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Fervor, passion of millennials gives me hope: An afternoon with Amnesty International OKC

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EDMOND, Okla. – A month ago, I wrote on President Trump’s executive order on immigration. Just so the reader and I are on the same page, I reiterate, while it is undeniable that national security is of the utmost importance, I would observe that President Trump’s executive order, which prevents citizens of seven Muslim countries from entering the United States for the next 90 days and suspends the admission of all refugees for 120 days underscores the characterization of those citizens and refugees, across the board, as “other,” “primitive,” and in need of “civilizing.” Such blanket stereotyping and its corollary, a blanket ban, is oblivious to the aspirations of distinct individuals, societies and to the variations in religious practices and laws from one cultural context to the other.

President Trump’s executive order could be interpreted as leading to the politicization of identity in the form of xenophobia. Such politics can exacerbate cultural and religious fanaticism, globally, by emphasizing a conception of identity between the “authentic” and the “demonic.” I observe that the political myopia being manifested during this period in the history of the United States treats the idea of a multicultural/ multiracial/ multilingual nation as if it were a myth. The immigrant, by his or her status as an outsider, is portrayed to reaffirm the system that requires opposition in order to reassert itself. Also, subsequent to the disintegration of the former Soviet Union, a homogenized version of Islam replaced the old foe, communism.

Given my political views, I was excited when Rena Guay, Amnesty OKC Group Coordinator, and John Walters, Legislative Coordinator, asked me to join the group on their spring ’17 legislative visits at the local offices of Representative Russell, Senator Inhofe, and Senator Lankford to discuss policy matters relating to human rights. So, I tore myself away from my academic work and made it to the office of Senator Lankford, which is in an area that I have always found labyrinthine.

I was greatly impressed by the eloquence, political awareness, and humanitarian concerns of the three young students from Booker T. Washington High School in Tulsa who had accompanied the group to the local offices of these federal and congressional representatives. So, for the purposes of this article, I chose to ask the three of them about their perspective on lobbying, supremacy of human rights, and the importance of standing up and being counted. I take the liberty of reproducing their e-mails to me verbatim, because I do not want to undermine the authenticity of their convictions by paraphrasing their comments/ convictions.

April Gore, Junior at Booker T Washington High School., eloquently said, “I wanted to lobby today, because if something as simple as having a conversation can affect a policy that has changed so many people's lives, I feel that it is our responsibility to do so.  I really believe that our representatives are rational people with good intentions, and that is why conversation is so important and so effective.  I have a hard time keeping my opinions to myself, and I figure it is best to voice them to those who need to hear them the most.  Specifically with regards to the issues that were discussed today, my Japanese-American grandparents were interned during WW2 and released after the Supreme Court ruled against racial discrimination on any grounds.  It is important to me that their legacy not go to waste.”

In an email to me, Nate Ijams., another student at Booker T Washington High School in Tulsa,  observed,  “Today a small delegation from my school visited the offices of Representative Russell, Senator Inhofe, and Senator Lankford to discuss some of the issues that we, as students and humans, are concerned about. The three of us are members of our school's newly founded Amnesty International Club. In conjunction with some members of the Oklahoma City chapter of Amnesty, we scheduled these visits in order to address some of Donald Trump's executive orders including the ‘Protecting the Nation from Terrorist Entry Into The United States by Foreign Nationalists,’ ‘Border Security and Immigration Enforcement Improvements,’ and ‘Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States,’  all of which deal with immigration, refugees, and border enforcement. As concerned human rights advocates in our local community, we hoped to take it to the next level by meeting with these influential congressmen to encourage legislative action against these cruel, divisive, and inhumane executive orders which further ostracize those affected. Regardless of the actual motivation behind President Trump's orders (which I personally believe to be bigotry), the national security of the United States is not being threatened by these refugees who go through 18-24 months of extreme vetting. In fact, as a group of 134 former national security and foreign policy officials said, the second order will ‘weaken U.S. security and undermine global leadership.’ These orders are impractical, violate the human rights of those affected, and tarnish the reputation of the United States. Although I believe that many of our pleas will fall on deaf ears, it is important and critical to the future of our nation that we let every elected and appointed official know what we, as constituents, know to be true. I hope to continue to work with Amnesty International to ensure that every abuse of human rights, no matter how small, is brought to the attention of the world to create an environment where everyone, regardless of their inclinations, religious, political, or otherwise, is accepted by humanity. We stand for peace, and peace we shall have.

