By Jennifer Estrada, Community Program Manager, AIUSA
With the COVID-19 crisis escalating globally, human rights activism has never been more important. Around the world we’re seeing an escalation of human rights concerns leaving vulnerable communities at greater risk. In the United States responses to the virus have included prisoners being put into solitary confinement, a proposal for a total ban on asylum-seekers that puts thousands of lives at risk, and gun stores reporting record sales in response to COVID-19, without proper safeguards in place to protect people’s human right to safety.
Taking action right now can have an impact on the fight for human rights and our own wellbeing. The positive effects of volunteering on our mental health are remarkably clear and captured in this article from Harvard Health. We can reclaim this moment of separation as an opportunity to leverage the tools for virtual connection that exist, and continue advocating for human rights.
As we deal with the impact of COVID-19, social distancing, and state-mandated lockdowns on our everyday lives — here are 8 things you can do.
1. Story Sharing on Social Media
One of the most powerful tools for activism we all possess is our stories. Stories connect us, help us see the world through one another’s eyes, and open our hearts and minds to new experiences. They’re also a powerful way for communities often overlooked to be seen, heard, celebrated, and amplified.
Choose a human rights issue that you’d like to champion and mobilize your followers on whichever social media platform you use most. Invite followers to share a 30-second video or a photo and caption about the impact the issue you’ve chosen has had on their own lives. Ask each person who posts to invite their network to share their experiences too, creating a ripple effect of stories being shared and heard.
Have everyone tag you or your group, and use hashtags to keep track of how the stories are spreading. Amplify stories by liking, reposting, and commenting so everyone knows they’ve been heard!
2. Virtual Film Screening
This is a great way to raise awareness and have your community learn more about an issue. Set up an engaging conversation after the screening by choosing a film with a topic that you or someone you know has experience or expertise on, and that resonates with your community. You can use the tools below to facilitate a conversation between speakers and take questions from the audience. Choose whatever platform your community already uses and can most easily access:
Facebook Live: if you use Facebook, you can post a link to the video itself with a time to watch (if it’s viewable online), then broadcast the discussion by posting a live video and inviting your speaker(s) to join you.
YouTube: there are a few ways to do a live talk on YouTube. If you’re a Google user, Google and YouTube have made it possible to broadcast live to YouTube from a Google Hangout.
Video Conference: there are lots of video conference tools (Zoom, Skype, GoToMeeting, Google Hangout, etc.). If you’d like your film screening to be private, these tools are a good option! You can create a link to the event, share your screen to show the film and facilitate conversation using features like the chat box and raising your hand.
Netflix: if the film you’re watching is on Netflix, use Netflix Party to watch and chat together. The free extension works with Chrome browsers on laptop and desktop computers.
Click here to learn more about an upcoming virtual film screening and talk back in April for Sexual Violence Awareness Month!
3. Human Rights Poetry or Short Story Hour
Hearing our own experiences in poetry and short stories can create a powerful sense of community and deeper understanding of the issues we’re currently facing. Hosting a virtual poetry or short story hour is a way for your community to tap into both their personal experiences during this challenging time, and the universal urgency of human rights.
You can host this event on any social media platform or by video conference. Many video conference tools provide phone numbers too, making an event accessible without an internet connection. Invite local poets, artists, or authors to share their writing, or invite 5 or 6 people in your network to share a poem or short story that’s resonating with them right now and has a human rights theme.
As the poems and stories are shared, answer questions or respond to reactions posted in comments. To close you can facilitate a discussion and share an action participants can take, connected to the human rights issued discussed.
4. Letter-Writing Party
Letter writing in the time of a global pandemic requires some preparation, but it’s still a powerful way to bring attention to urgent human rights issues. You can order domestic and international stamps and mailing supplies online, and once you have your materials you can leave your letters wherever your mail is picked up.
Turn your letter writing into a party! Share instructions for the letter-writing action and how to purchase postage, then set-up a video conference and invite family, friends, coworkers, and anyone from your community. Write letters together while listening to music, talking and celebrating your connection to on another. You could even invite a musician to play live! Use social media and local online event calendars to publicize your letter-writing party. Creating spaces for these social connections while we’re social distancing is essential to sustain us all.
Click here to send a message of solidarity to immigrants and asylum seekers who are currently in detention during the COVID-19 pandemic.
5. Submit a Letter to the Editor
Readers are flocking to news sites during the COVID-19 pandemic. Writing a letter to the editor is a great way to raise awareness about how this pandemic has led to widespread human rights violations due to disparities of social and economic rights. Writing a letter to the editor in your local or a national newspaper is a great way to shed light on the issues and remind people that we can’t take human rights for granted!
Click here for tips on how to write a letter to the editor.
6. Twitter Storm
A Twitter Storm is a coordinated effort to bring urgency to an issue by posting multiple messages in a short amount of time (usually 1–2 hours) around an issue. Typically messages will directly engage specific people to take an action. It’s a great way to get attention from people in power and potential ally communities!
If you’re new to Twitter, it’s a lot like joining a conversation in progress at a party. Get a feel for what’s on the top of people’s minds by looking at the pages of allies and human rights leaders, like @AmnestyUSA. See what’s sparking the most conversation and getting the most likes and retweets. Tap into that energy by adding to the conversation or amplify an issue that’s important to your community but isn’t getting attention.
Work with your network to decide your focus and share widely with your followers and allies specific messaging about the issue and the action you want to see . Include relevant hashtags and tag the leaders and pages you want to engage. You can schedule posts to go out automatically during the Twitter Storm, so you’re free to retweet, like and respond to other people’s posts, keeping the conversation as interactive as possible!
For more information on Twitter Storms check out this article from Rethink Media.
7. Coordinated Email and/or Phone Lobbying
Just as letter-writing can apply pressure on leaders to act in ways that promote human rights, strategically coordinated email and phone call campaigns can do the same. While we can’t show up at our representatives’ office doors, we can flood their inboxes and voicemailboxes to make sure human rights don’t become an afterthought.
Like a Twitter Storm, coordinate with your community and look for allies who you can work in solidarity with, so you’re all emailing or calling in the same window on the same issue. The window can be longer for this (usually a week or two). Provide specific messaging to use as a starting point, and have everyone personalize what they say!
To learn more, follow this blog for recommendations on virtual lobbying in the coming weeks.
8. Tele-Town Hall
Town halls are a way for community members to raise concerns and bring important issues to leadership. Many community leaders are hosting tele-town halls by phone or through video conference, but you don’t have to wait for someone else to organize one. You can use the same online resources mentioned for the virtual film screening to host a tele-town hall.
Think about the issues you’d like to talk about with your community. You can start by framing the issue with an introduction or speaker, but a town hall is best when it’s a dialogue so leave plenty of time to hear from community members. You can invite people to use the chat box or raise your hand features to ask to speak next, and have a few questions planned to prompt thinking and conversation if things get quiet.
If possible, invite a local leader to participate in the conversation, or use the town hall as a forum to collect concerns and ideas that can help spark future actions!
For more actions you can take and organize around, check out Amnesty International’s Distant But Together: COVID-19 Response page. No matter what action you take, let your own authentic voice and creativity fuel the work. Together we can create lasting change!