When someone came to an Amnesty International meeting with the suggestion that we attempt to stage a Durham version of the world famous Secret Policeman’s Ball, as a society we were a little nervous of what we would be taking on in doing so. Would our budget stretch to planning such an event? Would people want to come? Despite these initial concerns, the enthusiasm of our members proved to be contagious and it wasn’t long before we had thrown ourselves into organising the night.
Not only will the event raise funds for and awareness of this excellent and truly deserving human rights organisation, but it will be a fitting celebration within Durham of Amnesty’s 50th anniversary. For those who are unaware of Amnesty’s work, it’s one of the best known and most influential charities worldwide, and by far the largest human rights charity there has ever been. Over its 50-year history Amnesty’s 2.8 million members have sent many millions of letters, have campaigned on many thousands of issues and individual cases and have, potentially, been the difference between freedom and continued imprisonment (or worse) for hundreds of people. Its work is of incredible importance for all of us. Amnesty activists put themselves in danger of reprisals every day in their struggle to protect the rights of others, while many millions of people all over the world give up their time to fight for human dignity, respect, and freedom the world over.
Amnesty is apolitical, non-religious, and completely committed to peaceful methods of protests. Its main weapon is letter-writing, an innocuous task which, though it sounds toothless, has proved very effective. Imagine the leader of the oppressive regime being told, day after day, that thousands of letters have been arriving, all demanding the release of one man. Imagine being that one man who, day after day, receives letters telling him that an international movement – millions strong – is campaigning for your release. The effect cannot be overstated and, although Amnesty doesn’t claim credit when a prisoner is released, the record speaks for itself.
After 50 years of fighting for human rights and fundamental freedoms we have achieved a great deal. There are, however, still a huge number of issues that need to be addressed. There are still violent and authoritarian regimes; there are still people is prisons the world over that have not been tried fairly; torture and degrading treatment of prisoners is still common. We are absolutely committed to tackling these issues. If we have achieved so much in our first half century, imagine what we can do in the next.
Here in Durham, one of the most prestigious and most privileged institutions in one of the richest and most developed countries in the world, we are very removed from the abuses that happen elsewhere. We wanted to raise awareness of Amnesty and our work, and we wanted to raise the funds that are so necessary for that vital work to continue. Moreover, we wanted to spread the message – not a message of doom, but of hope. Together we will succeed.
Progress was slow at first. We found it difficult to make contact with some societies, and the procedure for booking space in the DSU fell awkwardly over the Christmas break, leaving us with slightly less time than we hoped for. Suddenly, though, the pieces started to fit together. Some of the most exciting and talented acts in Durham wanted to support Amnesty and take part: Durham Student Theatre, Durham Voices, Instep Dance, DULOG, ShellShock… Every act a gem, we found ourselves with an absolutely stellar line up, and the promise of a fantastic evening.
It’s astonishing how many people want to help a good cause. It has been incredibly inspiring and a huge “thank you” is due to everyone who has been involved in any capacity. It is going to be a night to remember. The best student acts all on the same stage, the wonderful venue decked out in the Amnesty colours, the sense of occasion, and the feeling that comes from knowing that every penny goes to the worthiest of causes. The curtain goes up at 19:30 on the 10th February, and for a mere £6 you can secure yourself a seat at this wonderful event. Tickets will be available from the reception desk of the DSU and any leftover tickets will be available on the door. With only 200 seats, though, it’s advisable to buy early to avoid disappointment!
We at the Amnesty group are getting daily more excited. The line-up is stunning, and with the acts ranging from drama to dance through music and comedy and back again there really is something to suit every taste. We look forward to welcoming you to the Fonteyn Ballroom on the 10th February, and to celebrating 50 years of hope, and many more to come.