Youth activists take over Amnesty’s headquarters to do the Obama Harlem Shake!

Late on a Tuesday in early March, I found myself standing in the middle of a conference room at Amnesty’s International Secretariat in London, UK, surrounded by multicoloured balloons.

Only half an hour earlier I’d also been surrounded by over 40 dancing students, youth activists, interns, volunteers and staff members dressed in costumes ranging from chickens to tigers, 80s dancers to ballerinas and Snow White. And someone with a Barack Obama mask.

This all began with an idea to raise awareness about the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) and ask President Obama to take the lead and protect human rights. The Obama Harlem Shake is based on the internet dance meme, the Harlem Shake (not to be confused with the actual Harlem Shake).

If the viral video passed you by, let me explain it briefly: It starts off in a mundane everyday scene with a person in a mask dancing, while everyone else carries on what they’re doing. Fifteen seconds later the beat drops in the song and the scene cuts to crazy dancing with ridiculous props and costumes.

We took this idea and gave it a little twist. We wanted to have Obama lead the dance and to have everyone else follow. Why? Because at the Arms Trade Treaty conference, we want Obama to take the lead and protect human rights.

It was a lot of fun and quick to make (although it helps when there are 40 people blowing up balloons). We also got to talk about the ATT and the fact that having strong human rights provisions in there could help us tackle the shocking statistic of one person dying every minute because of poorly regulated international trade. One youth member shared that she had heard that bananas were more regulated than guns, and amazingly this turned into a dance move!

But the Obama Harlem Shaking doesn’t end there. We’re asking youth activists everywhere to speak out and demand that their governments protect human rights. So far activists in Ireland and the Philippines have produced one, and plans are also developing in Luxembourg, the USA and Venezuela.

Special thanks to the Urdang Academy for their brilliant dance moves.