Amnesty International granted booth at festival

Impassioned testimony leads CA to change stance

July 24, 2004|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

The Columbia Association has reversed its decision to deny a local chapter of Amnesty International an information booth at Columbia's 10th annual International Day today.

After hearing about a dozen people from Amnesty International and other supportive residents testify at a Columbia Council meeting Thursday, association President Maggie J. Brown decided to grant the group a booth.

CA initially turned down the application of Amnesty International, which campaigns worldwide for human rights, claiming it didn't align with the festival's theme of celebrating the planned community's ethnic and cultural diversity. The association also did not want to be perceived as endorsing a group that supports a particular political or religious view.

Brown said yesterday she was convinced by the testimony of residents who said culture extends beyond foods and crafts from around the world.

"You can certainly see, I'd say, more clearly when you hear the passion of individuals as they speak," Brown said.

Katherine Berland, coordinator of the Columbia/Laurel chapter of Amnesty International, said she's relieved that the group will be part of International Day.

"I am, of course, concerned about the future of the festival, about our group being able to participate next year," she said.

Amnesty International participated in last year's festival, but CA changed its application process after another group at that event handed out what association officials said was "graphic material" that prompted complaints.

Council Chairman Joshua Feldmark supported Brown's decision to give Amnesty International a booth.

"Culture is about more than just food and song and dance and clothing. It's about the essence of who people are," he said. "And to say that protecting basic human rights is not about people's cultures seemed shortsighted to me."

International Day will run from noon to 11 p.m. today at Columbia's downtown Lake Kittamaqundi waterfront. Along with food, performances and crafts from around the world, the free festival highlights Columbia's European sister cities, Cergy-Pontoise, France, and Tres Cantos, Spain.

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