Organizing for human rights in the time of a global pandemic

Amnesty International USA
4 min readMar 20, 2020

by Cynthia Gabriel Walsh, Senior Director, Organizing & Activism, AIUSA

As we adjust to this temporary new norm of social distancing and the slow shutdown of society as we knew it just a few days ago, organizing for human rights may seem far removed from one’s mind — and if this is true please know you are not alone. Setting intentions for daily focus is difficult to do under normal circumstances, but in a time where we find ourselves dependent upon our trusted news handles for pandemic updates and guidelines dictating new social norms, we realize our individual capacity to be adaptable and resilient. For human rights activism, being adaptable and resilient means adjusting our organizing strategy from one that has been primarily dependent on in-person connections to the world of virtual and digital movement building.

Trying to plan and coordinate in the virtual world will present some challenges, but as with any worthwhile challenge, there are wonderful learning lessons to gain.

Here are some tips for community organizing in the time of a global health pandemic:

1. Practice self-care.

It is incredibly important to recognize that you need to prioritize your health and well-being. Writer, feminist, and civil rights activist Audre Lorde once wrote, “caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.” Self-care in the time of COVID-19 means prioritizing staying safe, being prepared, and knowing what is going on so that you can be an advocate for yourself and engage in the collective solidarity work needed to stand up against social injustice.

AI’s global team of researchers and policy analysts are tracking and closely monitoring the human rights concerns that COVID-19 has exposed and we are certain that this pandemic will exacerbate existing inequalities and human rights violations.

Prioritizing safety and following the recommendations of the federal government and state and local public health departments is important, and this leads us to making the decision to organize in a virtual space or not. Connecting with fellow activists may seem pointless right now, especially if you think people are already overwhelmed. Timing may not be perfect, but then again, in a pandemic will there ever be the right time? However, think of this as a step to tip two:

2. Engage in community care.

Community care is about connecting with other activists and practicing mutual aid and support. Checking in on your activist community members — especially those who might be more vulnerable — will reinforce your connections with people, and the long-term benefits of cultivating these alliances will help to maintain ongoing engagement in activism well beyond this pandemic. Be it email, phone call, or text, be sure to connect.

3. Explore and design creative organizing and action initiatives that don’t involve being together in person.

Outside of connecting in person we need to find alternative ways to meet. Use platforms such as YouTube or TikTok to create short videos for public education and to make an ask for people to take action. Use social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to promote your work and amplify your action. Then culminate this great work by hosting a virtual space for your activist cohort to join.

Be inclusive of new people who are interested in getting involved. I recommend creating an eventbrite for your next virtual meeting. Eventbrite enables people to sign up in advance to participate and this list of new contacts will be fruitful for expanding your activist base. Eventbrite also helps with local promotion of your event and this service is free. In addition, submit your virtual event to AIUSA’s events calendar for additional publicity. Click here to go to the submission form.

Hosting a virtual meeting via video conference works well, but it is important to recognize that not everyone may have access to video technology so always include a call-in option. Zoom video conferencing provides both these options as well as an option to share your screen for presentations, collective group work, and more. When planning any meeting, you want to be prepared with an agenda and stay on time. You will be surprised at how creative a community can become during a time of crisis and isolation. Coming together, sharing stories, and working towards a common goal can help lessen anxiety that social isolation can bring. Knowing that there is a greater purpose that we can collectively serve can help to ensure that human rights are not forgotten in the time of COVID-19 — in fact, we can strive to ensure that human rights are at the center of the pandemic response.

Click here to learn what you can do now to address the human rights concerns that are being seen as a result of COVID-19.

Check out next week’s blog as we take a virtual leap exploring the art of hosting a fun and impactful virtual meeting.



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