40 students Get on the Bus, storm NYC for human rights

On April 17, 40 Geneseo students traveled to New York City to participate in Amnesty International's annual "Get on the Bus" event in an effort to champion human rights.

The event, organized by Amnesty International USA Group 133, has initiated the meeting of thousands of participants in New York City for 14 years.

"Get on the Bus" was organized on campus by Geneseo's Amnesty International club. This is the second time the club has organized the trip. According to sophomore Nicholas Kaasik, Amnesty International's club president, last year's event was "very grassroots," sending only 12 people by way of personal cars.

This year the trip was a larger effort, reaching beyond the club's members to the entire student body; more than half of the participants were not amnesty members and purchased tickets for a chartered bus at $30 each.

The group met at the Union at 3:30 a.m. for departure and arrived in Manhattan shortly before 10 a.m. for a lecture and panel. According to Kaasik, "Get on the Bus" is structured "as a day of education and learning." The lecture and panel before the protest provided the education component of the event.

Later in the day, the activists moved to outside the U.N. Headquarters, where they called for the release of Burmese political prisoners and protested against what Kaasik called "some of the worst human rights violations in the world today."

The group then went to outside the Sri Lankan consulate, demanding that Sri Lankan civilians, caught in the crossfire between the Sri Lankan government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, be allowed to leave the country.

Relocating to the Guatemalan consulate, the group pursued "a combination of environmental and humanitarian advocacy," said Kaasik. The group focused their protest on the ecological impact of gold mining in Guatemala.

Lastly, participants protested outside of the Chinese consulate, pressing for the release of Tibetan political prisoners and for an end to recent crackdowns in Tibet.

"The best part of the trip was coming home and having people tell me that they felt like they made a difference - and they did make a difference," said Kaasik.

He said he hopes that even more Geneseo students will be inspired to take part in events like "Get on the Bus."

"Events like these allow students to speak and reach out to people they will never meet," he said. "In Geneseo you wonder, 'How I can possibly affect the lives of people in Sri Lanka?' But it does matter when people stand outside an embassy and say 'we will not accept this.'"

The Amnesty International Club meets every Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. in the Fireside Lounge, during which time members write letters to foreign and domestic politicians and governments in support of human rights and freedoms.