues that pose an immediate risk to any individual. We hope that our congressmen will together, unified as a delegation, become ardent supporters of this Act to further this campaign to end juvenile abuse.

Today, regardless of whether our action comes to fruition, I know that I have learned a lot and I know that I will continue to work with Amnesty to create a better world.

 

Will Gibson, an International Baccalaureate candidate at the same school:

The reason I wanted to come meet at our MOCs [members of congress] office today is because I am at a place where I’m ready to move away from clicktivism and take steps to actually make a difference. Sometime last year I realized it was important that I stay informed in politics so I can back up and justify my beliefs when confronted about them. Especially considering living in a red state where my views are rarely expressed. That being said, even though we live in a red state, and I’m a constituent with a very leftist agenda that probably won’t be realized by our MOCs, I still think it is very important to at least get out and talk to them. If enough people were to have this mindset than maybe we could get more legislation with some of our views passed. An example in my mind that shows how important it is to exercise your rights would be the most recent presidential election. If there had been more voter participation and less people who wrote-in a bogus candidate (“Harambe” or “Deez Nuts” being the first examples that come to mind,) then maybe the nation wouldn’t be in the situation it is now. Today was my first experience of really going and talking to my representatives and senators. I have called and written before but so far this has been the most memorable, and this is, no doubt, something I want to do again. It certainly carries more meaning and impact than sharing an article on Facebook or getting into an argument in a comment thread. Besides, I think most of my family and friends on Facebook have heard enough from me, so it’s time for my representatives to hear it.

Thanks to Dr. Nyla Khan for sharing the students’ statements with us.

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