More than 400 students from over 39 states gathered in the Nation’s capital February 2-5, 2007, for the Global Justice Conference on AIDS, Trade and Child Survival.
This was the first joint conference of Global Justice’s three student campaigns, the Student Campaign for Child Survival (SCCS), the Student Global AIDS Campaign (SGAC), and the Student Trade Justice Campaign.
Global Justice, an “umbrella” organization working to promote student advocacy, had several influential speakers in attendance.
During the opening remarks on February 3rd, Matthew Kavanagh, Global Justice Executive Director, spoke about the realities of the situations that are faced worldwide.
“We made up the system, people made up the system and therefore people can make sure that it works for everybody…we are not going to accept that the world has to be the way it is when we know it can be so much better…Another world is possible,” Kavanagh said.
Kavanagh then introduced the keynote speaker for the morning. Emira Woods, an activist, expert in U.S.-Africa relations and co-director of Foreign Policy In Focus, who rallied the audience with a chant of “Power to the people!”
“We have the numbers, we have the people, we have justice on our side…you are part of a global movement focused on people… it is about changing people’s ideas from college campuses to mainstream America, to put foreword a world view that is different, see the movement as a beginning of a lifetime for change,” Woods said.
Many were impressed by the student turnout.
“What I think is amazing about Global Justice is we put a lot of faith in young people. Many students put this conference together from scratch and to bring 550 students here is incredibly impressive. It is essential that we continue to develop these leaders with exclusive power from Global Justice. This is a testament for students to make a difference in the world,” said Bob Elliott, a 2005 Harvard graduate and Global Justice Co-Founder and board member.
There were several positive responses to the conference’s activities including a wide range of workshops focusing on Global Justice’s three student campaigns, and panels where experts from the different fields spoke.
“I liked Emira’s speech…it was exciting to see someone from the Global Justice board who’s on the ground in DC…we need to advocate and mobilize the world,” Brenna Severson, a senior at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Brooke Hastig, a freshman at College of St. Scholastica in Duluth, Minnesota, came to the conference with 13 other classmates and said that this conference has been a “really good learning experience.it gave me ideas about what I want to do in my community and how I can raise awareness.”
There were also several high school students at the conference.
Jazzy Ramsey, a senior at Olympia High School in Olympia, Washington, and High School coordinator of SGAC said, “having a Global Justice conference allows all people involved in each of the chapters to work together in a union to realize that, though we each specialize in the different areas, all of our work is for the same positive cause; to change the world.”
To conclude the conference, keynote speaker Stephen Lewis, the former UN Special Envoy for HIV/AIDS in Africa, addressed various issues worldwide and said, “Advocacy means never giving up…don’t ever back away from the validity and force of your arguments, take you stand, hold fast, hold your integrity and humanize it in every conceivable way. Don’t ever depreciate your collective force, this is a planet waiting for your intervention.”
While many students were moved by Lewis’ speech, some had issues with what was said and what Lewis has done.
“It’s amazing that he says all that he said and it’s wonderful, but he was in a position of power to change things and now he came to the realization about the things he didn’t change in power, I am torn because this is what I wanted to hear, but why didn’t he change anything [when he was a part of the UN]?” Sergio Guzman, a George Washington University senior said.
Esker Copeland from Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, and a member of the organization Africa Action, thought Lewis’ speech was “good because he was not afraid to talk about those issues that aren’t normally covered.”
Despite varying thoughts on the individual speakers, most students found the conference inspiring.
“I really enjoyed being around the energy of all of the groups and the national movement and [I look forward to] bringing back [all of this energy and information] to campus,” said Carolyn Burns, a senior from Willamette University.
Students from The George Washington University, American University, University of Maryland and Georgetown University organized the conference.