ALBANY -- Drivers were greeted by a striking image on Jan. 18 when passing under the BART tracks at Solano Avenue. A chain link jail was set up with three prisoners in orange jumpsuits and black hoods over their heads. Outside the "cell," several other jumpsuit-wearing protesters held signs denouncing the U.S. government's continued use of Guantánamo Bay as a prison for alleged terrorists.
The enactment was one of a series of actions by Albany High School's Amnesty International Club, a club recognized as the best Amnesty International student club in the United States last year.
The latest protest marked the 11th anniversary of the opening of the prison camp.
"Amnesty International officially opposes Guantanamo as well as indefinite detention," club co-President Aya Folk said. "A lot of the prisoners there currently being held haven't been charged with a crime and are subject to enhanced interrogation techniques ... like waterboarding and people who have not been charged with a crime. We are asking President Obama to release all of the prisoners or at least charge them with actual crimes."
Folk said some of the prisoners at Guantanamo are subject to "enforced disappearance" as well, meaning their families do not know that they have been detained. Folk acknowledged that President Obama, as a candidate in 2008, promised to close Guantánamo Bay.
"We really wanted to send a strong message before his second inauguration
The Albany student club is one of the most active chapters of Amnesty International in the area, according to William Butkus, Western Region field organizer for Amnesty International. He said there are about 12 high school clubs in the Bay Area.
"It's a big group and really smart kids," Butkus said of the Albany chapter. "They did a really good photo action around Syria last year" that included signs stating that "Peaceful protest is a human right" and signs showing how many people had been killed in the conflict.
Another action the Albany club participated in was on maternal mortality.
The Albany students won the organization's "Human Rights Ambassador Challenge" for 2011, which earned club members a trip to last year's national meeting in Denver. The competition was open to college chapters as well, meaning Albany High beat out the second place finisher from the University of Texas at Austin.
"We gave them a whole list of issues that we're working on and we challenged the groups to do as many actions as they can and whomever did the most and most creative actions got a grant," Butkus said.
Folk, a senior at Albany High, has been involved with the club for three years. She said winning the $2,500 grant, which funded the trip to Denver, was amazing.
Meanwhile, the club is continuing to work to raise awareness. Next up is an action at 12:15 p.m. Jan. 30 at Albany High School focused on Pussy Riot, the jailed Russian feminist band.
"They held a 34-second performance at a Russian cathedral in Moscow," Folk said. "They were arrested on the spot and convicted of hooliganism. Two of these women have small children and they are considered prisoners of conscience because they didn't do anything violent or harmful. The Russian government is persecuting them."
At the protest at AHS, "A couple of our club members are going to dress up like Pussy Riot and play one of their songs and we're going to dance to it in front of our school," Folk said.