Amnesty International USA: Activists converge this weekend for 51st Annual General Meeting

After a year when it was christened the Angriest City in America, Denver continues to be a hub of national (and this weekend, international) activism. Tomorrow through Sunday, Amnesty International USA will bring its 51st Annual General Meeting to the city, with panels and workshops dedicated to some of the heaviest human rights issues in the political sphere. More than 800 activists have pre-registered for an event that will fill the Denver Marriott City Center with upwards of 1,000 people.

It might be a cliche at this point, as field organizer Kalaya'an Mendoza admits, but it holds true: The single greatest goal of this weekend's conference is a call to action, a prompt to think globally and act locally. Split into events for all ages as well as those targeted toward teens, the conference could be overwhelming for those new to activism, says Mendoza, but first-timers need only track down an Amnesty leader for an easier transition.

Throughout the course of the conference, speakers include international conflict journalists, former U.S. hostages in Iran, advocates for death penalty abolition and a pastor at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, once the home institution of Martin Luther King, Jr. The event begins tomorrow with youth leadership training at 9 a.m., after which the entire congregation will lead an immigrants' rights rally to the State Capitol. The schedule mixes public activism with education, music and poetry with reform, and cheesecake with political reflection. (See the schedule below for "Cheesecake and Resolutions," held at 8:30 p.m. tomorrow.)

"The sense of community that comes out of an AGM from our members is kind of indescribable," Mendoza says. "They're normally out at tables by themselves in the freezing cold, so for them to see former political prisoners whose cases they've worked on is life-changing. It's a chance for everyone to realize we're all doing the same thing -- and reconsider why."

In Colorado, Amnesty International's membership includes high school and college groups in addition to young professionals and established activists. Planning for this year's Annual General Meeting began immediately upon the doors closing in San Francisco last year, with venue logistics, member outreach and organization all launching within weeks.

Selecting Denver as the latest stop, only one year after the 50th anniversary in San Francisco, was a decision made years ago by the group's board of directors, with input from AIUSA members. So while the city is poised for political power in 2012, that fact is a boon, not the impetus.

The event "will help to reinsert human rights into the political discussion, both in Colorado and the country," Mendoza says. The state is the home of Amnesty International's Urgent Action Network, a system of highlighting one particular human rights activity anywhere in the world. "Colorado is a significant force, but the great thing about human rights work is that it transcends partisan politics. Both Republicans and Democrats and everyone else can agree on basic human rights, and from there, the important thing is to create dialogue about them."

Throughout the weekend, Mendoza and other organizers will be live tweeting the events under the account @AmnestyAGM. To join the conversation, use the hashtag #agm12.

Here's this year's schedule of events: Amnesty Annual General Meeting Program

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Kelsey Whipple
Contact: Kelsey Whipple

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