Amnesty International (AI) is a worldwide movement organization that works to enforce the Declaration of Human Rights throughout the world.  AI is a voluntary organization that must receive money through donations.  They also request that members write letters in protest of governments who are infringing on human rights.  AI’s main obstacle is that it must persuade people to either send money or write governments.   AI uses various forms of agitation to advocate their agenda.  Agitation is described as “persistent, long-term advocacy of social change, where resistance to the change is also persistent and long-term.”  (BOJ 3)  This paper will seek the internal and external constraints AI faces, look at their various techniques used in agitation and examine their effectiveness in this venture.

International (AI) was founded in 1961 by British lawyer Peter Benenson and has grown to include more than a million members and supporters in over 140 countries (AI Website).   “The object of Amnesty International is to contribute to the observance throughout the world of human rights as set out in the Universal Declaration Human Rights” (Statute 195).  Amnesty International official web site states that is impartial and independent of any government, political persuasion or religious creed.   AI’s work is financed largely through donations from their worldwide memberships.  It can be challenging to convince people to send money when issues do not directly affect them.  This leads to an internal constraint toward raising revenue.  Externally AI depends on its members and potential members to send letters to human rights violators asking them to stop the infringements on human rights.   AI must draw attention toward an issue that is distant to many of them.  This leads to the external constraint, how are they going to get people to participate in actions that will lead to the resolution of their cause.   AI employs several persuasive techniques to overcome their constraints.

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One strategy Amnesty International attempts to use in hopes of overcoming the internal constraint of gaining revenue and the external constraint of getting members and non-members to act is petitions.  This is “when the activists must marshal evidence and arguments to support their position, indicate how many people they represent and characterize their followers” (BOJ 19).  AI’s petitions are made up of testimonials, which are firsthand accounts of persecution which are intended to spark an emotional reaction within the reader and fear appeals.  There is a relationship between fear and action – strong fear appeals yield more action.  They use the fear of actually experiencing the persecution to gain support and financial stability. A petition is AI’s way of asking for action and revenue.AI uses testimonials and fear appeals to draw attention toward an issue that, more often than not, is distant to many of the potential members.  It is imperative to gain such support in order to aid in the human rights cause.  We see this time and time again in various AI petitions.  One of the most memorable was that of SaadetAkkaya.  The petition goes on to describe the persecution she experienced from the Turkish Police.

…They made me stand on a chair, put blankets across my arms, and tied me to a cross with ropes.  When they took away the chair, I was hanging by my arms.  (Akkaya 203)

This excerpt was meant to create such a strong emotional response.  It is used so that hopefully the reader will feel empathy for the persecuted and thus feel an obligation to act out. The action could be in the form of sending a letter to the leader of the establishment who administered the persecution or sending money to help AI become financially stable so it will prevent it from happening to them.  The strategy is that the fear of the personal account will drive people to support the organization through action and revenue.  We see other examples of the emotional reactions that testimonials and fear appeals hope to spark in the petition sent by Executive Director, John G. Healy.  He described the testimony of BohdanKlymchak.  He states:Right now, thousands of men, women and children still languish in prisons, not because they caused disturbances or fomented revolution – but only because they were imprisoned for nonviolently refusing to participate in political situations they could no longer tolerate.  BohdanKlymchak is just such a man.  (Healy 207)

n the same petition mentioned above, John Healy also made a plea for donations from all AI members: He asks that they please send us as large a contribution as you possibly can to help us sustain the crucially important background work of investigation, documentation and mobilization that enables us to shine our candles of hope into the lonely despair of prison cells around the world (Healy 208).

It is their hope that the emotional response the testimonial brings and the fear that something similar will happen to them will cause the reader to adhere to the petition, send contributions and participate in actions that will help their cause.

“While petition alone is not a sufficient condition for agitation to exist, it is a necessary – indeed crucial – ingredient” (BOJ 20).  That is why solidification is used to secure membership.  Solidification “is the rhetorical process by which an agitating group produces or reinforces the cohesiveness of its member’s thereby increasing responsiveness to group wishes” (BOJ 24).   AI uses the tactic, if you belong to the organization you will feel a great sense of pride.  Therefore using the possibility of solidification will create a sense of obligation towards the organization.  Obligation will then lead to the feeling that they owe it to themselves and the organization to maintain the membership, whether it is through the act of paying a fee or participation in the activities.  A tactic used in solidification is to create a universal symbol which unites the group.  AI Uses the burning candle surrounded by the barbed wire which symbolizes the “hope that burns in the midst of the most severe oppression of human rights in countries across the world” (BOJ 204).  It is best summed up with the words of Peter Beneson, the candle burns not for us, but for all those whom we failed to rescue from prison, who were shot on the way to prison, who were tortured, who were kidnapped, who disappeared.  That is what the candle is for (204).

The use of slogans and symbols define the essence of the organization.  Their intention is to influence ones decision to send money or write governments.

The internal and external constraints AI encounters are significant.  The challenge of persuaded people to either send money or write governments is a difficult task.  AI is effective in their attempt to use agitation through petition and solidification.   By using petitions with testimonials to draw fear appeals AI is very successful in persuasion.  AI draws strong attention toward their need for donations by using the persuasive technique of emotional appeal through testimonials.  Fear appeals yield action.  Potential members fear that their rights might be infringed upon therefore producing AI’s intended response.  AI’s strategy of prospective and total solidification is successful in its attempt to unite its potential and current members.  By creating a sense of belonging members are compelled to donate and react towards AI’s intentions.

In conclusion, AI’s main obstacle is that they must persuade people to either send money or write governments.  Various techniques in agitation used by AI were examined.  This paper ultimately uncovered AI’s successful use of agitation to persuad


Works Cited

Amnesty International. “Statute of Amnesty International.”

(Retrieved 12-19 December 1997).

Amnesty International.  Testimonial of SaadetAkkaya.

Amnesty International.  Web Site (Official).

Bowers, John, Donovan Ochs, and Richard Jensen.  The Rhetoric of Agitation and

Control.  Prospect Heights:  Waveland Press, Inc., 1993.

Healy, John.  Letter to Amnesty International Members.


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