The COVID-19 pandemic has changed everything. Even seasoned human rights activists are challenged by the massive changes COVID-19 has brought upon us. But one thing has not changed: our need to keep pushing our elected officials to protect human rights.
A risk we want to avoid with prolonged periods of isolation is people ignoring human rights violations and failing to take action to stop them.
Here are some examples of how COVID-19 impacts human rights:
- Victims of domestic violence may be forced to spend most or all their time in the same house or apartment as their abusers. This becomes even more dangerous when the abusers have guns.
- Governments may use the COVID-19 emergency as an excuse to violate human rights, such as freedom of the press. Doing so, of course, can prevent people from receiving accurate and necessary information about the pandemic.
- Members of communities who have already suffered as a result of racist and xenophobic policies are placed in extreme danger as they are forced to live in crowded detention centers without adequate healthcare or hygiene.
- Members of the general prison population also face conditions that make social distancing and necessary hygiene impossible. Many prisoners are elderly or have underlying health conditions that make them especially vulnerable to COVID-19.
- And longstanding human rights violations — such as police using excessive force against Black people — have continued during the pandemic.
That’s why it’s vital that we continue to act together to protect human rights and hold elected officials accountable. A few months ago, I would have told you that the best way to influence your Representative or Senators was to meet with their staff in the district office or in Washington, DC. We can’t do that currently, but there are still many things we can do together!
Even before anyone heard of COVID-19, activists such as Washington State Legislative Coordinator Leanne Smith have organized video conferences to lobby Congress on behalf of Amnesty International USA (AIUSA). Legislative Coordinators are volunteer leaders at AIUSA who train and mobilize activists to lobby on human rights issues.
Know that during this uncertain time, you can still contact the office of your House Member, Senators, State Legislators, and city officials and request a video or telephone meeting with staff members. Visit www.amnestyusa.org/grassroots to learn more about lobbying with AIUSA, and follow the tips below to schedule, prep for, and execute a virtual lobby meeting.
Schedule the lobby meeting:
- Check your elected officials’ websites to find out how each office normally schedules meetings. Do they take meeting requests by phone, email, or web contact form?
- When you get in touch, tell the office which issue you want to discuss and who will take part in the conference. Ask which platform they would prefer.
Prepare yourself and your team. You can ask for help from your AIUSA Legislative Coordinator.
- Get to know the issues with information supplied by Amnesty International, including talking points and leave-behind materials.
- Practice the meeting using the same platform you will use for the actual meeting — either a conference call or a video call platform.
- If it’s a video conference, make a good impression by finding a neat area of your home to sit at during the conference and dress professionally.
During the meeting, remember Amnesty International’s ABCs of lobbying:
- Be Accurate: Use the information provided by Amnesty International. If you don’t know the answer to the question, offer to find out and get back to them.
- Be Brief: Staff members are usually busy, but right now they are busier than ever. Know exactly what you need to say — and especially what you want the elected official to do!
- Be Courteous: Begin by thanking the staff for taking the time to meet with you. Ask your Legislative Coordinator or an Amnesty Staff member for something you can thank your elected official for doing, such as cosponsoring a bill on ending gun violence. Be respectful throughout the call, even if they disagree with you, and thank them at the end of the meeting.
- Ask when you should follow up with the staffer to find out if their boss has made a decision on what you’ve asked for. Also ask how you should send them some Amnesty materials about the issue as a follow up.
- Once the meeting is over, send a thank-you email message that reiterates what you want your elected official to do. You can also thank elected officials publicly through social media. Make sure to use #AmnestyLobby in your post.
- Let us know the meeting happened by logging the interaction through Amnesty.quorum.us
What if you can’t schedule a virtual lobby meeting?
- Send the official an email message or fill out a web contact form. Be sure to include the action you want the official to take.
- Attend a virtual town hall organized by your elected official and get placed in the queue to ask a question.
- Find a news article or editorial about the issue and respond with a letter to the editor in which you mention your elected officials by name and ask them to take action.
- Find out when your official will be on a call-in radio or television program and then call into the show.
- Use social media. Call on officials to take action or thank them for something they did recently. Tag the handle of the elected officials office on Twitter or Instagram (be careful not to use any handles related to electoral campaigns) and add #AmnestyLobby. Provide links to information from Amnesty International or relevant news coverage, or attach media created by Amnesty or a photo of you holding a sign in support of the issue.
Activists across the country will be lobbying virtually next week to demand systemic police reform to root out racism and stop human rights violations in our communities. Send a message to your Representative in support of the PEACE Act (H.R. 4359). And urge Members of Congress to help end gun violence.
If you’re ready to lobby for human rights, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to be connected to your AIUSA State Legislative Coordinator. Make your voice heard. Now is our moment.