Today, regardless of whether our action comes to fruition, I know that I have learned a lot and I know that I will continue to work with Amnesty to create a better world.”

Will Gibson, an International Baccalaureate candidate at the same school wrote to me in an email that, “The reason I wanted to come meet at our MOCs office today is because I am at a place where I'm ready to move away from clicktivism and take steps to actually make a difference. Sometime last year I realized it was important that I stay informed in politics so I can back up and justify my beliefs when confronted about them. Especially considering living in a red state where my views are rarely expressed. That being said, even though we live in a red state, and I'm a constituent with a very leftist agenda that probably won't be realized by our MOCs, I still think it is very important to at least get out and talk to them. If enough people were to have this mindset than maybe we could get more legislation with some of our views passed. An example in my mind that shows how important it is to exercise your rights would be the most recent presidential election. If there had been more voter participation and less people who wrote-in a bogus candidate ("Harambe" or "Deez Nuts" being the first examples that come to mind,) then maybe the nation wouldn't be in the situation it is now. Today was my first experience of really going and talking to my representatives and senators. I have called and written before but so far this has been the most memorable, and this is, no doubt, something I want to do again. It certainly carries more meaning and impact than sharing an article on Facebook or getting into an argument in a comment thread. Besides, I think most of my family and friends on Facebook have heard enough from me, so it's time for my representatives to hear it.”

Prior to talking with these students, I had labored under the delusion that most high school students in this country, particularly in Oklahoma, lived in atomized spaces, donned fake identities, and hid behind computer screens to make fluffy comments on social media. But the fervor, zeal, and earnestness of these young people burst my bubble and undermined my stereotyped notion of millennials. The convictions, passion, and activism of these young people gives me hope for the future, not just of this country but of the rest of the world as well, because all three of them addressed the issues of human rights and social justice as responsible global citizens.

Rena Guay underscored the purpose of such visits, “For our Spring 2017 visits, we talked with our representatives about President Trump's executive order on immigration, often called Muslim Ban 2.0, and S. 329 /H.B. 901 or "The Mercy Act" which seeks to end the solitary confinement of juveniles in Federal detention, along with other related reforms.

I asked Sen. Lankford's staff to convey our deepest gratitude to the Senator on our behalf for having co-authored ‘The Mercy Act,’ and to ask him to reach out to the rest of the Oklahoma delegation to become co-sponsors. When we spoke today to the staff of Rep. Russell and Sen. Inhofe, we encouraged them to join their colleague to write a serious wrong.
I urge all Oklahomans who care about human rights to contact their representatives in DC on these issues, and on any others where human rights are involved.”

To conclude, I no longer feel foolish to dream that someday countries the world over will be run by principled and humane politicians, who are knowledgeable and don’t compromise their integrity.

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About the Author

Nyla Ali Khan

Nyla Ali Khan is the author of Islam, Women, and Violence in Kashmir: Between India and...

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Red Dirt Report was launched July 4, 2007 as an independent news website covering all manner of news, culture, entertainment and lifestyle stories that affect and interest Oklahoma readers and readers outside of our state. Our mission is to educate, promote civic engagement and discourse on public policy, government and politics. Our experienced journalists provided balanced in-depth coverage of news stories that affect Oklahomans. Our opinion/editorial stories come from a wide range of political view points. We carry out our mission by reporting, writing, and posting news and information. read more

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