My name is Kit O’Connor, and I’m the Legislative Coordinator for Vermont for Amnesty International USA. I love my job. I just wish there were no need for it.

This is not a time to mince words. I’m a human rights activist because I believe we all must act in some way. I don’t want to look back on history and see myself standing idly by. And right now, honesty and compassion are vital. I can’t give you a watered down or sanitized view of why I work with human rights.

I can look to specific incidents or teachers and see how I’ve responded in unjust situations and learned from them. I believe that people are conglomerations of past experiences, with each experience informing subsequent ones, and I’m lucky to have had many deep and rich experiences that have shaped my worldview and moral compass. But some experiences are fundamental, and, for me, a history of childhood trauma informs the rest. Like all too many people, I’m a survivor. As a survivor, I learned early the significance of dignity, empathy and agency, three pillars in my personal understanding of human rights.

Agency refers to one’s capacity to take action. Dignity relates to pride or self-respect. Empathy is understanding and sharing the feelings of another. Once I put words to these concepts, I had a roadmap from which I could guide my life. This roadmap led me to human rights and social justice, and it didn’t take long to realize that these were a natural fit.

I’ve been lucky enough to have practiced activism by providing direct service. I’ve been a teacher. Worked with probation officers. Been on boards of mental health advocacy organizations. Worked in direct service with people with disabilities and teens with mental health concerns. And now I’ve come to see how being a Legislative Coordinator for Amnesty International allows me to organize other people to provide the actions needed for bringing the world closer to realizing human rights for all.

Activism can come in so many forms. Perhaps it’s going into your senator’s office and asking them to cosponsor a piece of legislation that would help protect refugees fleeing horrible situations. It might mean sitting down and chatting with a bully…or speaking out about a bully holding public office.

With Amnesty International, activism becomes a coordinated effort to advocate for the most vulnerable and move governments toward justice. There is a quotation from Mother Jones, “Pray for the dead and fight like hell for the living.” I’ve done this intuitively in one form or another for most of my life. Working with AIUSA gives me a wonderful outlet in which to do so.

Thanks for listening. I’ve got to get to work. These are busy days…

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