Human Rights Watch
In 1988, William Lay helped organize a surge of protesters who took to the streets of his native country, Burma, demanding basic human rights and democracy. An estimated 3,000 people died at the hands of the country's military junta that day. Lay was among the lucky who escaped.
Nearly 20 years later, peaceful protests in Burma, also known as Myanmar, were silenced by guns once again last September. But this time, Lay, now a senior at SF State, was an intern on Capitol Hill, urging government officials to help his friends and family.
Each year the Panetta Institute hosts interns who are appointed by the presidents of their respective California State Universities as well as Santa Clara and Dominican universities. After an intensive two-week course at CSU Monterey Bay with Leon Panetta and others who know the legislative process firsthand, interns are assigned to a Washington, D.C., office of a member of the California congressional delegation.
"The Congressional internship was a great opportunity to learn more about the policy-making decision process and to gain hands-on experience in the U.S. Congress," says Lay, who worked with Rep. Tom Lantos, the founding co-chair of the Congressional Human Rights Caucus.
Lay contributed his knowledge and insights to the caucus as it worked on a bill, which has passed in the Senate, designed to expand the U.S.'s financial and diplomatic restrictions against Burma's government, as well as aid individuals and organizations seeking democracy in the country.
Lantos, who taught economics at SF State from 1954 to 1983 before he was elected to Congress, died Feb. 11, a loss that Lay felt deeply for both himself and human rights defenders across the globe. He says working with Lantos has inspired him to pursue a career as a human rights lawyer. "People are imprisoned, silenced -- humans like us -- on the other side of a wall. We have the obligation to stand up and talk. Why stay silent?"
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