Written for The Argo by Jared Keane
On Thursday, October 6th, 2022 at 4:30pm, the student organization Amnesty International invited the Executive Director of Amnesty USA, Paul O’Brien to speak at Stockton. Amnesty International is a student-led organization devoted to the protection of human rights globally, along with awareness and education on human rights violations internationally.
The event took place in Campus Center Meeting Room 5 and as with any Amnesty event, it was open to everyone in the Stockton community. The first two speakers at the event were Lauren Balasco, the faculty advisor for Amnesty International, and Emily Kramer, the student president of Amnesty International. They both expressed their excitement and gratitude for O’Brien’s visit and were happy to see the seats were filled by students, including members of the Model United Nations student organization, and members of the local Ocean City Amnesty Chapter.
Paul O’Brien began his speech by showing his thanks and admiration for the bond between Amnesty on a student and local level. O’Brien mentioned that “The current question for Amnesty is how can we help give energy to the students and locals so they can function differently than any other human rights group in this country?”
Additionally, he pointed out that “no one should have a monopoly on the right answers. What we are embracing is the notion that we need to create a space for students and local groups to try new things. We need to be okay with trying new strategies and failing faster.” He informed the audience: “The best answers will lie closer to the front lines. We must be member-lead in our work.”
Concluding the event, Paul O’Brien then opened up the room for discussion. Amnesty member Justin Spusta asked: “Whenever valid criticisms of the Israeli Government are made, there’s always accusations of antisemitism, how do you respond to those critics?”
“When a response is given, there are two things to pay attention to, what did you say, and what did you choose to say? In other words, who is talking and what is their agenda? I do not believe challenging Israel to their human rights obligations is antisemetic. That being said, antisemitism is a powerful force for evil in our world,” replied O’Brien.
Paul O’Brien’s visit to Stockton was an instrumental part of Amnesty International’s growth and development. Moving forward it is Amnesty’s hope to inspire more members of the community and student body to get involved in the defense of human rights.