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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: July 6, 2004
Latest Update: July 6, 2004

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This piece was prompted by an email from Amnesty International announcing one of their live chats, where you can ask questions and have discourse with those who are knowledgeable about the topic: Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Urgent Actions, But Were Afraid To Ask July 7, 2004.

Here's what their staff say about the effect of letter writing:

"Featured Guest: UAN Staff

From our featured guest:"We hear from individuals who have been released from prison, from family members, from human rights workers in the countries our UAs target. And it's their words that keep us going, and keep our letter writers going. For example, convinced that appeals from Amnesty International's Urgent Action Network had a huge impact on her treatment in prison, Turkish human rights defender Sevim Yetkiner recently thanked Amnesty International and said, 'The 21 days that I spent in prison reinforced my commitment in the struggle for human rights. This is a struggle that everyone in society should join. The appeals sent by AI members are effective and important -- I have seen first-hand how important they are.'"

Letter writing is something we can do. A positive action that helps us negate some of the complicity of silence that our daily lives tempt us into. Recall our definition of complicit: you are complicit if you see or suspect on the basis of reliable evidence that harm is being done to an Other, and in the absorption of your own daily routine say nothing, do nothing, keep the silence that permits hegemonic domination.

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you think you might be more likely to undertake such a task if we created a letter-writing corner in the Naked Space?

    I think I might be tempted to ease my complicitous silence, if there were a few minutes given to the effort along with my friends.

  2. What if we brought along to classes and exhibits a letter writing box with the appropriate stationeries and accoutrements?

    I don't know about you, but i can never find stationery, stamps, addresses, and I get distracted before I've sent off the letter.

  3. Do you think that it might count as a structural change if the school built some space for voicing our support within regularly meeting groups, like classes?

    Consider that each step we take to alter the patterns of our indifference, helps us form new habits of illocutionary discourse.

  4. Do you think there would be an advantage to the school in providing such space and support?

    Consider that every attempt the school makes to honor the voice of students, and to respect answerability, builds a pattern in respecting the student as Other, and encouraging both answerability and greater respect for itself as an institution.

  5. Is letter-writing illocutionary discourse?

    NO. It's instrumental discourse. We have a clear position, and we're trying to persuade whoever we're writing to to adopt our position as the better position, as in not killing or torturing someone, in the case of Amnesty International. Illocutionary discourse is attempting in good faith to understand one another; that belongs with negotiation. By the stage of urgent actions, we are trying to bring popular pressure to support human rights that are about to be violated.

Site Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata and Individual Authors, July 2004.
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