AI USA North East Regional Conference
Held at Boston University (which is somewhere in Boston, Masschusetts)
(26-28 October 2007)
Arrive in Boston, check. The very well-priced chinatown bus arrives at South Station... however, one needs to go "under" (that was not a dirty joke) in order to catch the train (the "T" to Bostonians) into town.
This is where I stayed... as far as I was aware, nobody else at the conference stayed here... the couch of my good friend Nick Sheridan, with whom I travelled earlier this year. The building is called "Tang" and it is MIT student housing. It was also conveniently located directly across the river from Boston University. In fact, from the room on the 20th floor (where I slept), one could actually see BU itself.
Boston is a lovely place... when I arrived the weather was great. I took this photo the morning that I left... when the weather was similarly great. The main downtown area can be seen across the Charles river from my vantage point on the north side.
Obviously being across the river from BU necessitated crossing the river in order to get to the conference. A bridge, conveniently named the "BU Bridge" was of invaluable assistance in this endeavour, allowing me to cross the river without much drama.
Hannah calms us all down and explains to us the reason that we were here...
That night, we participated in something called the "Youth Caucus" where we did silly little get-to-know-you exercises involving little bits of paper and partnering up with complete strangers. My complete stranger was Beth, who was from Michigan and does music with a major in voice, which I thought was pretty cool.
We concluded the evening by gathering in a circle and sharing with each other our long-term goals for the future, which (supposedly) left us energised and rearing to go... so we left and went to bed.
...well, not all of us went straight to bed. I joined a suave, young and internationally-flavoured group of young people for a coffee-shop chat about world affairs. This took place at a cafe near "Davis Square" which, like all American "squares" wasn't actually a square.
The next day... the day during which the bulk of the conference would actually take place, the weather was not great. Good thing we spent most of the time inside.
This was the "ready room" as I liked to call it. It was sort of where everyone just chilled out and had a chat, and it served to connect the big, important rooms together.
One of the new areas which caught my eye was the corporate responsibility initiatives - using investor power to try to make companies behave themselves. When you are a student at a university with a very large endowment (e.g. Columbia - about 7 billion dollars, and no that was not a dirty joke) you can have a surprisingly large influence with your big wad of shares. Lisa keeps a close eye on the tables. (the red flags attached to the pens say "do not steal" on them)
I thought these were cute. It really puts us on the map...
The auditorium in which we were to sit seemed very large...
But as the starting time drew near, it began to fill up.
Indeed, the first plenary session was impressively full. A few more mics might have been a good idea... or maybe a small child on a sugar high to run the mic around to people who raised their hands.
Having a very large camera seems to fool people into thinking that you are some kind of professional photographer. This has the advantage of people not thinking you rude if you just decide to get up and stroll around the room, wander up to the balcony, get some coffee... etc.
Despite beginning far too early in the morning, I only fell asleep once during this plenary session, meaning that it must have been very interesting. We chatted about globalizing justice apparently...
Yes... it was very full. It was also encouraging to see so many young faces (youth make up 80% of AI USA). It is often said that young people these days are only out for a good time... well, that clearly can't be said of these young people. I salute them all and their noble intentions.
After the main opening panel, we broke up into smaller panels (they can't seem to get enough of those panels). I went to the panel on terrorism and the threat to human rights. Here Jumana Musa, the AIUSA advocacy director for domestic human rights and international justice (that must be quite a responsibility) talks a bit about the infamous Guantanamo Bay, which she has visited several times.
These panels also included question and answer sessions, although I was always left with many more questions than answers.