Could 2012 be our most successful Write for Rights year yet?

By Joe Smith, a volunteer at Amnesty’s International Secretariat in London, UK. For months, Joe has invested his time and energy in organizing Write for Rights 2012 – the world’s largest letter-writing event, happening now across at least 78 countries worldwide.

As the online counter goes live with the number of actions taken worldwide, I am just beginning to appreciate how big an event Write for Rights – also called the Letter Writing Marathon – really is. After months spent talking to Amnesty offices worldwide, producing and sending people materials, and doing a lot of translation work, it’s great to see everything start to take shape.

Within minutes it seemed that the total number of actions had doubled, even though by then the event had only started in a handful of countries. Last year we achieved an amazing 1.3 million actions worldwide. Could this year’s become our most successful marathon yet?

Volunteering on this campaign has been a perfect introduction to the issues that Amnesty works on. The goals are wide-ranging and the cases reflect this. From Gao Zhisheng, a Chinese prisoner of conscience, to the Coastei Street families, who have been evicted from their homes in Romania: for me this year’s cases demonstrate Amnesty International’s huge remit, and the great need for confronting human rights abuses in all their forms and wherever they occur.

I sometimes find that the geographical and cultural distance between the society I live in and others makes human rights abuses difficult to fully comprehend. As a result, all too often I turn a blind eye. Write for Rights provides a context and a story that helps me empathize with the people we are campaigning for. It allows us to take action on cases that have particular resonance with us personally, while also opening our eyes to issues we know nothing about.

Ultimately, for me Write for Rights is about raising awareness of underlying human rights issues that affect many different people, and that often go unchecked. If we can hold the authorities to account, and bring about tangible change for a few, then I believe we can alter people’s attitudes and help prevent future abuses. I hope that the effects of this year’s marathon will be felt for years to come.

Finally, the Marathon is about the people who take part. Since it first started in Poland in 2001, this global event had spread to 78 countries by 2011. Last year, people worldwide took one action every second over a two week period. We have every reason to believe that we can build on that success this year. I am looking forward to adding my name to the hundreds of thousands of people fighting for justice worldwide by writing a letter – or many – this December.