Saturday, April 7, 2012

Seeking Justice, Freedom, and the Right of Every Human to the Pursuit of Happiness.

My Attendance at the Amnesty International Annual General Meeting
(Friday, March 30 – Sunday, April 1, 2012)
Basil Waine Kong

(First of all, I need to apologize that I have not posted anything on this blog since the death of my mother. That event triggered a great deal of lethargy and procrastination that I did not anticipate. I felt unmotivated and everything I forced myself to do was a chore. Rather than writing, playing golf, traveling, dancing, visiting with friends, reading and being my jocular self, I found myself watching mindless hours of television and movies. It also took a minute to probate my mother’s will and wrap up her affairs. I am motivated again---probably triggered by an invitation from my oldest grandchild to accompany her so she could take advantage of a scholarship to attend the Annual General Meeting of Amnesty International.)

Due to my granddaughter’s passionate advocacy for gay and immigrant rights and her participation in several demonstrations as well as her letters to decision makers around the world, she was offered a scholarship and the enviable opportunity to attend the convention. She is mature beyond her years (14 years). In her brief life, she is already one of the unsung heroes who speak up and put her body on the line for various causes. While she bubbled over with enthusiasm and anticipation, her parents would not allow her to attend by herself. She needed chaperones. Her parents had to work, so retired Pop Pop and her Nana to the rescue. It was entirely our pleasure.

Before I tell you about our first meeting up with her in Denver, I need to provide some background. She once asked me: “Pop, Pop, what’s the evilest thing you have ever done?” I answered honestly. I told her that ten years ago I was attending a meeting at the San Antonio Marriott where there are two banks of elevators. While waiting for an elevator on the third floor to go up, there were three ladies waiting to go down. The Devil made me do it and I blurted out: “Ladies, if you want to go down, you will have to take the other bank of elevators as these only go up”. I couldn’t believe that they took my word for it, thanked me and walked across the hall to wait at the other bank of elevators. I spent the next three hours laughing in guilty pleasure and contemplated how anxious people are to follow directions without thinking. Even now, I take great joy in recalling the incident but reminding myself how much evil there is yet in my soul. As I am reminded by my wife: “God is not finished with you yet.” Anyway, back to the AI convention.

My grand daughter traveled from Phoenix and made her way to the hotel. We arrived on Friday while she was already attending a session. She answered her cell phone and said she would meet us shortly. After the smiles, enthusiastic hugs and greetings, she said: “I could have come sooner but some of the elevators at the Marriott only go down.” Is she a chip off the old block? We enjoyed a good laugh. I then took the opportunity to establish some ground rules. Her Nana and I were there:
1. to support her and facilitate her participation and not to interfere.
2. to accompany her to some of the sessions.
3. for her safety so we needed her to send us a text every so often.

Throughout the three day meeting, except for our early morning work-outs and swim each day,(she is an excellent swimmer)we were not able to spend nearly as much time with her as we anticipated because she took her attendance VERY seriously. She never missed a session! So ”If Muhammad will not come to the Mountain, the Mountain must come to Muhammad.” I dutifully joined her in sessions, had our faces painted with “Rise Up” and accompanied her to a large demonstration for Immigrant Rights. Even though I struggled with some of the logic of the presentations as well as the two mile walk, I enjoyed the passion in which she repeatedly shouted the various slogans. “Immigrant Rights is Human Rights!!!”

In answer to her questions, I was proud to tell her that I was one of those who went to jail for illegally demonstrating against Apartheid in front of the South African Embassy many years ago in Washington DC as well as my civil rights and anti-war activities during the Viet Nam era.

She is a vegetarian and I took the opportunity to visit all the restaurants in a four block area to evaluate menus to determine if they could satisfy her dietary preferences. She enjoyed the Indian Restaurant immensely. Her Nana and I had to plan our meals around her schedule. Stephanie and I took some time to drive to Colorado Springs to visit the famous “Garden of the Gods” and tried desperately to entice her to come with us. However, Mackenzie reminded me that her primary duty was to attend the sessions. The trip to Colorado Springs was stupendous as my wife and I enjoyed a lovely visit---fantastic place!

Some of the training sessions she attended included: “How to Lobby”, “How to Research a topic and debate issues” as well as “Tactics that Make a Difference”. So, like a butterfly flapping its wings in a meadow that eventually starts a hurricane, she now believes that she can be a force for change on society and the world---a passionate advocate with the right cause is a majority.

Presentations included: Adotei Akwei, Managing Director for Government Relations (AI); Nada Alwadi, a journalist from Bahrain; Joe Baker, Vice President for Causes and Advocacy (AI); Shane Bauer, Journalist, who was captured by the Iranian security in 2009 along with his friend, Sarah Shourdand Josh Fattal and released in 2011; Max Berger, an organizer for the Occupy Movement; Snajeev Bery, Advocacy Director for the Middle East (AI); Savio Carvalho, Director for Demand Dignity Program (AI); Colonel Morris Davis, a military attorney who was the Chief Prosecutor for the Military Commissions at Guantanamo Bay; Antone De’Jaun Davis-Correia, death penalty abolitionist; Attorney Sarah Deer, a Native American lawyer; Dr. Tarah Demant, a Stop Violence Against Women activist; Ambassador to Syria, Robert Ford; Amy Goodman, Journalist and host of “Democracy Now!”; Ken Gude, Chief of Staff for Center for American Progress; Benjamin Todd Jealous, President and CEO of the NAACP; Halima Kazem, a journalist from Afghanistan; Claire Levy, a member of the Colorado House of Representatives; Kung Li, an attorney for the Southern Center for Human Rights; Asmaa Mahfouz, co-founder of Egypt’s 6 April Youth Movement; Joseph Margulies, an attorney with the Roderick MacArthur Justice Center; Kica Matos, Head of the U.S. Reconciliation & Human Rights Program at The Atlantic Philanthropies; And many others. No wonder that we didn’t see her very much! This was a feast for any passionate advocate for human rights. The audience was very loud, enthusiastic and supportive of the presenters.

One evening when she returned from one of her sessions, we were watching a lecture being presented by a fascinating physicist who was encouraging the United States to resurrect our space program as a strategy to advance innovation in society in general. She took a glance at the screen as said: "That's Neil deGrasse Tyson. I read several of his books. He is a really great writer." She then sat down to watch the rest of the program with us. I was blown away. How many fourteen year olds have read Tyson?

As I have a special interest in Zimbabwe, I was impressed with the work being done there to re-establish democracy. Having visited four times, I experienced Zimbabwe singing the Bob Marley Zimbabwe song when it was grand and again when the society had deteriorated. Their life expectancy went from 70 to 40 in just ten years. Eight of us visited Victoria Falls seven years ago and found an economic disaster. The cost of dinner for the eight of us at the hotel was in excess of $1,000,000 because the exchange rate was $7,000 Zim dollars for one American Dollar and the people were devastated. Interestingly enough, the paper money had expiration dates on them. I pray that Zimbabwe will recover and find their glory days again.

Even though the theme of the conference was “Rise UP!” It could just have been: “Rise Up, Stand Up for Your Rights!” In this case, let us stand up for each other. I, for one, have been inspired with a renewed commitment to be more active in building advocacy coalitions and adding a Voice in the interest of the Vulnerable in Jamaica. Words have power.


  1. What an amazing growth experience it was! Couldn't have happened without you! The coda to that story is that we only saw her for two days and then she turned around and left for Las Vegas, to support her team's robot in the regionals.